Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, right, Maine State Police Trooper Diane Vance, center, and Somerset County Deputy Jeremy Leal on April 9, 2013 inspect Christopher Knight’s camp in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

The North Pond Hermit is now living for free on the internet. 

“The Hermit—The True Legend of the North Pond Hermit” is the 23-minute documentary by filmmaker and actress Lena Friedrich, who, in a comment on the Vimeo page where her film can now be watched for free, explained, “I just made it available for streaming as we are all forced to practice self-distancing.”

For Mainers doing the right thing and staying isolated as much as possible during the current health crisis, it’s a crisply edited, inherently fascinating little glimpse into the life and deeds of someone whose self-imposed quarantine from society is a lot more mysterious. 

It’s tempting to say that the Hermit (real name Christopher Knight) was simply a criminal. After all, in the 27 years in which he lived completely alone in a primitive, tarp-covered shelter in the deepest woods the Belgrade Lakes region has to offer, the Hermit did commit what prosecutors and newspapers tallied as “a thousand burglaries,” mainly of summer camps in the area. He stole food (avoiding homemade goods and favoring cereal, hot dogs, bread), alcohol (apparently anything but Miller Lite, according to one frequent victim) and copious batteries which he was using to power small radios to keep up with our world. (“He knew who the Kardashians were,” explains the Maine state trooper who eventually caught Knight in 2013.) 

Christopher Knight spent 27 years alone in the central Maine woods before his arrest on burglary charges in 2013. Photo by Andy Molloy/Staff Photographer

Friedrich’s film never talks to Knight directly, instead interviewing the unavoidably colorful collection of Mainers in and around the Hermit’s old stomping (and stealing) grounds. Some are deeply sympathetic, such as one woman who, speculating on why people have found the Hermit’s story so intriguing, says, “Inside of all of us, we might like to do something more radical, and we didn’t.” One Mainer who actually spotted the Hermit in his camp one night several months before Knight’s capture, notes that he let Knight leave unmolested after the two exchanged a greeting of silent bows, communicating mutual peaceful intentions. Musing on his one-time intruder, the older man clearly identifies with not having “to put up with people.” Some skateboarding teens from Knight’s alma mater, Lawrence High School, say that culture there hasn’t changed much, and that the “judgmental” nature of their peers has left them thinking that getting away from it all might not be a bad idea. 

Others are less on the Hermit’s wavelength, with one woman mocking his stealing, asking, if he lived alone in the woods for almost three decades, why couldn’t he have learned to hunt and fish? Another woman, whose camp was repeatedly burgled (and whose secret smoke detector camera caught the first sight of the Hermit), is understandably still freaked out that a strange man was always watching from out in the dark Maine woods. And while Maine newspapers eventually made the Hermit’s exploits the stuff of banner headlines, the trooper addresses the matter with the expected matter-of-factness —Christopher Knight kept breaking into homes, so she finally arrested him (thanks to a motion-triggered camera.)

Friedrich’s film is shot with shaky hand-held footage of her following a local through the woods on a search for the Hermit’s apparently still-intact campsite, the remoteness and her guide’s sometimes overdramatic comments threatening to turn things into a found-footage horror movie. The man claiming, “I don’t think deer will go where we’re goin’ — It’s bad,” seems straight out of a Stephen King short story. Possibly about a hermit living deep in the Maine woods.

But when the camera finally arrives, the Hermit’s home for 27 years contains no mysteries but the one about the 20-year-old Mainer who left his home with nothing and didn’t emerge until he was nearing 50, his family never even reporting his disappearance. A worn-smooth wooden seating plank. A radio antenna snaked up a tree. A clothesline so old, the tree it’s wound around has grown to envelop it. A discrete shot of a makeshift latrine. Hundreds and hundreds of stolen and discarded propane tanks littering the surrounding woods. “See, he ain’t so dumb as you think,” the guide says at one point, pointing to a jerry-rigged clothes hanger, another layered summation of the facts and feelings of the matter at hand. 

Friedrich’s narrator-free film ends with the onscreen facts that Christopher Knight served seven months in jail, is now living in the greater community under court supervision, and receives mental health services. And that he, like all self-respecting figures of Maine folklore, isn’t interested in explaining why he left that community in the first place. 

“The Hermit—The True Legend of the North Pond Hermit: is available for free on Vimeo at vimeo.com/406217619. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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