Ever wished you could drive out to the middle of nowhere, park the car, toss the keys, walk into the woods and leave the messy world of human society – forever?
Well, one man tried just that, and he very nearly succeeded. In The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel shares the story of Chris Knight, a man who left the world on a whim and didn’t emerge from his makeshift isolated camp in the woods of Maine for 27 years. Even then, he didn’t come out voluntarily. Granted, Knight’s unusual lifestyle was never completely disconnected from society. He was close enough to residences to hear voices and human activity from time to time, even though he did not interact with – nor was he seen by – people. His hermit-like lifestyle wasn’t purist, but rather supported by his habit of burglarizing a summer camp and cabins for necessities – including books, for which any librarian can almost forgive him.
Many of us feel like we’ve become involuntary hermits due to the isolating effects of COVID-19. Memes abound for introverts (celebrating an overabundance of recharge time) and extroverts (descending slowly into the madness of solitary confinement). Yet as Finkel points out from his in-depth study of hermits throughout the ages, no one exists in a vacuum. Even the most hardcore hermits had some help from the outside world.
Knight chose to risk death in the bitterly cold Maine winters over giving up his solitary existence. Many of us risk loneliness for physical safety (from COVID-19), but it’s doubtful that we’d risk our lives to be alone on purpose. Knight is an anomaly in a world of highly-social humans, where after periods of pandemic isolation, we start joking about missing people we don’t even like.
Solitude is desirable, loneliness is not. What’s the difference? Finkel explores this and other questions – introversion, community, agency and more – in his book about the Hermit of North Pond. If you’re looking for an engaging read that prompts you to think about your relationship with solitude, nature and community, give it a try. You can check out Finkel’s The Stranger in the Woods from the library in regular print, large print, audiobook or e-book. Put it on hold at RVL.info or call the library.
Speaking of books – if you’re feeling isolated, books can be soothing companions. The sound of a narrator’s voice in an audiobook, the written thoughts of another human being, or an escape to a different world can all take our focus away from our loneliness for a while.
Maybe you have a small social circle and miss conversing with other people. Give your local library a call. We love to hear from our community members, and we’ll gladly spend some time catching up with you and finding something new for you to while away the pandemic drag. Don’t be a hermit; be a friend.
Botetourt County Libraries