Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska.

A journal of Kent’s seven-month winter sojourn on Fox Island, Resurrection Bay, Alaska, with his 9-year old son Rockwell, staying in the cabin of an old Alaskan hand named Olson. Illustrated with some of Kent’s early work.

p. 15: …at the far corner built to the floor in orthodox bookcase fashion, a library.

We may glance at the books. There are:
‘Indian Essays.’ Coomaraswamy
‘Griechische Vasen’
‘The Water Babies’
‘Robinson Crusoe’
‘The Prose Edda’
‘Anson’s Voyages’
‘A Literary History of Ireland.’ Douglas Hyde
‘The Crock of Gold’
‘The Iliad’ ‘The Odyssey’
‘Fairy Tales.’ Andersen
‘The Oxford Book of English Verse’
‘The Home Medical Library’
‘Poems.’ Blake
‘Life of Black.’ Gilchrist
‘The Three Dwellers,’ ‘The Cave Dwellers,’ ‘The Sea People,’ etc.
‘Pacific Coast Tide Table’
‘Thus Space Zarathustra’
‘The Book of the Ocean’
‘Albrecht Durer’ (A Short Biography)
‘Wilhelm Meister’
‘In Northern Mists.’ Nansen

p. 31, Sept. 25: Rockwell and I worked some time with the cross cut saw. I’m constantly surprised by his strength and stamina. Rockwell read nine pages in his book of the cave dwellers. So nine of “Robinson Crusoe” were due him after supper. He undresses and jumps into bed and cuddles close to me as I sit there beside him reading. And “ Robinson Crusoe ” is a story to grip his young fancy and make this very island a place for adventure.

p. 42: Every day I read in the ‘History of Irish Literature.’ The Deirdre Saga I read to-day. It must be one of the most beautiful and the most perfect stories in all the world. So little do we feel ourselves related, here in this place, to any one time or to any civilization that at a thought we and our world become whom and what we please. Rockwell has been a cave dweller hunting the primeval forest with stone hatchet and a bow of alder strung with a root. To me it is the heroic age in Ireland.

p. 50: Tuesday, October eighth:

RAIN! But what difference does it make to us. Everyone is in a good humor. The house is warm and dry; we’ve lots to eat and lots to do.

Olson’s dory was again half full of water so we turned her and the skif over. I stretched canvass and primed it and finished Anson’s “Voyage Around the World” a thrilling book. Late this afternoon it began to clear; the sun shone and we were presently at work with the saw—only to be driven in again by the shower. I expect fair weather to-morrow. But—

p. 63-64: Although it is nearly ten o’clock Rockwell is still awake. It is his birthday—by our choice. His one present, a cheap child’s edition of Wood’s ‘Natural History,’ illustrated, has filled his head with dreams of his beloved wild animals. I began to-night to teach him to sing. We tried Brahms’s “Wiegenlied,” with little success, and then “Schlaf, Kindlein, Schlaf,” which went better. These songs and many other German songs, all with English words, are in the song book I bought him. I hope I shall have the patience and the time to succeed with Rockwell in this.

p. 68: It is the evening of October twenty-second and the feathery snow has just begun to fall. Olson comes stamping in. “Well, well,” he cries, “ how’s this! How does our winter suit you? ” It suits us perfectly. The house is warm, Rockwell’s in bed, and I am reading “Treasure Island” to him.

“What are you going to make of him?” asked Olson that night speaking of Rockwell. I was at that moment pouring beans into the pot for baking. I slowed the stream and dropped them one by one:

“ ‘ Rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief,

Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief. ’

How in the world can anyone lay plans for a youngster’s life?”

p. 71-72: We live in many worlds, Rockwell and I,–the world of the books we read,–an always changing one, ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Treasure Island,’ the visionary world of William Blake, the Saga Age, ‘Water Babies,’ and the glorious Celtic past, –Rockwell’s own world of fancy, kingdom of beasts, the world he dreams about and draws—and my created land of striding heroes and poor fate-bound men—real as I have painted them or to me nothing is,–and then all around about our common daily, island-world, itself more wonderful than we have half a notion of. Is it to be believed that we are here alone, this boy and I, far north out on an island wilderness, seagirt on a terrific coast! It’s as we pictured it and wanted it a year and more ago,–yes, dreams come true.

And now the snow falls softly. Winter, to meet our challenge, has


Short notes in the journal mark ‘Treasure Island’s’ swift passage. Then enter ‘Water Babies!’ ‘Just after Rockwell’s heart and mine,’ I have recorded it. But Kingsley must lose his friends,–a warning to the snob in literature. How it did weary us and madden us, his English-gentry pride,–unless we outright laughed. ‘At last it’s finished. That’s an event. When Kingsley isn’t showing off he’s moralizing, and between his religious cant and his English snobbery he is, in spite of his occasional sweet sentiment, quite unendurable. So to-night we read from ‘Andersen’s Fairy Tales’—forever lovely and true.’

p. 83, on his son’s reading: Hard, hard at work, little play, not too much sleep. The wind blows ceaselessly. Rockwell is forever good,-—industrious, kind, and happy. He reads now quite freely from any book. Drawing has become a natural and regular occupation for him, almost a recreation—for he can draw in both a serious and a humorous vein. At this moment he’s waiting in bed for some music and another Andersen fairy tale.

p. 85, Saturday, November 16 [1918]: This night I shall not read in bed; it’s quite too far away from the stove.

p. 89, Nov. 19: I read “Big Claus and Little Claus” to Rockwell to-night. That’s a great story and we roared over it. Rockwell doesn’t like the stories about kings and queens, he says, “They’re always marrying and that kind of stuff’.” Just the same Rockwell himself has his life and marriage pretty closely planned,—the journey from the East alone, the wife to be found at Seattle to save her carfare—and yet not put off as far as Alaska, for there they don’t look nice enough,—and then life in Alaska to the end of his days. And I’m to be along if I’m not dead,—as I probably shall be, he says.

I have just finished the life of Blake and am now reading Blake’s prose catalogue, etc., and a book of Indian essays of Coomaraswamy. The intense and illuminating fervor of Blake! I have just read this: “The human mind cannot go beyond the gift of God, the Holy Ghost. To suppose that Art can go beyond the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world is not knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the Spirit.” Here in the supreme simplicity of life amid these mountains the spirit laughs at man’s concern with the form of Art, with new expression because the old is outworn! It is man’s own poverty of vision yielding him nothing, so that to save himself he must trick out in new garb the old, old commonplaces, or exalt to be material for art the hitherto discarded trivialities of the mind.

p. 110, Dec. 6: I’m reading a little book on Dürer. What a splendid civilization that was in the Middle Ages, with all its faults. To men with my interests can anything be more conclusive proof of the superiority of that age to this than the position of the artist and the scholar in the community?….

p. 136, Dec. 22 Last night after Rockwell had been put to bed I sat down and did two of the best drawings I have made. At half past twelve I finished them, and then to calm my elation a bit for sleep read in the “Odyssey.” At this my second reading of the book it’s as intensely interesting—or more so—than before. As a story it is incomparably better than the “Iliad.” To me it is full of suggestions for wonderful pictures.

p. 154-57: It is now after midnight and I’ve just finished a drawing. Rockwell is concerned about these late hours and when I told him that I could work so very well alone at night he seriously suggested that I send him out in the daytime to stay all day without dinner so that I could work better. I’m reading about King Arthur and the round table to him; that’s good for both of us. He has made himself a lance and a sword and to-morrow I expect to confer some sort of knighthood upon him. Apropos of the book of King Arthur, Rockwell said to-day, “I don’t think the pictures in the book are half nice enough. I think of a wonderful picture when you read the story and then when I see the one in the book I’m disappointed.” And these King Arthur pictures are rarely good in execution. It just shows that one need not attempt to palm ofl unimaginative stuff, much less trash, on children. The greatest artists are none too good to make the drawings for children’s books. Imagination and romance in pictures and stories a child asks for above all, and those qualities in illustration are the rarest.

p. 157: Saturday night Rockwell received the order of knighthood. For three quarters of an hour he stayed upon his knees watching over his arms. He was all that time as motionless as stone and as silent. Now he is Sir Lancelot of the Lake and jousts all day with imaginary giants and wicked knights. He has rescued one queen for himself but as yet none for me.

p. 162, Jan. 18, 1919: I am now reading the Department of Agriculture year book. It’s very instructive.

p. 168, Jan. 28: I’m reading “Zarathustra,” “Write with blood, and thou wilt learn that blood is spirit.” So that book was written. Last night I made a drawing of Zarathustra leading the ugliest man by the hand out into the night to behold the round moon and the silver waterfall. What a book to illustrate! The translator of it says that Zarathustra is such a being as Nietzsche would have liked himself to be,–in other words his ideal man. It seems to me that the ideal of a man is the real manYou are that which in your soul you choose to be; your most beautiful and cherished vision is yourself. What are the true, normal conditions of life for any man but just those perfect conditions with which he would ideally surround himself. A man is not a sum of discordant tendencies—but rather a being perfect for one special place; and this is Olson’s creed.

My chief criticism of Zarathustra is his taste for propaganda. Why, after all, concern himself with the mob. In picturing his hero as a teacher has not Nietzsche been tricked away from a true ideal to an historical one? Of necessity the great selfish figures of all time have gone down to oblivion. It’s the will of human society that only the benefactors of mankind shall be cherished in memory. A pure ideal is to be the thing yourself, concerning yourself no bit with proving it. And if the onward path of mankind seems to go another way than yours—proud soul, let it.

p. 184: This morning the icy bath. Then without breakfast we began upon our mail. What a wonderful Christmas at last! The bed was piled high with presents, the table high with letters. We sorted and gloated like hungry tigers that in the ecstasy of possession merely lick their food. All through the morning and deep into the afternoon I read the mail. Unwashed dishes stood about, for meals we but ate what was at hand. (Here follows in the journal a list two pages long of presents, of books—what a shelf of them!—woolen clothes and sheepskin slippers, music for the flute, plum-pudding, candy, chocolate, cigarettes,—and ever so much more.) And that being about seven times as much as we’ve ever had before is all. Ah, in the wilderness you love your friends and they too think of you. Better than all, though, are the letters; such friendly letters never were before.