“The brush beyond the big hump has been calling me for a long time and maybe I better answer while I’m able.”-Richard Proenneke, in the Spring of ’67
On Sunday nights our youth group has Upper Room. Its a time where we have discussion group; sometimes all together and sometimes split into smaller groups. We talk about life and God and how the two are intertwined beyond separating whether we acknowledge it or not. Its a time I enjoy. I like to hear what the teens are thinking and how they’re reacting to stresses, pressures, new ideas and guidance.
This week’s subject was about taking a long view of life. That’s a fancy way of saying don’t get bogged down in the present circumstances but rather see life with a more holistic view. A long view will help overcome short term failures and also put triumphs and blessings in perspective. A long view tells us everything will be ok, everything begins and everything ends. A long view gives encouragement by asking us to look at something bigger than ourselves.
We’ve watched a documentary together the past few weeks called ‘Alone in the Wilderness.’ Matt Sowders loaned it to me. It’s about Richard Proenneke, who at age 51 moved into the Alaskan wilderness to carve a life out for himself in the mountains. His original intention was to stay about 12-18 months. He stayed for 31 years, alone in the wilderness. He wanted to get away from the stress of daily living and he had to take a long view of life to plan for survival on his own.
Dick Proenneke made his original visit to the Twin Lakes area of Alaska at the invitation of a friend. They stayed in a remote cabin for a couple of weeks. Dick returned not long after to spend some months alone in the cabin making plans for his own, new cabin. His third return was to be the year-long stay where he would build his cabin and enjoy the seasons. He experimented with gardening and hunted/fished to feed himself. Dick also received occasional supplies from a bush pilot named called Babe.
After that year, Proenneke returned to his normal life for a short time but went back to his cabin to stay until he was 82, with only brief visits back to family. At one point in the book he tells of driving his camper north towards Alaska with a sign on the back that said ‘Destination: Back and Beyond.’
Yes, obviously, I bought the book about him too: One Man’s Wilderness. Its written by his close friend, Sam Keith, who used Proenneke’s journals to craft the book. Dick Proenneke is worth learning about. And if any of the above facts are slightly off, forgive me. I’ll know soon and adjust them as I read further in the book.
Here are two stanzas of a poem in the foreward of the book. It was apparantly important to Proenneke and gives insight into his feelings.
I’m scared of it all, God’s truth! so I am;
It’s too big and brutal for me.
My nerve’s on the raw and I don’t give a damn
For all the “hoorah” that I see.
I’m pinned between subway and overhead train,
Where automobillies swoop down:
Oh, I want to go back to the timber again —
I’m scared of the terrible town.
I watch the wan faces that flash in the street;
All kinds and all classes I see.
Yet never a one in the million I meet,
Has the smile of a comrade for me.
Just jaded and panting like dogs in a pack;
Just tensed and intent on the goal:
O God! but I’m lonesome — I wish I was back,
Up there in the land of the Pole.
-Robert Service, I’m Scared of It All
While I’m not a advocate of a permanent monastic or secluded lifestyle, I can understand it’s allure and appeal. But I think God calls us to stay involved in the lives of others on a broader scale through service, example, and close relationships. However, like Dick Proenneke, I see around me many people unwilling to get close to people for fear of being hurt and I see many people who make themselves unapproachable by surrounding themselves with stress and drama. I also understand that many people have been so deeply hurt in the past that it’s a difficult thing to be close to others.
But taking a longer view of life is key to overcoming our hurts, stresses, failures and our pasts. The key to helping others do the same is to show them how to lift their eyes, for even when its impossible for us to move our feet, its not impossible for us to change what our eyes are fixed on. Its not impossible to look to the hills even when we’re in the valleys. We have to remember to look up and beyond.
I think this is what Dick Proenneke was doing when he looked to the mountains and felt their call. You really should click a couple of the links and read about him. Watch the documentary also. Its truly amazing.
And remember to lift your eyes to the hills this week. That’s where your help will come from.
I lift up my eyes to the hills-
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip-
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you-
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm-
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.