Nov 23, 2020

The Stranger in the Woods

the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit 
by Michael Finkel

     I hadn't heard of this story before- in 1986 a young man named Christopher Knight drove as far as he could on back roads in rural Maine, left his car depleted of gas, and walked into the forest. Eventually he found a hidden clearing in some very thick tangled trees and brush, where he made a camp and lived alone for nearly three decades. Very like Into the Wild. This Chris however, was successful for a long time. He had survival skills, he was adept at moving quietly through the trees without leaving tracks, and he had a steady source of supplies- stealing from nearby vacation cabins around a lake. Was ashamed of his thievery but kept doing it- for twenty seven years!- until finally he was caught. He only wanted to be alone, to live in solitude, he never accepted handouts people offered on their porches when they got tired of the break-ins. He suffered a lot living out there in the winter- from hunger and cold for months on end. Kept himself occupied by reading books and magazines (stolen of course), listening to a radio or just sitting quietly thinking. Once apprehended he was incarcerated for a while, then forced to live in society again. Where this journalist found him and gained his trust enough to be able to write his story (but later kept approaching him when Chris obviously asked to be left alone). It also includes the perspective of the vacation home-owners around the lake, some of whom constantly felt uneasy, or their children fearful of the thief, while at their cabins. There are brief examinations of various people who have lived in seclusion throughout history and what compels them to do so, and some criticism of Walden. Many people who profess to be modern-day hermits shun the North Pond Hermit (as he became known by those in the area) for his criminal ways. The story is kind of a quandry for me. I get a lot of what Chris said- I'm an introvert myself, I know what it's like to feel more comfortable in quiet places, apart from the noise and bustle and pretense of general society. As a kid I used to daydream about living in the woods off survival skills (but knew very well I didn't have any!) But to do so for decades by stealing- this man did so literally hundreds of times, from some thirty families- even though it was for the most part inexpensive items- I can't condone that.  There's several news articles about him if you do a quick search.

Rating: 3/5            192 pages, 2017


  1. I could go for a small cabin hidden away in the woods somewhere...but without out all the stealing. :)

    1. It was actually a tent, under a rigged tarp shelter. Sounds like it was pretty darn cold (and wet) in the winter, when he was just barely surviving- sleeping long hours under piles of sleeping bags, multiple layers of clothing, still unable to keep warm and walking at intervals to keep from freezing. He never once built a fire, to avoid being found. Pretty adamant at maintaining his solitude, to the extreme of suffering for it. The summers sounded nice though!

    2. I'm not a fan of tents. For me, it'd have to be a cabin. With a warm fireplace. And a full pantry. ;D

  2. What an interesting story. I can't imagine living in total isolation the way this man managed to do for so long. I consider myself an introvert by nature, but I wonder if someone like this fellow has a mental illness that needed to be treated way before he was caught in the act of stealing and finally arrested.

    I'm going to add this one to my list.

  3. It was very complete. He said later that during those 27 years he only once met another person face-to-face- it was a man on a hiking trail, they said "hi" and passed each other, that was it. I'm an introvert too, but I also need family and friends or I do get lonely! There were speculations in the book that he was on the autism spectrum or had a personality disorder, but nobody really knows for sure. I think it's rather sad- he found a way to live where he liked, alone as he preferred, but couldn't do it without the thievery. If he'd been able to live out there in the forest self-sufficiently, I think he might have been happy.


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