June 16 – 22, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 2

Summertime in the Belgrades

June 16 – 22


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North Pond Hermit Story

by Martha Barkley

With so many Maine authors to read (Richard Russo, Monica Woods, Kathy Swegar right here in Rome, etc.), what should I borrow from our Belgrade public library? The 2017 thoroughly researched story of Christopher Knight and his 27 years of survival in our local North Pond Maine woods. New York author and journalist Michael Finkel established a correspondence with "The Hermit" while he served his time in jail. Meeting and talking to him regularly proved revealing.

I found the story dumbfounding in many ways. How could he survive those twenty below zero winter nights without a fire? Christopher prized his need for solitude in the woods so highly that he faced death every winter of those 27 years. Only three minutes from a North Pond camp, how could his well established camp site be so well hidden?

His repeated invasions of The Pine Tree Camp was where he was finally caught.

We buy our annual Christmas cards from Pine Tree Camp, so I found this connection very personal. Also the news coverage locally of so many North Pond burglaries was the talk for many summers. Knight's stolen goods were rather small and he always carefully replaced screens and windows when he left . . . very neat and meticulous burglar.

The prosecution for only the last two years of burglaries was the legal evidence presented in court. Minor amounts of often less than twenty dollars of goods carried away by the hermit.

The author not only investigates Knight, but he covers solitary confinement victims and hermits around the globe. The history lessons are many. I found his John McCain experience of solitary interesting, because choosing to be a hermit is quite different from punishment imposed in prison.

The Albion family who welcomed their missing family member back home is quite moving. Every aspect of this story in our own backyard has so many ramifications. The camps on North Pond dealt both generously, by leaving bags of books on their exterior doors for him, and also judgmentally as well. Their privacy had been repeatedly invaded and clothes, food, and propane tanks stolen. Batteries were another important item taken.

His wellbeing today is one that may still seem precarious, even though his family has helped Christopher to meet all the court's demands, including weekly tests for drugs and alcohol, etc. when he never abused drugs. Knight works alone in the barn on his mother's forty-acre farm, repairing metal machinery for his brother's business. He still longs for the quiet of the woods even though he could hear the summer sounds of motor boating on North Pond while hiding for almost three decades.

Not many humans have achieved what Christopher Knight accomplished and yet remained sensitive and responsive in mind and spirit to tell the tale. Tears were shared between Knight and Finkel. Knight told Finkel to go home to his wife and children in Montana more than once! "The Hermit" loved the photos of the author's family, calling the two children "the cowboys, . . ." He just does not sound like a 20-year hermit to me . . .

The author expresses gratitude to Christopher Knight "for responding with elegance and intelligence" at the end of the book. How many people have retained their sanity after years of solitude? Not many, according to Finkel's research. Reading books is a big part of Christopher Knight's life, so North Pond owners began leaving bags of books outside for him to take so that he would not have to break in! Yes, they even left food donations. . . .

Michael Finkel also went camping often near the hermit's locale — now it has been cleaned up by a team and little evidence remains — it still is difficult for Finkel to find, no matter how many times he returns to camp and experience the silence and sounds of the woods that Knight sought. Years of propane tanks were buried and the "hermit home" was clean and neat when finally found, just as he was shaved and well dressed when captured at Pine Tree Camp in the middle of the night. His burglaries were at night and often he canoed around North Pond to the hundreds of camps. Knight's sense of hearing was extraordinary and helped him hide. He and his brothers all have a very graceful way of moving, which helped him glide through the woods unnoticed, between boulders and the elusive elephant rock entrance.