He lived off the grid as well as off his neighbors. He robbed Peter to pay himself. And now he’s more famous than any of Maine’s political leaders. The story of the North Pond Hermit went worldwide.

Maine law enforcement officers missed a good opportunity when they cleaned out Christopher Knight’s encampment. People would have come to Maine and paid good money to see it. Some would have paid to stay there.

I told Sharon Wood, a graphic designer and a page designer for these newspapers, that this would have been a great Travelin Maine(rs) column for Linda and I. We could have stayed at the encampment, stole from the neighbors, and written about the experience.

Sharon suggested we could call this the Travelin Steal(rs). Before you know it, people would have been paying $100 a night to stay there. After all, the food is free.

It is astonishing that the Hermit could have avoided detection for 27 years and more than 1,000 burglaries. I was amused when the first reference to him reported he lived in the “wilderness of Rome.” There is no wilderness in Rome or even next door in Mount Vernon where I live. Later references downgraded the wilderness to woods.

My hunting buddies and I could have found this guy in a morning of deer hunting. The woods around here are scoured every November as we search for deer. I’ve noted the map by Sharon that was added to some of the news stories about the hermit, and pinpointed his spot. If no deer hunter got there in the last 27 years, that’s where I want to hunt this November!

So far, it appears that nonresidents were the target of many of the thefts. Might he have been reading too many Bert and I stories that make fun of our friends from away? Or is it simply a reflection that nonresidents own most of the lakefront property hereabouts?

Of course, everyone wants to know his motives for such an isolated and careless (some would say carefree, but I doubt it) lifestyle. The Hermit could have lived a more comfortable life living off the rest of us legally — using local and state aid, shopping at the food pantries, partaking from programs offered by the nonprofit community.

His choice of lifestyle is really all about us. He didn’t like us. He wanted to avoid us. Some days, reading this newspaper, you might feel the same. He preferred his books and his all-the-time-quiet-time. As an inveterate reader and someone with a very busy life, I get that. Now, he gets to mingle with the worst of us, in jail. That is probably not improving his opinions of us.

Who among us hasn’t fantasized about chucking it all and heading into the woods? This is what will make the Hermit’s book so appealing. It’ll be a fantasy, of course, because the reality was a hard and lonely life, full of cold, discomfort, thievery and guilt (we hope). It’s intriguing simply because he got away with it so long.

I was going to call it a deprived life, but I’ll bet he doesn’t see it that way. And that’s the saddest part of his story.

Coincidentally, I have been participating in a Wednesday night book group at church, focused on Bread in the Wilderness by pastor Kenneth Carter Jr. The back cover reports, “Christians know that we often live in the wilderness — a place of difficulty and even danger — and yet we also believe that there is bread in the wilderness.”

This took on a whole new meaning when I read the account of the North Pond Hermit. Bread in the wilderness, indeed.

As we ended our book discussion on the final night, the epilogue recounted the story of Moses, whose father-in-law notices that Moses is overwhelmed and tells him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out. … The task is too heavy. … You cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18).

If you are reading this column, Christopher, I commend this chapter of the Bible to you.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.