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The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

Author:Michael Finkel
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Publisher: Knopf
Published: 2017-03-06T16:00:00+00:00


17

It wasn’t reading or listening to the radio that actually occupied the majority of Knight’s free time. Mostly what he did was nothing. He sat on his bucket or in his lawn chair in quiet contemplation. There was no chanting, no mantra, no lotus position. “Daydreaming,” he termed it. “Meditation. Thinking about things. Thinking about whatever I wanted to think about.”

He was never once bored. He wasn’t sure, he said, that he even understood the concept of boredom. It applied only to people who felt they had to be doing something all the time, which from what he’d observed was most people. Hermits of ancient China had understood that wu wei, “non-doing,” was an essential part of life, and Knight believes there isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore.

Knight’s nothingness had another component. “Watching nature,” he called it, but he wasn’t satisfied with the description. “It sounds too Disneyfied.” Nature, Knight clarified, is brutal. The weak do not survive, and neither do the strong. Life is a constant, merciless fight that everyone loses.

From his clearing in the woods, every sight line short, Knight heard far more than he saw, and over the years his hearing grew sharp. His existence had a seasonal sound track. Springtime brought wild turkeys—yelping hens, gobbling toms—as well as chirping frogs. “You can mistake them for crickets, but they’re frogs.” Summer hosted the songbird chorus, morning and evening performances, and a lake buzzing with powerboats, which to Knight was the quintessential sound of humans at play.

In autumn came the drumming of ruffed grouse, the birds beating their wings to attract mates, while deer moved over dry leaves as if “walking on cornflakes.” In winter, the rumble of an ice crack propagating across one of the ponds sounded like a bowling ball rolling down an alley.

A heavy storm would blot out everything. After three or four days straight, Knight just got used to hearing the wind. Then when the wind stopped, it was silence that sounded like a stranger. Rain could fall torrentially, thunderbolts cracking with fury, and a really close lightning strike, Knight admitted, frightened him. “I like wet weather, but there’s enough of the little boy in me that I don’t like thunderstorms.”

He saw plenty of deer some years, none other years. An occasional moose. Once, the hindquarters of a mountain lion. Never a bear. Rabbits were on a boom-or-bust cycle, a lot or a few. The mice were bold—they’d come into his tent while he was lying there and crawl on his boots. He never thought about keeping a pet: “I couldn’t put myself in a situation where I’m competing with the pet for food and maybe have to eat the pet.”

His closest companion may have been a mushroom. There are mushrooms all over Knight’s woods, but this particular one, a shelf mushroom, jutted at knee height from the trunk of the largest hemlock in Knight’s camp. He began observing the mushroom when its cap was no bigger than a watch face. It



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