Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

• I feel tears well up in my eyes. We are waving at each other, touching each other over a great distance. I am looking at the wilderness and at Peter: the two dearest beings in my heart
• The wilderness might be able to teach us something, if we have time to listenimages
• I discovered it was much easier to accumulate things than to discard all the goods I had grown attached to
• There is only one rule with ideologies and that is the fact that they change all the time
• Just watching it calmed my mind. It had taught me its main principles: it always needs space and air. And, once a fire is burning well, it detests being disturbed in its heart. Fire and human beings have a lot in common that way.
• Mental and physical rest is so important at all ages. The art of doing nothing is undervalued
• Life had been put in a prison here; it was only allowed to grow a certain way. Human order meant control. The wilderness was the opposite: it looked chaotic, but had its own, everlasting order
• To sit through a very quiet winter, even just once in your life, is very purifying—mentally
• Somehow I had forgotten what I looked like, because Peter’s face had become more familiar to me than my own.
• What you want to destroy, you must first allow truly to flourish
• If you envision yourself as a tree, nobody can possibly lift you
• A timeless land protected by ancient rhythms, where humanity is obsolete and control pointless. A land in which the forest is a guardian and fire our closest friend, the wind a bringer of change and the sun our salvation.
• To him, every stone, bird and drop of water revealed one of nature’s many secrets
• We’re all born in captivity, conditioned to seek security instead of freedom, but actually we don’t know what freedom is because we have never had it
• ‘If we stop seeking psychological security,’ I continued, ‘there’s a chance that we might find out what freedom is.’
• That which is most powerful is subtle—almost invisible
• It’s amazing how nature provides everything, without asking for anything in return
• In a way, mortality is the price we pay for life
• I had the impression that she was studying our sounds, habits and patterns, as if she was some kind of weka anthropologist studying human-ape behaviour
• Your dependence and attachments have prepared the soil for your sorrow
• To hear a big stag—some weigh as much as 200 kilograms—calling in the quiet night was magic. It was as if their roars came out of a hidden canyon below the earth, so deep was the sound that resonated through the silent mountains
• The best skill in the world is to feel at home wherever I am, I thought.
• Every plant had preferences that could not be learned through study, only through instinct
• Walking over the hostile, hard ridges, where storm and wind were playing freely, gave me a feeling of insignificance that was strangely liberating. Only the present counted. It had a purifying effect and gently took away all the nonsense that didn’t really matter in the eyes of nature.
• I suddenly felt the world expanding. Everything was beautiful and made sense. It occurred to me that the meaning of life lies in aimlessness: when there is no focus at all, the world opens up.
• We were living with the weather and its moving beauty, with the delight and wonder of the sunsets
• Birds are the earth’s first musicians, I thought. All about me, high-pitched tunes lifted into the air like a fountain and were then replaced by a tapping similar to water dripping on rocks. As the day broke, the music grew fainter and the river sounded louder
• Simplicity, clarity, purity. This was a vision I had always kept with me, as it seemed the natural course of things in the world.
• What was this love and our relationship, really? Was I merely caught up in perpetuating a perfect image of it? Was I simply playing a role in a play full of endlessly repeated words and gestures? Was I tricking myself?
• The birds’ homecoming was accompanied by a deafening cackling, squeaking, screaming and howling—an unearthly and unbelievable cacophony
• any action derived from guilt usually just creates more confusion and distortion. It never solves conflict
• ‘Very strange,’ said Peter, when our visitor had departed again. ‘When I looked at you just then, you appeared so old and worn-out, but now you look normal again. Even the landscape looked kind of ugly!’ I was astonished, because I had felt precisely the same thing. ‘It is as if we were looking at the world through that man’s eyes.’
• Everything in nature had its own distinct colour
• While we talked, I realised how, in nature, everything is living: the trees, birds, animals, and even fire and the weather are lively. Everything exists in relation to everything else. A house, on the other hand, with its totally indoors environment, is quite dead by comparison.
• If I looked into the heart of nature’s rhythms, I could see that sacrifice was part of its cycle
• While looking at its eyes, I understood that beauty does not come through becoming, but only with being. The chamois was not working towards a better version of itself; it just lived. I, on the other hand, was always trying to become nicer, better, stronger, smarter and prettier, which caused me to lose my authentic self. I understood that the process of becoming disfigured my being. This chamois showed me, in that moment, that being is the most beautiful form of existence.
• I could see how I interpreted, judged and analysed my own thoughts, thereby restricting my own mind. I realised that these social rules were made in the past, and had nothing to do with the ever-changing present.
• Fewer possessions meant less anxiety.
• It’s a kind of permanent yearning, but it also gives me the energy to keep aiming for an ever-moving goalpost.’ I told her about the day I had seen the chamois and realised that real beauty lies in being not becoming. It had made perfect sense in the wilderness, but I now saw that in civilisation everything was about comparison.
• The moment that I walked through the door of responsibility I found myself in the room of obligation
• I started to miss the breeze and, above all, the fire. It felt as if I had lost the company of a good friend. The convenience of the heat pump did not match the sparkling beauty and warmth of a fire
• Time seemed to vanish quickly when I was behind a computer; the machine ate the hours away. I noticed its predictability created a sense of comfort, which in turn created a resistance to stepping into the unknown
• We all think we’re getting somewhere, that we’re making progress, but we’re in fact just struggling to keep our spot on the treadmill. People have become like sheep. Sheeple
• We’ve got to pay the mortgage or the rent,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘For a house we only see at night’
• It’s called comfortable slavery
• Other cultures have deities on the walls; here, we had The Clock
• Well, I reckon people have so little connection with their bodies that they need to feel pain to be reminded of their physical existence
• Life in this society is one great assault on the senses. We’re constantly overloading ourselves. We eat too much, because we can’t feel whether our stomach is full or not. We don’t taste anything, so we need more MSG and salt and sugar. The music we listen to—like the band just now—causes hearing damage
• The system in which we live is a forced consensus of a self-created monster
• Even though we walked with a physical burden, the walk relieved us from the mental burden of time
• It’s good to remember that, no matter what we do to make our civilisation secure, this volcano here has the last word
• Life was simpler without a lot of belongings that require care and maintenance. It seemed to me that possessions have a crafty way of possessing the owner
• To love someone is to give the other space to put down roots, grow tall and to flower
• when I see the place where I’ll die, I’d like to think that I’ll recognise it. Then I’ll know the time has come to stay in one place
• the world of academia, thought, concepts and ideas are quite overwhelming. It almost becomes more real than the natural world. But I don’t think there is order to be found in an abstract world. Even though outwardly the wilderness looks chaotic, I think it is within the natural realm that we find true order
• I had learned to endure, like the rocks in a river. I had learned to be flexible, like willows in the wind. I had learned to walk, to live a nomadic life. As a hunter, I had become wild and fierce. I had hunted for food by understanding—almost becoming—the animal I wanted to find
• The natural world is the one thing the mind didn’t make


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