Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

Thoreau said, "It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest." But few people ever approach the bone, choosing instead to feast on the meat and carouse in the less nurturing but far tastier fat. I stay mostly in the middle, nibbling a little of everything. Surrounded as I am by neighbors but often passing whole days in silence when my husband is out of town, some days are better than others: the bad ones make me wonder just what the heck is wrong with me, while the good ones afford deep appreciation of every passing minute. Thus I stand in awe of those who opt for a life of solitude.

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My current hero is a hermit named Christopher Knight. I'm reading all about his 27-year escape from society living in a tent in a dense Maine forest, not in the middle of nowhere but just three miles from civilization. Still, in all that time he never saw or spoke to another person except for one passing hiker to whom he said "Hi." The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel is one of those books that insistently demand to be read, so if you have something important to do, don't start it. Besides telling an amazing tale, Finkel's writing is the kind you'll savor slowly for its lyrical imagery. For example, he describes Maine as "the cork atop the fizz of small states crowding the American Northeast."

But this is no book review; there are plenty of those out there already. Rather, I'm focused on what society has to offer, or not offer, that would make someone become a hermit. Knight is not the first and he likely won't be the last. Another one, also in Maine, was Captain Ray Phillips. A former New Yorker, he lived and eventually died alone on tiny Manana Island directly across the harbor from Monhegan Island, a wildly popular tourist magnet situated twelve nautical miles from the mainland. Infinitely more social than Knight, Phillips rowed the short distance to Monhegan daily for supplies and to pick up his mail from his many fans. Still, his time was spent mostly in solitude, interrupted by the occasional curious tourist -- I was one of those in 1970 -- with just his herd of sheep for company for 45 years.

I'm too much of a scaredy-cat to go whole hog with the hermit thing, but half a loaf is better than none. And though I miss him when he's gone, those days when my husband is away have a special kind of magic.

1 comment:

  1. Great book! I read it just a couple of weeks ago.