Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Getting away from it all! And getting away with it?

Amidst all the news stories of Brexit chaos, Donald Trump's tax returns (imagine paying more in tax in one year than many people earn in a lifetime!) and Scotland wanting (or perhaps not) to leave the United Kingdom, I came across a curious tale. It was a true story.

A young man of about twenty left work one day, cashed in his last pay check and was not heard from again. I was going to say he disappeared without trace but traces there were; it's just that nobody knew they were HIS traces and they didn't seem to lead anywhere. Of course, they found him in the end or his story would not have been told.

He got in his car and drove away. And he drove and drove until his car had almost run put of petrol - or gas, as he might have said since the story took place in the USA. And then he left car in the woods, with the keys on the dashboard, and walked. And he walked and he walked and he walked until eventually he found a spot in the woods that suited him. And there he made his camp.

I think he had a tent and a small amount of food but none of the equipment you might think he would take with him if he planned to go and hide in the woods long term. So maybe he did it on a whim and then it turned into a life choice. For he stayed there for just over a quarter of a century.

Since he didn't have any of the necessary stuff to be self sufficient he began to steal. This was in the woods or forests of Maine. Scattered around the area are cabins and hunting lodges and the like where people go for weekends, probably all year round, or maybe for a couple of weeks or so in the summer. Anyway he worked out when the owners were not around and how to break in to their places and steal what he needed, never causing any damage. Some places he visited on a fairly regular basis, hiding the spare keys that he found inside the cabins in the vicinity so that he could let himself in easily the next time. Boy, that must have annoyed the owners!

He even borrowed their canoes to paddle across lakes and rivers to access other houses, always returning the canoe to its place. After all, he didn't need a canoe every day. I thought he might have simply escaped from all the news as well but apparently he stole a portable television set and rigged up an arial in the trees in his hideaway. So presumably he kept reasonably up to date with the news. Eventually, of course, they caught him. They had been after him for years. He must have been pretty crafty to evade capture for twenty-five years.

He still doesn't seem to have given any real explanation as to why he ran off like that. Always a loner, he had no friends to miss him. His family must have wondered where he had got to, maybe even thought he must have died somehow, but that did not seem to bother him. The authorities say he shows no signs of mental illness. He just wanted to be alone.

Funnily enough, his arrest came about not long after the capture of another chap who lived six years in the mountains of Utah before being caught. It must be an American thing! He was a runaway parolee, however, so his case is a little different. And he clearly was not as efficient as the man from Maine since he only lasted a paltry six years.

Of course, this happened in America, a very big country, which still has huge empty places where people can still disappear like that. I find it hard to imagine someone setting up camp anywhere in England and living there for years and years without being discovered. Maybe somewhere in the wilds of Scotland it might be feasible but I should think it would be pretty cold at times.

I have known a number of people who have had the dream of going off and finding a small place to live where they could be quite self sufficient, growing a lot of their own food and such like. Most of them would still like to be within at least driving distance of some, at least small, place where other folk live, just in case they needed some kind of help. Most of those I have known have had this dream when they were young and then have grown out of it as they grew up or just grew older. We do, however, have one friend who upped sticks in her sixties to go and live off the land with her partner in Scotland. Most of us thought at the time that she was slightly bonkers, and indeed still think so to this day.

No, if asked by Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs how we would manage on our own on the island, most of us might well respond that well, we might be okay but we would prefer to be within reach of civilisation. Mind you, I suppose the man from Maine cannot truly be said to have been properly self-sufficient. He kept enough contact with civilisation to keep himself fed and provided with replacement clothes and shoes and equipment as his own wore out. Not the same thing at all! 

And now what will become of him? How will he adjust to life in Donald Trump's America? Will he write his story and will someone come along and make a film of it? (I'm betting they will.) And will he he make enough money out of this to escape from the world again, without the need to steal from other folk's weekend retreats?

But I bet he would miss the little rush of excitement of breaking and entering!

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