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The cost of solitude

Cover of The Stranger in the Woods:
A review of The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

What a discussion this book makes. One mention of the Maine Hermit and people are either outraged or enthralled. I'm relatively enthralled, not with the Maine Hermit per se, but with the details shared in this book. There is great investigative writing here, and interesting historical research. The story and details of a man who hid out in the Maine woods for more than 27 years without getting caught or sick or eaten by a bear is a compelling one, to say the least. 

A young man named Christopher Knight disappears in 1986. He is not reported missing. No one looks for him. Over the course of more than two decades, cabins and a summer camp near the North Pond area of Maine are burgled in a neat and considerate fashion. The types of items that are missing include junk food, alcohol, camping supplies, clothing and reading material. There are also more unusual things taken: an industrial tub of fudge, a pair of L.L. Bean jeans with leather belt, a twin bed. The residents are confused at first. Then they grow increasingly suspicious and angry. Traps are set, people leave notes for the Hermit, nothing changes. After a lot of intense searching, Homeland Security is contacted for specialty surveillance equipment and the Maine Hermit is finally caught. I'm going to repeat that. It took Homeland Security surveillance equipment to catch this person.

First, I have to reference the GQ article that introduced a lot of people to this news. Second, I want to say that I do not think the Maine Hermit is a hero, nor do I think he is evil. He's a person who wanted to live alone in the woods. And that's where the real discussion starts: can you live in the woods, isolated and away from society in this day and age? I think the answer is no. Life in today's world requires permits and taxes and some sort of income, eventually it may require medical attention and basic supplies. We see folks "living off the land" or "survivor men" being followed by film crews. These people are not living all alone. The author shares historical information about hermits, from anchorites affiliated with churches to the Victorian era hermits that were trotted out to manor house parties as entertainment. The idea of solitude doesn't really match up. 

The author interviews Christopher Knight during his incarceration for breaking and entering as well as corresponds via mail. Jail is not a great place for solitude and solitary confinement is not, either. So that's where I will leave this and you can make your own decision about the book and the Maine Hermit. 

Nov 4, 2020