When he was 20, Christopher Knight walked into the woods of Maine and didn’t speak to another soul (save a quick “hi” to a passing hiker) for 27 years, during which he lived not off the land but off the propane tanks and freezers of his neighbors.
He started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn’t want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.
His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.
“For how long?” wondered Perkins-Vance.
Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.
Make sure you read until the end. This isn’t a just-the-facts-ma’am piece on some hermit; it turns out that someone who has spent almost three decades alone has something insightful to say about being human.
Update: The author of the GQ piece is coming out with a book in March about Knight called The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.
Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life — why did he leave? what did he learn? — as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.