PHOTO KILIII YUAN
In front of me sits Lynx Vilden (1965) looking at me with clear blue eyes, open for the first question to come. Smelling of fire and buckskin she looks young and old at the same time. Lynx is at home on the land teaching people how to live in the wilderness using Stone Age skills like primitive fire-making, hide tanning and hunting & fishing. Today she is traveling through Amsterdam where she spent some years as a teenager after growing up in London and before moving to Sweden and later North Central Washington where she is currently based.
Lynx's ultimate goal is to live according to the ancient ways year round through her Four Season Prehistoric Project. She is also advocate of wild human preserves in which people can live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in a protected way. 'The last couple of years I spent a lot of time with indigenous people, like the San Bushmen in South Africa and started wondering how come there are places where the land is protected for wild animals but why there is no place where the land protects wild humans. We need that kind of place for indigenous people living their ways and we also need a place for people who want to re-wild and go back to that. Some places of the earth should be immediately designated to wild animals, wild plants and wild humans.' A conversation with a woman out of time.
You take people to the wild places and teach them how to live there. What is the relevance of learning Stone Age skills for us living in 2018 with all the technology and modernity we have?
People are asking me why I focus on Stone Age specifically. For a lot of them it doesn't seem that relevant anymore. It is so far back and even if you go out and do re-wilding there is scrap metal everywhere. The reason I was drawn to Stone Age is you find all the things you need right around you. There is always stone. It is really our first tool. Invariably when I am doing a Stone Age class and I need a tool for a little job I can reach around on the ground and without getting up find a stone that would suffice to do the job. Maybe it is not perfect but it is sufficient. There is the beauty because that is liberty. The true freedom is to be able to see that Earth supports us in this very direct and immediate way.
You have to switch the way you view the world to allow that to work though. If you always have this idea in your head that the tool you need for this job is a shovel it will stop you from exploring and being creative. If you take away everything we know since the Iron Age you are left with what you have right here right now. Then this switch happens where you slow down, come into presence and see that the support we need is right here. That is the beauty of Stone Age.
I revisit the ancient skills because you cannot love something that you do not know and will not protect that what you don't love. That's really the bottomline. As we are getting more and more disassociated from nature and the natural world we lose that connection and we stop protecting it because we don't know it anymore.
In the documentary made about you, 'A Woman out of Time' you mention how people who spend time with you on the land change. Can you describe what process they go through?
Yeah, there is something that happens again and again. For me, every time I go out in the wilderness it takes me at least three or four days to settle into what I call presence. To get into a state where I am not constantly running through my head all my plans, my appointments, things that I need to do, the bills I've got to pay when I get home. Because I am not immune to that either.
The process of reaching presence is really enhanced when you don't bring anything from the outside, not even a plastic anorak or a tent or you name it. Then the immediacy of your environment increases drastically. If you don't have your box of matches you are always watching the weather. You got to know what is going to happen. You can't take the risk of casually noticing it just started raining when you are dressed in buckskins and you have to have a fire and you have to have a shelter or else your life is seriously at risk. When all of those catches we take with us into the wilderness are dissolved you have to be in presence.
With my groups I am usually out for four weeks. The first seven to ten days people spend thinking about what they left and they're dropping down into a slower rhythm. Then they have this time in the rhythm. Usually, five to seven days before we leave they start projecting forward so then they are out of presence again. So you have seven days at the beginning and the end and two weeks in between where the rhythm gets achieved. Say you are out for only two weeks it seems that the time where that rhythm can get achieved can be really short. That is why these extended wilderness experiences are so valuable.
Why is it so important to reach that state of presence?
It is all we got really. The moment. When really being in presence you transcend all of the physical and you touch something which I would call spiritual. That is very important to me and it is something that we have very much lost in our culture. There are religions but their activities often feel empty to people. To find spirit in nature is a very powerful tool for connection. The actual skills, making a bow-drill fire, a flint tool or a basket are just an avenue into this deeper connection.
You said the forest saved your life. Can you explain a bit more about how that happened?
It is really simple actually. I had been living in Amsterdam and had been exploring a lot of the destructive things a lot of teenagers who feel a little bit lost do. I realized I had to get out of Amsterdam. Since I had family in Sweden who lived at the edge of the forest it was natural to go to them. There I went to the forest every day and spent all day. I didn't go sleeping in the forest yet. I would have been afraid back then. But every day I went to the forest and I started finding some of the peace and connectedness that we have been talking about. One night I heard two trees saying 'you don't need to do that stuff anymore'. So I stopped taking drugs.
After that I traveled a lot and at some point started going to the States. I went to Tom Brown's Tracker School and that was the first real seed that was given to me for primitive skills. It felt like the missing piece. All that I had been interested in before was all contained within the indigenous cultural way of life. I could still dance and sing, make art and music and play within that container of primitive lifestyle.
Do you feel you are truly wild sometimes?
(silence) Yes. Sometimes. But it is really rare. Usually it happens when I am out on a Stone Age project and I've been out for a long time. Then I know that everything that was domesticated or not from the land has been evacuated from my body. Then I am fully nourished by the earth in every sense of the word. There is some kind of a raw animal being that sometimes just touches there. It seems like it is brief but these are the moments where I am remembering some true wildness. The rest of it is some kind of half feral, not very civilized.
Would it be right to state that you are constantly looking for those moments of true wildness?
I am not looking for them cause I know where to find them. I am trying to balance that wild place which I know is my spirit's true desire with all the rest of this world which is so chaotic. But this is the time we live in so I don't want to be placing judgement on it.
There is this constant expansion contraction kind of thing going on; I want to be on my own and I like to be with people and share. So I guess I am looking for that experience but I don't want to do it on my own. There is so much beauty to be found in many things. I want to take people with me and to honour the earth the best way we can.
To teach and to create community is your way of doing that?
Yeah. Through the teaching and through the projects where I am not really in a teaching role. During these projects we are like a village. I am very clear at that point that I might disappear for three or four days and go hunting or sit with one person. That is my sacred time where people are not supposed to come to me and ask me to teach them something.
One of the things I often see that happens is that we take the community we have created before we go into the wilderness with us. We carry a lot of civilized notions. I try to encourage people to not talk about movies, to not talk about the things of the world we left behind. Let's not go there. There is plenty of time for that. I don't want people sitting around my fire with their iPhone or anything mechanized, motorized even. There is so much of that already. Surely you can do without that for a little while. Let's create a space that is sacred.
But as I see it in an individual way I also see it in a community way and all of that slowly drops away. The most noticeable part is noise. At the beginning I generally come in and everybody is excited and happy. A lot of young people come to my programs and they yell and scream and shout and everything gets scared away for ten miles around the first base camp. I usually just step back and let it sink. After three or four weeks out there the noise level has really dropped down. That is the most obvious thing that I notice in community. And a true caring and sharing seems to also emerge when people recognize how interdependent they become living with the land.
Do you see yourself continuing teaching?
In twenty years? Thirty years?
Then I will have more of my young people carrying my stuff for me.
More info: www.lynxvilden.com/