“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. ” –Jiddu Krishnamurti. This is the quote that mythical hermit Christopher Wright uses to explain his 27 year retreat from society. At age 20, Wright quit his job and drove from his home in Maine to Florida, stopping in cheap hotels along the way, questing for a more authentic and peaceful existence. Driving back up the coast to Maine, he abandons his car and walks into the woods with some basic supplies and a tent. He doesn’t emerge for 27 years. Remarkably self sufficient, Wright settles on a site that is naturally hidden from foot traffic by two large boulders that create a narrow entrance and from aerial view by a canopy of hemlocks. In this remote location he finds contentment, even in the brutal Maine winters when he’s in real danger of freezing or starving to death. Of course even the most resourceful outdoorsman couldn’t subsist entirely on the bounty of the forest; Wright compromises his values and supplements his supplies and food by stealing from the vacation homes and campgrounds that surround a nearby lake. Author Michael Finkel begins his book describing the capture of Wright during his raid on the campground kitchen. He then details how he built trust by writing to Wright who was awaiting trial and built the relationship that led to writing The Stranger in the Woods: the Extraordinary Life of the Last True Hermit.
Finkel considers the utter loneliness that Wright endured and presents ideas about solitude as means of torture or enlightenment . More than 15 days in solitary confinement is now considered cruel and unusual punishment, but aesthetes seek seclusion as part of their spiritual practice. Is it one’s attitude or surroundings that makes the difference in how people manage solitude? Or is it a syndrome or the wiring in the brain? Finkel also forces readers to consider whether the fast paced, constant stimulation that is typical of our lives is beneficial or detrimental. This highly readable book may inspire readers to find a time for quietly contemplating these questions.