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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
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The Stranger in the Woods > A Life Well Lived

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SCPL (st_catharines_public_library) | 542 comments Mod
By choosing a life of isolation in the woods, Knight missed out on so many experiences (friendships, dating, sex, marriage, home, career, travel, etc.) and some “essentials” like running water and indoor plumbing. By not experiencing these aspects of life, do you think that his 27 years in the wilderness was well lived?

Although he did not live a traditional life, Knight tested his mental and physical strength. He pushed the limits of human survival and felt the extremes of human existence – extreme cold, near death experiences, etc. How many people can truly say that they’ve pushed their limits and tested their mental or physical fortitude to that extent? Sometimes we find “safe” ways to push ourselves through thrill seeking experiences such as bungee jumping or skydiving. How does that measure up to what Knight experienced and accomplished?

There is a fantastic passage on page 122 that connects to this idea - “It’s possible Knight believed that he was one of the few sane people left. He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer, in exchange for money, was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed. Observing trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising. What did Knight do for a living? He lived for a living.”

Our society is designed with safety, security, and stability in mind. Are our lives so protected that we never really live?

~Nicole~


Heidi Madden | 118 comments I think the core question here is “what does it mean to ‘really’ live?” That is different for everyone. I personally am not the kind of person who can live what I consider to be a “small life.” One where you only associate with a handful of people and never venture further than work or school. For example, people that live in the Niagara Region (or even southern Ontario) but have never been to Niagara Falls even once drive me batty. That’s my idea of a “really living life” though. Meeting people, having adventures, TRAVELING. I definitely broke off a potential relationship with someone because they said they weren’t interested in traveling. Talk about a deal breaker. However, there are people who are happy to live in a very small safe cocoon. Knight’s obviously one of those people.

But, he also challenges that with his extreme existence. Some people would say I’ve “never lived” because I haven’t jumped out of a plane or off a bridge (yet ;) ) Other people wouldn’t even consider that. Is subjecting yourself to “the extremes of human existence” “really living”? Maybe, but there IS another way (ie being part of society).

It bugs me that the author characterizes Knight’s choices as “relaxing in a tent” as opposed to working for a living. He STOLE for a living. The people in Maine worked and he profited off their hard work. That’s not fair and that’s why his choice to “relax in the woods” comes off a “disturbed.” Sure, check out of society but not at the expense of others.


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SCPL (st_catharines_public_library) | 542 comments Mod
Hi Heidi,

You make some really good points here. Determining what it means to really live is very subjective. We all have different interests, values, goals, etc. As a result, someone may define a live well lived as pursuing their passions through their career while another person may see travelling and exploring the world as a lifelong pursuit. Some may feel most alive when in a bustling city while others may feel most content in a quiet place in the woods. Who is to say which is the best way to live?

Yes, Knight is definitely someone who prefers a small life. The extremes that he went to in order to ensure he maintained that small life are astounding - silence, never lighting a fire in winter, and theft. Theft is the big one for sure. Stealing more than 1,000 times does not qualify as a life well-lived for most people. Sitting peacefully in a tent, connecting with nature, reading thousands of books, this all sounds like a simple and serene life.

I wonder if there was a way for Knight to maintain his lifestyle without resorting to theft? In the video I posted, Finkel said Knight likened himself to an animal in that he chose the easiest path to survive. Yes, he could have hunted and foraged but that would have expelled a lot of energy for little return. He knew he needed to fatten up for the winter in order to survive. Does this excuse his theft?

We both used thrill-seeking examples as a way that some people define really being alive - skydiving, bungee jumping, etc. Knight stole 40 times a year on average. Although his motivations were for survival and not for the adrenaline rush, the risks and dangers involved in breaking into the cabins and the camp probably resemble the same rush that thrill-seekers experience. So he really wasn't "relaxing in the tent" for any extended period of time. He was always on alert of being discovered while at his site and definitely when stealing. This image kind of changes our perception of Knight having a peaceful existence in nature.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and opinions!

~Nicole~


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