Thoreau? A Dilettante.


His name is Christopher Thomas Knight. He was born 1965. He was 20 years old when he disappeared into the woods in Central Maine. He was captured in April 2013 when he was 47. During his 27 years in the woods:

  • He never slept inside. He slept only in a tent. An unheated nylon tent. In an area which falls to 20° below zero in the winter.
  • He had contact with only one person during the entire time, in the 1990’s. A hiker.
  • He never used a shower. Or a toilet.
  • He never made one phone call.
  • He never drove in a car.
  • He never spent any money. (1000+ burglaries provided sustenance)
  • He never in his life sent an email or even seen the internet.

When he was asked about Thoreau, who spent two years in the woods at Walden, Knight dismissed him with a single word: “dilettante.” (def: dabbler, amateur, nonprofessional.)

At the very end of each of our visits, I’d always asked him the same question. An essential question: Why did he disappear? He never had a satisfying answer. “I don’t have a reason.” “I can’t explain why.” “Give me more time to think about it.” “It’s a mystery to me, too.” Then he became annoyed: “Why? That question bores me.” But during our final visit, he was more reflective. Isn’t everybody, he said, seeking the same thing in life? Aren’t we all looking for contentment? He was never happy in his youth—not in high school, not with a job, not being around other people. Then he discovered his camp in the woods. “I found a place where I was content,” he said. His own perfect spot. The only place in the world he felt at peace.

This story hasn’t left my consciousness for days. Don’t miss reading the full story at GQ: The Strange Tale of the North Pond Hermit.

Portrait Source:


  1. Can’t wait to read his book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing! Will read more about him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wow, very intense –

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Captured? for being a recluse and finding his own footing?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry, but he sounds a bit like a selfish jerk. Let’s all not spend any money and just burgle our way through life. If we all only had to think about ourselves and our own contentment we would have a planet full of asocial weirdos.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Frank Hammad says:

    I can appreciate trying to find your own peace but just to leave your family hanging not knowing if you are alive or dead seems very selfish to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Henna Ahuja says:

    I had tears in my eyes at least a minimum of 5 times. It really makes you think about life. Our priorities. What is and is not important to us. What we need and what we don’t. And imagine just how tough it would be for someone like Christopher to come from a world so peaceful to a world that we have now created to be oh, so horrifying. Overwhelming. Thank you for sharing this story.


    • Hi Henna. So well stated. Impossible to imagine living in the woods for 27 years and then to be locked up in prison for 7 months. Must have been brutal for him. Comment somewhere in the article about him needing to “relearn how to live” in our world.


  8. Fascinating! Almost hard to believe but I too can’t wait for the book or movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I couldn’t stop reading the article. Mesmerized. I relate to him in so many ways, and smiled at the reporters insistence that there was some Deep Truth Chris found in the woods. I knew there wouldn’t be any. Survival and peace simply are.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Alex Jones says:

    I think many people would like to drop out of the system, few are brave to take the plunge.


  11. I’m with Henna. And to a big extent with Sue. Thank you David, for sharing this incredibly powerful account.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thoreau was also the biggest Laozi plagiarist!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for the info. Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. very impressive and interesting… btw, I’m also a dilettante, as I’ve mentioned @ my “about”: une dilettante générale assumée qui se régale de la vie – an assumed general dilettante who enjoys life… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lots came up for me as I read this (though I haven’t finished reading the article yet). I felt sad that he felt so discontent and isolated to do something so drastic. Yet much more preferrable than the sad, discontent (nerds?) Teens/young people who handle it with guns and killing fellow students and teachers. On the other hand, I think of his mother, not knowing where her son was and now (if she is still alive) having to deal with the scrutiny.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. A truly fascinating story. This particularly struck me as poignant:

    Chris became surprisingly introspective. “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Like Carolann says, there were some really good lines in there.
    “I’m not used to seeing people’s faces,” he said. “There’s too much information there. Arent you aware of it?” and then suggest that if the window had blinds, he would close them. Haha! No half measures for this guy.
    I posted this article to FB, and was surprised how many people were upset about his stealing. And sure, even though it was mostly Marshmallow creme and peanut butter, and he left the family jewels alone, their privacy had been violated.
    “He did pay his debt to society” was all I knew to say.
    In related news from my hometown…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing. I understand the reaction to the theft and the uneasiness that the victims encountered. I get it. Nevertheless, I was sympathetic to him and found his story to be wondrous. Thanks for sharing the star-telegram story, most interesting.


  18. It made my jaw drop when I read the above facts and I still can’t believe he survived. But when I was done reading the second paragraph I realized maybe he his right. And then the questions like these “Isn’t everybody, he said, seeking the same thing in life? Aren’t we all looking for contentment?” give you a reason to ponder upon your definition of life and contentment. Thanks a lot David for sharing such inspirational things. Your blog has become part of me and I really miss it when am not around. I can’t separate it from myself now and I would never want to… Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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