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I hate to bring this up -- really, I do -- but can you envision the political commercials on our immediate horizon. “My goodness, gracious,” as my wife’s Swedish aunts used to say. With abundant candidates this means the sheer number of ads that promise stuff will be more than normal -- much, much more.

We will hear a great deal of jargon and catchy phrases. Boomers have heard the terminology before. I’m guessing several billion dollars will be spent on carefully choreographed and inspiring ads from the left and the right. That is a great deal of money that could be used for … nah, I'd better not even say it.

Don’t you wish you could get away for a bit? I know, we must do our civic duty by staying informed – that’s not a problem because we are overinformed!

Want to get away?

Thoughts occasionally enter my mind that I should buy land up north for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I don’t currently have a cabin, but if I did they could flee northerly at times for peace, quiet, beauty and solitude. It would be a gift that would keep on giving.

I bet there will always be those who will want and need to get away for a bit. It could be an updated version of the counterculture phrase that Timothy Leary made popular in 1966. Instead of Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out” it could be revised to “Turn off, tune out and get far, far away.”

Several years ago I remember watching this remarkable film of a guy who did decide to get away. This gentleman, Dick Proennek, had enough of the work life as a heavy equipment operator and diesel mechanic after a work accident nearly cost him his eyesight.

He decided he needed some alone time (for about the rest of his life) and built a cabin by himself, by hand, in the Alaska wilderness. Zero power tools, folks. No running water, electricity or phone. He also built a workshop, outhouse and a structure on stilts to safely store his food from robbers, well, I mean bears.

He worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. If you want to watch something unbelievably incredible with absolute stunning scenery look this guy up on YouTube. His craftsmanship and skill with hand tools like axes, wood planes, handsaws, hand drills and chisels is remarkable to watch. He even made door handles and hinges out of wood.

See it, believe it

There are several films of his life in Alaska. He recorded a great deal of this experience himself with an 8mm camera on a tripod. At the time he started this, 1967, the only way to get to the location he was building on was by plane.

Dick got around by canoe or walking. The view from his canoe was spectacular. He said he never got lonely as he was always busy; there was always something that needed to get done. He lived in his 11-by-15-foot cabin for 30 years.

He kept a diary of the extraordinary events, sounds and sights he witnessed during the Alaska seasons. He disconnected from society. I mean just think, the poor guy missed that whole President Nixon resignation thing in the 1970s.

Mr. Proennek’s only neighbors were animals and he got to know a few of them. This life is starting to sound tempting, isn’t it? He was 51 years of age when he took this new life on.

An inspiration

We all know we can’t really get away. Life goes on. I hope and pray political leaders in our future bring our country together. Compromise, shake hands, give respect, have lunch together, play golf together. Work side by side for the good of our country. These future leaders have to be out there amongst our young people.

In 1999 Proenneke finally left Alaska. He died on April 20, 2003. He was 86 years old. The cabin he built still stands. He left it to the park service. He donated his journals and letters. Although there are still no roads to the site it is a popular visitor spot in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. His life inspired books and films.

I doubt I can get my grandkids to watch something like Proenneke’s story. There’s more to his story than his carpentry skills and the beauty of Alaska. It’s the simple life, self-reliance, purpose, accomplishment, pushing your limits, and taking care of the environment.

In a cabin on a lake or in my current split level in town, hopefully my wife and I can demonstrate these qualities to our grandkids. We just need to get them to realize from time to time the beauty of turning off and tuning out.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s Day in History column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at

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