Miriam was born in the Netherlands in 1983. In 2006 she travelled around India; it was there she met the love of her life: Peter Raine, an adventurous New Zealander 30 years her senior. She immigrated to New Zealand. In the last six years they have lived without the security of a house or modern technology, choosing a primitive and nomadic life. By hunting/gathering and keeping the costs down to a bare minimum, they are able to live without doing paid work. This story is about the year they travelled with a 4×4 Toyota HiLux, living in one place for about six weeks at a time, always in the remote corners of the South Island of New Zealand.
“It’s dark and I’m staring at the tent entrance. Is it already daybreak? I am listening for the first birdsong. When I hear the first bellbird I eagerly grab my clothes. Silently, I crawl out of the small tent. I put on my warm clothes and look at the colours of the first light on the mountains around me.
“Coming out of my possum blankets and mat, I take my rifle and knife and put on my sandals. I study the roaring river and it looks freezing, but it has to be crossed because that’s where the hares live. The water level is high. It feels like dozens of needles. In one hand my walking stick helps me ford the river and in the other hand my rifle gives me balance. Slowly I’m meandering through the landscape; looking, looking, looking. This very activity is what humans have done for a million years, it’s in our genes, in our blood. All my senses are sharpened. I feel so alive.
“Apart from my husband, Peter, who’s still in the tent, there is no human being within a 100km radius. Then I see a hare sunbathing. I crawl behind some thorny bushes. I’m waiting quietly, then my finger finds the trigger: Bang! When I walk up to the hare, I marvel at this beautiful creature. He is just perfect. I’m stroking his warm fur and search for my knife. I skin and gut the body and spread out the offal on the rocks for the harrier hawks to collect their share later. When I return to camp I see the smoke of Peter’s fire. “I got a hare, sweetie!” I shout, elated. Peter takes the liver, heart and kidneys, which he’ll fry in a pan on the fire.
“After breakfast we choose to visit a little lake, high up in the mountain tops. We pack some lunch. Peter suddenly notices something. He whispers, “Tahr!” and grabs the binoculars. There are four beautiful tahr (Himalayan mountain goats) strolling about.
“Then we find our crystal-clear lake: a serene, untouched, hidden beauty. Peter walks around to look for some branches for a fire. We take water from the lake to boil a cup of tea and we toast our bread.
“We make our way back to our camp, our ‘home’: that is, our tent and a big tarpaulin stretched between the trees for rainy days. I put a cup of rice in the billy and hang it on a hook above the fire. Peter is cutting up the back steaks of the hare. He fries it with one precious onion and a carrot. The meal is delicious. Living outside makes you hungry and everything tastes superb.
“We sleep with the rhythms of sunrise and sunset. This is our nomadic way of living. It is an incredibly peaceful life. After some weeks, the mind settles down and I feel a natural happiness and energy in my whole being. The order of nature brings order to the mind – that’s what I see.”
My Story Update: 2023
Having the chance to update MiNDFOOD readers on what has happened in her life since her My Story is a full-circle moment for Miriam Lancewood. “It’s really nice because MiNDFOOD was really the beginning of our change of life,” she says.
A book publisher happened to read the article and contacted Lancewood asking if she wanted to write a book. It had taken her two months just to write the two pages of her My Story – she didn’t think it would be possible for her to write an entire book. But she ended up writing Woman in the Wilderness in five months and it went on to become an international bestseller. She’s since written her second book, Wild at Heart , co-edited anthology book Wilder Journeys , had 10 television crews come to document her unconventional way of living and attended 11 writers’ festivals. “So that MiNDFOOD article was basically the end of our quiet existence,” she says. “Since then, we’ve been full in the spotlight.”
Lancewood and husband Peter Raine did maintain their nomadic way of life however, until a health crisis ultimately resulted in a rethink. Raine fell ill while the couple were driving across the Australian Outback, and was diagnosed with acute kidney failure. He was eventually diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant. “But that would entail living in a town near a hospital to do dialysis, and to be completely dependent on a medical institution,” says Lancewood, “so Peter said, ‘No, I’d rather die than go on dialysis’.” His chance of survival was 3 per cent, but miraculously, his health improved without treatment.
Together the couple returned to the wilderness two years ago, but realised things were no longer the same. “We sat around the campfire, in our tent, eating some hare that I had just shot, and we looked at each other and said, ‘We have done this for many, many years now. Maybe it’s time for something else’,” Lancewood says.
They decided to live in Europe, and they moved into a little cottage they owned in Bulgaria, which is where they remain today. They offer courses on philosophy in nature, and people visit from all over the world to take part. The couple continues to live without the home comforts most of us are accustomed to such as a bathroom and hot water. “It’s very primitive but we enjoy it, and for us it’s luxurious after living in a tent for 10 years.” Miriam and her husband Peter felt their souls sing living a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence in the remote wilderness of New Zealand.