For this edition we got a chance to talk to Lynn Mylou – a very Wild woman who 4 years ago exchanged city life in Amsterdam for the Pinhal region of central Portugal. Together with a group of likeminded neighbors she recently launched a project called Wildlings. This project aims to show people how to rewild their lives: to live simply yet luxuriously and reconnect to nature and to ourselves. This month they are publishing a beautiful book about the project and we are thrilled to present a glimpse of what drives Lynn to do the work she does.
Lynn lived in Amsterdam for years and worked in the creative and media industries, and a couple of years ago she decided to give her life a whole new direction: she quit her job and sold her apartment and bought a piece of land in a valley in central Portugal. Here she is busy reforesting the land and plans to establish a research and demonstration farm where she can welcome visitors to explore new ways of food production and living. This adventure has by far not only been rainbows and waterfalls. In October 2017 the unusual occurrence of hurricane Ophelia, coming on land from the Atlantic, ignited the smoldering line from wildfires the week before and the strong winds pushed the flames in tremendous speed over the ridges rolling down into the valley where Lynn and others had lovingly been building their community. In one night everything Lynn had created in the past 2 years was destroyed. (you can see a video about her and other’s story here: https://youtu.be/knW9Ddczwzc). But rather than being deterred or giving up, Lynn has become even more convinced that the current way of managing land (monoculture plantations and non-native species) needs to be transformed to more sustainable and resilient models.
Lynn’s dedication and drive as well as the way she has dealt with loss are enormously inspiring. She has made huge changes in her life, but also shares our belief that every small action counts, and that creating certain habits in our own lives can set off ripples of change of which we can never know the boundaries.
Hi Lynn! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this virtual interview with us.
How did you come to the decision to leave your life in Amsterdam behind and move to a piece of land in the middle of Portugal?
Although I made various changes in my personal and professional life to contribute towards a more sustainable lifestyle in the city, I still bumped into a lot of dead ends. One day in the supermarket I found myself so angry again about the Food Marketing and Greenwashing practices applied by big corporations that I realized that if I didn’t want to take part in that any longer, I had to go do it myself. I thought the best way was to start with the basic needs of food and shelter and to slowly work my way up from there. Because of my work as eco-manager on film sets to minimize the carbon footprint of film productions and another project about cradle-to-cradle design and the circular economy, I wanted to establish a demonstration ground to test and develop prototypes and technology that accelerate the transition towards the Circular Economy. Once I made that decision, suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and within a few months I landed here in Portugal. It really felt I was supported by a stronger force outside of myself and I only had to follow my intuition for the doors to open in a miraculous way.
Tell us about the Wildlings project – what is it and how did it come about?
Besides the work I am doing here for the larger project, Wildlings is a side project that we, a group of locals here with different nationalities, launched in January of this year. I’ve always felt that the important message about our system crisis and the urgency for environmental activism is, most of the time, not packaged in a way that is very appealing among the group of Cultural Creatives who now mostly live in cities. Also, the image portrayed by the (national) media of the people living in the Interior of Portugal didn’t tell the full story. It’s not just old people and hippies who live here, there are a lot of social entrepreneurs here with very interesting projects, but you never see or hear anything about that. With Wildlings we wanted to provide environmental education by curating quality content that touched on new science and regenerative practices, but also share inspiring stories of people who already made the move from the city towards the rural areas to work on pressing issues around food production and intensive agriculture/forestry practices. The national media picked up on the project because here in Portugal it’s quite new and special what we do, so within a very short time we reached thousands of people and received hundreds of emails from young qualified professionals who very much align with our story and also would like to contribute in a more meaningful way. We hope to make more content and perhaps even a feature length film, but we also would love to have the capacity and budget to assist people in their move towards these low-density areas that suffer greatly from human and natural desertification.
What is life like for you and the other Wildlings? What do your days look like and how do you support yourself?
Good question as there is no all-encompassing answer to this. Our lives are no longer dictated by calendars or 9-to-5s and much more determined by nature, the seasons, the sunrise and sunsets. I barely look at the clock as I follow the natural rhythms of the day. The seasons also determine the pace of life and whether we spend more time outwards or inwards, literally and figuratively speaking. In Spring we start coming out of our cozy “caves” and start planting, in Summer there is a lot of activity, both on the land as well as events, markets, visitors. The days are also much longer so it feels like the most fast paced season. Although the high temperatures make us do nothing mid day when we find the coolness of rivers and waterfalls until we start working again around 4-5pm. Almost everything happens outside, from early morning until late at night, until Autumn when the harvest is conserved, wild edibles such as chestnuts gathered and a lot of baking and cooking is done inside the house. During the winter storms we spend more time inside the house next to a cozy fire, read a book and catch up on a lot of indoor things such as writing new plans. The winters here are still very nice, often with blue skies and sunshine and during this time we need to clean the land, cut firewood, but also plant young trees while there are still periods with rain. Before the fires we were all involved in various projects. I personally had just built the infrastructure here and during the first summer organized educational courses for people to learn skills as well as experience the Luxury Life for themselves. During that summer 60 people, mainly from Western Europe, signed up for one of these courses. Because the fires took most of our houses and livelihood, it’s a bit of struggle to support ourselves as the millions of European disaster aid money hasn’t reached the place where it was intended to arrive. In general, I would say that you have to create your own work here by starting projects or by contributing skills such a eco building or regenerative land management/food production so you are hired by others in the community. Due to the lack of support, it’s not for everyone to live here. There are no standard jobs for which you can apply, but if you have a special talent that contributes to the community and the right attitude you can live a very rewarding life here.
What has been your biggest challenge since moving to Central Portugal?
The biggest challenge for me was to find my inner peace and balance again after the Wildfires of October 2017 burnt my house, farm and livelihood to the ground and that of 1000’s of others. Hurricane Ophelia made this the most destructive wildfire in Portuguese history burning 400.000 ha (the size of North Holland and Utrecht combined) to the ground in just one night. I already had come to a point where I wasn’t so much attached to material things, but when the foundation was swept away under my feet, I had a hard time adjusting. I also never realized what it means when an entire community is going through the same disaster and everybody, no matter how strong you are, is suffering with PTSD. Usually when you’re going through a rough phase, there is always your friends and social network you can rely on, but this was something different as the impact affected everyone and was noticeable everywhere. Especially the weeks after the fires it looked like a war zone, there was no communication network, burning things everywhere, food, petrol and cash scarcity in the local towns, awful smell and a very depressing black burnt surrounding for kilometers on end. I focused a lot of my energy on my own healing and the psychological dissociation that can occur after a trauma like this. Step by step I was able to find the way back to myself, but I could not have done it without the support of many friends and strangers, locally and far away, who have helped me through it.
How can people get involved with the Wildlings project or your other endeavors in Portugal?
We are planning on organizing many things around education, participation and inspiration. We want to publish more content but also set-up basic infrastructure for Rewilding camps and organize large community planting days during planting season to reforest the region with native species. Last week we planted more than 500 trees of 12 different species with the community here. In our valley there are approximately 100 eco-minded people who all have their own project and land, but together we collaborate on these kind of things, which is very special as I haven’t come across such a community spirit in the Western world. For my own project here I’d like to set up a center for the Circular Economy called “Aldeia Circular” (Circular village) and a Center for Nature Therapy. But the issue here is that financial resources are very inaccessible due to corruption and an outdated business mentality. I am reaching now out to Western European partners, who seem more up to speed with contemporary business models that are not only financially sustainable, but social and ecological as well. There is an incredible potential out there, a lot of knowledge and expertise and the willingness from hundreds of people to contribute, but although we invest a lot of our time and own skills into the project we will need some financial capital to build dreams. However, I do feel that doors are opening and I just keep the faith that everything will fall into place in perfect time. On our website we answered the question how people can help in a little more detail https://wildlings.pt/faq/
Tell us about the Wildlings book – how can we get our hands on a copy?
For our loyal fans, friends and following we launched a pre-order campaign for one month to buy the book for 15 euro before it is sold in the stores for a little higher retail price. The book has two parts. The first part describes the importance of ReWilding the planet as well as ReWilding ourselves as humans. We explain the impact of loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat and the urgent need to transform monoculture plantations into regenerative systems using native species. But we also highlight the individual power we all possess by changing our consumptive behavior and to investigate our habits and how we inhabit them. Part 2 is a travel guide for this region that highlights our favorite wild places such as the many stunning waterfalls, wild rivers and paradise pools. We invite people to visit this undiscovered region to experience the peace and quiet and Nature’s healing powers for themselves. There are amazingly beautiful natural places to visit with a campervan or just with a car and sleeping under the millions of stars. The uniqueness of the region is that you can still wander for a day or week without bumping into another person. It really gives you the opportunity to connect with nature and therefore yourself while enjoying the exciting ancient hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls and small windy mountain roads.
What are the most important things you have learned from living in the Central Valley, about life and about yourself?
There are so many thing and I am still learning every day. One common thread that is ongoing is to continuously check in with myself whether I am following conditioned behavior or my own true essence. I have named my project A vida Fausto, the Luxury Life, because, although this life I am living seems to be far from luxurious from a Western perspective, I now feel like the richest woman on the planet most of the time. Redefining luxury is therefore a theme that has become very prominent for me here. We are taught to chase happiness by accumulating wealth and material goods, but does that truly make us happy and fulfilled? Since I live here I have learned a lot of empowering skills that set me free from my dependence on large corporations, which don’t act in my personal interest nor that of our planet. Growing your own healthy food, but also being able to identify wild plants which are much more nutritious and abundantly growing everywhere around us. I have learned about the healing abilities of our own bodies as well as the medicine that nature provides. I helped build my own carbon positive house without using fossil fuels and I am self sufficient in water and electricity. I cut my own firewood which also gives a very satisfying feeling. I exchanged the 6 o’clock news for the 6 o’clock sunset and I find happiness and joy in all the beautiful things nature provides for free. Since there are not that many distractions here, I find it much easier to be present, to connect on a much deeper level and to practice radical honesty, with myself as well as the world around me. Nature is an incredible intelligent being and if you open up to her guidance, you’ll discover that there’s an entirely different, exciting and miraculous reality out there.
What would you say to people living in Amsterdam (or anywhere else), who are not quite ready to take the same leap that you did but who want to live a more intentional life?
It starts with education, often followed by a lot of anger when you start to understand how we are all fooled and programmed by big corporations which use mainstream media as their weapon of choice. However its necessary for us to go through this inconvenient phase of emotions in order to truly feel motivated to change. People talk about Climate change, but to me that definition leaves too much room for skeptics to divert the conversation from the real issue on hand. What we are experiencing is a System Crisis causing Environmental Collapse.
I don’t expect everyone to change their lives 180 and dive into the extreme like I did. No matter where you are, you can make a massive difference if you start understanding our existence from an energy perspective. What we are feeding with our energy (ie time, money, attention, etc) grows. Every one of us makes a ton of choices every day and by becoming aware of those we can intentionally choose where we want to contribute. Is the company you are working for adding meaning and taking social and ecological responsibility? What food do you buy? Who are your suppliers? Even the simplest thing as liking, sharing, commenting on social media of projects or people doing good things, is helpful because you empower these initiatives and it costs you nothing but a second of your time. But the most important is to truly follow your joy and intuition, because this will guide you towards your true purpose. Our ego tries the hardest not for us to enter that path, but it’s very simple: If we truly want something, every “what if….” or “I can’t…” sentence points at our fears. Fears are an illusion, it’s learned behaviour. When we become aware of our fears, coping mechanisms and everything else that is programmed in our conscious or subconscious mind, we can start to reprogram ourselves. The only thing we need is to be brutally honest, which is a very scary thing in itself.
Can you describe what the world would look like when the Wildlings project spreads and is implemented over the whole planet?
It is already happening! As there are many Wildlings all over the planet busy finding alternative ways of living in harmony with our natural environment. It hasn’t reached a tipping point yet but the movement is definitely increasing rapidly. I envision a world where we shift our focus from global to local. A network of autonomous hubs/communities that use the resources locally available to them in a circular and regenerative design model. These hubs all over the world are connected and exchange takes place between them, but more in an immaterial sense such as knowledge sharing. We have (re)learned that the most nutritional food and medicine for our bodies comes from perennial wild edibles and our regenerative food production systems are designed around these plants and trees which improves the soil and allows our planet to sequester carbon in a healthy and balanced way. The 45% of agricultural land surface, that is now taken up for large scale monocultures plantations to feed animals in factory systems, won’t be needed anymore and is returned to wildlife to increase biodiversity and wild areas such as the massively important rainforest and other native forests which restore the global water cycle. By then people are conscious about their own egoic tendencies such as greed, power, control to name a few which justify behaviour such as exploitation, cruelty, violence, torture, destruction and feeds our false sense of separation. Instead of a destructive virus, the human species has evolved into one that has minimised the harm we inflict to our own species, other life and the planet we inhabit. We have moved from an ego-driven society based on fear, scarcity and inequality towards a heart-driven one based on love, abundance and unity. The interesting part to get to this destination, is that it doesn’t depend on anything outside of ourselves, because the work to be done is an inner-job, for which we don’t need anyone else but ourselves. Let’s build dreams!