Interviews with Lynx

Lynx Vilden | The Call of the Wild

Lynx Vilden
Lynx Vilden; photo credit Eric Valli
Lynx Vilden, a barefoot blonde in buckskin clothing, has carved her own unique path in the world—a path that used to be natural to all of us, but no longer is. While most have us have grown more and more distant from our roots in the Earth, Lynx has intentionally grown closer. She has explored the natural environments and indigenous cultures of arctic, mountain, and desert regions from Hudson Bay to the Red Sea. She has lived in a Sami village in Scandinavia, in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and the North Cascades of Washington. She has been practicing and teaching primitive living skills in both the United States and Europe since 1991. An instructor at Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Utah for several years, she has also taught workshops at primitive skills gatherings such as Rabbitstick, Winter Count, and Saskatoon Circle. At her own Living Wild school in the Methow Valley, Washington, she teaches participants “how to live in the wild, rather than ‘survive’ the wild until they can get back to civilization.” She does this through intensive hands-on wilderness living skills training, teaching people “how to harvest and transform the gifts of nature for everyday needs such as tools, fire, shelter, food”—in a conscientious and sustainable manner, as the ancients did. A regular contributor to the American publication, Bulletin of Primitive Technology, her goal is to form a group prepared to live for a full year in the wild with only Stone Age technologies—no knives, Goretex, or other manufactured materials. 
I first met Lynx at Saskatoon Circle Primitive Skills gathering a few years ago, where she offered workshops in felting simple garments from sheep’s wool and working with small draft horses using only a small piece of twine. Demonstrating, she turned to the palomino horse at her side, jumped upon its back, and cantered around our speechless group, grinning broadly.  
For this interview, Lynx spoke with me on the grass outside her cabin at Living Wild. Stretched out in the sun, clad in belted deerskin pants, a T-shirt, and simple bone earrings, she wore no shoes, hat, sunglasses, or touch of make-up—at home in who she is, how she is.
The MOON: Why is it important for people to learn to “live wild”?
Lynx: I don’t know; maybe it’s not important. We certainly can’t all live wild. There are too many of us. What is important is for us to have a connection to nature, and urban people are so tied into their TVs, computers, smart phones, and gadgets that they’ve essentially lost that connection.
The MOON: Yes, but most people who want to renew their connection to nature take a walk in the park, or go to the beach, or perhaps go backpacking for a week or so. You’ve taken your return to nature a lot farther than most people.
Lynx: There’s something that happens somewhere between the tenth and fourteenth day out in the wilderness. You finally let go of the life you left behind and drop into the rhythm of the natural world in the place you are now. You become present to the moment. In fact, you become one with it; you realize you belong to all of it. You literally feel your place in the universe—probably for the first time in your life. Once you’ve experienced that you want to keep experiencing it.
Then, about a week before you’re going to return to civilization, you start living in the future—anticipating your return. So, if for two weeks you’re living in the past and one week you’re living in the future, you pretty much need to be out in the wilderness for at least a month in order to have any time at all in the present!
The MOON: What compels you to come back to civilization at all?
Lynx: Blood ties, mostly. Hunger. Winter.
The MOON: Family I can understand, but I thought you taught people to forage and hunt for their own food, and to build shelter suitable for harsh winters.
Lynx: Yes, but we’re all beginners, really. It’s quite difficult to sustain oneself for months at a time as a hunter-gatherer. And surviving a harsh winter is very hard. I teach seven-day classes in the winter, and after seven days we’re all very happy to come home and get warm.
The MOON: What’s the longest you’ve ever stayed out?
Lynx: Forty consecutive days. Then I came back in for ten days, and went back out again for fourteen days. My Stone Age Project group typically goes out for thirty days.
The MOON: You have set a goal to take a group of people out to live in the wild with only Stone Age technology for a year. Do you think that’s possible?
Lynx:  I think it’s possible, yes. It’s a matter of finding the right location—permission to use a big enough piece of private land. And then we’d have to figure out how to feed ourselves for an entire year. You can’t just shoot a deer every time you need one, you know. There are rules about that, just as there are rules that restrict what you can do on public land…which is why we’d have to be on private land.
I do have some leads to big ranches in Montana—10,000 acres—with buffalo herds living on them that we might be able to hunt for food. Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe we should spend six months in the fall and winter preparing enough dried meat to take into the wild with us and then spend six months living in the wild.
The MOON: Why is it so difficult for people now to sustain themselves by hunting and gathering now, when our ancestors did it for millennia?
Lynx: Well, there are fewer resources, and we’re less adept at the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Plus, we’re limited by public policies. I’m not even allowed to teach these skills on Forest Service land without a permit…and they’re not giving out permits.
The MOON: How did you get the name “Lynx”?
Lynx: My given name is Lisa, but I always had nicknames growing up. As a teenager I was a guitarist in a punk rock band called Luby Loo, after the British slang for toilet. I was called Lo Djur, which is Swedish for lynx… “lynx animal,” actually, and when I came to the U.S., it just evolved into Lynx.
The MOON: How did you fall into this “career path”? It seems almost ludicrous to call it a career—as if you have another life apart from it.
Lynx: [Laughs] I call it “my service.” I fell into this “line of service” after emerging from a sweat lodge ceremony in 1989, realizing I was being called back to the Earth. Of course, other experiences also prepared me for it. As I kid I was always interested in primitive technologies, like fire-making and wild edible plants. My parents were artists so there were always a lot of crafty things going on, which is probably how I started working with leather when I was a teenager.
I grew up mostly in London, England, but I spent summers picking berries and mushrooms with my grandparents in Sweden. Then, when I was sixteen, I moved to Amsterdam and spent three years “living wild” in a completely different way. One day on a visit to Sweden, I was in the forest again, on drugs, and two big trees told me that I didn’t need to do drugs anymore. I say that the forest saved my life.
I moved in with an aunt and uncle who lived at the edge of the forest and spent every day amongst the trees and animals. Then I lived with a Swedish couple for six years and helped them raise their kids. During that time I also traveled extensively. I went to Egypt, Israel, all over Europe, and to the United States, but my home base was this couple’s home near the forest in Sweden.
In my early twenties, I spent a summer with a boyfriend in north central Washington. My favorite place to hike into was Stehekin, at the headwaters of Lake Chelan and the foot of the North Cascades—a very remote and beautiful place. My big complaint with backpacking, though, was that you had to carry so much food. People in Sweden are much more attuned to finding edible plants, but I didn’t know the plants of this region. So instead of food, I’d carry plant books.
One day I came across Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. This wasn’t simply a plant identification book, but more anecdotal. He described his relationship with the plants. That was intriguing. Then I read The Tracker, and three weeks later I was in his classroom at The Tracker School, in Pine Barrens, New Jersey. I took all eight of his classes in 1981 and lived in the Pine Barrens for about six months. I’d return periodically to take additional classes.
After that, I studied at Peter Bigfoot’s Reevis Mountain School of Self-Reliance, in the eastern Superstition Wilderness of Arizona. I lived there for nine months…until one day a man rode up on a wild mustang—a wild stallion actually—and lured me away. (Laughs) His name was “Ocean” and he became the father of my daughter. He took me to his school bus and horse trailer, and we drove north. We ran out of gas in Montana, near where Brooke Medicine Eagle lived. I’d met Brooke at the Tracker School, so we lived next door to her for five or six months. I was doing a lot of felting, practicing making fire by friction—I’d thrown away my matches, so if I was going to be warm, I needed to be proficient—and learning tanning, although I was not hunting a lot then.
The MOON: What are the skills you teach people for learning to live in the wild?
Lynx: The basic skills start with tool-making, so we go to the river and listen to the rocks. That’s my way of suggesting that they use all of their senses in selecting the stones they will use for various purposes. We’re so used to discounting the information we receive from the natural world that we don’t even take it in any more. If we don’t read it in a book, or see it on televisions, or hear it on the news, it’s not real, or credible, to us. Many of us don’t even rely on our senses for the weather!
So I suggest that students tap on the rocks and get a feel for their density, their hardness, their ability to strike a spark. I ask them to taste them, smell them—experience everything they can about them.
The MOON: Native Americans call the stones “grandfathers,” our oldest ancestors, and say that the rocks even speak to them.
Lynx: Yes, the stones will teach us. The plants, too, will teach us what we can eat, what we can use for tinder, or for cordage, or for making shelter, or fire, but we have to attune ourselves to them.
So, the students gather stones for various purposes—for cutting, abrading, hammering, making arrowheads, making sparks for fire, and so on. Then they spend some time shaping their stones into the tools they will need. They go into the woods to gather wood for a bow drill—hard wood for the bow, soft dead wood for the drill, and fine, dry tinder for kindling.  They gather plant fibers for making cord. Once they’ve got these basic tools, they learn to make fire—which becomes a magnificent tool—but it takes some practice to become proficient at making it.
The MOON: How fast can you make a fire using friction?
Lynx: I don’t know. Thirty seconds?
The MOON: Wow. Really?
Lynx: [Laughs] Yes. When you practice you get good at it.
So, students spend the first three days acquiring those basic tools—stone tools, wood tools, and fire. Then we learn how to process deer legs into other tools— knives, awls, needles, chisels—and even instruments.
The MOON: Deer legs?
Lynx: Hunters save them for me. We learn how to skin them, hollow them out, and make implements out of them.
The MOON: You don’t kill your own deer?
Lynx: Sometimes we kill a wild animal. Usually, however, I teach people how to kill and process a domestic animal because that can be done at the school. People need to acquire skills before going out into the wild where their lives depend on them.
The MOON: What is that like—killing an animal?
Lynx: It’s life-changing. To hold a warm, living, breathing animal in your hands, to pull back its fur or feathers prior to slitting its throat… it’s very humbling. It really commands your attention, too—the realization that another being is going to give its life so that you can eat. When I know we’re going to do a kill, I can’t sleep the night before.
It’s very different killing a domesticated, versus a wild, animal. Domesticated animals are so docile; it’s almost as if they give themselves to you. I’d much rather shoot a deer that has spent its life running free than kill a domesticated animal.
We draw straws for the one who will actually make the kill. In the last class, it was a girl who was a vegetarian. She wanted to do it. She wanted to know what it was like to take full responsibility for her life—which includes the lives that are sacrificed on her behalf.
She did a good job. She brought all of herself to it—and we always do our kills with prayers and respect. I don’t know how it played out for her emotionally, but I know she ate of every part of that sheep.
That’s another thing that happens when you know that another animal gave its life for you: you don’t waste any of it. We ate all of the meat and the organs. We used the brains for tanning, the hooves and connective tissue for glue, and the bones for tools and jewelry and even musical instruments. Every part of the animal becomes precious.
When you live your life this way, everything in your life has a story to it. The story of the sheep you killed, and ate, and wear, and made tools from, is a much richer and more durable story than the story of the piece of meat wrapped in cellophane that you bought from the grocery store and knew nothing else about. When you know the story of your food, it connects you viscerally to the rest of life. And when you don’t know the story of your food, you’re disconnected.
The MOON: It also sounds as if being connected to the lives invested in our food would make us confront our own hunger a little more strenuously. Much of my own eating, for example, is out of boredom, or for entertainment. If I had to take a life for it, I think I’d wait until I was actually motivated by hunger.
Lynx: Well, you’d better not wait too long, or you won’t have enough energy to feed yourself. It’s really difficult to take one hundred percent responsibility for one’s food. It takes a lot of time. Most of the food I eat, I don’t kill.
Lynx Vilden hunting
Photo credit: Mingasson.
The MOON: Do you eat less meat because of your awareness of what’s involved in bringing meat to your table?
Lynx: No, I love to eat meat. I think the Paleolithic diet—mostly meat, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and very little grains or sugar—is very healthy. At least, it’s healthy for me.
The MOON: But you said that when you know you’ll have to do a kill you can’t sleep the night before…?
Lynx: [Smiles] I think men are supposed to do most of the killing. Women are supposed to be the ones who create and nurture life.
The MOON: How do you know—and teach—which plants are edible, or medicinal? Do you memorize types of plants, or do you attune yourselves to the plants to know what their purpose is, as Tom Brown recommends?
Lynx: I start with the ethics of harvesting, which involves sustainability and respect for the plant as a living being. Then it becomes about having a relationship with the plant, not just about, “This is a balsamroot and it has edible roots, seeds, and shoots.” I don’t really even care what the name is, although botanical names are often lovely. It’s about spending time with the plant as you dig its roots, or spend a few hours gathering, roasting, and grinding seeds, or finding the first tender shoots as the snow melts. Most people are not receptive enough—have not quieted their own minds enough—to be able to receive information from a plant. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying that Tom Brown learned from Stalking Wolf, a man who had spent his entire lifetime in the wild listening to nature, and the rest of us haven’t had that experience.
The MOON: What is the biggest challenge most people face in learning to live wild?
Lynx: The mind. But then, the mind is the biggest challenge we face in learning anything.
The MOON: What do you mean?
Lynx: You’ve got a mind; you should know! Here’s an example of the type of problem the mind presents: You’re digging a hole with a stick, and your mind starts grumbling, “This would be much easier and faster with a shovel.” Or, you’re on your fourth day eating bitterroot, nettles, and dried buffalo meat, and your mind starts wishing, “If only I had a hamburger and cheesecake.”
But, as I said, after about ten days, your mind stops complaining and becomes present. And to be honest, I have never felt a greater sense of well-being than when I’m living wild. I don’t think about time. I don’t think about money. I don’t question whether I’m a good enough person. I’m simply alive, and it’s the most incredible thing.
The MOON: Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation where you thought, “If I ever get out of here, I’ll never do this again”?
Lynx: Never.
The MOON: Have you ever encountered predators?
Lynx: We see bears every year in the wild. Bears and humans are very similar. Anatomically, if you see a bear skinned, from the neck down it looks like a very strong child. We eat the same foods—fish and berries and honey. If we’re picking berries at a good berry patch, the bears have probably found it too. I don’t hunt bears; I respect bears. So we and the bears pretty much keep to our separate sides of the berry patch, and we’ve never had a problem.
I did dream one night about a rattlesnake biting someone I knew, and the next day we saw three rattlesnakes—including one that someone nearly stepped on. We stopped and explained our presence to the snakes—that we were just passing through and that we meant them no harm. And there was nothing more to it than that.
Probably the most dangerous experience I’ve had was being surprised by a snowstorm in the mountains in August. I woke up to find two inches of snow on the ground, and I was wearing only moccasins on my feet and was six or seven miles from base camp. When you’re in a life-threatening situation, however, you become fully present and aware and you act. When you’re living in the wild, you become sensitive to the changes in your environment. You feel whether you’re in a good place and, if you’re not, you move on. You learn to trust those inner promptings, whether you can analyze the reasons for them, or not.
The MOON: What do you do about ordinary things like Kleenex and toilet paper, moisture lotion and sunscreen?
Lynx: I haven’t used a tissue in years. Sunscreen is easy—you can use mud, or the white powder on the outer bark of an aspen tree, which makes an effective sunscreen. Or, you can wear long sleeves, or sit in the shade while the sun is high. It’s not like you have an appointment and have to get somewhere. That’s one of the things you realize when you’re in the wild. You lose your sense of time pressure. You don’t have to do anything. You might want to do something—make a fire before it gets cold; find food before you get too hungry—but you’re not on anyone else’s time schedule.
The MOON: What about toilet paper, and moisture lotion and lip balm, and toothbrushes, and even drinking water?
Lynx: We camp near springs for our drinking water. In these mountains, you can find a spring simply by traveling up any draw to its source.  We use moss, or leaves, or even judiciously selected sticks or rocks, for toilet paper. For moisture lotion and lip balm, we make salves out of deer fat, or bear fat—which hunters give us—mixed with herbs and heated. For toothbrushes, we chew the ends of soft wood like aspen, or cottonwood, or willow, which frays them out so that you can use them to brush your teeth. But your teeth don’t get really gunky when you don’t eat sugar.
The MOON: I’ve noticed that your students tend to have really white teeth, and none of them are overweight.
Lynx: Yeah. Hunter-gatherers have their health risks, but obesity, heart disease, and diabetes aren’t among them.
The MOON: Living as closely as you do to nature, does it fill you with grief to see more and more wilderness destroyed, habitats lost, or animals threatened?
Lynx: I make it a practice to not dwell on the negative things that are happening. I know that it would take only two generations for people to bring human population back into balance with the Earth, and that would relieve a lot of the pressure on wildlife, habitat, and resources. Also, by demonstrating—and reminding people of—the joy of living far more simply, I am working to inspire more people to disconnect from a lifestyle that doesn’t satisfy and reconnect to one that does.
I also practice positive thought projection, and I have my students do it too. I imagine what it is I want to create and I speak it aloud as if it has already happened.
See that spotted horse over there? [Nods in the direction of a beautiful Appaloosa.] I brought her into my life. Several months ago I spoke aloud, “It’s November 2013 and I’m on my land. My spotted horse is breathing her warm breath on my check. The earth lodge is built, there’s snow on the ground…” I fully imagined the scene I wanted to create.
I look back over the last fourteen years of my life, since I started doing this practice in 1999, and here I am: I’ve dreamed it all into being. We all have this innate creative power.
The MOON: Do you dream and speak aloud on behalf of the planet, as well?
Lynx: Yes. My students and I speak aloud our vision for the earth, too. For example, “After all these years of turmoil, we’re finally all here together on this planet, working together, with no war, or famine, but with respect for all living things.” We create the vision in our minds and speak it aloud. People think that sounds magical, but we live in a magical universe. I mean, we’re on a ball that’s flying through space, and spinning. You can’t get much more magical than that.
The MOON: How long do you think you will continue to live in the wild? Do you intend to be an old wild woman?
Lynx: [Smiles] Yes. I will be an old wild woman—or a wild old woman! I’m finding that the body does need more attention as it gets older—I’m forty-seven—and I try to give it what it needs. I do eye exercises to maintain my vision, for example.
I do think I’m on the verge of a new phase of being—as if something is coalescing inside of me that I’m not fully able to articulate yet. It feels as if up until now I’ve focused on mastering the skills of physical living, and now I’m being drawn to something more spiritual. I still want to stay in my body, but I’ve always had a recognition of the necessity of marrying heaven and earth. So that’s what’s coming, I think. I’m about to switch my focus a bit more to heaven.
I spent part of the spring teaching in the Dordogne region of France, where I visited the Paleolithic cave paintings near Lascaux. Something happened as a result of being in that place and seeing that art. I began to feel as if time is not necessarily linear. We view it as linear, but the ancients did not. They sensed that time is simultaneous—and who is to say whether the dream time is any less “real” than our time awake? I think that my ideas of time and reality are about to be shattered and reconstructed. That’s where the call of the wild is taking me now.
Lynx Vilden on horseback
Photo credit: Mingasson
  • Methow Valley’s Lynx Vilden Finds Solace in Prehistoric Practices

    Going beyond digital-detox camps and foraged-food cookbooks

Lynx Vilden walks down a dusty trail through a field of shrub and balsamroot. She wears a vest and shorts made of buckskin. A tangle of short dreadlocks frames her tan and weathered face. An arrowhead and a medicine pouch hang from leather thongs around her neck. Her belt buckle is fashioned from an antler, and tiny bone earrings pierce her earlobes. She is barefoot, and pads gracefully toward me undeterred by fear of thorns or sharp rocks.

I am late, delayed by a stop for a $4 latte and a muffin at the bakery in Winthrop. I stand in my North Face cap, trail clothes and cross-trainers, alongside my overheated Subaru, which clicks and whirrs. I feel out of place at her compound, about 11 miles south of Twisp on the Twisp River. I expected this. I’d read about Vilden in the Methow Valley News years ago, when a film crew was here to shoot a documentary about her Stone Age skills program. That story included a photo of a band of students looking very Clan of the Cave Bear. Occasionally, when I’m in town, I’ll see her acolytes running errands (grabbing lattes of their own, even), piquing my curiosity. Now, I’ve come to learn how and why she keeps the practices of fire starting and flint knapping in these days of infrared grills and instant gratification.

She greets me. And there is the accent. Vilden is from London, and it’s a surprise to hear a voice you expect “below stairs” at Downton Abbey issuing from this Calamity Jane–like figure. Small talk is brief. Soon I trudge behind her through a sparse forest toward a fire ring. We pass a log tepee, an earthen lodge and pine frames for tanning hides on the way to a small camp next to an outdoor kitchen.

Four men wait on rough-hewn benches, around a dying fire. They are dirty from a week of camping, also barefoot, and wearing mostly earth tones—but no one is in full primitive gear like Vilden. A banana—presumably not foraged and still in its peel—roasts in the dying embers. A knotty branch with feathers rests on the ground next to Vilden’s feet. It’s a talking stick.

This June day, I am sitting in on Vilden’s month-long class on medicinal and edible wild plants. It’s time for introductions, and everyone has taken trail names for the day. Vilden is Pippi, of Longstocking fame, a nickname given to her by her teacher this past spring in Lapland, where she went to learn to make a drum. The others, whose given names I never learn, are Dirt Naps, Maximo, Juan Primo and Tutu. When I am asked for my trail name, I draw a blank and call up what has to be the most incongruous choice, a name I attempted to take on in my early teens: Mercedes.

Naming continues. “You’ve come to us on a classifying day,” Vilden tells me. They are learning the scientific names and uses of plants they “met” the day before. She doesn’t like to identify the plants right away; instead, they just “come into relationship with them.” Now, they fill in the missing pieces. She reads aloud from a dog-eared reference book, offering names bestowed by “invaders,” and peppering the lesson with useful wisdom and personal stories, such as the one about drying balsam seeds on a blanket. The chipmunks were making raids, she says, so she sat with her arrow and shot them all to protect the food.

Born in London 49 years ago to a Swedish mother and an English father, Vilden spent summers in Sweden romping around the forest near her grandparents’ house and devoted many school-year days to exploring the semiwilds of Richmond Park in South London.

Vilden demonstrates how to start a fire using a hand drill, in the fire lodge on her property in Twisp 

As she tells it, the forest gave her solace from a young age. “It was like, this is where I can take a deep breath,” she says. “It calmed my soul.” Something she would need. By her late teens, she moved to Amsterdam, where she spent “a couple of wild years” drinking and doing drugs. She was a punk, and went by the nickname Loo.

“You know, like the toilet,” she says, laughing. After three years “on a downward spiral,” she cleaned up her act.
She was 19 when she officially moved to Sweden. She changed her name to Lynx (drawn from the Swedish lo, pronounced “loo”). “Vilden” roughly translates to The Wild One or The Savage One. She asked me not to use her given name (which is still her legal name). If celebrities get away with it, why not someone who has so completely reinvented herself?

She hopped around Europe and the Middle East, and eventually traveled to Wenatchee with a South African man she met at a moshav (similar to a kibbutz) in Israel. There, she stumbled onto a book by Tom Brown, a popular tracker and wilderness survival expert. The moment she realized there were other people in the world who shared her attraction to living in the wild, she says, everything changed. She left her boyfriend, and after a stint working as a theater tech and designer in Sweden, returned to the U.S. to attend Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. She was 24 and decided, “This is it. This is what I want to do. This is what moves me.”

Focusing on plants and plant medicine, she attended other schools, including the Reevis Mountain School of Self-Reliance in Arizona’s  Superstition Wilderness, where a stranger showed up on a wild mustang. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna marry that man,’” she says. “And sure enough, I did. We drove around in a school bus, hauling a horse trailer and a wild mustang.”
She got pregnant soon after, and Vilden’s daughter, Klara, was born in Sweden. She brought Klara to the Arizona desert, where they lived with her husband in a tepee “in community.” When her  daughter  was  2, Vilden and her husband moved into a “broken-down” cabin near Colville in Washington.  Eventually, that marriage fell apart.

Next, she took her baby to Montana, where she lived in a yurt for 10 years. She homeschooled her daughter. In the winter, she tanned and felted and made other crafts to sell at fairs; in the summer, she taught at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Utah. “We lived on nothing,” eating mostly potatoes one winter, Vilden says.

Eventually, her nomadic spirit kicked in again, and Vilden prepared to return to the desert. But 12-year-old Klara had had enough, and asked to live with her father in Seattle. “What do I do: Force the child to go with me?” Vilden asks. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Do I do what she wants to do and give up my dream of what I think is a good way to live? That’s not a very good example for a child. Or do I let her go and let her do what she needs to do. That’s what I decided to do. That was hard.”

Dirt Naps, Juan Primo, Maximo and Tutu amble off to collect the plants they harvested on the previous day’s 12-mile hike. To me, it seems like everyone is moving in slow motion. There is no urgency. This is not a city pace.

Vilden’s prehistoric creations Include (clockwise from bottom left): a rawhide basket (inside another basket with a ceramic cooking pot with cattail heads), a badger-skin quiver with arrows, a cedar bark sun hat, a rolled up pelt, snowshoes, hearthboards for starting a fire, an elk antler, a “burden basket” (like a backpack) filled with handmade clothes and furs, a cedar basket, and a bow and a hand drill, also for fire starting

During a break, Dirt Naps sidles onto a log next to me. He is from Canada and looks to be in his mid- to late 20s. He wants to teach, and he’ll be spending most of the summer here as a sort of wilderness intern. A veteran of many aboriginal skills programs, he explains where Vilden fits in the world of survival training. She is not about preparing for the End Times or a natural disaster. “Lynx is focused on living in the wild, not just surviving,” Dirt Naps says.

Tutu agrees. Ex-military from Pennsylvania, he’s married with kids, but has managed to attend this month-long class and, to hear him talk, participate in plenty of other bush skills programs. He likes the earthiness of Vilden’s approach, “It brings you closer to nature,” he says.

Everyone gathers in a new spot, and Vilden spills dried morels onto a tray set up among some log frames. There is also wild mint, wild onions and a pile of nettles. She weaves some of the nettle stems together. Then, she spits into her palms and rubs the greens between her hands, passing around the twine that only Dirt Naps is able to break.

The group spreads a white sheet on the ground and sets about collecting the nettle seeds, which will be added to ash-cake batter cooked directly on the coals. The dinner menu will also include pan-fried salmon with onions and shepherd’s purse (they will bark-tan the fish skin), fried eggs with nettles and onions, wild salad with lamb’s quarter, burdock-carrot stir-fry, boiled bitterroot with berry mix, and yarrow and mint tea. It is a mix of store-bought, garden-raised, caught and foraged. This class is not Stone Age extreme; it is simply a bridge class that Vilden offers to help make ends meet. The next Paleolithic immersion (seven weeks of preparation, followed by four weeks of living outdoors and using only the tools and techniques of the Stone Age) starts here in November.

Next they pile wild onions onto the blanket to clean and braid for a pit bake. Vilden creates a Martha Stewart–perfect braided wreath. The men work carefully, but struggle to make a braid. Vilden calls them “SNAGs,” sensitive new age guys. And they settle into a conversation about living in nature. “I want to be wide open all the time,” Vilden says. “When people live in the city, the stimulus shuts them down. When they come into the country, they don’t see anything—at first.”

Dirt Naps talks about an animal stalking class he took, in which he learned to get into a meditative state, because “thoughts can put off energy” and the “mental chatter” can alert the animal you are stalking.

A FedEx delivery truck comes bumping down Vilden’s rough dirt drive, alerting everything within 10 miles. Dirt Naps sprints out and back, returning with a large cardboard box, and pulls his knife out of its sheath to slice through the tape. Inside is a longbow made out of hickory and stenciled with Native American icons that he made at a bush skills program in Arkansas. He found the icons in a Google search. Vilden steps up to check out the bow, debating rawhide versus sinew for bowstrings. She critiques a bend in the bow that could weaken, but mostly she is full of praise. He is obviously very proud of his work.

Dirt Naps fishes around in the box, looking for one more thing, and pulls out a small package. “They remembered,” he mumbles, unwinding some plastic wrap and donning a pair of sunglasses that wouldn’t be out of place on Capitol Hill. “Primitive-made Prada,” he says.

All I need is a beautiful place that’s somewhat wild,” Vilden says, “and I can teach anywhere in the world.” She started leading her own workshops in Montana, after teaching curriculums that were more survival style and focused on scenarios like “What happens if you drop out of your airplane and all you have is a little cup?” That’s not her thing. She asks instead, “What if you don’t want to go back to civilization, you just want to stay and live in the wild? All of our ancestors lived like that. And that always interested me more.”

Eventually, she wended her way to Twisp in 2006, where she leads her Prehistoric Projects. These are opportunities to live in the wild for extended periods using only prehistoric tools and techniques. One such immersion in White Clouds, Idaho, became the basis for a French documentary called Living Wild by Eric Valli. In the film, a group of dirty but radiant 20-somethings in buckskins and fur with hand-made burden baskets and stone-and-bone tools wander through epic wilderness like some sort of Outward Bound–Dawson’s Creek mash-up. Their perfect teeth and skin: very un–Stone Age. They all appear totally sincere about the enterprise.

“It’s so beautiful and fulfilling to be out for a long, long time,” Vilden says. “A magical thing happens after a few weeks: You don’t think about appointments, and money, and bills and all that stuff. You fall into presence, essentially. It’s a spiritual awakening.” When “doing it Stone Age,” the only reminders of modern civilization are airplanes streaking the sky or when your fellow travelers tire of dried buffalo meat and pine for pizza and ice cream.

At home, Vilden tries to maintain a simple, unplugged life as much as possible. But the world encroaches. After 25 years of an itinerant, nature-tied life, things are changing. Her mother and stepfather died a few years ago, and she came into an inheritance that allowed her to buy 5 acres with a tiny cabin on the Twisp River. That same year, she also acquired a cell phone (a gift from her daughter that she mostly uses as an address book), a truck and a motorcycle—on which she looks like the star of a reality show, which she came close to being. (She says plenty of film and TV folks see the potential in her story but talks break down when she refuses to give up editorial control). She also set up a website (

“That was the year. It was like: Plug!” she says. “I was a little concerned that maybe I was just going to fall away from what I’d chosen, what has been my life’s work.”

She resists the lure of modern life in big and small ways. She tries to keep to a diet of paleo and wild foods, and spends most of her time outside. In her cabin, she does yoga, makes calls and reads by lamplight, but she sleeps in a yurt or elsewhere on her land. She started pulling the electricity out of the house last year, and doesn’t plan to repair appliances or her water pump when they break down.

As attractive as conveniences like plumbing and a music player are, they come, for Vilden, with a loss of meaning. And that’s what this strange life of living like early humans comes down to.

The way she lives, everything has a story, and with it, meaning. Take the buck she shot to make the shorts she is wearing today. “I close my eyes and I can see him. I can see his chest, and I can see his head and his neck,” she says. She sang to him while he was taking his last breaths, and he provided a bounty of food, clothing and tools. “It’s deep, rich and so vibrant and beautiful, and it has so much meaning,” she says. “And that’s one of the things that people lack a lot today; we don’t have that relationship that makes us care for things.”

It is heating up, and it’s time for a swim, but first Vilden and her SNAGs stop to pull invasive knapweed on a neighbor’s property. She is a machine—focused and strong, pulling three weeds to every one pulled by the men. She cracks jokes, sings and encourages them to sing as well. “Knapweed,” Juan Primo sings, “let me give you a pull.”

Prehistoric Project students make everything using early tools; courtesy of lynx vilden

Then we walk, through woods and meadows, reviewing the names and uses of plants as we go until we reach a private, shimmering bend in the Twisp River. Maximo eats an avocado. Juan Primo strips down and takes a cold plunge. Dirt Naps and Tutu rest on a shaded bench. Vilden stretches out on the ground.

After a few minutes, Vilden calls out, “Yip. Yip” like a coyote. She tells the SNAGs to each gather a pair of rocks and circle up. She asks if I can sing. I am categorical: No. 

She has no such reserve. “We are a band,” she says, smiling. “Forest Got Talent.” It’s her only pop culture reference of the day. 
“Close your eyes. Tight,” she says. “So tight you see colors. Does anyone see a flower?”  Dirt Naps, Maximo and Tutu each sit with a rock in front of them and another in their hands, eyes squeezed closed. Juan Primo has sticks. Someone says “basil.” “Balsam flower.” “Cicely.” “What are the flower people trying to tell us?” Vilden asks. “I want us to focus on that.” 

She starts tapping her rock onto another rock. The others join in. They are a drum circle, of sorts. Juan Primo starts humming. Vilden chants. Maximo’s rock breaks apart as he plays. He laughs self-consciously and seems less able to give himself over to the moment. The song fades. They open their eyes. 

Vilden tells the men to go and meditate with their plant allies. “To tap into different levels of relationship,” she says. For the next two hours, they will have lunch, nap and be with their plants. 

Walking back, everyone is quiet. I am thinking about the tomato-and-mozzarella sandwich wrapped in plastic back in my car. Vilden sees one feather and then another, and absentmindedly stakes them into her hair, warrior-style. About halfway to the compound, we enter a pasture where a striking white mare with black spots waits. Vilden calls, “Karma.” The horse trots over. 

They walk together to a gate, where there is a simple harness, which she loops over Karma’s head. Then she mounts the horse and rides off through the tall grass. 

October 2015- Amsterdam
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 andstarted 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 2015 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 constanly 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?
I do.
In twenty years? Thirty years?
Then I will have more of my young people carrying my stuff for me.




Winter Skills class Jan 11-17

Plowing with Chaco Dec 15

Sept 5,
The clan makes it back for several days of feeding frenzy before scattering to varoius corners of the Earth.

Back from the Stone Age
July 29,
Busting out another buffalo robe, black caps and thimble berries drying.

July 8,
Blistering hot in Twisp, felting blankets and scraping buffalo hides, one month to go before the project!

Showing "Living Wild" By Eric Valli at the Merc playhouse in Twisp WA
June 13, 7.30 pm
May 24,
A planned European tour of BASIC SKILLS CLASSES  SPRING 2013 in Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden. Norway and Finland is in progress.
If you are interested in participating in or hosting a 7-day class in your area please contact Lynx.

Basketry class starting on Friday.

May 9,
Wild Edible Plants class starting on Friday.
Spring in full bloom here in the Methow Valley.
Eric's book recently released in German translation.
Buckeye primitive skills gathering in California was amazing!
whitebark pine nuts

April 1,
Basic skills class was a wonderful event with rapidly changing Spring weather.....
Sun, rain, wind, rain, sun, sun, rain.........etc
Eric's book is being translated to German.
I am now a first time truck owner, I have ambivalence about this but my friends assure me that I will not get a hummer............

 Eric's book published in October 2011, waiting for an English translation!

March 19,
The film will air in France on April 4.
Interview with journalist from"Be" Magazine in France today, this will be published March 25.

Jean-Yves Munch and Laurent Chalet filming "Living Wild"  Idaho 2011

March in Twisp, WA
Spring snows are back after last weeks warm weather, no more motorcycle and short sleeves today!
Interview on the Danbert Nobacon Show last night with Methow - FUN!

February in the Superstitions, AZ
Voices, fill the tight canyon, reverberating into the crack of night above.
Slow, deep, ancient sound reminds me how I love the desert. It's been 16 years since I sat in this sacred place in the hot shimmering water, the magic is potent.

                                                  Superstition mountains AZ Feb 2012

Reevis Mountain School


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm a American living in Australia. Watched. To show last night with Ben . 'Where the wild men are". With Lynx . Great show and I'm in love with and admire this woman.
    I really would love to attend for a month or longer.

  3. Just wached “Where the Wild Men Are” with Lynx. Truly inspiring, her vision and practise of living, not just surviving, in and of the wild via stone-age skills and knowledge is something that I have pondered very often. I wish I was younger and healthier to join some of her courses, but knowing she is actually doing it gives me hope. Awesome lady indeed.
    👍 gene

  4. Saw the program with her. Hope she manage to continue this life.