This book delves into the fascinating case of Christopher Knight, a man who lived twenty-seven years in central Maine without human contact. Knight survived by stealing food and other supplies from cabins and other unoccupied buildings in the area. By his own admission, Knight conducted about forty burglaries per year for the more than a quarter of a century he lived in solitude. In addition to providing a biography of Knight, his hermit years as well as his capture, his trial, and his challenging reentry into society, the book discusses the psychology and philosophy of reclusive living in some detail.
This book was riveting to me, in part because I’m pretty deep into introverted territory and I recognize some of Knight’s personality traits in myself, and even I can’t fathom how he managed that degree of solitary living over so many years. What seems to be most difficult for people to comprehend was how he lived with only a tent-like shelter through the Maine winters, sometimes below zero Fahrenheit, while never building a campfire. (He did have a propane stove, but wouldn’t build a fire for fear that it would bring the authorities right to him.) That is astounding, but what I find even more amazing is the psychology, how Knight maintained sanity with that degree of self-imposed isolation, prisoners in solitary confinement have gone stark-raving mad with shorter and less intensely solitary stints.
Another issue that makes Knight’s story so compelling is that in so many ways he wasn’t your typical hermit. While he seems to have been uniquely wired to thrive on solitude and had the intelligence necessary to problem solve his survival, he wasn’t a spiritual seeker; he wasn’t particularly a minimalist (he accumulated lots of stuff;) and he did listen to the radio, as well as listening to television shows over his radio. While he went to great lengths to ensure he didn’t come into contact with people and that his camp wasn’t found, it’s interesting that he did stay fairly close to people [granted that might have been entirely owing to the need to steal from them, but one has to wonder if proximity didn’t have other causes as well.] Knight is an engaging character, it’s hard not to have some respect – begrudging or otherwise — for his ingenuity and unique capacity for extreme solitude, but he’s also a felon whose burglaries disturbed a lot of people’s lives.
This is one of the most captivating books I’ve read in some time, and I’d highly recommend it.
Sitting on cold, volcanic rock
upon a stormy shore,
Watching waves crash, hearing naught but
wind, and crying for more
in a scream that cannot be heard
over nature's harsh din
as I feel the snap of gusty
wind, through cloth so thin
that it can't hold back nature's force
to draw the heat from bone,
and, feeling under this black sky,
I am now all alone.
The lonely lighthouse keeper,
peering through a deep-set but narrow window
at waves smashing onto the rocky shore,
spouting upwards in a fanned geyser.
So much depends
upon his maintenance of momentum,
but the better things go,
the more dreadfully boring is life,
and when things go poorly,
there are russian roulette
odds of tragedy.
Like life on a mountain,
but when someone crashes
into the mountainside,
is an unlikely participant
in the tragedy.