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Miriam Lancewood: Embracing the wilderness

Tessy Koshy | Updated on June 12, 2020 Published on June 12, 2020

Bon voyage: Miriam Lancewood met her husband Peter Raine in a restaurant in Hampi, Karnataka, and they have been travelling together ever since   -  IMAGE COURTESY: MIRIAM LANCEWOOD

Dutch writer Miriam Lancewood on her book about living off the grid in the forests of New Zealand, and learning to hunt and forage for one’s breakfast

*Former paul-vaulting champion Miriam Lancewood has been living with her husband Peter Raine in the forests of New Zealand for a decade

*Her book Woman in the Wilderness chronicles their life in isolation

There are no clocks in the dense forests of New Zealand, home to author Miriam Lancewood and her husband, Peter Raine. The sky is still dark when Lancewood wakes up every morning to the call of the first bellbird. For the past decade, the couple has chosen to lead a nomadic life. Picking up her gun, she sets out to hunt for their breakfast. “If I am lucky, I come back with a hare, but it does not happen every day. Peter is the cook,” says Lancewood, when I meet her at a literary festival in Dubai, where she was promoting her bestselling memoir Woman in the Wilderness. The book chronicles their life together in isolation, close to nature, camping in remote forests of New Zealand since 2010. Her second book, Wild at Heart, detailing a 2,000-km trek across Europe, is due to be published later this year.

Woman in the Wilderness: My Story of Love, Survival and Self-Discovery; Miriam Lancewood; Hachette; Non-fiction; ₹650

 

Born in the Netherlands, Lancewood (36) is full of life and eager for a conversation. Living in the wild, often in extreme weather conditions, hunting animals and foraging for edible plants have in no way dampened the spirits of the former pole-vaulting champion.

After graduating with a degree in physical education, Lancewood had taught in a school in Zimbabwe and then travelled to India, where she met her husband. A former professor of ecology and philosophy, Raine was 52 when 22-year-old Lancewood ran into him at a restaurant in Hampi, Karnataka. He was by then already living the nomadic life, walking across India. “I had never met anyone like him before. He was older, wiser and empowered. I was so impressed that I wanted to live an adventurous life with him; and the fact that I wouldn’t have to work appealed even more,” says Lancewood with a grin.

As a couple, they climbed mountain ranges in the Himalayas and journeyed through Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. A few years later they moved to New Zealand, Peter’s homeland, and finally took the plunge in 2010 — extending their taste for adventure by living in the wild with minimum food supplies and only their savings to bank upon. Every few months, they would walk to the nearest town to stock up on supplies. “By selling our possessions and saying goodbye to our loved ones, we gave up our past. We make no plans, so the future for us is one big white wall. Most people identify with their past and their future and live in that sense of security. For us, giving up on all that has opened many doors.”

With no phones, machines and or even a mirror, Lancewood and Raine lead a life dictated by nature’s innate rhythm. They sleep when it’s dark; they eat when they are hungry. In the forests, for days they meet no one. “The only visitors in the wild are hunters, and never any women. It seems they are afraid to embrace adventure. Although there is no reason why women can’t hunt or live in forests.”

But even for Lancewood and Raine, living off the grid did not come easy. Living in a tent, the first few months came with their own set of unlearning — they had to overcome restlessness, boredom and even not being spotlessly clean. For Lancewood, who grew up as a vegetarian, killing and skinning animals was a baptism by fire. The first possum that she trapped and killed was an extremely traumatic experience. She had cried bitterly at the gruesome horror it had turned out to be. “It took me six months to learn to hunt. First, I had to be patient and look for indicators of their presence in the wild — hoof prints in the mud, old droppings, damaged bark on trees,” she recalls. She eventually aced the game, but not before experiencing similar incidents. “Once I shot six arrows into a deer, but it still managed to run away. I finally had to stab it with a knife and it fell at my feet, but not before I chased it for over an hour. As I carried it on my shoulders to my tent, I thought things could not get more primitive or savage than this,” she adds.

Lancewood’s first book details their travels across wilderness spots from South Marlborough, Abel Tasman National Park to Southland, all of them located on the 3,000-km Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

After the book was published in 2017, Lancewood and Raine left New Zealand to embark on a trek in the forests of Europe, from France to Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Bulgaria. Her latest book Wild at Heart journals their adventures through these new places. After Lancewood finished her manuscript in May from her hut in Golden Bay, Northwestern Nelson in New Zealand, with only a laptop and a power plug as modern accessories, she and Raine have gone back to the familiar comforts of the wilderness.

According to her, “the more primitive we live, the more free we are to discover randomness and spontaneity”.

Tessy Koshy is an independent journalist based in Dubai.

Published on June 12, 2020
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