the maine hermit

Here’s included just enough of the hermit’s story to tantalize you. He lived, solitary, within sound of the occasional lawnmower and motorboats plying waters on the pond below his camp. The author of The Stranger in the Woods, Mr. Finkel, called Christopher Knight’s meeting with people “collisions”— as Anne Morrow Lindbergh used this word, I noticed while reading her journals. Collision.

We went biking uphill and downhill through woods, over sand deposits on trails — sands left by the glaciers. It’s the trail I think of as my free will trail. Sometimes on the trail I think about free will.



First we stopped our bikes just off the highway to talk with R.’s friend working on the machine, a riding lawn mower. Another man was with him we hadn’t met before, our generation maybe, lean, youthful, fitter than anyone present. He was doing the work, it seemed.

There was a brief introduction. I played my role as best I could and we parted from them to take the highway on toward the trail. Yes, I played a role. I pretended quiet.

I don’t know. Hard to analyze. One doesn’t want to parse behavior. I just want to be.

But it’s a social world. Even animals have to –? — parse the behavior (and smells) of their kind. I felt I had passed the test with the new acquaintance — an old Mainer if ever old Mainers there be. Still. In fact, those of my generation, descended from settlers here, are old Mainers, helping maintain the character of these communities. And they are plentiful yet — thank you Lord God Almighty. May I call you that?

It is this conundrum some experience that can make a man who went into the woods when he was 20 stay there for 27 years, at a campsite he made between glacial erratics, those giant huge rocks pushed around and left everywhere by the glaciers. The situation was a bit of an oddity because these rocks were placed just so by that giant glacial hand. They concealed a campsite where no fire was ever lit. Not even in a Maine winter. The hermit himself slipped in and out through a narrow passage between giant boulders. He lived within, careful to make no noise, not even to sneeze.

On our way from the woodland territory back to the town landing where we had parked the car, I saw the woodland structures we discovered a couple years back. We were still in the woods, above the stream and bog. But we could hear sounds of traffic on streets below. We had been on the free will path many many times, and had not noticed the structures obliquely angled there through the trees: old, weathered, rough: boles tied together at the top like tepees. They were fairly dark inside, but light slanted through because trees were bereft of leaves. One had a long dark wooden bench you could sleep on if necessary. We found them while snowshoeing the territory. Now leaves were coming on the trees and we weren’t sailing through on bikes but going slow, looking about — investigating and just being. Being alive.

still not easy to see the lighter, further shelter


As always, you can click on these images twice to enlarge fully.

woodland dwelling

We’re in the red as far as buying books is concerned. But our library has this one! And we’ve both read it.

Michael Finkel’s:  The Last True Hermit.

6 responses

  1. Pingback: having begun… « The Green and Blue House

  2. I’m eager to read this book, as I have been fascinated by this story ever since I heard of it. I can’t imagine living in the woods with no fire all winter…seems almost impossible. I note the article casts some doubts on the story…but truth can be stranger than fiction, and the human heart strangest of all!


    • very true! it’s really well-told, and seems convincing as read. pretty well documented, plus researched on hermits in general. i do sense a genuine quality in Finkel’s experience with Christopher Knight. Knight seems honest and real. but what a life.

      if you click on the first link in my post above, you should be able to scroll just a bit to this interview exchange:

      “Q: How did you verify the hermit’s story? What kinds of fact-checking did you do to confirm the details in the book?”


  3. What sorts of thoughts about free will do you have on the free will trail?

    It’s interesting that you said you played a role of being quiet. We’ve been watching The Crown (a dramatization of the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s monarchy) on Netflix, and one thing she talks about is the *work* of doing nothing, of representing an institution and not inserting too much of her own self into it. … Of course that may or may not represent the actual queen’s actual thoughts, but it was an interesting idea.

    I couldn’t live without fire/warmth, either actual or metaphorical. I liked in the GQ piece (and I assume this gets into the actual book, too), when Knight talked about a particular shelf mushroom that he’d watched grow over the years, and his anxiety over whether it was still there. I could identify strongly with that–and I guess those quiet, slow things are your friends when you’re living in complete solitude.


    • free will? i’m mulling that in a creative way, for creative purposes.

      thanks for engaging, friend. yes, i recall the mushroom from the book. i had the GQ article up then swapped it for the NYT article. perhaps i should not have done that. having the GQ article is …something …almost as good as the book. I don’t like to say almost, but it is very full.


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