I recently wrote this book review of Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood- so I thought I would share it here, so that if like me you are often trapped indoors, when you would rather be out adventuring – this is a little slice of happiness to dip into as you please.
‘If I really know what it is to live in the great Dao, then it is above all busy-ness that I fear.’ (Lao-tzu)
‘What do you think that means?’ I asked Peter, reading it out loud.
‘Well if you are busy, you’re occupied. Then it’s very easy to lose awareness. Without busy-ness there is time and space to look at yourself, to find a way out of your mental prison.’Lancewood, 2017
Woman in the Wilderness is the memoir of Miriam Lancewood, a woman who has spent her adult life living in the wild with her partner Peter Raine. Miriam met Peter when she was travelling in India as a young woman aged 21. Peter, 30 years her senior, had already been living and travelling in India for five years, having previously completed a PhD in environmental studies and working as a full time lecturer in New Zealand before giving up everything to travel. Today he describes himself as a writer and philosopher and has been heavily influenced by philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Miriam completed a degree in physical education and had spent a year working in Zimbabwe before travelling to India, she had also been a top performing athlete in pole vaulting. The pair formed a strong partnership and travelled together across eight mountain ranges in the Himalayas and then spent many years travelling through South East Asia, including Papua New Guinea , before eventually returning to Peter’s native home of New Zealand. With Miriam’s physical abilities and strength and Peter’s calm and philosophical outlook on life they make an intriguing couple with many shared skills that have given them the ability to adapt through many challenges.
Woman in the Wilderness details six years of their travels, focusing specifically on living wild in New Zealand. Reading it filled me with an inner sense of peace and calm. Despite them facing challenges of survival, what this book does really well is to hold up a mirror to modern life, looking at it through fresh eyes. Miriam describes with energy and enthusiasm her love of the outdoors, the feeling of freedom and happiness she experiences when exploring and the way that time stretches when there is nothing to do but get through one day at a time.
‘Can you imagine a way of life so quiet, so timeless, so abundant and full that watching a single leaf fluttering from the trees, lifted into the air by a little breeze, turning silver in the sunshine in the sunshine is meaningful? ( (Lancewood, 2017, p. 88)
Miriam also fills the book with beautiful sharp imagery, such as this small observation of a hare:
‘Its ears would lie flat on its back, its body would take the shape of an arrow and it would effortlessly fly at tremendous speed straight up a steep slope.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 200)
When Miriam and Peter travel into populated areas to stay with friends between trips and to re-stock, they question what they see. The frenetic pace of modern life, the strange habits, rules and time schedules of society, the constant pressure, and burdens that we give to ourselves, the effort of interaction when so many expectations are placed on us. It makes you question materialism and how much we actually need, compared to what we think we need, to be happy. The thing that I enjoyed most however, is that they are not purist in their views, they can appreciate a comfortable armchair, enjoy using the internet when it is available to them, relish taking a hot shower when possible, but they don’t take anything for granted and greet everything with curiosity and contemplation.
Dipping into this book over the Easter holidays I felt like I was seeing the world with fresh eyes, although I won’t be moving into the wilderness just yet, it made me appreciate the very simplest of things, sitting out in the sunshine with the cat purring on my lap, a newly opened tulip, an affinity to the natural world. Miriam describes everything in our houses as dead, when everything outdoors is living and breathing. I appreciate what she means by this.
‘Nature provides all the living beings with everything we need to exist in this world,’ Peter said. Air, water, gravity, light, ground, soil, food-everything. Even well-being is provided by nature and beauty.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 114)
Reading the reviews for this book some people expressed disappointment that Miriam doesn’t detail practical skills such as starting a fire when the wood is damp, or navigating wild spaces. Some people also commented that the story became monotonous because nothing major happened. I didn’t feel this way at all, in fact I found it hard to put the book down. I felt that Woman in the Wilderness was the perfect combination of adventure and philosophy, it hit the nail on the head of so many of my own thoughts and values and each chapter helped me step into the natural world that I so often crave to experience.
It has inspired me to live more simply, to follow my intuition and above all to continue seeking time in nature, and if I can’t be in nature to connect to the natural world through writing and drawing, something I am very grateful to the Naturewrights group to inspire me with daily.
To read this book is also to appreciate that we are ourselves just natural beings, and sometimes we need a reminder to slow down, to focus on what is really important and to allow ourselves the time to just ‘be’ in the moment.
‘I understood that we’re so focused on becoming that we miss being, and being is where we all are.’ (Lancewood, 2017, p. 187)
Lancewood, M. (2017). Woman in the Wilderness: My Story of Love, Survival and Self Discovery. London: Piatkus.
*Here is my confession – I first stumbled across Miriam and Peter on Channel 5 – on an episode of New Lives in the Wild with Ben Fogle of whom I am a huge fan. They were the most intriguing couple that I have seen on this show, which made me want to find out more, hence how I stumbled across Miriam’s book, a highlight on the show is her making Ben Fogle wash his hair in his own wee! (Sorry Ben – but it was funny!)
You can read more about Miriam here: https://miriamlancewood.com and Peter also has a webpage: https://peterraine.wordpress.com/