Most of us cannot live in the woods, but we can dream! Here are some books by people who really do live in the woods, for either part or all of the time. In the US, Christopher Thomas Knight (otherwise known as the North Pond Hermit) was recently in the news, after being found living in the woods, having gone missing 27 years ago. Discovered in Maine (US), he lived by stealing food from local holiday camps. He managed to survive bitter cold winters, and used a camp stove to cook, and drank and bathed from melted snow. People became so fascinated by his life, that books have been written about him. When interviewed, he said that he had one verbal exchange in all that time; ‘saying hi’ to a hiker!
A Year in the Woods is by Torbjørn Ekelund, the gifted Norwegian writer. After his beautiful debut book In Praise of Paths, now he decides he wants to leave the city after work and camp near a tiny pond in the forest. He has a family and busy life, so can’t just ‘go off on a trek’.
So once a month for a year, he goes off camping by himself in the woods. A tale of communing with nature in small rituals and reflection. He describes his changing relationships with the landscape as he monthly greets the same trees, rocks, streams and soil. And also observes minute signs of growth and decay around him. And gradually shifts his perspective on his role with the forest, and nature itself.
This author has been described as a modern-day Henry David Thoreau. If you’re not familiar, he wrote the classic book Walden, about his 2 years and 2 months living in semi-isolation by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Born into a family that made pencils, he attended Harvard University and author Louisa May Alcott (who wrote ‘Little Women’) fondly remembers him teaching her as a child about the natural world. He was a kind man who after capturing a woodchuck who had chewed up most of his bean field, could not bring himself to kill it, so set it free. Thoreau died of TB, just 44.
In the UK, Ben Law became subject of the most popular Grand Designs episode ever, when he built his little house in the wood. Grand Designs magazine says that whenever asked of their favourite episode, everyone says ‘that guy who built his house in the wood’. The 8-month project cost £28,000 and became a lifelong business for Ben, who now gives walks and seminars, and teaches others how to do the same.
Before that, Ben had lived in a caravan for 10 years. Today he still lives there with his young family, with some added luxuries including a sunken hot tub. He says ‘I love living here. Every day, waking up is a pleasure’. Read his books Woodland Craft and Woodland Workshop with lots of green woodworking projects including a Sussex knee vice and peeling jig (?!)