Since he was captured in April of last year, “North Pond Hermit” Christopher Knight has kept a low profile, turning down numerous requests for media interviews.
Until now, that is.
Michael Finkel, writing for GQ magazine, scored several interviews with Knight over a several-month span after beginning a pen pal relationship with the then-incarcerated hermit.
Finkel’s piece is in the current issue of GQ, which hit newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Tuesday, and will be available nationwide Aug. 26. It is also available online.
And while other journalists did not garner coveted interviews with Knight, GQ publicist Michelle Isaacs said Knight was not paid by GQ or Finkel for his participation in the story.
The story offers some fascinating insight into the life of Knight, who spent 27 years in the woods of rural Maine, surviving on food he stole from area homes and camps, before his eventual capture.
“Some people want me to be this warm and fuzzy person,” Knight told Finkel during one visit the writer made to Kennebec County Jail. “All filled with friendly hermit wisdom. Just spouting off fortune-cookie lines from my hermit home.”
Knight, now 48, estimated that he broke into 40 camps or homes a year, a total of more than 1,000 break-ins. He took what he needed to survive, always broke into places that were uninhabited, and vanished back into the woods.
And though he was initially reluctant to speak to Finkel, his comments reflect an intelligent man who has spent plenty of time thinking both about his decision to live in the Maine woods, and the society he left behind.
But over the 27 years he spent in the woods, he said he didn’t think of himself as others apparently did.
“When I came out of the woods they applied the label ‘hermit’ to me,” Knight told Finkel. “Strange idea to me. I had never thought of myself as a hermit. Then I got worried. For I knew with the label ‘hermit’ comes the idea of crazy.”
During one interview, Knight showed signs of pride in his ability to survive in the woods for so long, and dismissed Henry David Thoreau, who spent two years at a camp in the woods, as “a dilettante.”
Knight listened to radio broadcasts of TV programs and music, and said some classical music was fine, but “Bach is too pristine.”
And he particularly enjoyed classic rock ‘n roll, which he listened to on a radio at his remote campsite. The Who, AC/DC and Judas Priest received high marks, but Knight had one all-time favorite.
“They will be playing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs in a thousand years,” he told Finkel.
Knight told GQ that overcoming his own “scruples” and deciding that he had to steal to survive was a big step, and said he never enjoyed taking food and supplies from others.
“I’m a thief. I induced fear. People have a right to be angry. But I have not lied,” Knight told the writer.
The months in jail, and the prospect of trying to fit back into a society that he had abandoned was troublesome to Knight.
“I don’t know your world,” he told Finkel shortly before he was released from jail in November. “Only my world, and memories of the world before I went into the woods. What life is today? What is proper? I have to figure out how to live.”
Finkel said that the conditions of Knight’s release call for him to hold a job, and to remain out of the woods. After his release, Knight was accepted into the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, which aims to help people with mental health and substance abuse issues, according to BDN reports.
“Sitting here in jail, I don’t like what I see in the society I’m about to enter,” Knight told Finkel. “I don’t think I’m going to fit in. It’s too loud. Too colorful. The lack of aesthetics. The crudeness. The inanities. The trivia.”
And eventually, Knight — who said he was never ill during the 27 years spent in the woods — shared his secret for survival in the Maine woods.
“Get enough sleep,” he told Finkel.