Would you willingly, on a whim, decide to give up everything and live off the land? Cut off from all human interaction. With your only food source available by pilfering from nearby seasonal lake houses. At age 20. Roughing it outdoors for all but one day. In Maine. for 27 years?!
Author Michael Finkel tells the story of Christopher Knight, a man who did just that, in The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.
You’d think living in isolation would be awful for whoever is doing it, but as was the case with Knight, he was fine with this notion. The people whom he stole from – never anything valuable, besides their peace of mind and sanity – think otherwise.
You see, over the 27 years, Knight was like a ninja, traversing through the woods without leaving even a single footprint, and uttering only one word, one syllable, to another human: “Hi.”
Sure, he wasn’t violent or armed and all he stole were watches, radios, batteries, propane tanks, blankets, a belt, some pants, frozen food, books, and other miscellany. He was diligent in leaving everything the same as it was before he got there; he didn’t go around burglarizing like they depict on television.
Where was his camp set up? A mere three-minute walk to the nearest cabin. He could hear hikers in the woods and see canoeists on the pond. Yet he went visibly unnoticed.
He lived what the Chinese refer to as wu wei, or non-doing. As Finkel put it, “he lived for a living.”
How the hell could someone make it through winters in Maine? For over quarter-century? For starters, he was a brilliant man.
He used a camp stove instead of fire to avoid detection. He gave himself sponge baths in the pond. He walked around his camp to keep warm.
When he was finally apprehended, he didn’t lie about anything, in fact, he owned up to all of it. Finkel wrote to him and eventually met with him several times in jail. He even met up with him a few times when Knight was paroled, but was eventually told to never come back.
But I mean…shit…27 years outside, battling the elements, in the Maine wilderness? Who cares that he stole food and stuff from houses, he interacted with only two people and uttered a single syllable over the house of his isolation. Kudos to Finkel for convincing him to say anything.