While reading this week, I noticed immediately similarities between John Haines’ views of the Alaskan lifestyle and the passage that was included by Richard Proenneke and Sam Keith, titled “The Birth of a Cabin.” Haines focuses on returning to nature, as so evinced by his own move up to the Fairbanks region to live a rustic, off-the-land lifestyle. Proenneke engages in the same move, building his own cabin in the Twin Lakes area, and documenting his adventure through writing but also extensive film. In 2009, PBS made a documentary using Proenneke’s own film and writing about his journey, titled “Into the Wilderness.” Here is a clip from the program’s first part:
It is an interesting experience getting a visual for the text, and realizing how well Proenneke was able to describe his labors and locations. In Haines’ poetry, visuals also play a large role. In “The Way We Live,” also taken from our reading, Haines sentence structure as well as language create the necessary visual for the reader.
Having been whipped through Paradise
and seen humanity
strolling like an overfed beast
set loose from its cage,
a man may long for nothing so much
as a house of snow,
a blue stone lamp,
and a skim to cover his head.
While discussing humanity in Paradise, Haines’ conjures a negative image of an “overfed beast,” but really sends this idea home with the rolling, nonstop sentence that is used to describe it. While it is broken up into lines, his lack of punctuation in describing this beast shows how he views it as a plowing, ravenous thing that doesn’t stop with the lines or natural pauses that they usually require. When Haines moves on to describing the simpler way, though, he breaks the lines with commas, to force a pause from the reader but also to break the sentence into simpler fragments, thereby reflecting his intent.
Haines’ desire for the simpler things is identical to that of Proenneke — inherently, I feel Alaskans desire this as well, as most people are incredibly appreciative of their surroundings and also respectful. It tends to require more contemplation than the overfed beast that desires everything — one circumvents the mountains and forests, understanding that going around is oftentimes better than forcing a path.