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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lessons from the Maine Hermit

For almost 30 years Christopher Knight lived as a hermit in the Maine woods. He did not hunt, fish, garden or practice many wilderness skills. He lived on stolen food and equipment. To remain hidden he never built a fire but relied on a propane stove and stolen propane bottles.

When he was caught in April 2013 the original story about him peaked my interest. The area in Maine where he chose to hide is little different than here in Northern New Hampshire. Survival challenges are pretty much the same.

I used to spend a lot of time alone in the woods, but usually 2-4 days at a time. Once I spent a week in the mountains with no contact with other people. Compared to Mr. Knight, I was only dabbling. Even so, it's possible to get some idea what's necessary for survival.

Theoretically, it's possible to move out into the woods and start living exactly the way the Maine hermit did. With a little planning, it would be possible to stockpile food and supplies and never have to take the risk of stealing. Part of the reason the hermit was able to stay undetected so long is that he had a very tiny footprint. His camp was small and hidden. By not trying to live off the land he was able to limit his movements. Game wardens are always on the lookout for people hunting or fishing in violation of the laws. Gardens take up space, allowing more chance of discovery from people on the ground or aircraft. His big risky behavior was his stealing -about 40 break ins per year. However, that averages to less than once a week. It could not have been too risky as he was able to do it for almost 30 years.

There were a couple guys who lived in the woods here in Northern New Hampshire, but they weren't exactly hermits. One young guy lived in a simple lean to in the hills. He made money as a trapper. Occasionally he'd come out of the hills to visit friends and drink at the bars. The guy loved his booze. Sadly, he died young from cancer. Another guy was a Vietnam Vet who could only sleep comfortably in the woods. He had a couple of simple shelters hidden in dense forest. Once I stumbled across one of them. It was a low log cabin, about 6 X 8 feet with just a door. He wasn't there at the time. I quietly left, making sure to leave no trace of my visit. The guy would hike into town fairly often. He'd go to the library to read the newspapers then disappear back into the woods.

My dad used to have a hunting camp 9 miles up a dirt road. His camp sat about ¼ mile off the main road. While not isolated in these days of 4X4 vehicles and snowmobiles, it was pretty remote. The cabin was a simple 16 X 16 foot structure. It had a bunk bed, a single bed, a woodstove, propane stove and two propane lights. There was no running water and it had an outhouse out back. This cabin, simple as it was, provided a lot more comfort than Knight's tent. Thanks to the woodstove winter nights were fairly comfortable. I could have survived there for a long long time -without having to rob anyone either.

Christopher Knight's skill set was a mixed bag. He had stealth and the mental mind set to survive uncaught for a long long time. However, he only survived because he had a functioning civilization to plunder. Had those camps not been full of supplies, refreshed on a regular basis, his strategy would not have worked.

Over and over I hear people say that in a collapse they'll just run off and live in the woods. Yes, it can be done, but it's not easy. How many people who say that have never spent any time alone trying to stay undetected? Darn few. If that's your plan, fine. Take a two week vacation and disappear like Christopher Knight for a short while. See how that goes. Then tell me if it's a good plan or not.



  1. I could have done it when I was younger, but now I just want my AC and a couch. . .

  2. I got the impression that he didn't really have any type of plan when he originally started his hermit lifestyle.

    I understand wanting to be left alone, but stealing to stay alive isn't the way to go. Just my opinion.

  3. Many Vietnam Veterans live in the HOH area of northern Washington state the VA helps them and a reach out veteran..I think it wise to leave people alone with their ptsd and let them live near the most beautiful area of our state with a little help from the VA and this Veteran who has ptsd problems, many in a tiny town help them out with provisions for the winter, many make sure they have blankets, coats, sox and cots to sleep on and water proof tarps, no need for anykind of stealing..I could never live that way, too damn cold and wet up there for me, but it heals the many mental wounds the veterans have endured, a psychologists visits as best he and another psychologist too..I applaud their efforts, these veterans do not kill themselves and I say to each their own, the weather is spectacular about 40 days of the year after that it gets really foggy and mystical and then the great rains come and it stays that way for many many days & months the native people help these veterans leaving salmon and food they gather from their tribal fishing areas, I think that so generous and wonderful..Who am I to judge another, really, I just cannot stay out in weather about 35 to 45 for 9 months of the year raining all the time, no sunshine due to huge forrest growth, moss all around and just the sound of the sea but it heals those Veterans so it must be great..ciao!

  4. Thanks for this post and especially the part where you came across the man's secret home in the woods.

    Your reaction to it speaks volumes for a good heart, something uncommon nowadays especially out here in California where the authorities and other folks take delight in destroying or trashing homeless dwellings- seems we prefer our homeless in doorways etc.