On our last afternoon, Lynx and I hike up to a nearby ridge. She plows ahead, cabled limbs swinging, seemingly oblivious to the branches that snap back behind her and hit me in the face. Her demeanor, like her way of life, contains elements of both pragmatism and poetry. During my time with her, she could be brusque, verging on impatient, clucking in disapproval as I offered the wrong sort of pine needles to feed the fire. On the peak, sweeping views unspool all around, and Lynx chews on jerky and drinks water from a hollow gourd before rising to pose for my benefit. She’s keenly aware of the cinematic beauty of her environment and the striking figure she cuts within it. “Hood or cap?” She postures with different headgear. “Rifle or bow?” she asks, nodding to my camera.
And yet she delights in detail and in the patient labor required of her lifestyle. Slowly, she scrapes wood with the broken edge of a rock to fashion arrows for her kit. She dresses hides with deer brains to produce a supple buckskin. Above all, she loves making fire. That night I squat on the ground as she enchants plumes of smoke from where the tip of her bow drill meets the notch of the hearth board. An orange ember appears, and Lynx scoops the coal baby into a nest of straw. As though her chapped fingers are impervious to flame, she holds the burning ball aloft, breathing it to life. “Fire is what makes us human,” she tells me.
But while Lynx does her best to maintain a primitive lifestyle, she is still a product of the 21st century in significant ways. After years of trying to commit to a single region, she now divides her time between the Cascades, northern Sweden, the Dordogne Valley of France, and occasional forays beyond. This breed of nomadism is a far cry from the migratory patterns of traditional hunter-gatherers, who followed the clement weather or their feeding herds. Indeed, if there is a major crack in Lynx’s Paleolithic persona, it is not that she sometimes uses a store-bought plastic toothbrush or indulges in the odd pizza. It’s not her penchant for reading classics by candlelight (when I visited her, it was Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles) or her use of the old computers at the Methow Valley Community Center to check her email, nor is it her competence with PowerPoint (she likes making slideshows to document her projects). It is that her fascination with the wide world—and her ability to hop on a plane in order to explore it—marks her as a thoroughly modern human.
What she’s offering is a tool kit for complete self-sufficiency, as both an antidote and a radical alternative to the frenzied pace and digital solipsism that so many of us rail against—and yet so few of us successfully resist.
Lynx is squeamish about the whole enterprise of travel, acknowledging the catastrophic carbon consequences of aviation and her extreme discomfort when moving through the surveillance theater of major airports. She prefers, she says, to travel with companions who can keep her anxieties at bay; she forgoes her buckskins when she flies. She chuckles ruefully at the irony that she soars around the globe to teach people how to elicit flames from rubbing sticks. But invariably, agitation bests her nesting instincts, and she heeds the call to roam.
Lynx considers her work to be on a multigenerational scale. Her great vision is to create a preserve for wild humans, in much the same way that pieces of the earth are protected for the benefit of native flora and fauna. The principles of conservation biology should extend to “the humans that want to rewild themselves,” she says. “We probably can’t become wild, but our children and our grandchildren could become wild if we had a place.”
It’s a fascinating proposition because, among other reasons, designating a place beyond the rule of law involves major legal intervention, requiring one to first subscribe to the very powers one wants to nullify. But Lynx’s reverie begins with something that looks very much like what she is operating today, with a school for learning primitive skills that abuts a pristine refuge. There, having amassed the knowledge one might need for surviving on wit and nature’s plenty, “You could walk naked out into the wild.”