9 September 2017

Wild woman and porcupine for lunch

Recently I was speaking with someone and I mentioned reading. At the same time, I must have groaned. She mistook my meaning: "You don't have enough time to read?". I was astonished. I always make time to read. How would I feel normal without it? It was probably a groan of pleasure.


Recently the book that made it to the top of my reading-in-waiting pile was Miriam Lancewood's Woman in the Wilderness.

I loved it. The gorgeous, Amazonian and smart Miriam, who is from the Netherlands, moved into the wilds of New Zealand with her husband, Peter. Peter is 30 years her senior, which makes for a fascinating side story. They have lived mostly in the bush for the last six years or so, and I hear they've now left NZ to explore the nomadic life in the wilds of other countries.

The book's been criticized for under-emphasising the trials of their life, but those were there: the cold, the rain, the hunger, the loneliness. The backsplash of the longdrop, the tediousness of the diet at times. For Miriam, though, the joy and beauty of it shone through brighter, which is why they kept doing it.

She hunted (possums, goats and hares), he cooked; they became expert fire lighters, navigators, seekers of water and forageable food. They had no phone or locater beacon if they became injured: instead they watched their every step and became strong and capable, completely responsible for their own well-being.

This contrasts with another true story I was told recently of a woman who keeps having to be rescued from the Hakarimata steps walk, which I've done as it is only half an hour or so from our house. It takes an hour or so to get to the top, and it's hard going. This woman keeps trying, and has been rescued TWELVE TIMES. Apparently the medics have had strong words with her.

What interested me most is how Miriam and Peter's stripping away of the comfort and security of a conventional life opened up a huge sense of freedom for them. They don't need soft beds, chairs, ovens, much money or, indeed, a house to feel comfortable. Their strong bodies get them places; their skills keep them uninjured, fed and watered. Their needs are stripped back.

It's so easy to expand what you need to feel comfortable, and then of course those comforts need to be serviced and paid for. They limit where you can go and what you can do, because without them you're uncomfortable. They are like your exoskeleton - an expensive one in so many ways.

My own watered-down version

I get this. My own little experiments  so minor compared to theirs — have given me a much watered-down version of the same realisation. I've got rid of quite a few things myself, or just never got them in the first place. Gone are shoes with support, new clothes, a soft bed, a lofty pillow, make up, hair colouring, and most recently chocolate (sad groan).

I've pared away some of my exoskeleton, and feels damn good.

We love our futon. You'd probably think it feels like rock.
It's just a thinner exoskeleton.


She can write

Miriam's writing is engaging and poetic, and the adventures and revelations arranged cleverly and satisfyingly. Miriam and Peter are not luddites who can't keep jobs; they're smart and sensible. They're also extremely organised: as Miriam told Mike Hosking in an interview "If we're not, we die."

The Hadza

Last night I watched Last of the First about the Hadza people in Tanzania, some of the world's true last hunter-gatherers. This was not about rewilding, like Miriam, but staying wild - under severe pressure not to. 

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They grow nothing and store no food. Their houses are made of sticks and grass and degrade away when they move to another area (they're nomadic). They can tell when an eagle has downed an antelope miles away by a distant call they catch on the breeze (then they're off to get their dinner).

My cat leaves a heavier ecological footstep on this planet.

Each one of them sings like and angel and dances rhythmically, they hang out with their mates all day, have heaps of leisure time, move like Olympic athletes, are smart and self-aware and speak two languages.

As I watched I could see what we've left behind, and Miriam knows it too. I'm not sure that what we've lost is worth it.

I had to laugh at one Hadza boy. It took him and his friend two days to walk home after running away from school after being beaten, and they had no desire to live elsewhere. "Other people don't have Hadza food," he said, unsettled by the thought. Indeed, who would want to live without berries, baobab fruit, honeycomb and porcupine meat?

And who would want to be a boy who couldn't grow up running free with the other boys, making bows and arrows and practicing with them until they can hunt game? Bringing home small animals for the pot at age 10? My boy watched that bit longingly.

You can learn a bit more about the Hadza by reading the Facebook page of the Human Food Project. It's about an ongoing study of the Hadza's bodily microbes, and a whole lot about the people comes through (the porcupine hunting, mothers pre-chewing their babies' food - no blender needed). Highly recommended.

Rice and beans

It's all about this, really:

Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways.  One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king.
Years later they meet.  As they catch up, the minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin, shabby monk.  Seeking to help, he says, “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”
To which the monk replies, “If you could learn to live on rice and beans you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

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