April 18th – “Withdrawal”
I just finished reading, “The Stranger In The Woods”, the extraordinary tale of Christopher Knight. In 1986, 20 year old Chris Knight, seemingly on a whim, drove his car as deeply into the forest in Maine as he could go, turned off the ignition, left the keys on the dashboard, walked away, and disappeared. For 27 years he lived alone in the forests of northern Maine, with no human contact. He has been called, “The Last Hermit”. There was no romantic, religious, or political reason for doing what he did (he didn’t even leave a note for his family), just a belief that he didn’t fit with society, and thus decided to leave it.
While few of us would have the fortitude, courage or survival skills to do what this man did, (even for a week let alone 27 years), how many of us have in a passing moment wished we could walk away from it all, just for a bit, withdraw from the clutter, chaos, and confusion of the modern world, and be free from the clutches of our responsibilities, and routines?
Socrates once famously said, “beware the barrenness of a busy life.” He articulates what many of us instinctively know, that for all our busyness, there can be gaps, barren places that are not filled with every ping of our cellphones. It is only when we have the courage to withdraw, even for a short time, that these gaps become apparent, and we begin to seek out new ways to fill them. Henry David Thoreau, another self-professed “Hermit” said it best when he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
What Christopher Knight discovered is that we live side-by-side with a very different world that offers a very different reality, a world that doesn’t require us to do, but to be. Despite times of intense suffering, he found in the rhythm of the forest, a contentment, tranquility and freedom that eluded him in the world of concrete, social-expectations, and schedules. Surely we don’t need to leave our world like he did to discover that there are inner needs that are not being met by modern life, but perhaps visiting the other world a little more frequently would bring more joy to this one.
As soon as spring appears in Barrie, I’m hitting the trails. Not to escape from life, but to find it again.