personal note: Even in the 20th and 21st century America, here are two stories of two different males who choose to live their own way: away from the materialistic world we live in today. Two different stories but the choices are always there for anyone…who have the guts to live it your own way! Peace, steve,usa july 13, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
Why this man became a hermit at 20
BBC NEWS JULY 13, 2019
Many people don’t like being alone. They feel lonely. For others, though, it can be a source of ecstasy. The BBC’s Shabnam Grewal spoke to a hermit on the Scottish moors, and learned about an American who turned his back on the world when barely out of his teens.
In 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight drove into a forest in rural Maine. He abandoned his car, and taking just some very basic camping supplies, simply walked into the woods. He didn’t come out again for 27 years.
After getting deliberately lost, Knight eventually found the site that would become his home, a small clearing in the densely wooded area surrounding a lake called North Pond. He stretched some tarpaulin between trees, put up his small nylon tent, and settled down. He was completely hidden, despite being only a few minutes’ walk from one of the hundreds of summer cabins that dotted the area.
in the clearing near North Pond
Knight survived by breaking into these cabins and a community centre and stealing supplies. He only took what he needed – food, cooking fuel, clothes, boots, batteries for torches and a lot of books. He tried to cause as little damage as possible, but the sheer number of break-ins – more than 1,000 over the years, caused a lot of anxiety for some of the cabin owners. Eventually the police set a trap and caught him red-handed.
The writer Mike Finkel visited Knight in prison when writing his book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. He asked him the obvious question, “Why?” Why had he turned his back on the world and gone off to live completely alone?
“Chris Knight said he felt very uncomfortable being around other people. Now I had thought at first that there might have been a specific triggering action. ‘Did you commit a crime? Was there something you were embarrassed about? Was there a specific action?’ And he insisted that there was nothing like that at all. He said the tug to be alone was like this gravitational force, all his body was saying that he just felt more comfortable by himself.”
This tug was so strong that he chose to spend nearly three decades without speaking to a single person. Well, almost. He did speak to one person – he said “Hi” to a hiker who stumbled upon him one day.
Despite the bitter Maine winters, when temperatures can plummet to -20C, Knight says he never lit a fire, in case the smoke attracted attention.
“There are many aspects of the story of Christopher Knight that boggle the mind,” says Finkel.
“If you went one night in the woods of Maine in winter, camping in a thin-walled nylon tent, and didn’t light a fire, I’d be pretty impressed. If you did it for a week I’d be amazed, and a month would be beyond belief. And this guy did it for 27 entire winters.”
Knight told Finkel that he would instead go to sleep early, around 7pm, and set an alarm for 3am, the coldest time of the night. Then he would get up and walk around till morning, to stay warm.
Finkel then asked him what he did to occupy his time.
“For a little bit of the time he read some books, did the crossword… but really that did not occupy the majority of his time. What he did was what you and I might call ‘nothing’.”
If the idea of sitting alone, for half an hour, with nothing to do – think of being stuck, alone, in a lift, while your phone is sitting on your desk – is a little terrifying, then try imagining what it would be like confining yourself to a little clearing in the woods, for days, weeks, months, years…
“When I asked Chris Knight to explain this nothingness, he had some pretty interesting things to say,” Finkel says.
“First he was never for a moment, in all 27 years, bored. He was never lonely. He said that he felt almost the opposite of that. He said he felt utterly and intricately connected to everything else in the world. It was difficult for him to tell where his body ended, and the woods began. He said he felt this utter communion with nature and with the outside world.”
It sounds like a mystical experience, but one brought on not by psychedelic drugs, but by solitude.
Christopher Knight spent seven months in prison for his thefts, and has chosen not to speak to any journalist other than Mike Finkel.
THE LAST AMERICAN MAN by Elizabeth Gilbert 2002
Elizabeth Gilbert’s nonfiction book The Last American Man (2002) tells the story of Eustace Conway. Gilbert explores Conway’s unusual choice to live off the land and apart from modern, materialistic society. More than that, she uses his story to look at the larger picture of what it is to be a man in contemporary American society. Gilbert is a writer and journalist famous for works of fiction and nonfiction, including Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things.
Gilbert begins by introducing Conway as “the last American man.” She has known her subject a long time: they first met in 1993 through Conway’s younger brother, Judson. Already longtime friends with Judson Conway, she would become lifelong friends with Eustace Conway as well. Through her friendship, she offers particular insight into his character and personal history.
Conway, raised in Gastonia, North Carolina, brakes away from traditional society to make a life for himself surviving alone in the woods. By 2002, he has become a noted American naturalist and the founder of Turtle Island Preserve in North Carolina.
Why break with society? Gilbert offers clues. Conway’s home life was not a happy one during his childhood. His father, Big Eustace, was a chemical engineer who valued intellectualism and academic success above all else. Conway, then known as “Little Eustace,” was not the child his father dreamed of having. He did not apply himself at school and had no interest in pushing himself to achieve the highest marks. His father responded with cruelty and disdain, mocking his son and doling out disproportionate punishments.
Young Conway found solace from his father’s disapproval and disappointment in nature. He became a frequent visitor at the nearby Schiele Museum of Natural History. And whenever he wasn’t at school or in church, he could be found in the woods behind the Conway family home, exploring. By age twelve, he had begun to spend stretches of his life living off the land, alone in those woods. He displayed a preternatural ability to do so: Gilbert notes that by the age of seven, Conway “could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” By age seventeen, he officially moved out of his parents’ house to live in a teepee in the woods, using his survival skills and ingenuity to get by. He fashioned his own clothes from buckskin, snacked on nettles, and carved a set of wooden bowls and plates to eat off.
A few years later, he decided to live among a primitive tribe, the most technologically unadvanced people he could find. He flew to Guatemala to find fulfillment among a tribe that still practiced traditional ways of living and surviving. It was an important period in his life: he found some belonging among these people in a place so far removed from American consumerism. He accomplished a number of notable feats in his home country as well: he hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail on his own and paddled down the Mississippi in a handmade canoe.
Later, Conway actually did come back to civilization for a time: he attended college, partly to appease his father. Here, he achieved straight As and a double major in anthropology and English. Conway was popular among students, becoming a “big man on campus.” He was already something of a legend for his singular accomplishments and reputation as a wild man. After graduating, he returned to the wilderness.
Gilbert emphasizes that Conway is not a bleeding-heart tree hugger, nor a true survivalist: the wilderness is simply where he is comfortable, and where he feels he needs to be. She also notes another side to his character. Though Conway’s lifestyle is an expression of his dissatisfaction with the American Dream, he is still enmeshed in capitalism and the pursuit of money. He has bought land to set up a wilderness preserve, hoping someday to establish a utopian, off-the-grid community. But it takes money, work, and good business sense to make that happen. A former girlfriend describes Conway as someone “obsessed” with making money and buying land, someone who was always too busy traveling to spend time with her.
Conway establishes a wilderness preserve at Turtle Island. It offers a thousand acres of solitude and nature, and his hope is that he can use it to change the world. He uses his reputation to try to “wake up” complacent consumerist Americans. He sees his life as a challenge to unsustainable American lifestyles that hinge on the accumulation of wealth and comfort at the expense of the rest of the world. But he does so alone.
The Last American Man was a success upon publication. Reviews compared the book to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and praised Gilbert’s authorial voice as “wise and knowing,” delivering a stunning and balanced portrait of Conway’s life. The book received the National Book Award in 2002.