Like many of you I’ve been getting out for some hikes or a mountain bike ride on the nicer sunny days.
Being outside with my dog Lulu beside me just seems to brighten the day and makes me, and I’m sure her, feel better. I’ve avoided some of the more popular spots with full trailhead parking lots. Fortunately we do have lots of choices.
Recently while I was hiking along, deep in the woods nobody else around, I started thinking about what it might be like to be hermit to get away from all the bad news and craziness. Not that I would. I like people and with 14 grandchildren that would be difficult, all that you would have to give up and the loneliness.
I thought about friends of mine that live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She is an outdoor journalist and videographer. I saw on Facebook that when all of this first hit the Centennial State in late February or early March that she and her family had set up a camp somewhere in the Moab Desert. They are back home isolating now.
Another friend of mine Bob Downs, the ultimate adventurer and author who has written about traveling all over the world, posted online that maybe this was the time to hike the North Country Trail from here to its end in the middle of North Dakota. That would be around 2,200 miles traversing some pretty rugged country. It has been done by a few people, and that would certainly get you away from people while the virus runs its course. That’s about half the distance of the full trail, which is 4,600 miles.
Those are examples of getting away for awhile from all the bad news, not becoming a hermit.
But, what if?
A couple of years ago I read the book “The Stranger In The Woods” by Michael Finkel that details the story of a young 20-year-old man that in 1986 left his family and friends and disappeared in the Maine forest where he lived as a hermit for the next 27 years having contact with no one. He was captured in 2013 stealing food from a nearby campsite.
He established a camp in a nearly impenetrable thicket near a lake that had some seasonal cottages around, which he sometimes pilfered food and reading material from. He had no contact with the people although they knew someone was occasionally breaking into their cottages stealing food, but nothing else of real value. It terrified some and fascinated others who would sometimes leave food out for the taking.
What fascinated me was that he had no contact, spoke to no one during that time. When he was captured authorities had trouble believing him at first, but had to bring him up to date on events that took place during that time. They eventually did find he was telling the truth.
How he was able to live through 27 Maine winters in his shelter with no heat left me feeling cold. He had no fires, because smoke would have been a telltale giveaway. I can’t imagine surviving like that, but he was able.
The book drew me in quickly as it described one of his forays. He left no trails moving in the dark through tangled deadfall and boulders that others would find a thrashing, branch-snapping ordeal. It describes how he moved through the forest where mounds of snow and mud lay by bounding from rock to rock leaving no bootprint behind. The hermit feared one print would give him away, and he left none for 27 years.
I found the term “hermit” troubling for this fellow.
I had always thought of a hermit as sequestered on a mountain top or maybe deep in the desert where no one else was around, but if you avoid contact with anyone for 27 years it kind of qualifies.
In a portion of the book Finkel addresses some of those issues with a section examining hermits historically and in the present. Through interviews he held with the man after he was captured he was able to put together an impelling account of his life as a hermit and the challenges it presented.
While we continue our stay at home life I’m sure you are, like me, catching up on a lot of reading material. This is a book that I would recommend in case you’re looking for a good read during our isolation.