Megan Hempel.jpg

Megan Hempel, Daily Sun Assistant Editor

A little solitude sounds great to most of us, taking a break from the demands of everyday life and enjoying some time to ourselves.

Maybe it's not something we want all the time, but it's definitely something we all want.

What if one day we finally acted on that feeling?

That's exactly what Christopher Thomas Knight did.

At the age of 20 – fed up with society and in search of solitude, Knight quit his job, cashed his final pay check and removed himself from life as we know it.

In 1986, Knight drove from his home near Massachusetts and disappeared into the Maine wilderness where he would live for the next twenty-seven years before the real world caught up with him again.

When I first read the account of the North Pond Hermit in articles and the book The Stranger in the Woods, all written by Michael Finkel, I was awestruck.

After reading the first lines of one of Finkel's articles I was hooked.

“At the age of 20, Christopher Knight parked his car on a remote trail in Maine and walked away with only the most basic supplies. He had no plan. His chief motivation was to avoid contact with people. This is his story.”

As an introvert, I've always been fascinated by the idea of a hermitic lifestyle and those who commit themselves to it. The idea that a person could simply shake off the chains of social constructs and remove themselves from the equation entirely is nothing short of inspiring.

Surely that kind of upheaval is no longer possible in our ever-advancing world.

But Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, did just that.

For almost three decades Knight lived alone, committing more than a thousand burglaries to get by. That would ultimately be his undoing.

Maybe if Knight had lived more like the hermits of old, eating only what he could find in nature, living in a hovel and rejecting all modern conveniences, he could've finished out his life in total isolation.

Locals dubbed Knight “the Hungry Man” because he never stole expensive items, choosing instead to take food, winter clothes, batteries, and other essentials from remote cabins around North Pond, Maine.

On April 4, 2013, while committing what would be his last burglary, Knight was finally captured and eventually sentenced to seven months in jail, most of which he had already served while awaiting the sentencing, ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution to his victims and three years probation.

What a terrible shock it must have been to abruptly transition from living twenty-seven years of pure freedom to spending seven months locked in a 6 foot by 8 foot cell.

In jailhouse interviews, Knight expressed to Finkel his remorse for stealing what he needed to get by, admitting to committing around 40 burglaries a year to sustain himself during his time in self-imposed isolation. By all accounts, even prosecutors believed that a longer sentence would have been too cruel a punishment for Knight, who they deemed unlikely to continue committing such offenses.

What led the North Pond Hermit to a life of isolation may never be known.

His plan had been to die in the woods, unnoticed and unknown, but now he's back in the societal mix that he so desperately tried to escape.

“I did examine myself,” Knight told Finkel. “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.”

Knight's story, and his time as the mysterious North Pond Hermit, really makes you think.

Who exactly are we when no one is watching?