The Woman Who Lives 200,000 Years in the Past
As we confront the reality of COVID-19, the idea of living self-sufficiently in the woods, far from crowds and grocery stores, doesn't sound so bad. Lynx Vilden has been doing just that for decades, while teaching others how to live primitively, too.
There is no easy way to reach Twisp, a blink of a town in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley. You could fly into Spokane and cut northwest for 175 miles. Or you could take a turboprop from Seattle over the mountains to the world’s apple capital, Wenatchee, and then get in a car and follow the Columbia River north for two hours. Or you could drive, as I’m doing, from Seattle through the electric moss of the North Cascades, slowing to a crawl through the ice-menaced range.
It’s November 2019, and I’m on my way to meet Lynx Vilden, a 54-year-old British expat who, for most of her adult life, has lived wholly off the grid. The slick roads don’t help my apprehension about what lies ahead: a three-day, one-on-one experience of “living wild.” The details are hazy. I’ve been advised to prepare for bracing climes and arduous excursions. “Wear sturdy shoes,” Lynx told me. “Bring meat.”
I’m four months pregnant and prone to sudden bouts of drowsiness, so after a roadside nap turns a one-hour delay into two, I send a text message to Lynx telling her I’ll be late. Only later do I realize how presumptive this is: she doesn’t have cell service or WiFi.
Until about ten years ago, Lynx also possessed no credit card, nor fixed address; her previous abodes—a tepee in Arizona, yurts in Montana and New Mexico, a snow shelter on the Lappish tundra—had neither electricity nor running water. This all changed when she received a modest inheritance from her mother’s estate in Britain that allowed her to purchase a remote five-acre plot some 12 miles outside Twisp. Now modernity, in the form of power outlets and a sink, is within easy reach, thanks to solar panels and a well that former occupants had installed on the land.
That doesn’t mean Lynx embraces it. When I finally arrive at the property in the early afternoon, she welcomes me to her wooded outpost wearing hand-stitched leathers. She heats her 900-square-foot log cabin—also the handiwork of the prior owners—by tending a wood-burning stove. For illumination she prefers the flicker of a tallow lamp, in much the same way that she favors water collected from the river to that which flows readily from her faucet. There’s a futon on the floor, but it’s mostly used by her 26-year-old daughter, who leaves the urban hustle to visit from time to time. Lynx prefers sleeping on the ground in a shelter she’s built deeper in the woods.