Families fought, police searched, and nobody could find answers to where their belongings were disappearing, who was taking them, nor the motivation behind their theft. For years, North Pond residents couldn’t agree on the mysterious yet innocuous burglaries of their cabins.
Only one journalist was able to connect with Christopher Knight, get some answers, and learn more about what those 27 years were like from him. Michael Finkel, through hand-written letters and lots of patience, build a rapport with Christopher, who slowly warmed up enough to talk. Finkel, who was already a New York Times Best Selling Author, crafted these interactions about Knight’s extraordinary life into a novel called The Stranger in the Woods.
Just before we printed a prototype of Issue 01, we were contacted by a representative of Finkel to see if there were any opportunities to collaborate with our platform and his new book. We didn’t have a website at the time and were a week away from the printing the proof of concept, but we went out on a limb and offered him a column in our first four issues dedicated to the North Pond Hermit. Finkel had published excerpts in The Guardian, The Atlantic, and many other prestigious publications, but we wanted to give our readership an inside peak into Christopher Knight’s reality in each season and each issue of Maine the Way.
Thank you, Mike for trusting us with your writing. We recently connected with him for an interview about his journey through journalism, what it was like working with Knight, and what’s ahead for him. Enjoy!
Maine the Way: First, tell us a little about yourself!
Michael Finkel: I'm 49 years, 10 months, 2 weeks old -- no way am I possibly trying to stop myself from admitting that I'm 50. No way at all. I have a wife and three kids (ages 9, 11, 12). I grew up on the East Coast of the US, mostly in Connecticut, and then spent more than 25 years living in Bozeman, Montana, and my family and I are now living in France (in the south).
MTW: What was your first job? First journalism job?
MF: First job -- selling running shoes. I still have the ability to look at your foot and tell you the exact size, without needing to measure. Not a great bar trick, but it's the only one I have. My first journalism job was as the lowest-ranking editor at Skiing Magazine, which at the time was headquartered in New York City. I lasted 18 months, then became a full-time freelance writer, which is a job, or should I say, "job," that I still have.
MTW: What would a dream assignment look like?
MF: I'll voyage to a country I've never been to (Brazil is first on my haven't-been-but-want-to-go list) and chase a strange story with lots of unexpected twists and turns, during which I meet a bunch of fascinating people, taste new food, absorb a lot of information about about a new culture, and return home a slightly changed person.
MTW: What’s your proudest accomplishment?
MF: Finishing my first decade as a father to 3 extremely energetic children.
MTW: What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
MF: Ride my mountain bike through beautiful country.
MTW: How did it feel to be the only journalist in contact with Christopher Knight?
MF: I will be forever appreciative and honored that Chris Knight decided to communicate with me, and accept my visits, and (mostly) put up with all my questions. Thank you, Mr. Knight.
MTW: To someone who has no idea about this story, what would you tell them in three sentences?
MF: "A highly intelligent man quits the world at a young age, and lives completely alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years. Why would he do this? What did he learn?"
MTW: What was your biggest takeaway from your interactions with Knight?
MF: Not to be in such a mad rush all the time. Just to take a little time each day to calm myself, to observe the world around me, to breathe easily, to live in the moment.
MTW: Any exciting projects on the horizon?
MF: Yes. I'm working on new about about a master art thief. Stay tuned!
For a taste, grab Issues 01: Winter, 02: Spring, 03: Summer, and 04: Fall for a detailed look at how Christopher Knight made the most of each season. If you’re hooked on this story, pick up a copy of The Stranger In the Woods and get some answers to the many lingering mysteries of this unique tale. It’s a serious page turner!
Thank you, Michael for sharing a bit more about yourself and for your fascinating contribution to Maine the Way. Best of luck with what’s to come.
Cam & Christine