by Dish Staff
Christopher Knight spent nearly three decades living alone in the woods of Maine, earning him the nickname “the North Pond Hermit,” before getting caught for theft and sentenced to prison. Michael Finkel asked Knight about what he learned from a solitary, hardscrabble existence:
Anyone who reveals what he’s learned, Chris told me, is not by his definition a true hermit. Chris had come around on the idea of himself as a hermit, and eventually embraced it. When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: “dilettante.”
True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn’t at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. “I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I’d rather take it to my grave.” The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others.
“But you must have thought about things,” I said. “About your life, about the human condition.”
Chris became surprisingly introspective.
“I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”
That was nice. But still, I pressed on, there must have been some grand insight revealed to him in the wild. He returned to silence. Whether he was thinking or fuming or both, I couldn’t tell. Though he did arrive at an answer. I felt like some great mystic was about to reveal the Meaning of Life.
“Get enough sleep.”
He set his jaw in a way that conveyed he wouldn’t be saying more. This is what he’d learned. I accepted it as truth.
(Photo by Flickr user Ctd 2005)