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Hermit Photo

What would you ask a hermit if you met one? I wondered about this when I read an article last week in The New York Times about Christopher Knight, 47, a hermit who lived in the Belgrade Lakes area of Central Maine for 27 years. He is now living in the Kennebec County Jail because he was not only a hermit, but a hermit-burglar.

At first, I was surprised to hear that Christopher has “captured the imagination of people from around the world, who began sending him bail money and even marriage proposals.” But now I get it. I’m intrigued by his story, too. People love legends and Christopher plays into a lot of people’s fantasies: “Living off the grid without paying taxes.” Living a life of freedom. Living on his own terms – no boss, no need to get up early and get to work. No bothersome phone calls, texts, tweets, or emails.

According to the article, when Christopher was caught, “He told the police that he had not spoken during his decades of self-exile except for one day in the 1990s when he had uttered a greeting to a passing hiker.”

His interaction with the hiker really stood out to me because it represented the only moment of human interaction he had had in more than a decade. How does someone not have a conversation with another human for so long? Did Christopher talk to himself? I wondered. When the hiker walked away, did Christopher feel a sense of loss that he had missed the opportunity to connect?

The hermit and the hiker’s exchange made me think of questions I’d like to ask the hermit. As I wrote the questions down, I found more began to emerge.

Did you ever love someone?
Were you lonely on Christmas?
Did you ever write letters to old friends and wish you could mail them?
Did you have any photos that you kept in your tent?
What do you wish you had found but never did in all the houses where you stole things?
Did you always want to be a hermit?
What was the most unusual thing that you’ve ever seen in the woods?

I tried to picture this “Boo Radley of the Woods” in jail surrounded by inmates pestering him for tips on how to break into people’s homes. He went from living in a green beautiful peaceful world to a dismal gray one, overpopulated and noisy. He chose to do what he did to survive the wilderness and that led him to where he is now, in another place where he must also learn to survive.