Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Struggling with time

It isn't as much that there's never enough of it... it's that I am losing touch with it. Memory for things, how long ago things happened...

I've felt like this for a while and tonight brought it home.

This afternoon I got the ESSA post mentioning that the speaker tonight would be Bernie Theron, speaking about his adventure across Iceland. Ah, I think, I wrote about him a few weeks ago.

I go to my FEAT website to look up Bernie and lo-and-behold... I wrote about him on 9 June last year!

And then I bump into a chap who I recognise but can't place. I thought I saw him at the end of FEAT in October last year. Nope, I chatted to him a month ago at the Parys parkrun! Fortunately I remembered our conversation clearly but geez did I feel like I was in a time warp.

And then I saw another guy - also out of context - who I haven't seen since the Namib Desert Challenge in March 2013. Tony, who eloquently coined the name "Leopard Piss" for the electrolyte mix available at the waterpoints. Tasted like leopard piss and worked a treat. Of course his face was familiar - but looking all cleaned up (neither exhausted, sandy nor sweaty) and in very fine form. March 2013 feels so much further away than it really is.

I've been doing quite a lot of driving the past few months so on longer drives I listen to audiobooks. The one I've most recently completed is a glorious tale of 18 months spent in the Alaskan wilderness - One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey.

The book (first published in 1973) is written by Sam Keith from the journal entries written by Richard Proenneke, the actual guy who settled in Twin Lakes, building a log cabin for himself and making everything from furniture to bowls and door hinges with hand tools.

The publisher's summary reads:
"To live in a pristine land unchanged by man... to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed... to choose an idyllic site, cut trees and build a log cabin... to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available... to be not at odds with the world but content with one's own thoughts and company. Thousands have had such dreams, but Richard Proenneke lived them. 
He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country.One Man's Wilderness is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature's events that kept him company. From Proenneke's journals, and with first-hand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond."
The book is written diary-entry style and I was immersed from the first, even listening to the accounts of how many logs he chopped that day, the growing thickness of the ice, the birds and animals observed or the list of groceries dropped off by plane every few weeks.

Proenneke is quite a wilderness figure, much like Christoper McCandless. Looking online for the photographs that he took I discovered that there are documentaries too, compiled from the footage that he took. He returned after his 18 months there and stayed for another 30 years. The cabin be built and lived in still stands and it is looked after by National Parks.

Although the story took place in 1968/9, if you're in the Alaskan wilds (or any other wilds) today it would be the same thing. The key - no electricity, no internet, no phones. Without these it seems that time means something and a day is day where you can chop trees, strip bark and build a cabin with your own hands.

While looking at photographs online I stumbled across a funny, but apt, blog post. The blogger, Colin Rink, writes:
"As much as I appreciate living in the city with all it’s technological advances, there’s always been a big part of me that’s wanted to fuck off into the woods, and live alone with nature."
I'm sure many of you, like me, can relate.

Of course there's more to living in nature than talking to birds and baking your own bread... And Proenneke had a very specific skill set that made him the perfect candidate for a successful like in the wilderness. He served as a carpenter in the US Navy, then became an adept diesel mechanic, then worked on a sheep ranch and then was a heavy equipment operator and repairman on the Naval Air Station before working as a salmon fisherman and then for the Fish and Wildlife Service. This guy could build, make and fix stuff with phenomenal proficiency and he was certainly one with nature.


This is a superb book to listen to - probably even more so than to read it. One review on Amazon writes, "Listening was like going on a retreat!". And it really is.

It is simple and observant and has a singular focus. Most of all, it is peaceful, despite Proenneke's industrious and exploratory activities. This story is a retreat from now and technology and to a place where time seems to have far more measure and substance than it does now.

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