A Crafter's Life, Books, Music, Podcasts

Thoughts on Solitude

Recently I finished an audiobook, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017). This book tells the story of the North Pond Hermit (Christopher Knight) who lived alone in the Maine woods for 27 years.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Christopher Knight walked away from his life with the rest of humanity shortly after high school. He lived in isolation, in a hidden camp deep in the North Pond area of the Maine woods, without human interaction for 27 years.

Unfortunately, for 27 years, he pilfered summer camps for food, which eventually led to his capture. Until his arrest he was only known as a mysterious (and mythical) legend – the “North Pond Hermit”.

The book was fascinating – I listened to it nearly non-stop (anytime I could find a moment for a listen). Most of the book is Christopher Knight’s story told through the author, a journalist, who gained access to Knight during his incarceration. The other parts of the book are interviews with law enforcement, Knight’s childhood neighbors, and summer residents of North Pond who were tormented and terrorized for years of endless thefts of their summer camps.

The author also delves into the psychological aspects and impacts of isolation; and why some humans crave isolation while others would do anything to avoid it. He discusses the beauty experienced and wisdom/insight that can be gained from selected solitude (think of Henry David Thoreau). I found many of the author’s musings very profound.

There was something intriguing about the idea of living alone in the woods (I know, I know, it would be hard to using my electric sewing machine, but I could get a treadle machine…) and I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like to live alone in the woods and the peaceful beauty of solitude as I read the book.

I do enjoy my time alone – on a walk or reading in a quiet spot. However I enjoy an occasional DAY alone, not 27 years (or 9850+ days!) alone.

A couple of quotes from the book:

“Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant. (I)solation felt more like communion…To put it romantically, I was completely free.”

“Silence, it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.”

“Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all costs, but maybe it’s worthwhile to face it occasionally. The further we push aloneness away, the less we are able to cope with it, and the more terrifying it gets. Some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling there is.”

― Michael Finkel, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

I was fascinated how Christopher Knight learned to survive in the Maine woods, especially during the long exceptionally brutal winters. It is amazing the price he was willing to pay each winter to continue to live in isolation. You can check out videos on YouTube (just search “North Pond Hermit” or “Christopher Knight Hermit”) of the camp he created as his hidden home in the Maine woods, taken when law enforcement seized his camp contents after his arrest.

His story of surviving in the woods, made me think of a recent post by one of my favorite bloggers, Dewey Hop: Feisty Froggy Reads Through the LibraryNatural Disasters. Feisty Froggy discusses/reviews several books on how to survive disasters and what emergency supplies to have on hand. Christoper Knight went into the Maine woods as a young man without a “bug-out bag” or any standard/basic survival supplies. He just parked his car at the edge of the woods, got out and headed in to live the next 27 years of his life in isolation.


In the Postscript section of my 04/12/17 post A Happy Ending for “Happy Ending”, I shared that I overdid it reserving a bunch of audiobooks all at once from my beloved public library and five (5) books came available at once!

Well the next day, a 6th book came availableThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit – the audiobook discusses in this post. Since the library only gives you 21 days to listen to the audiobooks and you cannot renew them if they have holds (and all the books had holds), I had to make some decisions.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit obviously got priority, because I finished it! Here is what happened to the other audiobooks mentioned in the 04/12/17 post:

  • Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman – This audiobook is awesome, narrated by the author himself in his delightful British accent – my audiobook loan expired before I could finish it, so I have reserved it again…
  • For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men
    – Shaunti Feldhahn – Very interesting book – I think it should be required reading before you get married (there is a companion book for men on the Inner Lives of Women); it is faith-based but not too heavy handed in regards to biblical tie-ins. I considered myself successfully married for eons but I gained some new insights.
  • We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere – Gillian Anderson & Jennifer Nadel (yup, Gillian Anderson of The X-Files fame) – I wanted to like this book but struggled to finish it. It seemed very inspirational but it was read by the authors and for some reason they, especially Gillian Anderson (who I loved in The X-Files). I might try it again the future as a paper book instead of audiobook.
  • Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett – Oh my goodness – I love this book – absolutely hysterical with lots of British style snarky humor. Unfortunately my loan expired before I finished it, so I am anxiously awaiting notification that I can download it again (our library uses the Overdrive app and your download automatically expires when the 21 days are up)
  • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions – Neil Gaiman – Never got to it. Will try it again the the future.

Yes of course I reserved more audiobooks at the same time again. I do not want to be without an audiobook! I am currently listening to The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work by Yoni Freedhoff. I will chat about that in the future and what became of the Fast Metabolism Diet I shared in posts from mid February to early March 2017.

Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, survived and thrived in isolation by reading books (that he stole from summer camps). If I had to, I guess I could survive in isolation for a couple years, as long as I had audiobooks!

Featured image credit: Gabor Szakacs, freeimages.com


33 thoughts on “Thoughts on Solitude”

  1. I am trying to imagine 27 years of aloneness. Can’t. And I am not someone who minds being alone, like you say, for a day or so.

    I have a friend who discovered by accident that Overdrive can’t recall a book when the iPad is in airplane mode. She threatens to do so when books run out in an untimely way–I don’t know if she really had done so.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very interesting story…I had not heard about it before. I haven’t had much luck using OverDrive – I can never seem to find any audio books available – I’m sure it’s User Error!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you have a handy local public library you can bring your device to them and they will help you get set up. Our library even offers scheduled 1:1 training sessions (they are all about using digital resources). Thanks for your comments 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. After I left that comment I went to YouTube and searched for a tutorial…and I found one!! I’m listening to The Girl on the Train right now. I’m so happy I took the time to figure it out – thanks for the nudge 🙂

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  3. Good morning. The book sounds fascinating, and thanks for the review. I do like being alone, but I have often been lonely. I’ve realized that the last few months I’ve felt that less. The only difference is leaving the house more regularly. I don’t have any significant, in-depth, or emotional interactions with others. I just go to the gym. So perhaps isolation isn’t for me. 🙂

    I really should try audiobooks for my sewing time. I do “watch” old NCIS episodes (I don’t watch them. I just listen, with occasional glances at the teevee.) So audiobooks might be a better use of my time. However, I have just started the 12th season of 13 in Netflix, so perhaps I’ll finish it first…

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  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Melanie.
    I think I have seen every episode of NCIS several times, for some reason we have been addicted to that show for years! I like to listen to documentaries on Netflix while sewing, I have learned not to try and watching say a romantic comedy or something I get engrossed in, while sewing – that is when sewing accidents happen – ha!
    I totally get what you are saying about “being alone” vs “being lonely” – interesting the older I get the less I need regular in-depth interactions with others in person, I could use that time crafting – ha!

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  5. We lived in far Northern Maine for years, and many of the residents were there to find escape from some aspect of civilization. You might enjoy “We Took to the Woods”, an autobiographical account of a woman who married someone whose work required him to live in relative isolation in the Maine woods. It is an OLD book, though, so you may not have access unless you find it at Powell’s 🙂

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    1. Wow thanks for the book recommendation. I have been to Maine but only to the coast on vacation, never the woods. My husband when in the military had a remote assignment in New Hampshire in the woods and he said people were kind of odd in that part of the country (in the backwoods of New England). I will look for the book 🙂

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  6. Thank you for linking up to Dewey Hop and for your very kind words!

    This post is very interesting and I will be on the look out for this hermit book on my read through of the library.

    Of the other books you mentioned, I have read For Women Only, and I confess I also read the one about the Inner Lives of Women (the book for men) because I wanted to see what was being said about us! LOL. Like you, I have a good marriage but there is always something to learn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is great that you read about what was being said about us – hope it was on point! I am curious about your future posts as you work your way through – I think there is like an auto mechanics section and stuff like that to come – ha! Wait till you get to cook books, etc., lol 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I have been contemplating how to handle some of those sections. Hmmm might have to be a virtual tour of a few areas! LOL. The 360’s are a huge section but the cookbooks make the 360’s look like a dwarfy little area! LOL.

        Maybe I will have to get some guest writers too. LOL

        It’s been quite awhile since I read that other book but it did seem pretty on point.

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    2. You know you could ask those of your blogging buddies who are obsessed with the library like us to recommend our favorite library cookbooks and give a little review! I have some favs in mind 🙂

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  7. Thank you for the quotes re: silence and isolation. Very chewy material. I’ll be checking that out at my library too. I thank you for your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Tierney. 🙂 I loved ‘Walden’ as a teen, and hermit stories are kind of fascinating – something about people who make a choice that most would see as full of deprivations. Thanks for sharing this read; I will look into the story! My partner is now reading Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”, and says it’s good. Now I know what new author to read when I have a chance!

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  9. haha. What a funny coincidence re: Thoreau. 🙂 Oh, this reminds me: I’ve always wanted to read Anthony Storr’s “Solitude: A return to the self” and your post just brought it to mind, in case your audiobook cue needs another title (am adding it to mine in sec, lol).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for the reviews! I have forwarded them on to my daughter, who commutes 40 minutes to work. She listens to books all the time. This post has me thinking seriously about getting into audio books, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope she likes it and if she has any good audiobook recommendations, send them my way. I love walking, driving, sewing while listening to a good book! 🙂


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