Disappear Here

My experience discovering the North Pond Hermit's Campsite
By Alec Hartman

I'm a professional nature, landscape and wildlife photographer and have lived in Central Maine all my life; I moved to Rome last November.  I've been photographing thousands of scenes and locations all throughout Maine over the past 10 years and one of my favorite hobbies is to explore all the back roads, hiking trails and rarely seen parts of the state to find unique unphotographed areas.  Since I moved here 5 months ago I've explored just about everywhere around the Belgrade Lakes and Kennebec Highlands regions, so when I found out about the North Pond Hermit my curiosity was piqued, especially since he was caught only a half mile down the road from where I live.

I figured with all the exploring I've done through the woods around my house and in the surrounding area that there must be a good chance I came in very close contact with the hermit at one point, and it turns out I was right.  I keep a GPS Logger as well as a GPS app on me at all times so I can properly Geotag my photography and also so that I don't get lost when I'm off trekking through the wilderness by myself.  I looked through my past GPS logs and found one from January 14th of this year when I was out snowshoeing, and as I was reviewing the trip I realized that I was only about 1/6th of a mile from the hermit's main campsite at one point that day.  I was actually planning on snowshoeing up the hill on the west side of Little Pond this winter to see if there might be any views from the top that I could get some good photos from but decided against it because the tree cover looked too thick to offer any views.  However, if I'd changed my mind and snowshoed up there anyway I'd say there would have been a very good chance I would have run across his campsite.

Given my hobby of exploring unfamiliar terrain, especially terrain I had specifically planned on exploring recently anyway, coupled with the fact that the hermit apparently lived in the immediate vicinity of my house, I couldn't help but want to go out and try to find the campsite myself.  My mother drove out from her house in Vassalboro to meet me since she was quite curious as well and we both headed out into the woods behind my house to see if we could locate the hermit's camp.  As we got closer to the pond I began to get a bit nervous that we may not be allowed to be there since the authorities had been investigating the area so recently, but not once did we see any No Trespassing signs and there was never any sign of crime scene tape, or really any sign of life at all.  I had marked a few spots on the map beforehand where I thought the hermit's camp might be, but when we got there we realized that, although it was on the side of a hill that would be sheltered from most of the wind and was covered in large boulders that would offer even more protection, the woods were too open and the trees were all deciduous so they wouldn't offer any cover in the winter months and he'd be more likely to be seen from the air.

However, it was here that I found another old campsite that almost certainly belonged to the hermit -- it didn't look like anyone else had discovered it and also looked like it had been abandoned for many years.  There was an old wooden frame structure which appeared to have been a bed or small shelter that had been built in between several large boulders.  The wooden frame had old thick blankets draped on either side and inside the structure was what looked like a mattress and several layers of blankets, stuffing and insulation that were buried under snow and leaves.  There were also two old screen windows lying in and beside the structure that I imagine may have served as the roof or walls used to keep out black flies and mosquitoes at one point.  Other than that, the only other items at this site were a large black pot, a tin can lid with a screw through it, a portable water cooler and a green milk crate labeled "WEST LYNN CREAMERY."  I took some photos of this campsite and then climbed to the top of the hill, hoping to find the main campsite nearby.

Several hours and miles later it was getting dark and we still had not been able to locate the campsite anywhere.  I began looking for denser tree cover and clumps of evergreens but it was beginning to seem hopeless...after all, he'd remained hidden there for 27 years without ever being discovered, so the chances of me finding his camp after only a few hours of searching seemed slim.  My mom was insisting we head back as it was getting dark and she didn't expect there was any possibility of finding it any time soon, but I didn't want to give up just yet and started to get a feeling that we were very close.

We were on our way back when, much to her annoyance, I turned and headed deeper into the woods, jumping over boulders and rocks, since I suddenly had a very strong sense that it was just through the next stand of trees.  She was yelling behind me when I saw it; a black trash bag amidst an otherwise untouched forest.  I ran to it and began to see more and more items along the ground...an ancient boat battery...a half buried propane tank...I remember saying "we found it!" and then taking another few steps and coming to the main campsite itself.  I figured that most everything would have been hauled out of there by then, but there was a surprising amount of stuff still left.  Being in this place and exploring it was a very odd experience; both eerie and profound.  Someone had lived here in total isolation for nearly three decades, completely undetected, and knowing that made being there feel somewhat surreal.

Among the things I found at the campsite were a bed, a mattress, a pillow, several large tarps, an old Panasonic TV, a cigar box, wine corks, National Geographic and Playboy magazines dated from the early 1990's, a belt tied around a tree, a pair of boots, a folding chair, an empty bottle of honey powder, maple syrup, boxes of bacon, many propane tanks, many boat batteries, Axe roll-on deodorant, sponges, a jug of Fancy Ketchup, several wine corks, a five gallon bucket labeled "Kosher Dill Spears," clothespins, a broom, a trash can lid that had been painted camouflage colors, a Coleman cook stove, a leash, many ropes tied around trees, many AA batteries strewn along the ground, many clothes hangers, two birch tree logs sticking out of the ground that I believe were makeshift tent pegs, plastic totes and garbage cans and several crates, one of which was labeled "WEST LYNN CREAMERY," the same as the one that I found at the old campsite earlier that day.  (Note: I did some quick research online for West Lynn Creamery and apparently they were a milk plant in Massachusetts, were part of a Supreme Court Case in 1994, West Lynn Creamery, Inc. v. Healy, and were then bought out by Garelick Farms in 1998.  So it appears that West Lynn Creamery hasn't existed under that name since the 90's, suggesting the hermit acquired those crates at least 15 years ago).  I also discovered a large mushroom growing from one of the trees at his campsite, which I remembered the Hermit mentioning in an article, saying that he'd occupied himself by watching that mushroom grow over the past four years.  Outside of the campsite there was an area that had obviously been designated as a trash heap and was just a graveyard of empty beer cans, soda cans, candy wrappers and propane tanks.

After spending over an hour photographing everything (totaling around 120+ photos) and shooting a 6 and a half minute video "tour" of the campsite, it was finally too dark to get any more photos without a tripod or flash so we headed back.  It surprised me to come across a road only a few minutes after leaving the campsite.  The road was only 0.14 miles from the campsite, to be exact.  Still, I can see how he lived there for so long undetected...the road was small, covered in snow, and appeared to only have one camp on it and was likely only ever used by a few people.  Plus, the woods he was in were very thick, almost entirely evergreen trees, and would have shielded him from the surrounding area quite well.  When I got back home I checked the location of his campsite on Google Earth and several other maps that provide different aerial views of the area and there's not even the slightest hint that there's anything there, so I have no doubt that he was totally invisible from the air the entire time.  All in all, it was a fascinating experience to see something like this firsthand, especially knowing it's been so close this entire time.  It speaks to the nature of small Maine towns and the Maine wilderness how, if someone so desires, they can easily walk as little as a quarter mile into the woods and just totally disappear.


My full gallery of photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanimilbus/sets/72157633267568407/