The man known as the North Pond Hermit has spoken with a journalist for the first time, saying in an online article published by GQ Magazine on Wednesday that since leaving the woods he “has to figure out how to live” in an unfamiliar world.

Christopher Thomas Knight was arrested on April 4, 2013, after spending 27 years alone in the woods in the Rome and Smithfield area and committing more than 1,000 burglaries during his time there.
In the article by Michael Finkel, Knight sheds little light on why he did it. “I can’t explain why.”

But he describes the day he left civilization.

“I drove until I was nearly out of gas,” he told the magazine. “I took a small road. Then a small road off that small road. Then a trail off that. I had a backpack and minimal stuff. I had no plans. I had no map. I didn’t know where I was going. I just walked away.”

Knight’s story garnered worldwide media attention after the Kennebec Journal first reported it.

Since his arrest, Knight has declined requests by the Kennebec Journal for an interview. Finkel writes that he first connected with Knight through hand-written letters to the Kennebec County jail before Knight agreed to be interviewed.

Finkel’s article, which will appear in the magazine’s print edition Aug. 26, paints Knight as often introspective, but terse.

“I don’t know your world,” Knight, now 48, told the magazine. “Only my world, and memories of the world before I went into the woods. What life is today? What is proper? I have to figure out how to live.”

Knight stole food, clothes, alcohol and other supplies from camps. He pleaded guilty to a handful of charges in connection with the break-ins.

In the GQ article, Knight admits feeling guilty about the burglaries but said he was forced to steal to survive.

“It was usually 1 or 2 a.m. I’d go in, hit the cabinets, the refrigerator. In and out. My heart rate was soaring. It was not a comfortable act. I took no pleasure in it, none at all, and I wanted it over as quickly as possible,” he said.

Knight also told GQ that he wished to return to the woods, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to because of the terms of his release.

“Sitting here in jail, I don’t like what I see in the society I’m about to enter,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to fit in. It’s too loud. Too colorful. The lack of aesthetics. The crudeness. The inanities. The trivia.”

The GQ article suggests he may have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, but Knight told the magazine he is not taking medication.

He is out of jail and living in the community while participating in a special program that requires him to appear before a judge once a week.

Finkel’s interviews with Knight were conducted nearly a year ago at the jail, according to Chief Deputy Ryan Reardon of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. Finkel visited Knight nine times from Aug. 26 to Oct. 28, Reardon said.

In an interview Wednesday, Finkel described Knight as a careful conversationalist with no interest in small talk.

Knight read a lot during his time in the woods, and remembered passages from books he’d read in high school, Finkel said.

“I felt that he was one of the most poetic and most well-spoken people I have ever encountered,” Finkel said.

Walter McKee, Knight’s attorney, said Finkel was one of the few people Knight talked with, other than McKee and Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who arrested him. In response to a Kennebec Journal interview request on Wednesday, McKee said he isn’t in touch with Knight.

After Knight’s arrest, McKee said he received about 500 calls from journalists from around the world, including offers for Knight to appear on some of the nation’s most watched news programs, including NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “20/20.” He even received a marriage proposal while in jail.

To some, Knight was something of a folk hero, admired for his ingenuity and survival skills that enabled him to live in the Maine woods for decades.

The GQ article draws on that folk hero motif, featuring an illustration that depicts a bearded and scruffy-looking Knight trudging through the woods, birds flying around him and branches tucked into his worn backpack.

The illustration bears little resemblance to the balding Knight, who was wearing a clean pair of jeans and a clean shirt when he was arrested last year.

Knight’s story inspired a six-song EP by The Half Moon Jug Band of Portland and Belgrade Lakes-area musicians Stan Keach and “Barefoot” Dan Simon, plus a documentary film called “Hermythology” by New York-based film-maker Lena Friedrich.

To many victims of his burglaries, however, Knight was a troublesome thief who made them fearful and angry, and they were glad when he was caught.

He was arrested as he carried meat and other food from the Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which serves disabled children and adults.

Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service and Perkins-Vance said they had staked the camp out and caught him as he left.

In June 2005, the Morning Sentinel published a story on the “hermit of North Pond,” who had been so named by locals because of the mystery surrounding the break-ins.

In September 2013, Knight was accepted into a special court program under which he receives counseling for an alcohol problem. At the time of his arrest, Pine Tree Camp employees said Knight would often steal certain types of beer, but not others. He skipped Bud Light and Miller Lite, they said, but he took Budweiser.

McKee said Knight “felt bad about what he did,” and that’s part of the reason why he didn’t grant media interviews.

“He didn’t want to look like he was trying to advance anything other than remorse,” McKee said.

During his final visit, Finkel reported that Knight said he was never happy around others when he was young.

Knight is quoted as saying, “I found a place where I was content.” He also told the magazine he “expected to die out there” in the woods.

“What I miss most is somewhere between quiet and solitude,” Knight said in the article. “What I miss most is stillness.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

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Twitter: @mikeshepherdme