Henry David Thoreau once said, “Humility — like the darkness — reveals the heavenly lights.”
That may have been exhibited by the Fort Fisher hermit, Robert Harrill.
Since my last column, a few folks told me they had met the vagrant during his 17-year tenure inside a World War II concrete bunker. A few others claimed they remember having seen Harrill along the salty marshlands where he made his humble abode. A couple of others purported seeing Harrill riding toward Carolina Beach on his aging bicycle.
All sources concur that Harrill was an intriguing man.
Since that last editorial, we researched the site of the beachcomber’s abandoned bunker near the Cape Fear. After parking at the Fort Fisher State Recreational Area, we diligently trekked the 2.2-mile round trip path along the Basin Trail.
We were determined to witness the natural venue once coined the second most popular attraction in our state. We were stoked to see for ourselves where tens of thousands of documented visitors made the acquaintance of the so-called hermit.
We wanted to find the locale where the vagrant seined the marsh waters, thrived on mussels, berries, oysters, fish and surrounding vegetation.
We began retracing the Basin Trail just past the ranger’s station. We traipsed along the well-beaten path that meandered through live oaks, scrub bushes and the Maritime Forest. Along our trek, we spotted varieties of flora, fauna, and even Yaupon Holly trees in the thicket.
Despite the temps hovering at 96 scorching degrees, (seriously!), we forged on — walking along the wooden pedestrian bridges constructed to traverse underlying tidal pools, grass flats and creek beds.
We walked during the heat of those daylight hours, aware of how the high tide could easily sweep in and encompass much of the Basin Trail. Finally reaching the abandoned, concrete bunker, we stood in amazement at how humble the vagabond’s living quarters actually were.
We surveyed the cold, unforgiving bunker, unable to grasp how Harrill could have protected himself against the harsh, aggressive winter and summer elements. We remarked that the hermit did not possess any modern amenities as cleanly filtered, running water; electricity; or modern-day cellphones for emergencies.
We couldn’t imagine just how dark those nights spent by the marsh and grassland could have been. We imagined the type of darkness Harrill experienced — the kind allowing one to slip away into the depths of obscurity.
We studied the memorial displayed — a 1995 contribution provided by The Hermit Society— depicting the vagabond’s modest living conditions for 17 years.
We reconciled with the fact that Robert Harrill defied all odds — living in the most self-deprecating circumstances, shielding himself from — yet surrounding himself with — curious onlookers, concerned friends and abounding nature.
We were reminded that the heavenly, starlit skies could have easily illuminated the darkness of the hermit’s makeshift home in Kure Beach. What a perfect depiction of humility.
Kim Lambert is a former reporter with The Daily Record and former editor of The Angier Independent.