Searching for Fannie Quigley

With the new film “Into the Wild” hitting the big screen, I paused to reflect that the bus where McCandless died is only about 100 miles from where Fannie not only survived, but perfected her wilderness lifestyle over 40 years.

Fannie was no starry-eyed idealist, but a realist. She did not have the luxury of placing her existence in the context of adventure, or even wilderness, but instead was focused on simply making a living, and supporting the prospecting efforts of her husband Joe.

I have often wondered whether or how Fannie understood the concept of wilderness scenery. Wilderness is a concept which, as a basically romantic ideal, leaning on the concept of the sublime, virtually requires the idea of leisure. Absent the leisure for contemplation, wilderness is only about survival. And survival, requires hard work.

Like most Alaskans, I see Chris McCandless as someone with a death wish. For Alaskans, enjoyment of wilderness is synonymous with preparation, and preparation for hard work. if you are not ready for that, stay home. Or enjoy the wilderness on an organized wilderness tour, a fly-n cabin, or somewhere, closer to the road.

Fannie made an art form out of the hard work of survival, carefully coordinating the numerous tasks of hunting, trapping, gathering, growing and preserving food, and of course, cooking.


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