Full text: Meet the modern-day hermits
In 2013, police came across a man in the US state of Maine stealing food from a local summer camp at night. It appeared to be a simple case of theft at first. But what was going on was far more unusual. According to reports, Christopher Knight, then 47, had walked into the woods at the age of 19 and never came out. He built himself a makeshift shelter and survived by taking food from nearby homes and camps, just as he was doing on the night he was caught. Knight had hardly spoken to anyone during his entire time in solitude.
It’s not clear why Knight dropped out of society, but it happened a year after he graduated from Lawrence high school in Fairfield about 1986. The only big interview he did was with Michael Finkel, an American journalist. Knight, who has been given a possible diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, said he couldn’t explain why he left society. He told Finkel: “I found a place where I was content.”
The tradition of the hermit has endured in some cultures for millennia. Those who do so for religious reasons tend to live in contemplative silence. The first known Christian hermit was Paul of Thebes and his disciple, Anthony the Great, followed Jesus’s lead by going into the wilderness in about AD270. Many have since emulated him. There are also Buddhist and Hindu hermits. It’s thought there are still 200 religious hermits in Britain today.
Then there are those, perhaps more common in modern times, who are cut off because of mental or physical ill-health. In Japan, there is a a phenomenon called hikikomori [см. об этом у Мухо] where young men and women withdraw from society.
We asked our readers for their experiences of living as a recluse.
‘I went from a busy job in London to living off-grid and I couldn’t be happier’
Jade Angeles Fitton fell into a hermitic existence, working from home in a remote Devon village, after years working in London.
My life used to be very different. I worked as a producer in advertising and fashion in London, so, my life was more stressful and filled with a lot of people and deadlines. It was a constant blur of trying to achieve people’s unrealistic expectations, and trying not to cry when I looked at spreadsheets. I went out a lot, but I still worked hard: on the nights I wasn’t returning home from a party at 5am, I was leaving home for early call-times.
I moved because London was too stressful and expensive. Now I feel calmer and more connected to planet Earth somehow. In cities you can, and I certainly did, forget where you are – as in, on a miracle planet spinning in space – because all (or the majority of what) you see in cities is manmade. It’s like this horrible endless, concrete hall of mirrors where every face reflected back at you is slightly angry.
Since being in Devon I see people maybe once a week or less. I’ve made absolutely no new friends and been on no dates since living here. On weekends I usually just stay in and work. I do get lonely quite a lot, but I’m fine with my own company. Recently, I’ve missed London’s galleries and just being able to leave my house and walk to a friend or an exhibition. But instead I walk to the sea and remember it’s not so bad where I am.
I’ve not spent this much time alone since I was about 12, and it’s let me be selfish without worrying about anyone else. Being on my own has been great for my writing. It’s surprising what can get done if you’re not willing to give yourself a day off and have no one to persuade you to have a laugh. I have such a set routine of work nowadays, going to bed early and getting up early.
I have become a bit more like my childhood self, which I prefer, so I have gone back to being tomboy. I used to dress up and wear lipstick and high heels, but now I rarely brush my hair and have got really into wildlife and birdwatching again. I have more energy when I do see people too because I’ve been alone for so long. I get genuinely excited to see another human being.
‘If you choose to be on your own you cannot be lonely’
Neil Ansell lived in a remote village on his own for five years. He rarely saw anyone except a local farmer.
As a child I took great pleasure in being close to nature. I was outdoorsy and passionate about birds. On weekends I would go out after breakfast and not come home until the evening, spending days in the south coast of England’s marshes.
So I suppose it wasn’t completely out of character when I decided to pack up my life in London in search of adventure. In 1990 I moved to a remote cottage in Powys, mid-Wales, high in the Cambrian mountains, which I found out about through a friend. I ended up living in this basic stone cottage in a pretty much as a hermit for the next five years. I had no electricity, no clock, no mirror, just three rooms, and no company.
My daily routine involved waking up with the sun and trying to light a fire for cooking. I would then work the land and do a bit of forestry. I didn’t need much money as I had no expenses – I paid a bit of poll tax and rent but had no bills. The money I did have was for occasional travel, but I always stayed there for Christmas and birthdays.
If you c-h-o-o-s-e to be on your own you cannot be lonely if you know what I mean. In winter I would sometimes think, “You won’t see anyone for few weeks” but I knew this wouldn’t be forever and friends did visit.
Everything changed for me when I met a woman at a wedding during one of my rare trips out of the cottage. She started visiting me and we embarked on a long-distance relationship. Eventually, we made plans to start a family together and she wanted me to move and live with her. So it was this that made me leave. What I found most difficult about moving back into society was the constant need for conversation. But I coped in the same way as I had adjusted to solitude. Ever since, though, I have made an effort to try to spend some time alone whenever I can.
Living as a hermit for five years made me more self-sufficient and emotionally strong. I never had any fear. The only thing in life really to be scared of is other people. You’re actually less in danger being on your own. Obviously you have to exercise a certain amount of caution because if you are on your own and you break your leg you’re in trouble.
Hermit of southern Tuscany;
Christopher Thomas Knight 'I miss the woods. I was completely free'