I Think I’m Alone Now
By Nate Balding
Art By Peter Kornowski
Published Issue 096, December 2021
Depending on your age the word hermit tends to conjure one of three images: Weird religious loner, a musician enslaved by a man named Herman or a scary forest sage to be accidentally found while shooting sick BMX videos in the woods in what will become a shocking found footage horror movie. Each, to a degree, is accurate.
Hermitude began as eremitism, a religious practice wherein (mostly) Christian philosophers secluded themselves to better commune with God and further develop their spiritual sensibilities. That and getting really, really good at masturbation.
Despite the clear intention to seclude themselves, these early hermits were often sought by pilgrims who believed the quiet person in the corner was hiding cool secrets and not actively trying to be the punchline in a went-out-for-a-pack-of-smokes setup. Hermits (here ironically referred to in the plural) began moving further afar, becoming whispered myths of storm riders and snake eaters; haggard persons who wear bark shirts and race acorns against log rolling mice with people names, before going to sleep in giant cuddle puddles with their family of geckos. It’s why most 10-year-old children when asked what they want to be when they grow up say, “A motherfuckin’ hermit. Ya hear?”
And some of them actually pull it off.
In 1986 then 20-year-old Christopher Knight was already feeling the pressurized grip of society driving him to the brink. Believing it may do him some good he took a walk around North Pond amidst Maine’s Belgrade Lakes to clear his head. He didn’t stop clearing his head until he was forced to by a game warden 27 years later.
Eventually he’d be known as the Hermit of North Pond. But for the greater, anonymous portion of that period his presence would be felt in the roughly 1,000 burglaries that occurred there over the same time. At first people believed it was random hits; occasional pests or local teens breaking into cabins for the thrill of mischief. As years compounded the break-ins became mythic. Was the camp haunted? Surely these crimes-sans-evidence were the work of the supernatural. Not a month went by without a report of burgled boots, purloined propane, lifted bread loaves or filched flatware. And the candy — OH! The candy. There wasn’t a roll of Smarties in a 10-mile radius that Chris Knight couldn’t sniff out like a diabetic bloodhound on the third day crashing.
Flyers went up begging, Have You Seen These Rations? But to no avail. He was a shadow paddling up and down the shores against the dark.
As always happens, the law caught up with him. On April 14, 2013 he triggered a motion sensor on one of his trips and the trap came down. In 27 years only one other person besides his capturer had ever even seen Knight. It’s impossible to say his era of hermitude was anything less than absolutely successful. He was sentenced to 7 months in prison and fined $2,000 in restitution. In an interview with GQ this living scowl offered a musing that every hermit must have experienced at the apex of their solitude, saying, “… 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.”
So as we drift through the end of a year in which many of us wished to remove ourselves from society as it slowly collapses into a miasma of bitter Tweets and holiday greetings expressed through teeth gritted into an impassible calcium portcullis, lest the bray of a thousand pent hours come like the Grinch down from the mountain to positively crush the goodwill toward men into a greasy puddle of dirty snow, think on the hermit.
No, not Ted Kaczynski; you should be thinking about therapy.
Think upon the man who, having sewn such joys throughout his time, became endlessly beset by the requests of children and their desperate parents to daily bear the terrible burden of a continual jolly demeanor. Fed up, he grabbed his wife, said, “Suck pipe, shit town!” and used the last of his power to travel to the North goddamned Pole where he found magic deer and strange halflings tirelessly laboring without direction.
Think upon Santa Claus in his hermitude where he found joy anew.
And the next time you feel the urge to start walking toward the lake for decades of clarity do what St. Nick does when he’s about to explode: Count to 10, smile through the rage and yell HO. HO. HO!
Merry Christmas, everybody.
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It’s a big, weird world. Don’t be scared. Be Prepared.
Nate Balding is a freelance humanoid who occasionally manifests in print and can most likely be seen at Werewolf Radar. Should you wish to hear him manifest audibly you can do so at the aforementioned Werewolf Radar’s associated podcast on Spotify and Apple, and if anything ever becomes humorous again, on a variety of stand up stages around the nation. If you’re truly craving further content there’s always @Exploder on Twitter — even if it is only a form of digital self flagellation at this point. His one thing that he considers actually accomplished was this time he was published in the journal Nature and then later collected into a volume called Futures from Nature, still available in places that have things.