Paying a traffic fine, smashing a pressed powder, dealing with a lost package, waiting for a website to load – the little nuisances that we face in our day-to-day lives feel truly trivial after a conversation with Miriam Lancewood. The Dutch “female Bear Grylls” has given up urban life (and the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with it) in favor of living in the New Zealand wilderness with her much older husband, Peter Raine.
Not only does she live in a tent and forage for edible plants, but she has also sworn off skincare products, eaten possum meat for survival, and used urine to cure her dandruff – yes, it works. And, naturally, with life experiences of this sort, it was only a matter of time before she was tapped by a publisher to write a memoir. Enter: Woman in the Wilderness, a highly inspirational bestseller in which Lancewood delves into the boundaries broken, challenges faced, and adjustments made since she started living off the grid. Here, ahead of her appearance at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, she reveals what life in the wilderness has taught her about…
“We live like hunters and gatherers in the wilderness, and I feel connected with our ancestors. The women used to be strong – they were connected to the earth, practical, two feet in the soil. I go hunting and bring back a goat to camp. Peter cooks the meat over a fire. I wash in the icy cold river and feel very clean. We eat the wild meat and crack open the bones to get to the marrow. I feel alive, I feel part of nature, I feel like a woman. The wilderness taught me what it is to be human.”
“I observe that modern-day relationships are often bedded in conflict. Many people live in mega cities and suffer from anxiety, financial stress, mental issues. This has a direct effect on all of their relationships. Peter and I have no conflict because we have no stress. Our surroundings are not in conflict; it is harmonious and beautiful.
We worry about firewood, whether the rain will flood the river, whether I will find a rabbit to eat. These are such simple things. The moment the thunder has passed, we feel relaxed again. This is very different from constant anxiety in modern-day living. If couples would choose a different way of living in a harmonious place, they would have much less stress and their relationship would flourish.”
“Before we moved into the wilderness, we gave away all our belongings. The more we discarded our stuff, the more free I felt. It was exhilarating. It was as if all those belongings took up space in my head. I realized that possessions possess the possessor. A soft couch, a bed, a hot shower, Wi-Fi is all very convenient, but when there is dependence, there is fear. I don’t want to live with fear.
All we own fits into a backpack. I don’t want to carry something I don’t really need because that is just a burden. In the wild, we have to live with the gear we have. We have no choice. We wash in the cold river, which felt freezing in the beginning, but I’ve never felt so clean afterwards. We have one spoon each and one big plate for Peter and I to eat out of. Life became very easy once we adjusted to owning less.”
“Climate change and all the environmental problems on the planet are a big problem for humans because we are very short-lived. Mother nature, however, has time. We might destroy the world for ourselves and another million years, but in 10 million years, the earth will recover. When living in the mountains, you sense that the earth exists in a difference dimension of time. Seeing big rivers that had carved the mountains into shape also made me understand what an incredible power life is. I realized that the life force is much, much bigger than my little human mind can comprehend.”
“When we come to the city, I only notice one thing: how tired everyone is. Everyone is running around. I see it like a motorbike that goes at full speed around and around a roundabout. In my eyes, most people are very busy and achieve relatively little. This speed is killing humans – we are living beings, not machines.
People are worn out, burned out, depressed. When we are staying with friends in the city, my brain stays awake at night because of the artificial light, I cannot sleep and, soon, I feel exhausted. The effect of sleep deprivation always astonishes me; how quickly I change from a happy and energetic person into an emotional, tired, and depressed person.”
“It took about two weeks for our minds to slow down when we first went to live in the wilderness. During that time, we felt bored and restless. The mind had to find the rhythm of nature, which is much slower than the fast pace of city life. After those initial weeks, we began to feel very peaceful.
Strangely enough, one day behind the computer in town and my mind speeds up again. The mind that only relates to machines sees nature as scenery – just an abstract, dead thing. When you don’t see plants as living beings, it is easy to cut down trees. The more humans are speeding up and disconnecting from nature, the more we will destroy our living earth.”
“The moment we walked into the wilderness, we left the Chronos [time] behind. Suddenly, it felt as though time stood still. We had no sense of passing time in the forest; there were no days of the week, no plans for the future, nothing to achieve or accumulate. It is as though we had jumped into a different consciousness. In the wilderness, we live in what the Greeks called kairos – living in the moment.”
“We have a tent, which is our home, but we have no house to go back to. I would feel imprisoned if I had to live in a building for a long time. It would be exciting in the beginning, but after a few months, I would be bored in one place. The world is so beautiful – why stay in one spot?
We sometimes stay in the house of a friend, but after a while, I feel cut off from the real world. I cannot feel the wind, I cannot hear the stream, I cannot hear any night animals, I cannot smell the weather coming. I feel lonely and isolated in a house because it is a dead place. Nature is living. We are in the forest, next to a rapidly flowing river. We sleep on tree roots, while the branches are our roof. Everything is growing, and we are part of a living world.”
“After all those years in the wilderness, I was recently invited to speak for an audience of 1,400 people in Melbourne. I walked to the stage and spoke for 20 minutes. To my own surprise, there was no fear because there was no danger. The was no thunder, no crevasse, no flooding river, and nobody was going to eat me. There was no reason to be afraid. I had nothing to lose. If I would say the wrong thing and lose face, lose respect, lose credit, then I would not worry. Those abstract things are not important anyway. My inner fire – that is what matters to me.”
For details on Miriam Lancewood’s sessions at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, click here.