April 21, 2019
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The Hermit of North Pond slipped into the woods and never came home for supper

Courtesy of Renee Ordway
Courtesy of Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

When I was a kid, I had a secret spot I snuck off to on occasion to play or just sit by myself.

To get there I simply crossed my quiet, dead-end street, dashed behind the Hendersons’ house to a back field that ran behind the McKays, the Dodges and the Coles. I had to navigate a small portion of the Ferry’s cow pasture and cross the railroad tracks to get to my spot.

At a dead run it took me about five minutes to arrive, but it felt a world away from my neighborhood.

I thought of it as an island, separated on one side by the tracks and another by a small stream that ran between it and a huge open field that I preferred to call a meadow.

Just beyond that field was Interstate 95, but at 10 years old I could easily imagine that away.

While there, I would often pretend to be Jessie, the 12-year-old sister in the Boxcar Children series written by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Jessie was one of four orphaned siblings who ran off and made a home in an abandoned boxcar in the forest where they fended for themselves and lived a simple life away from the common troubles of the real world.

Sitting in the grass by the side of the stream beneath a stand of birch trees, I would relish the solitude and become lost in my make-believe world of living off the land.

If I was particularly mad at my mother or a sister or two I might have actually contemplated whether it could be done. Whether I could disappear and fend for myself with only birds and an occasional groundhog for company.

After an hour or so of solitude and pretend, I would run the same route home in time for lunch or supper.

It was a long, long time ago but just once in awhile I still visit that place in my head when worries and strife interfere with a decent night’s sleep.

Even as adults I figure most of us, on occasion, long for a quiet place of solitude, away from the stresses of our daily lives.

A place where we wouldn’t know or care what Gov. Paul LePage had said or done or what the crime and unemployment rates were.

A place to be truly alone, to listen to the birds and not much else.

It sounds lovely.

But here’s the deal.

We’d all get lonely and we’d all go home when it got cold outside.

Well, most of us anyway.

Not the Hermit of North Pond, aka 47-year-old Christopher Knight.

His story of simply disappearing from his life into the Maine woods and living alone through 27 long and cold winters is being heard now around the world.

Knight, as you know by now, was caught recently while stealing goods from the Pine Tree Camp on North Pond.

A high-tech alarm system finally ended his life of solitude. He told the game wardens who arrested him he believed he had spoken to only two people during that time period.

He figures he committed about 1,000 burglaries from camps around the pond, stealing food and supplies he needed to get by.

Not money, not jewelry, no family heirlooms. Sleeping bags, food, toilet paper. He’d “borrow” boats, he has said, to get across the pond, but always returned them.

For nearly 30 years he has been a legend around the pond with no one knowing for sure whether the North Pond Hermit was real or folklore.

He watched plants grow, in particular a mushroom, and became familiar with the eagles that nested in the area.

During the winter, he barely left his camp for fear that his footprints in the snow would lead someone from our world to his.

Now his camp has been dismantled and camp owners are perusing the stash to hopefully reclaim some of the items he stole.

He is in jail facing countless theft and burglary charges and the prospect of seeing members of his family who never reported him missing.

A folk song has already been written about him and news organizations around the globe are telling his tale.

Well, a tale anyway, for the real story is not what he stole or how long he may have to remain in jail.

What we all want to know of course is what was he thinking?

How’d he survive the weather and the isolation? What caused him to walk into those woods and never come out?

Was he ever lonely? Curious about the world events? Regretful?

Did he plan to ever return to civilization on his own?

What was a typical summer day like for him?

Is he sane?

We are fascinated for sure because most of us have a secret spot where we like to run off to from time to time to disappear, but most of us always return in time for supper.

We all want to hear why the Hermit of North Pond didn’t.

Hopefully in a respectful manner and in his own words.

You can reach Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.

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