Land Of The Before Times
April 15, 2020
As we confront the reality of COVID-19, the idea of living self-sufficiently in the woods, far from crowds and grocery stores, doesn’t sound so bad.
From the pages of Outside magazine, the romance of the primitive:
I’m on my way to meet Lynx Vilden, a 54-year-old British expat who, for most of her adult life, has lived wholly off the grid. The slick roads don’t help my apprehension about what lies ahead: a three-day, one-on-one experience of “living wild.” The details are hazy. I’ve been advised to prepare for bracing climes and arduous excursions. “Wear sturdy shoes,” Lynx told me. “Bring meat.”
You may want to keep those last two words in mind.
I send a text message to Lynx telling her I’ll be late. Only later do I realise how presumptive this is: she doesn’t have cell service or WiFi.
Feel free to scream quietly into your sleeves.
Until about ten years ago, Lynx also possessed no credit card, nor fixed address; her previous abodes—a tepee in Arizona, yurts in Montana and New Mexico, a snow shelter on the Lappish tundra—had neither electricity nor running water.
As an attempt to glamorise primitive living, away from all those grocery stores, we aren’t, it has to be said, off to the most promising start.
This all changed when she received a modest inheritance from her mother’s estate in Britain that allowed her to purchase a remote five-acre plot some 12 miles outside Twisp.
Primitive living, it turns out, is so much easier with an inheritance.
When I finally arrive at the property in the early afternoon, she welcomes me to her wooded outpost wearing hand-stitched leathers. She heats her 900-square-foot log cabin—also the handiwork of the prior owners—by tending a wood-burning stove.
Again, if you’re into Stone Age role-play, then spare cash and pre-built property, complete with solar panels, power outlets and rudimentary plumbing, does seem rather handy, perhaps a prerequisite. Such that our fearless disdainer of modernity can “divide her time” flying between continents as mood suits, from Sweden to France’s Dordogne Valley and back to the mountains of Washington, USA. It’s the prehistoric way.
She favours water collected from the river to that which flows readily from her faucet.
How terribly authentic. Still, the choice is handy to have. Say, when ill, for instance. Or possibly jet-lagged.
“I like to sleep touching the earth,” she says.
I’ll just leave that there, I think.
Her overarching aim is not to simply survive out here in nature but “to live as wild people lived” and to show others how to do so as well.
Specifically, with “immersive programmes” for teenagers. Teenagers with easy access to $2,500.
After signing up, a group of fifteen or so students… learn skills from Lynx such as fire starting, shelter construction, bow making, and footwear fabrication. Once equipped with this knowledge, and having sewn their own buckskins and exchanged their toothbrushes for twigs, students have the option of heading out with Lynx into a nearby forest for as long as 30 unbroken days. They make camp, hunt and forage, and pass long hours in the intimacy of this tight tribal band.
Yes, passing those long hours, day after day, while experiencing what is coyly referred to as “calorific insufficiency,” and poking at your teeth with a twig. A niche pleasure, I think.
What she’s offering is a tool kit for complete self-sufficiency, as both an antidote and a radical alternative to the frenzied pace and digital solipsism that so many of us rail against.
It’s a radical alternative, this complete self-sufficiency. Again, words to bear in mind.
The prospect of Stone Age self-reliance and a well-stocked sanctuary in the woods seems especially appealing as the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the vulnerability of our hyperconnected and deeply inequitable world.
Oh, come on. You knew that was coming. Compared to which, you see,
the Stone Age wasn’t actually so bad.
There follows some rumbling about the “egalitarian lives” of pre-agrarian humans, all of whom, we’re assured, luxuriated and flourished in their proto-socialist equality. “A time before the world was scarred by borders, before politics, before race.” An age of bliss and inter-tribal hugging, no doubt. Friction-free and invariably consensual.
If indeed our lives were better back when we lived in roving bands, would it be wise to consider how we might revive aspects of our deep past?
Readers will note that the word if is bearing quite a load there. Anyway, back to the hunting and gathering, all that self-sufficiency and living off the land:
There are grouse about, Lynx observes on our second day together. She proposes that we go for a hike so she can shoot one for our supper. Barring that, we could aim to dine on wild turkey, which she’s also spotted strutting around the creek banks and the woods.
Sounds promising. So promising, in fact, that our buckskin warrior opts for a bow instead of a rifle. A bold choice, and suitably primitive.
The swift hush of an arrow is less likely to scare off the flocks we’d like to eat.
Dark is falling. Lynx releases a last desultory arrow before leading us home.
Her mood brightens when I remind her that we have the meat she’d asked me to bring, at the cabin.
That terrible modernity. Where you can buy steak.
Still, there’s always the Dordogne, where the hunting may be better. Regarding which, we’re told,
She forgoes her buckskins when she flies.
Via Advice Goddess, who adds,
I like to hunt for meat in my refrigerator and flick a switch to create light so I can admire my indoor plumbing.
Well, yes. Quite.