Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Winter reading II - the theme of the lone wolf

Actually meant for the cold season with a cup of hot cocoa next to a crackling fireplace, but equally enjoyable during summer, in a hammock, under the clear sky with a longdrink and buzzing mosquitos.... I had this one in my "to publish"-list and now that I am forced "to take a day off" ( a damn cold according to me. Release of build up tensions says the mrs.) I figured I might finish it and hit the publish button....

Here's another group of books I enjoyed. The theme "lone wolf" is appropriate, since these books deal mostly with the one man alone in the wilderness-subject.
It is mainly about men leaving behind society and living by themselves miles away from the modern world. I got these book when I myself was dreaming about that; leaving it all behind, moving to the woods and being there alone, by myself. I really enjoyed these books and I have read most of them more than once. However I have to admit that I could not do what they did; indeed living alone for extended periods of time. I am after all to much of a social animal. I need folks around.
Many in the outdoor/bushcraft-community idolise those men and especially Dick Proenneke seems to be a rolemodel for just such a life, where as people like Mike Tomkies are hardly mentioned. These people are seen as great men, independent, totally free and able to take care of themselves.
Whatever these men (and occasional woman) did, for whatever reasons they left society and went living by themselves, they all have similarities in their stories. The main thing, apart from (re)building a cabin on their own for their own, is indeed a still strong connection and/or dependence to that society. A lifeline. They still depend on others for support, supplies, sustenance. So no, they are not completely independent. Far from. Another thing is the inability or unwillingness to submit to society's rules, expectations and pressures. They chose to leave that behind and flourished, despite hardships, but they did not make it entirely on their own. Typically the Yukon pops up regularly.... or similar places in the northern hemisphere. I can fully understand why.
Be that as it may, I truly enjoyed all of these books, devoured and reread them.... apart from Thoreau's book. But I think that is because English is not my native language, although I do think I master it quite well. I will not elaborate too much on the contents as I do not want to spoil the fun, but all I can say is that each book was worth every penny/cent I spent on them! Even if my sidetable is filled with books of a different nature these days....
Anyway, here they are... in random order... (by the way I plucked the images from the net. Didn't feel like fiddling around with cellphone, camera and what not... Just took a shortcut here)

The good life, up the Yukon without a paddle - Dorian Amos
paperback, pocket 191 pages
The tale of a couple, Dorian and Bridget, leaving a relative comfy/secure life in Britain and exchanging that for a new start in the Yukon, Alaska, without really (or actually) knowing what they were getting into. They suffer from the shock of reality, face the grim brutality of winter's nature in the Yukon, struggle through hardships (real ones!) and come out triumphant, often living apart for prolonged periods of time, yet sharing their love and warmth with and for each other and becoming parents in the meantime...
The book is basically divided in sections; the first section being the dream.- and planningfase, told in a more general fashion, followed by the actual move, part 2 is in a diary fashion, part 3 is a sort of doubleview window, with each of them giving their view on events side by side, followed by the final section, being Bridget sharing her story in short.
I so absolutely loved this book! I envisaged this being me and my wife, relating to many things and knowing how (or imagining) we might be dealing with the circumstances they faced. They had the great fortune, as did we, to be able to share it all with each other and growing closer because of it.
I can not wait until I can finally get my hands on their second book. Through this book I really got the feeling that these are real people, genuine.... The sequel is very high on my wantlist.
Get this book! You will not regret it!!

Walden or the life in the woods - Henry David Thoreau
paperback, pocket 216 pages
Another book greatly admired by the previously mentioned community, but I must admit I failed to understand why. I had serious difficulty understanding what the man had written. I simply failed to not just understand the language he used, but because of that also much of the meaning of what he wrote.
What I did (think) I understood, is that he claims that our lives today have become too cluttered, too complicated and that he strongly urges the reader to simplify. Reconnect with the essentials, the basics for we as a species need that to live and to thrive. Well, that is as actual today as it was back then. The book dates from 1854. Also his love for the woods is quite apparent, even to me.
I never finished the book, despite several tries. I just can't get through it....

Call of the wild - Guy Grieve
paperback, 383 pages
Guy Grieve, an office employee, hating his job, covered in debt, decides he's had enough.
He decides to leave behind his wife and family to try and live a year in, again Yukon, Alaska. He needs to do this for himself....
Amazon puts it like this
"Trapped in a job he hated and up to his neck in debt, Guy Grieve's life was going nowhere. But, with a stroke of luck, his dream of escaping it all to live in remote Alaska suddenly came true. Miles from the nearest human being and armed with only the most basic equipment, Guy built a log cabin from scratch and began carving a life for himself through fishing, hunting, and diligently avoiding bears. Packed with adventure, humor, and insight, this is the gripping story of an ordinary man learning the ways of the wild."
While I can fully understand this need and the way he hates the life he leads, I could not help but from the core of my being not agreeing with him for leaving his family behind in the good, old UK while he would be off, throwing himself against nature and himself in one of the most inhospitable areas in the north. He not only put himself at risk, but also the locals, who agreed to help him, despite the odds. He goes in poorly prepared, but he makes it. 
Yet I also must admit that I got caught by his determination, his resourcefulness, his resilience and his general view of and on life. It truly is an adventure of a lifetime and a life changing one at that. I did get caught by the way the story is told and by the many turns it makes. It never is a dull read.

A last wildplace - Mike Tomkies
paperback, 250 pages
Here's one of my all time favorites. My copy arrived in a well read fashion and I do understand why. The state of the book has become even more well read. ;)
I love it. Here's a single man, travelling the world, leaving the world of celebrity, settling in isolated places before finally settling on a lochshore in Scotland to immerse himself in nature, photograph it and write about it. No glamour, no false pretense. Down to earth, humble even, yet the love for what he does shows through in all he sees and writes about. You do not need pictures to see what he did. 
One of my favorite passages is where Mike sits down in the forest and describes it as a cathedral; large, imposing and serene, but than discovers it actually is a theatre with many scenes and actors. The way he does that really is capturing the imagination and I was there with him. I loved the way he describes his battles in his boat on a roaring loch, his treks, alone and later with his shepperd Moobly, through the hills and mountains and how the seasons change the land.
I can not wait to get my hands on some of his other titles, just to see if these are as good as this one.

One man's wilderness, an Alaskan odyssey - Dick Proenneke
paperback, 224 pages
Now here it is; THE soloawayfromsocietyoutdoorexperience by THE man.
And I can understand why it is so heralded and talked about. Here is a man, who after his early retirement leaves modern, western civilisation behind and build himself a logcabin far out into the northern wilderness and to go and live there by himself. He goes in, alone, with his bare hands and a pile of tools and raw materials and builds himself a home. I must say I am impressed by the man's accomplishments, both during the building proces, but also by his life afterwards there.
The whole story is being told without and bravoure or boasting and I really liked the sober tone. This tone however does not bring down any of the achievements, encounters or adventures he had and tells about. It is written with the same simple purity as the land which is described. No posh glitter, but fresh mountain air.
Dick has a keen eye for detail and is able to tell his story in such a fashion that it never gets dull, heavy or otherwise unpleasant. I found it hard to put the book down and I read it within a week the first time.
This one is another absolute keeper for me and another one I really recommend.


  1. Thanks for the list Ron. I'll have to check out a couple of those I haven't read. I'm forcing myself through Thoreau's Walden right now. A few chapters are good, but most of it is pure rubbish! Haha it's a tough read ;)

  2. Walden is tough because it is written in old fashioned english. We take it in small bits. It is a classic.

    These others I am going to check out. Thanks!

    Did I ever tell you about "This Cold Heaven: Four Seasons in Greenland" by Gretel Ehrlich. Magnificent. I also like "The Solace of Open Spaces" by her, too.

    But these others sound really interesting.

  3. Ya rubbish may be too harsh. I do like Thoreu's writing style. Very poetic and a joy. But here he goes too far into the darkness in length about the ills of America. Granted things were really screwed up back then. Not in the lone wolf category, but I thuroughly enjoyed Thoreau's Maine Woods. One of my favorites.

  4. Nice choices! I have read several of them myself. Will have to consider getting the others as well. Thanks for sharing. :)