Thursday, December 12, 2013
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Musician Stan Keach, of Rome, has recorded a song titled "We Don't Know the North Pond Hermit" shortly after Chris Knight, 47, was arrested after a 27-year period of solitude in the woods.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Lyrics excerpted from "We Don't Know the North Pond Hermit":
Nobody ever saw him cause he only moved at night.
He knew how to hide his tracks and stay down out of sight,
His campsite hidden well beneath a canopy of trees.
They say he committed a thousand burglaries.
You and I don't know what the North Pond Hermit knows,
What it's like to be alone when a decade comes and goes,
When the ice storm rages and the frozen north wind blows.
We don't know what the North Pond Hermit knows.
The idea of a life in a natural setting without human contact is an enduring one that crops up repeatedly in literature and storytelling, from "Robinson Crusoe," which Knight reportedly has read, to "Cast Away," a 2000 film in which actor Tom Hanks portrays a man stranded on a desert island.
O'Donnell compared Knight's story to that of Chris McCandless, a young man who died of starvation after leaving society to live in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992.
O'Donnell said many of the details about Knight, including his widely publicized mugshot, have caused people to admire him.
"He's this sort of a vulnerable, innocent-looking guy who only took what he needed to survive," she said. The reality of living in the woods, O'Donnell said, is less appealing than the idea.
"Like so many things we fantasize about, it would be miserable, dangerous, and you wouldn't do it unless you had some pretty severe problems you felt were forcing you into it," she said.
For many, the fact that Knight supported his lifestyle by stealing from others, including a camp for children and adults with disabilities, detracts from his idyllic life in the woods.
But facts that collide with the image of Knight as a pure figure are likely to be de-emphasized and forgotten over time, O'Donnell said.
She said it is human nature to remember that Knight watched a mushroom grow for four years, and to forget that police recovered a box of watches from his camp.
"We want to see him as a larger-than-life, elevated, enlightened person rather than a human being with flaws and emotional problems and needs like the rest of us," she said. "We want to latch onto the things that keep the story pure in our minds, that keep this image untarnished, that keep our own dream alive."
Keach said that he doesn't support Knight's thefts, but he draws a moral distinction between them and others he's heard about.
"He didn't steal to get OxyContin or anything," he said.
"I'm not idolizing him or anything, but it's fascinating," he said. "To me, it's a much bigger story than the burglaries. Twenty-seven years, that's a long time."
-- Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams contributed to this report.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 11 a.m., April 18, 2013, to correctly state the name of University of Maine at Farmington Professor Pat O’Donnell.