America, the Eremitic


[We never stop to reflect on the solitude that comes with the anonymity of living in the modern city, but we cannot stop from judging the solitude of living close to nature ‘far from the maddening crowd.’  Well, Michele Benoit (JC) has given us a chance here to reflect upon both. Enjoy her offering in the swirl of chaos surrounding us – kC]

Hermits fascinate us. Our voyeurism goes apoplectic and we want to know every detail of how this bizarre soul lived. Human’s equal and  opposite reaction, eh?

We also love a great story and to make myth. One that comes out of the remote woods of Maine is the North Pond Hermit. Seems this fellow stepped out of society and stayed there, for 27 years. By public accounts, Christopher Knight, the aforementioned hermit, disappeared into the woods when he was 20 years old, and only emerged when he was arrested for a break-in at a local camp–something he admits he did over 1000 times during his solitary life, to gather food, clothing, and other necessities to live.

People knew that somebody was out there.  Rumors swirled for years and had taken on near mythological status among locals, including the officer who arrested him. The burglaries were so regular that some camp owners left notes, asking what he needed, so he wouldn’t have to break in.

Media attention exploded. This local story was picked up by the BBC, Huffington Post and others. Who was this man? How did he survive? Why did he step out? Online theories ran rampant. Our curiosity was piqued. We were enthralled. He’s received a marriage proposal while in jail, and a stranger offered to pay his bail. Knight now even has his own ballad: The North Pond Hermit.

Hermits have existed everywhere and in all times, well before religious rules codified the cells of monks.  The word itself means “person of the desert,” from the Greek, eremia “desert, solitude,” from eremos “uninhabited, empty, desolate”. Some, like St. Cyriacus, sought solitude to live a ‘more pure and saintly life.”  Others, like the Lykov family, retreated deep into the wilds of Siberia to escape religious persecution, and simply stayed.

America hosts two kinds of hermits. The first is the celebrity who steps out of the limelight. Think J.D. Salinger, Howard Hughes, Bobby Fischer, and Michael Jackson. They range from the eccentric to the crotchety to, in Jackson’s case, perversely bizarre. They’re there and then they’re gone. We can’t grasp why they’d want to disappear, to give up the glory and and game, and so we pry. We intrude. Telephoto lenses, visitors under false pretense, acolytes seeking the master.

The other is the unknown who is discovered. Prime example? Ted Kaczynski. Apparently, he lived alone in a cabin with no electricity or water in Montana, for a 25 years before he was arrested. When later asked about how he felt about being in prison, he said,

What worries me is that I might in a sense adapt to this environment and come to be comfortable here and not resent it anymore. And I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that’s what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit.

Some view hermits as shamanistic heroes, in the sense that Joseph Campbell describes,

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces)

Indeed, shamans often lived apart from the main community, to better stay connected to the energies and realms that others could not fathom.

The Hermit in the Tarot reflects this aspect. The Hermit “represents the desire to turn away from the getting and spending of society to focus on the inner world. He seeks answers within and knows that they will come only with quiet and solitude.”

Today, hermits are thought unbalanced, out of kilter, a little whacky. Before anything was known about Christopher Knight, there were assumption of mental illness, predictions that a trauma drove him to the woods. The Huffington Post ran the story under “Weird News”.  What sane person would choose to live with virtually no human contact or creature comforts??

Is the guy nuts? Who knows. His photo shows a man with bad glasses–stolen–but not with crazy eyes. He’s neat and clean-shaven–not the unkempt look we typically associate with backwoods living. Yet, without ever meeting the man, without hearing his statements, here’s what a psych professor at Boston College concluded:

‘Thirty years without talking to somebody? I don’t know,’ Tecce said. ‘I think he bumped into folks now and then, maybe a few other Christophers. Christopher 2, Christopher 3, Christopher 4, we don’t know.’

Or from another enlightened prof, this one from BU:

Withdrawing from society as an adolescent and avoiding human contact for decades, as Knight did, would almost surely stunt development…

said Todd Farchione, a research assistant professor in the psychology department at Boston University.

He might have knowledge, but he’s not going to know what it feels like to lose his first job or lose his first love, or make a mistake or suffer the pain that comes with living. He has not been living in many respects, not in a normal, socially acceptable way.

Ignoring the possibility that by age 20, Knight could easily have lost his first job or first love, Farchione assumes that the only experiences that matter, that are really ‘living’ are those that fall within the very narrow dictates of modern culture. He gives no value to the ‘living’  Knight most definitely did: carefully observing nature, and, by his own account, meditating, reading, and watching the sky. Farchione worries me far more than Knight, for his proclamations and for assuming that there is only one socially acceptable way to live.

What Farchione and most Americans don’t realize is that they are the cases of arrested development. Modern western culture, with its gadgets and gizmos, its electronics, cars, and subdivided subdivisions of living, has thrust us into uneasy isolation, but not given us any solitude. Our isolation does not come with wisdom, reflection, or insight. We are insulated by cacophony, unable to realize our own thoughts, unaware of our own physicality except in the most basic sense.

We are distanced from each other in a thousand ways, as hermetically sealed as the shrink-wrapped organic cabbage at the grocery store. Only under extreme conditions–like the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings–do we break through out plastic coats to actually touch each other. It’s already a FB meme, but people, ordinary people, did run toward the explosions. Strangers helped strangers, turned shirts  and belts into tourniquets, comforted the injured, with no idea of what other danger waited.

Life, disrupted, became life fully in the moment. But just a few days after lockdown and the most impressive roll out of  personnel and equipment any of us have seen, the experience is already repackaged, dissected, analyzed, memed, until we are back where we started. We re-enter the hermitage and don’t even hear the doors clang shut behind us.

And the North Pond Hermit? He remains in jail, allegedly a model prisoner, more charges added, and his bail raised–not because he’s a flight risk (He admits he has nowhere to go.) but to ‘protect him from exploitation.’  His camp? Dismantled. No family member has visited (Indeed, none ever filed a missing person’s report.). After jail, how does he return?

49 Responses to America, the Eremitic

  1. I have often felt that the primary job of psychologists, as they hide in their ivory silos is to make people fit into some narrowly defined idea of reality, that must ignore most of reality to function. Now days their primary method of smoothing people to fit into the machinery that has been foisted on us as “progress” is to drug us into acceptance, that is if we haven’t already been overwhelmed by the constant inane marketing chatter to consume!consume!consume! Which is itself as form of drugging. The media has two purposes, to get us to feel helpless and hopeless, and to consume! Those who do not fit into this are then attacked by the psychological priesthood to be brought back into the fold, through any methods available. It is as if the cancerous tumor that will kill you is objecting to any treatment at all in it’s quest to consume!consume!consume!

    • Disaffected says:

      The media has two purposes, to get us to feel helpless and hopeless, and to consume!

      Bingo! If I were to add anything, it would only be to link the two definitively.

      The media has two purposes, to get us to feel helpless and hopeless, and to consume in response!

      That said, all references to malignancy and capitalist media are almost always directly on point. Kind of a truism these days, ain’t it?

    • Nichole says:

      Marlena, as one (psychologist) I can affirm for you that you’re mostly correct. Certainly the psychotherapy taught in graduate schools across the western world and the professional associations in which one must have mandatory membership are most assuredly part of the great apparatus of social instruction and containment that includes lawyers (all types, professors and other teachers, law enforcement of all types, all types of corporate media (to include film, music, etc,) politicians, and, as best I can tell any group of people that subscribes to the designation of “professional.”

      The persons mainly excluded (East and West) from those designations are “unskilled” or “semi-skilled” workers or laborers and the grandees of the oligarchy and their immediate servants.

      The “entertainment industry” is a case in point. What, does one imagine wasdone by the vast majority of the citizenry in 1775 (even in Boston, Philly and New York) for entertainment? My guess would be that most of us would have been capable of entertaining ourselves: stories, music, song, games of many sorts. Now we appear to require prepackaged entertainment provided at exorbitant cost by sports promoters and ownerships, cable and telephone “entertainment” providers, and on and on.

      Instead of living “for free” and in “freedom” (not the disingenuous libertarian or left or right wing sorts of freedom) but the freedom from receiving our food, shelter, entertainment, transportation and a myriad other things as well from corporate “owners” or in any way incompatible with making, growing, or socializing in community with others to obtain life’s necessities.

      Instead we gravitate to “the real” just like the moronic Boston University psychologist. Our imaginations can no longer imagine aught that isn’t processed for our “consumption.”

  2. javacat says:

    Great rant, Marlena! I used to think that psychologists and therapists helped us undo the knots we’ve been tied in, and dig through the layers of civilization and religion that have pressed us into benumbed conformity. Most have neither the patience nor the skill to do that for they’re as beholden to the systems and contaminated by the laws of society as the rest of us. As you say so well, their main job is to bring us back in line so we can continue to labor and to purchase. They need to quell the potential unrest that questioning begins.

  3. People like the North Pond Hermit scare us because they are more intuned with their inner world than many who are “connected” with the outside. The above mentioned psychologists spout their theories because they cannot fit him into their standardized slots.

    Hermits grow weary of the “noise” of modern culture and seek the silence from which they can grow into genuine beings.

    Thanks Michele for such an enlightening post! Peace!

  4. derekthered says:

    well, obviously this individual is socially maladjusted, probably we should perform an MRI, map his brain, and get to the bottom of this problem; maybe some implants or gene therapy can cure his madness.

    • Disaffected says:

      Red Man,

      Always the sentimentalist! Nothing like a bit of 90’s thrash metal to clear the cob webs, now is there? Good stuff!


  5. Amy Faircloth says:

    Perhaps we are envious of the hermit’s peace. It is difficult to find peace in the cacophony of modern ife. Thanks Michele. Great observations!

    • javacat says:

      I think you’re onto something, Amy. A part of us recognizes in the hermit something we want for ourselves. Yet rather than seek it out, we seem to focus our energy on undoing what he has. Cacophony is the perfect word to describe this modern world!

  6. Disaffected says:

    OK, couldn’t resist this:

    Christopher Knight!!!! SHIT!!! Little Peter Brady on Brady Bunch went all hermetic and shit? Who’d a thunk?

    I apologize for that blatant and unnecessary cultural reference.

    • javacat says:

      It’s okay. A little mock-shock is good for the heart rate. 😉 Plus, I’m impressed that you made that connection. I grew up with the damn TV show and couldn’t tell you a single actor!

      • Disaffected says:


        WELL THEN, check this out:

        I saw this the other day while chained to the exercise bike like a fucking industrial hamster (mea culpa, I LOVE working out!!!). Laughed MY ASS OFF! The whole episode was good.


  7. Disaffected says:
    • Disaffected says:

      Wow! Guess I REALLY fucked up that link off code above, didn’t I? My apologies! I’m as stupid an ass as there is out there some times! Ain’t we all!

      I guess on the plus side, you can click anywhere on my post and arrive at the link

    • kulturcritic says:

      No disagreement from me, DA

    • derekthered says:

      sending bombs thru the mail? silly boy. he should have gotten himself elected POTUS, then you can Air Mail bombs all the way to Pakistan, seems to be considered a valid solution to our gripes. really? think about it, Mr. Kaczynski didn’t like what he saw, felt the modern world was killing people so he sent bombs to blow people up who may or may not have had anything to do with his complaints. now, the Western powers have been up to no good in South Asia since the Great Game, i believe Alexander pushed pretty far in that direction; so now we rain Hellfires on this same tired worn out locale, and onto people who may or may not have anything to do with our countries gripes.

        • derekthered says:

          it’s pretty much the truth though, isn’t it? aw-Laki was a US citizen and he was assassinated, OK, fine, but what about his son who went to visit his dad? nobody disputes that they were cooking some food over a fire.
          here is a link from a decidedly liberal source.

          yeah, so, call me crazy. this is the exact reason the US Constitution says “Congress shall have the power to declare war”.
          what the hell, they have been pulling this crap forever, Chalmers Johnson was right on, and they know it, they can only be making a conscious decision.

          goes along with JC’s post really, the prevailing dialectic, if it doesn’t fit the narrative it’s marginalized or ignored, i think we all do it unconsciously to some extent.

          • Disaffected says:

            Out of the mouths of Derek’s the Red. Who’d a thunk it?

            I agree, we ALL do it pretty much ALL of the time these days unconsciously. That’s the TRUE beauty of it, isn’t it?

  8. Disaffected says:

    Life, disrupted, became life fully in the moment. But just a few days after lockdown and the most impressive roll out of personnel and equipment any of us have seen, the experience is already repackaged, dissected, analyzed, memed, until we are back where we started. We re-enter the hermitage and don’t even hear the doors clang shut behind us.

    That’s the “money line” right there Sandy. I talked to a woman I know a week later who had been dreaming of qualifying for and running Boston for years (I’m a former runner myself, who ran a 3:06 way back in 1982 on a flat course in the mid-west in my only marathon attempt) who finished abut 1/2 hour ahead of the bomb blast at the finish. Much to my surprise, she was mostly pre-occupied with her finish time and the shame of the bomb-blast, in spite of the fact that her spectator mother broke her arm in a fall related to the hubbub of dispersing the crowd near the finish area in the aftermath. I found it quite puzzling that she hadn’t at least touched on the momentous/historical nature of the event itself, but let it go.

    Strange times indeed!

  9. kulturcritic says:

    As the deconstruction of a private life continues apace in the public sphere, perhaps the life of the hermit becomes ever more desirable. This link also harkens back to our discussion about M3 in Boston.

  10. The magnificent hermit: Daniel Suelo, the man who quit money.

    • Disaffected says:

      Unfortunately, that’s just not practical for the 7B or so of us who were brought into existence based on the current system of trade. Which, by the way, was not meant to sustain even a fraction of our current numbers, never mind the current 7B and growing. What that means in practical terms for the lion’s share of that 7B people is that they are simply going to STARVE to death for lack of calories, which is to say, MONEY. It’s always nice to hear of people who have quit money in the current world. Just, I guess, as it’s always nice to hear of people who have quit food. I used to dream of being one of them. But then I got hungry and poor. I got over it pretty quick.

      In the end, I’ve given up on the idea of being a Saint – I’m NOT!!!

      • derekthered says:

        a nice idea, but i wouldn’t have the first clue. also dependent upon circumstances.

      • Dread Buttinski says:

        I love how everyone here feigns empathy for the “hermit” but says it’s “impossible” because of “the system”.

        Let’s all wring our hands at the horror of the “system” and then do absolutely nothing about it.

        Except in Sandy’s case, where he makes money off it.

        What a riot.

        Aren’t you all even the least bit embarrassed by having this public circle jerk of pretense?

        • kulturcritic says:

          Go on Mr. Buttinski… do something about the system and stop complaining and whining about us do nothings. Then we can entertain ourselves watching you on the tele as Americas most wanted Dread! Ha ha ha!

        • javacat says:

          Wow, that’s a lot of accusation packed into a few sentences.

          I don’t know that anyone is feigning empathy. My point was how the role of the hermit and how American culture views hermits has changed. We are very destructive when it comes to folks who really just want to be left alone: the culture probes and dissects until the subject is dead.

          I also think that we can empathize and admire and yearn without emulating. We each have out own path and living in a cave without money is not for everyone. My sense from folks here is that they pull out in their own way, as they can.

          And kC, if you’re making money off this, can you share? 😉

        • derekthered says:

          the “system” is just a handy metaphor, all you need to do is look at an aerial photo of a highway “system” to see that we are surrounded by systems. the M3 post shows the systems response to threats. of course here i must put in the standard disclaimer of how wonderful the good old USA is and how much i love living in the greatest country in the world, and i do, sort of, sometimes.

          the first task of anyone who wants to change culture is education, the standard party line, but it’s true, and you do that one person at a time. you can talk about educating the masses, but it still happens one person at a time.

          • kulturcritic says:

            And we are educating ourselves… no? One hermetic soul at a time!

            • Dread Buttinski says:

              Oh yeah, a multimillionaire lying blogger who uses obfuscatory historicity and facticity who pretends he’s some kind of hermit. Kinda like the old Jack Benny cartoon on Merrie Melodies, where Rochester says Benny’s in the cheese vault, counting out the cheese. Krolick’s in the karma vault, adding up the snark of superior karmic bite-back.

              What’s wrong, Sandy? Making millions didn’t give you enough feelings of power over others, now you must pretend at the sage?

              You seem much more like whatever would be the Russian Jewish equivalent of St Patrick, driving the snakes from Ireland. Only you’re driving the truth from view.

              • kulturcritic says:

                I do not know which is more telling, Mr Buttinski, your ignorance or your racist bigotry. Perhaps you want to go hang out with someone more to your preference. sandy

  11. derekthered says:

    going thru some old books and came across some Clarissa Estes, her work may be of interest to some here.

    “ The way to maintain one’s connection to the wild is to ask yourself what it is that you want. This is the sorting of the seed from the dirt. One of the most important discriminations we can make in this matter is the difference between things that beckon to us and things that call from our souls.”

    “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”

    these quotes are from “Women Who Run With the Wolves”

    she has some interesting thoughts on Baba Yaga in there. we all know that human civilization can’t tolerate the wild thing, the creature that doesn’t play the game.

    now for something Russian (sort of)

    Beethoven? really? what a piker.

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