‘River Dave’ says he doesn’t see how he can ‘go back to being a hermit’

“River Dave”, an 81-year-old New Hampshire man who lived an off-the-grid life for three decades until last week when his cabin burned down, said he no longer thinks he can return to his hermit lifestyle.

“I don’t see how I can go back to being a hermit because society is not going to allow it,” David Lidstone said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Related: ‘River Dave’: New Hampshire squatter’s home burnt down after 27 years

“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 added.

For three decades, Lidstone lived in the woods along the Merrimack River in the town of Canterbury. He was a logger by trade and grew his own food in the woods.

On 15 July, Lidstone was jailed on a civil contempt sanction and was told he would be released if he agreed to leave the cabin, following a property dispute that started in 2016. The landowner, 86-year-old Leonard Giles, wanted Lidstone to leave the property.

A fire destroyed Lidstone’s cabin hours after he defended himself during a court hearing last Wednesday. Lidstone was released Thursday from jail after a judge ruled that he would have less incentive to return to “this particular place in the woods”, now that his cabin had been destroyed.

Nevertheless, Lidstone is not grieving the loss of his life in isolation, saying: “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life … I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or any close contact.”

“I’ve 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.”

As the state fire marshal’s office investigates the fire, people across the country have made over 20 offers to Lidstone, either through funds or offering him places to relocate to, including Maine and California. Lidstone is still trying to figure out where he would go next, although he would not mind staying in New Hampshire, where he has developed strong connections over the years.

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