The Hermit of Merrimack River

by Erik Rittenberry | Poetic Outlaws | Sep 5, 2023

He’s known by the locals as “River Dave.”

A man who simply walked away from the trifling world of comfort and culture and into the womb of the natural world.

The small-framed 81-year-old off-the-grid hermit, David Lidstone, has been living in a little old raggedy cabin in the woods of New Hampshire for the last three decades. Alone. Barebones living to the core.

River Dave says he’s happier than all the billionaires that inhabit this crazy world.

A modern-day Thoreau who never quite made it back to town. With his Tolstoian white beard veiling his habitual smile and an old walking stick clutched in his ancient hand, River Dave moseys all around his tiny little homestead, a bother to no one. Like Thoreau, he’d rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to himself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

He’s a man who has, in the poetic words of Emerson, “retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes his daily food. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

Alone but never lonely, he keeps busy, a deliberate kind of busyness that living a self-sufficient life requires. He enjoys the company of his pets, chickens, honey bees, and, occasionally, the random kayaker that he makes friends with on the river and invites up to his place to tell stories about his long life.


River Dave’s fabulous dwelling


River Dave’s wooden, two-level A-frame cabin is located back in the cut of a 73-acre parcel of land along the Merrimack River. He grows his own food there and has solar panels for power and gets his water from a nearby stream.

“I do all my wiring, all my plumbing, I’ve done every bit of it. There isn’t a nail in this house I didn’t drive myself,” he says proudly to a local newspaper reporter who came out to interview him a few years back.

On long summer afternoons, you might find him chopping wood or tending to his garden or hiking up a little wooded hill to sit in an old lonesome chair that overlooks the river. “This is where I talk to the eagles,” he tells us.

“So why are you living out here, Dave, why you doing it?” asks the reporter.

“To get away from people like you,” he replies with a wink and a chuckle.

“Fair enough, Dave, fair enough,” and they both laugh and slap each other on the back.

In mid-July of 2021, River Dave ran into a big problem that threatened his whole livelihood. His cabin is allegedly located on private property, and the 86-year-old landowner now wants him off despite the property sitting untouched with no future plans of development.

On July 15th, men with badges and guns came out to River Dave’s place in the woods and arrested the old man for a civil contempt sanction for refusing to leave.

When he arrived at the courthouse, Dave looked the judge in the eyes, called him a few unpleasant names under his breath, and stated that under no circumstance would he comply with the order to leave the cabin. “You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ‘em,’ I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”

Sitting as a solitary figure in a little jail cell didn’t bother Dave all too much. Unlike most folks, he thrives in solitude. He’s in good company when alone, always has been.

“I told that judge, you can step on little people, but I will bite your ankle,” he says.

On the very day of his court hearing, Dave got the unfortunate news that the cabin that he built from the ground up himself, the cabin he called home for 27 years, had been burnt to the ground. This happened last week.

Dave believes that his cabin was intentionally burned down. “There was nothing in there to set it,” he said. “The cats usually don’t smoke very much.”

Out of jail and homeless, the local community came to his support. They set up an “Official” GoFundMe Page to help find Dave a new home and he’s completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of love he has received.

Material things come and go, he tells us, they don’t last, but relationships last forever, having good relationships with people is what matters most.

River Dave is a rare breed among us civilized humans. He chooses poverty over wealth, solitude over the crowd, sitting under trees rather than behind screens. He is a man with few needs, an old man with a childlike soul who simply carved out a little finite plot of existence in the infinite cosmos — a place where he could live authentically and unbothered by the demands of a broken world.

Unintentionally, perhaps Dave is advocating a new way of life — a life lived closer to the earth, an outdoors life lived in solidarity with all living things. Perhaps he wants us to understand that we are all a part of everything — the forests and the skies and the mountains and rivers and even to yesterday’s fallen leaves that crunch under our worn boots.

He doesn’t have a lot of time left. But at his age time doesn’t exist. In the brilliant words of the poet Ranier Maria Rilke, “Take time as nothing but a tiny step within the presence of the infinite.”

Each day is a triumph. Each moment a miracle. Each breath a blessing.

He has no desire for the endless fetters and trinkets of the man-made world. He has no need to involve himself with the excessive commotion of modernity.

River Dave simply wants to live out the remaining days of his life tucked back in a place where the “flowers flaunt their fragrance” and “every fruit demands a kiss.” A secluded place in nature where “the call of life never ends.”

A place, once again, to call home.

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