Miriam the Woodswoman

Miriam Lancewood - Photo by Allen & Unwin

Ever since I first found the story of the woodswomen, I have been on a journey into the wild, learning to find shelter and make fire no matter how cold or wet, and becoming aware of the subtle sounds and songs of nature. 
The woodswomen have been an inspiration for the book I am currently working on. Writing a book makes you a bit obsessive, and it follows you around wherever you go! This journey has found me in all sorts of places – dusty archives and smoky campfires – researching the folklore of my Nordic ancestors and listening to the stories of people today. I have interviewed people who are returning to the wild and who have a deep relationship with the living soul of nature. 
During these past two months I have been reconnecting with my roots in New Zealand, and while catching up with family and friends, the story of the woodswoman continued to follow me along my path, and I wondered if I might come across a woodswoman or woodsman during my time in New Zealand. 
 This time a story of a woodswoman came my way through the medium of a book. First it was a friend of mine who told me about a book called “Woman in the Wilderness,” written by a woman who lived in the New Zealand bush together with her husband.  About a week later, this very same book came my way by the hand of a family member, who insisted that I read it. So I began to read about a woodswoman named Miriam Lancewood.

Miriam and Peter at Spirits Bay beginning the long walk Te Araroa from the very north to the south of New Zealand

Born in the Netherlands in 1983, Miriam has been living a nomadic lifestyle in the wilderness for over seven years together with her husband Peter. She is the hunter and he is the cook. Peter was a former university lecturer, but sold his house and left his academic career in order to travel the world. Both Miriam and Peter shared a longing for the wild, and despite a 30 year age difference, they both felt a deep connection right from the very beginning. They went hiking and travelling together for a few years before going to Peter’s home country of New Zealand. 
Two years later, Peter and Miriam decided to leave their jobs, sell most of their possessions and move permanently into the wilderness, spending their first winter in the mountains of south Marlborough. After five years of living in the bush, Miriam decided to write a book about her experiences. Borrowing an old laptop from a friend, she wrote a book called “Woman in the Wilderness” which was published in 2017. 
Miriam writes: “In my eyes, there was no greater beauty than the uninhabited, rough wilderness of New Zealand’s steep and unforgiving mountains, extended forests, great rivers and wild animals. The mere sight of the mountains always made me feel very happy. The rural areas of the Netherlands that I had grown up in had some space, but no great wilderness. Once upon a time there have been big forests, swamps and marshes, but now most people lived in cities that had grown together. Between the towns were fertile, agricultural fields, divided by man-made canals. I had left a very orderly world behind, and I was now longing for something wild.” (Lancewood, “Woman in the Wilderness”, 2017)

Miriam and Peter's frozen tent on a midwinter morning in Marlborough

Preparing for their first winter, Miriam and Peter had to plan and calculate everything to the last detail, counting every teabag and spoonful of honey they would bring with them. They dried their own home-grown vegetables from the garden and studied books about edible plants and mushrooms. Miriam, who had grown up as a vegetarian, now wanted to learn how to hunt wild animals in the traditional way, and she began practising how to shoot with a bow and arrow.  
Last month, I contacted Miriam by email when she and Peter were walking in Turkey and on their way to Bulgaria. We sent emails over a couple of weeks and Miriam replied whenever she was passing through a town and could borrow a computer. 
When I asked Miriam what it was that made her want to leave her old life and go into the wild, she replied, “I always wanted to go on expeditions, I wanted to do something extraordinary. I could not stand the idea to live in a little house in a dead suburb in Anytown. And I loved hiking in the mountains. One day my husband Peter and I realised that we wanted to live fulltime in this beauty.”

Photo by Murdo Macleod/Observer

Like the forest, one day we humans will reconnect with the earth on which we were born, and return to what I believe to be our natural order...
One evening when Miriam was out hunting, she suddenly caught sight of a wild cat. It was a big black tomcat who was also out hunting. I marvelled at its wildness, she writes: 
“This was a tiger compared to a domesticated house cat. I thought about how humankind had gradually grown tame; once upon a time, humans had been as wild and proud as this tomcat, and deep in my heart I felt that one day, in a faraway future, humans would be wild again. We had been living in nature for four years, and I had begun to see that everything must return, sooner or later, to its natural order. The forest had been burned in vast areas of the country, and one day it would grow back again. It might take millions of years, but nature has time. Like the forest, one day we humans will reconnect with the earth on which we were born, and return to what I believe to be our natural order.” (Lancewood, “Woman in the Wilderness”, 2017)
In an email, I asked Miram, “How can people find their way back to nature?” 
Miriam replied: “If people want to find their way back to nature, they can. Everyone knows how to find a forest. Being in nature is in our blood, because we are from this planet. The question is, do they really want it? And do they want to give up their machines for it? I have experienced that the cellphone and computer stands in between us and the re-connection with nature. It is either the machine, or nature. So the first step is perhaps giving up on technology. Throw away the cellphone and switch off the light, so you can see the darkness, and then the stars.”

Photo by Murdo Macleod/Observer

Miriam is currently looking for five women to join her on an expedition: “I am looking for the Bravest, Strongest and Wildest Women on this planet, for the purpose of an EPIC FEMALE EXPEDITION: a three months journey into the heart of the wilderness.” For more information, visit her website.


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