Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel


In 1986, Christopher Knight parked his car on an unpaved road.  He put the keys in the visor and walked into the woods.  He wasn’t heard from again for 27 years.

The Stranger in the Woods:  The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is Knight’s story.  It details how he spent almost three decades living alone in the woods.  He didn’t sleep indoors for a single night.  He spoke one word aloud the entire time; he said “Hi” to a hiker who saw him on a trail.  He was a three minute walk from a popular lake ringed by seasonal and year-round cabins but the forest was so thick around his campsite that nobody was ever able to find it…until he lead police there.  The police had been investigating the “North Pond Hermit” for about as long as Knight had been in the woods.  The investigations centered on hundreds of break-ins spanning dozens of years.

Michael Finkel is a journalist and lover of the outdoors.  He has gone on numerous solo hiking and camping adventures in his life.  So, the story of a man living in solitude in the forest for longer than any other person on record caught his attention.  He contacted Knight in prison and, much to his surprise, Knight responded.  He ended up meeting with Knight several times to put together this story.  He also spoke with some of Knight’s family (who hadn’t heard from him for the entire time he was gone) and the families who owned the cabins around the lake.  Finkel amassed a lot of information about how Knight lived by himself for so long even through deadly winters in central Maine.  However, the question Finkel was most searching for was why.  Why would a quiet, intelligent man in his early 20s suddenly walk away from his life and the world to live in isolation against the elements?  And what does that tell us about society these days?


If you like this book, you might also like The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, a true story about the dark side of isolation at sea.  It was reviewed here.

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