81-Year-Old Forced From Cabin After 30 Years Says Society Won't Support His Hermit Life

An 81-year-old New Hampshire man who lived off the grid in the woods for nearly 30 years and was forced from his cabin when a fire burned it down as he faced eviction said society will not support his hermit life, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't see how I can go back to being a hermit because society is not going to allow it," David Lidstone told AP on Tuesday.

He had lived in self-reliance, growing his own food near the Merrimack River in Canterbury. When the current property owner, 86-year-old Leonard Giles of Vermont, wanted Lidstone, known locally as "River Dave," off the property, he did not comply and was imprisoned on July 15 on a civil contempt sanction. After Lidstone appeared in court August 4 to defend himself, a fire that is being investigated by officials burned down the cabin in the hours after his hearing.

Lidstone said he is not sad about not returning to his hermit life.

"Maybe the things I've been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life," he said. "I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or any close contact."

Lidstone has received an outpouring of support from people in his state and across the country.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

David Lidstone
David Lidstone, 81, sits near the Merrimack River on August 10, 2021, in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Steven Senne/AP Photo

Lidstone said even if he could rebuild his cabin, which burned down last week, "I would have people coming every weekend, so I just can't get out of society anymore. I've hidden too many years and I've built relationships, and those relationships have continued to expand."

He is a logger by trade who chopped his own firewood.

"I had somebody ask me once, about my wife: 'Did you really love her?' And the question kind of shocked me for a second. I...I've never loved anybody in my life. And I shocked myself because I hadn't realized that. And that's why I was a hermit. Now I can see love being expressed that I never had before."

When Lidstone was jailed, he was told he'd be released if he agreed to leave the cabin following a property dispute that goes back to 2016. The landowner, Giles, of South Burlington, Vermont, wanted Lidstone off the property.

The property, undeveloped and mostly used for timber harvests, has been owned by the same family since 1963.

Lidstone had said a prior owner in the family gave his word years ago that he could live there, but had nothing in writing. He later disputed that he was even on the property. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

He was released from jail on August 5 after a judge ruled that he would have less incentive to return to "this particular place in the woods," now that the cabin had burned down.

Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said that while the investigation isn't over and arson is not being ruled out as a potential cause, the fire was more likely caused by accident. He said a representative of Giles who was starting to demolish the cabin on August 4 disabled solar panels, which still had electrical charge in them. He also used a power saw to cut into metal supports that held the panels onto the roof. Either action could have created sparks to start making things smoke.

"He finished his day at about a quarter of three, and a fire is noticed at about 3:15," Gamache said.

He also said it's also possible the results could be inconclusive. "Right now, there's nothing left to go on at the site."

In the meantime, many people across the country and beyond have offered to help Lidstone, either through fundraising or offering him a place to live. Lidstone said he is thankful for all the support. He's still trying to figure out where he would go next, although he wouldn't mind staying in New Hampshire, where he's developed some strong connections.

One proposal under consideration is for him to live on property belonging to the Concord Friends Meeting, a Quaker meeting in Canterbury that's not far from the cabin site. Lidstone worked on the meetinghouse as it was being constructed in 2010. The congregation would have to agree on the matter.

The property overlooks the Merrimack.

"It has certainly occurred to us that here is a neighbor in need," said Richard Kleinschmidt, co-clerk of the Quaker meeting, "and how can we help him?"

Merrimack River
An 81-year-old New Hampshire man lived off the grid in the woods near the Merrimack River for nearly 30 years. Above, the river in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on July 3, 2014. Karl Hentz/Getty Images