Sam Keith is remembered for chronicling the life in the Alaska wilderness of his friend Dick Proenneke, arguably the world’s most famous recluse. He did it in One Man’s Wilderness, which has sold 400,000 copies since its publication in 1973. The book, along with movie footage Keith shot, was the basis for one of PBS’s most popular documentaries.
This book is a prequel, honed by his son-in-law, Brian Lies, an author and illustrator of children’s books, from an unpublished manuscript and letters Keith wrote to his family about his own Alaska adventures. While his adventures were less eccentric than Proenneke’s, they were still considerable: an eight-day hunt for Kodiak bear, working eighty-hour weeks on a paving crew to beat the first frost, daring potential poachers as a backcountry stream guard for the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service.
He went to Alaska after graduation with a degree in English from Cornell in 1952 because “I hear the call of northern places.” After answering the call, he returned to Massachusetts and a career as a middle-school teacher. He returned to Alaska in 1970 and renewed his friendship with Proenneke.
After One Man’s Wilderness came out, the two had a slight falling out because the last thing Proenneke wanted was fame. They mended fences before both men died in 2003, before the PBS documentary was aired. Neither saw it.
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