I used to recommend nature related books on greentangle. Unfortunately, reflective of our society’s illusion of removal from nature, as exemplified by a government which favors pollution and greed over ecology and humility and respect, and children and adults who’d rather play games or listen to music on their phone than see or hear the world they’re passing through, there aren’t as many of those books being published now. So now I feel the need to check out any book which involves the outdoors at all, and then write about a book I don’t recommend you read.
The Stranger in the Woods is about a man who apparently spent 27 years living in the Maine woods with almost no human contact, surviving not by living off the land but by stealing from buildings. Most of the people in the area do not believe that he actually lived outside all that time, which was my first reaction as well. He claims he never left his camp during winter to avoid leaving footprints in the snow (he was not in a remote wilderness, but only a few hundred yards away from the closest neighbor). I have a hard time imagining how he was able to steal enough food to stockpile to survive those long winters, and history is filled with false claims of nature fakers.
But whether or not he lived there for 27 years doesn’t actually matter to me because he offers no explanation of why he did it (claims not to know) and offers no wisdom from his experience. Yet he considers Thoreau a dilettante with no deep insight into nature. Of course, he also considers Bach too pristine and believes people will be listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd in a thousand years. So, clearly not a guy I’d like, and enough about him.
I’m actually much more troubled by the behavior of the author. After the “hermit” (more about that later) was finally captured stealing, the author wrote to him in jail. They exchanged a few letters, but after the hermit stopped replying, the author made the first of many trips from Montana and showed up uninvited and unannounced at the jail to visit someone who obviously didn’t like people around. The hermit’s relatives hung up on him and closed doors in his face, but others in the area spoke to him. On his trips to Maine, he would camp at the hermit’s campsite. Eventually after the hermit was released, he had to tell the author that if he showed up again, the police would be called. It was all much too much of a creepy stalker vibe for me.
For me, there were only two interesting aspects of the book. The questioning of the hermit’s psychological state led me to briefly investigate autism spectrum and schizoid personality disorders to see if either fit me; many aspects of the latter seemed to apply. The book also discusses three types of hermits: protesters, pilgrims, and pursuers. I’m clearly in the first group—“. . . primary reason for leaving is hatred of what the world has become.”
If you’d like a more detailed review and description of the book, see a review in New Republic here. And for a large and fascinating collection of material on hermits and solitude, check out the website http://www.hermitary.com which doesn’t consider the book’s subject worthy of inclusion.