Second thoughts about hermitage
April 15, 2013
by Ivan Raconteur

I hate to admit it, but I may not want to become a hermit after all.

For anyone as antisocial as I am, there is a certain blissful appeal to the idea of hermitage, but I should, perhaps, clarify. Becoming a hermit isn’t something I think about often. It’s just one of those pleasant dreams I have kept in my back pocket over the years.

I don’t remember when it started, but at some point I realized that when people were driving me up a wall, as they occasionally do, I could pause, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine how peaceful it would be to live in a nice cave somewhere, far away from people.

Naturally, I revised that dream over time. It occurred to me that caves can be damp, so I wouldn’t want any old cave – I would want a dry one.

I thought about it some more, the way one does, and decided I wouldn’t want a cave at all. Caves can be fraught with bats and spiders, and I don’t like the idea of sharing space with either.

Eventually, I concluded that if I was going to become a hermit, I would want a remote but comfortable cabin somewhere in which to do my hermitting.

A cabin would have better light and ventilation than a cave, and fewer bats and spiders with which to contend.

I suppose I never thought much about what I would do to pass the time while I was out in my cabin hermitting, except, of course, enjoy the peace and quiet of being away from people.

That brings us to the reason why I may not want to become a hermit after all.

According to Reuters, police in Maine recently arrested Christopher Knight, 47, who walked into the woods in 1986 shortly after the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, and spent almost three decades without human contact (Knight said it wasn’t the nuclear accident that drove him into the woods; that was just the last big news story he remembers).

He was arrested for stealing food from a local camp, which is apparently how he survived.

Knight had reportedly built himself a camp near a pond, and is suspected in about 1,000 thefts that have occurred during the last 27 years.

Reading about Knight’s situation caused me to reconsider the wisdom of adopting the lifestyle of a hermit.

Now, I realize hanging out near a pond in the woods was inspirational for Thoreau, and he practically made a career out of writing about it, but I can’t help thinking it would bore me silly.

Oh, it would be OK at first. There would be the camp to build, and that would keep one busy for awhile. Eventually, though, I would need some entertainment.

Maybe there is a sort of Robin Hood element of purloining what one needs to survive, but I doubt I would take much pleasure in it. The image of a bear pilfering picnic baskets as a hobby is funny, but the image of a man stealing food to survive is sad.

I suppose I would write, which is how I spend much of my time anyway, but it wouldn’t be long before I would need more mental stimulation. I would, at the very least, need access to a library, in order to keep me in reading material. I need that kind of variety.

I thought more about what Knight’s days must have been like since 1986, and I thought about all that has gone on in my life since that time. I wouldn’t trade, not even for the peace and quiet.

It is true that I tend to like them better in small doses, but I have to admit I do enjoy having people around, at least some of the time.

I don’t find much pleasure in listening to reports of man’s cruelty to man, or stories of hate, intolerance, or ignorance.

On an individual level, however, I like listening to people’s ideas and experiences. I enjoy hearing their dreams and successes.

I especially appreciate some female companionship from time to time. They often see things differently than men do, which provides a fresh perspective. Ladies frequently amaze me with their compassion and delight me with their sense of humor. And, let’s face it, they are more pleasant to look at than an old pond.

As much as I sometimes like the idea of escaping the bonds of society and becoming a hermit, I don’t think I would enjoy the reality of doing so.

The learned Thomas Browne said, “Be able to be alone. Lose not the advantage of solitude, and the society of thyself.”

I still believe Browne was right about that, but after reading the story about Knight’s hermitage, I also believe too much of one’s own company might not be such a good thing.

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