A journalist’s account of a Massachusetts man who went deep into the Maine woods to live a life of solitude and self-sufficiency.
While scanning the news online, Finkel (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, 2005) came across the story of Christopher Knight. Police officers had arrested Knight for burglary, but when they questioned him further, they discovered that their suspect had been living alone in the wild for 27 years. Fascinated, the author sought out the “North Pond hermit” to learn why he had turned his back on society and understand the challenges he now faced with reintegration. Knight’s boyhood and adolescence had been ordinary; his most outstanding traits were his shyness and penchant for solitude. Then, when he was 20, he suddenly quit his job. Without saying a word to friends or family, he went on a road trip that eventually led him to the shores of Moosehead Lake in Maine. There, he parked his car and, carrying only a backpack and a tent, “stepped into the trees and walked away.” Knight built a shelter deep in the woods, where he camped outdoors even during the bitterest of Maine winters. He broke into nearby cottages, where he stole only what he needed to survive, including food, clothing, and magazines. His burglaries—for which he admitted feeling “ashamed”—frightened residents at first. However, over time, many became used to his “visits” and even tried to leave out supplies for him to take. Through interviews conducted with the elusive Knight and those who knew him, Finkel creates a sympathetic portrait of a gentle yet quietly troubled man who willingly chose a Spartan existence in nature as a way to find the peace and freedom that eluded him in society. The narrative that emerges from Finkel’s compassionate research not only probes the nature of the relationship between the individual and society, but also ponders the meaning of happiness and fulfillment in the modern world.
A thoughtful, honest, and poignant portrait.