Nonfiction Nagging: The Stranger in the Woods

I just finished The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel and feel a little... conflicted.

This is the story of a a man named Christopher Knight, who lived in the wilderness of Maine, reportedly, for twenty-seven years. He claims to have never used fire for fear of being caught, and fed himself by burglarizing empty cabins and camps (and also stealing propane for his stove). Everyone in the area spoke of his presence, but had never really seen him or could confirm his existence. One night, he was caught, and Michael Finkel was captivated by his story and decided to pursue the truth. He met with Knight many times when he was in jail, corresponded through letters, and then also meeting with him upon his release, once he was living with his family. Knight relished in his freedom, silence, and time to reflect and read while he lived outdoors. He is blatantly honest in all regards, especially when discussing his dislike of associating with others- he partakes in no social formalities. Various psychologists speculate he has some form of Autism or a personality disorder, but Knight brushes these diagnoses off a typical desire to label others. 

Many hesitate to believe his story, especially those victims of his theft. People are also very skeptical about his desire to survive in the frigid winters of the area, where temperatures can get to far below zero (especially when he refused to have a fire). But, there are many that did accept his story and credit his ingenuity and resourcefulness. People from all over the country have offered him land, jobs, and companionship, all of which he has declined. 

Finkel mixes in some historical accounts of other hermits, as well as a dose of psychology. Finkel certainly seems to be quite the fan (see title), being a man who enjoys nature and solitude himself. Interesting to note about the author is his past issues with reporting; about fifteen years ago a major publication cut ties with him after he compiled a series of interviews from different people into one voice. He was shunned for awhile but then slowly made his way back to the journalism scene. I did appreciate him mentioning this earlier in the text, but also doing due-diligence at the end by mentioning his two fact-checkers and his reporting methodology. Nonetheless, while Finkel maybe was a bit of a fanboy, and maybe a little bit of a thorn in Knight's side, I think his interest came from a place of good and admiration. 

At one point in the narrative there is a discussion about how long one can go without human contact. Finkel includes information about solitary confinement and past accounts of sailors who have spent great lengths of time at sea. He himself has only gone a few days. Me? I really had to think about this, and I'm guessing perhaps no more than a day, back when we lived in our apartment and my husband was gone overnight during a summer when I was home? Maybe? How long would I like to go? I often fantasize about going away for a few days to spend some time reading, writing, hiking, and sleeping in a cabin up in the High Sierras (but one with electricity and good water pressure), but I really think I'd start getting a bit too lonely after, say three days? It would be an interesting experiment if I ever have the luxury of conducting it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment