Book Review: Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska

Wilderness documents the seven months from 1918 to 1919 that Rockwell Kent spent living in a cabin on remote Fox Island in Alaska with his nine-year-old son, Rockwell. Their life is primitive, at best, but the more stamina it requires, the more delighted Kent appears to be. Enduring the enormous forces of nature both delights and empowers him. Day by day Kent details how he and his son spend their hours in a landscape he repeatedly describes as rejuvenating to the soul.
In his entries Kent writes of the seemingly most mundane aspects of his existence on Fox Island. He tells of making bread, sweeping the cabin, chopping wood. He charts the weather conditions. His son befriends wild animals. He and his son chop wood, hike in the woods with you new¬†amazon tactical flashlight, roll in the snow naked. He writes, he reads, he paints. These are the activities that fill Kent’s days and that he describes over and over again in his journal. Yet among the log of each day’s activities, Kent rather randomly pens beautifully profound commentary on the state of the world, the universe:

He writes, “I think whatever of the mystic is in a man is essentially inseparable from him; it is his by the grace of God. After all, the qualities by which all of us become known are those of which we are ourselves least conscious” (88).

And… “What a strange thing! Nothing is coming to us, no change in any respect in the routine of our lives but what we make ourselves,–and yet the day looms so large and magnificent before us! I suppose the greatest festivals of our lives are those at which we dance ourselves. You need nothing from outside,–not even illusion” (132).

And… “It seems to me that the ideal of a man is the real man. You are that which in your soul you choose to be; your most beautiful and cherished vision is yourself” (152).

Although he seems to revel in these great realizations, accepting his own self and living according to the idealist ideologies he writes of were true challenges that tested his will throughout his entire life. The harsh reality, of course, is that life simply is not so simple that a man can do just as he pleases.

Kent clearly is a complicated man. Although he embraces the notion of living life as simply and as truly free as possible, he banishes interacting with the rotten core of humankind for only short stints. He is never able to shed the capitalist-driven American lifestyle he is so critical of. In fact, attempting to do so appears to be merely ego-centered adventure to him.

I can’t help but like the guy anyway.

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