Words

Strange Sojourn

The last true hermit

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Among the residents of North Pond, there was a legend: a hermit who emerged from the forest to ransack homes, taking food and gear and books. Items disappeared almost without a trace; you were sure you’d left batteries in the drawer, but suddenly they were gone. There were preferences—macaroni and cheese, candy, beer—but no patterns. There were suspicions, but no proof.

And then the legend had a name: Christopher Knight, 47 years old, from Massachusetts. In 1986, Knight parked his nearly new Subaru Brat, left the keys on the seat, and headed into the central Maine woods, carrying only the most rudimentary gear. He had one goal—“to get lost”—but lacked a solid plan.

Knight would survive in the woods, on his own, for 27 years.

Michael Finkel’s fascinating new book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, tells Knight’s tale. Though written with only grudging support from Knight himself, who truly prefers in all encounters to be left alone, Finkel manages to construct a nuanced portrait of this complex man and the extraordinary way he subsisted.

The book opens with an account of Knight’s apprehension at the hands of game warden Terry Hughes. Hughes employed high-tech devices developed for the Department of Homeland Security to capture Knight, who had eluded all previous security measures for years. When arrested, in the midst of plundering a camp kitchen he regularly frequented, Knight immediately identified himself and began to confess his crimes.

On its face, the hermit’s story strains credibility to the limit. Knight survived in a tent, making it through the brutal Maine winters without once lighting a fire or seeking indoor shelter. He neither hunted nor fished, instead sustaining himself on a largely processed-food diet obtained from dead-of-night raids on cabins and camps. He slept, not on the ground, but in a bed complete with mattress and bed frame, pillows and high-thread-count pillowcases (all stolen, of course). He was clean-shaven or maintained a neat beard, wore clean clothes, kept his camp tidy.

The book speculates at the motives behind Knight’s strange sojourn, though reaches no definitive conclusions. Background information gleaned from various sources fills out a portrait of a man who sought solitude above all else.

The price Knight paid was excruciating physically and mentally; he describes the fear and guilt he felt during every raid, and winces at the trauma his actions inflicted on others.

Questions about Knight’s experience abound, chief among them, what comes next for this unusual man? Finkel examines other notable cases of life in isolation to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of living absent the experience of human interaction. Can Knight reenter modern life with any degree of success? More to the point, does he wish to?

Readers will feel the author’s own conflicted response to his subject. Finkel walks a fine line with his account, taking care neither to celebrate Knight nor vilify him. Instead, The Stranger in the Woods is an unsparing, often difficult look at a man whose extreme life allowed him in some way to reconcile with a world that never felt quite right. “There was no place for him,” Finkel writes, “and instead of suffering further, he escaped. It wasn’t so much a protest as a quest; he was like a refugee from the human race.”

Mary Kinser is collection development librarian for Whatcom County Library System, where she selects fiction, DVDs, music and audiobooks for adults. She can almost always be found with a book in hand.

SVCR Live Music
More Words...
The Last Ballad
Finding the courage to create change

Working the night shift six nights a week to support her four kids (with another on the way), Ella May Wiggins is tired, and desperate, and her $9-a-week paycheck barely keeps enough food on the table.

Her oldest daughter, Lilly, takes care of the younger children while Ella is at work.…

more »
Skillshare Faire
Give as good as you get

Got a skill? Want a skill? Got a thing? Want a thing?

Skill-sharing is about teaching and learning all kinds of useful, handy and practical skills. Bartering is about offering things you have and know to receive things you do not have and do not know.

“Years ago, lots of people knew how…

more »
The Upcycle
From words to action

In The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability; Designing for Abundance, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart continue the work begun in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, where they set forth various ingenious schemes for recycling, endlessly, everything humans…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Ferndale Farmers Market

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Foof Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Last Outrageous Women

7:00pm|Village Books

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

7-Day Dance Festival Finale

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

2020 Solutions Sept 2017
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

South Whatcom Birding Walks

8:00am|South Whatcom Library

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Southside Rummage Sale

8:30am| Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Little Mountain Trail 10K

10:00am|Carpenter Creek Winery

Salmon Sighting

10:00am|Thompson Creek Bridge

Pesto Perfecto

11:00am|Ferndale Library

Council of the Animals

11:00am|Boulevard Park

Trial Vineyard Open House

12:00pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Sedro-Woolley Brewfest

2:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

The Art of Living

3:00pm|Deming Library

River Walk

3:00pm| Horseshoe Bend Trailhead.

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Kulshan CLT Community Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

BowEdison Anniversary Party

5:30pm|BowEdison

Democrats Dinner

5:30pm| Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

Fall Demo Derby

6:30pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Moment

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books
Sunday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Bellingham Bay Marathon

7:30am|Gooseberry Point

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Eat Local Month's Restaurant Week

8:00am|Whatcom County

Oyster Run Motorcycle Rally

9:00am|Anacortes

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Whatcom Chorale Benefit Concert

3:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

see our complete calendar »

Trove MBT Janis Joplin Bellingham Farmer’s Market BOB_2017 Village Books 2020 Solutions Sept 2017 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1