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Becoming Wild: Living the Primitive Life on a West Coast Island

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Nikki van Schyndel is not your typical grizzled survivalist. She is a contemporary, urban young woman who threw off modern comforts to spend nineteen months in a remote rainforest with her housecat and a virtual stranger. Set in the Broughton Archipelagoa maze of isolated islands near northern Vancouver IslandBecoming Wild is a story of survival in the pristine wilderness of BC. Sometimes predator and sometimes prey, 29 year-old Nikki and her companion Micah fend off the harsh weather, hungry wildlife, threat of starvation and the endless perils of this rugged Raincoast. To survive, Nikki must rely on her knowledge of BCs coastal flora and fauna, and the ancient techniques of hunting and gathering. In this remote world she learns to skin bears, make clothes from cedar bark and take great joy in gobbling a fish tail whole. Told in a voice that is both familiar and vulnerable, Becoming Wild explores our innate longings to connect with nature and revert to a pure, Eden-like state.

224 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2014

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Nikki Van Schyndel

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5 stars
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57 (33%)
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45 (26%)
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15 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for Story Circle Book Reviews.
636 reviews61 followers
July 3, 2014
A fisherman gave Nikki van Schyndel some advice about following her dream to survive in the wild without modern day conveniences: "If you can find funny in the things most people complain about, you'll always be happy," he said.

It was the best advice the writer could have received, as she and a male partner had stranded themselves with a cat on a small island in the Broughton Archipelago off the coast of Alaska--and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. At various times, the two humans failed to find, trap or catch enough food to keep them healthy, and during one week they were even stalked by a cougar.

While these things aren't what most people complain about, the author usually found something--after the events of course--to laugh about.

Nikki learned to use cedar bark and moss for toilet paper and nose tissue, admitting as she wrote about the experience, that it certainly gave her a new appreciation for Kleenex. Fish head and kelp soup became one of her favorite meals. And she overcame her fear of sleeping in the open near a wild animal trail in a ragged, rain-soaked sleeping bag. Truly.

"Why intentionally put oneself to such tests," some readers might ask? The answer is found in the book's opening sentence: "It is only when we follow our dreams that we discover the magic within ourselves."

Nikki's dream of living off the land began when she was eight years old, after she read Jean Craighead George's, "My Side of the Mountain." In this children's book, the hero, Sam, runs away from home to live off the land with only a knife, fire-starting flint, some twine, and a pet raccoon. Her dream of doing something similar continued to grow through the years. To support it, Nikki retreated to nature whenever possible, and then started taking outdoor survival classes.

As one whose own dream of traveling the world began at the age of ten, after reading Osa Johnson's "I Married Adventure," I understood the author's motive. But reading Becoming Wild made me thankful that my own dream didn't involve the kind of hardships Nikki lived through to achieve her goal.

What made this book enjoyable was that despite the adversities the author faced, whether it was a marathon blister-creating rowing trip to another island in search of salmon or enduring mosquitoes that tormented her flesh, Nikki never failed to see the natural beauty around her.

On Day 230 of her adventure, which she described as her first day off from the chores of surviving, she wrote in her journal that she ran "to the woods with the illusion that by living simply and purely in nature, I wouldn't have to deal with the temptations or distractions that bombarded me in the city. I thought becoming a truly good person would be easier in the forest."

I think readers who have their own dreams will find this book inspiring. As do all journeys, this adventure changed Nikki. You can find out how by reading the book.

by Pat Bean
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
Profile Image for Andrea Paterson.
504 reviews12 followers
September 27, 2014
I saw the author of this book speak at a recent conference and was completely hooked by her story of living in the wild and her demonstration of making fire with a bow drill. I have to admit that I just ordered a whole pile of books on local flora and fauna. Her memoir of her 18 months living with one other human and a feral cat in the bush was quite astounding and alluringly told. This is not just a story about the nitty gritty of survival. It's also about the soul and about a lost connection with the natural world that begins to manifest in senses we don't even realize we have. This was a good read and has inspired me to go out foraging in my back yard. I don't have access to the sort of deep wilderness that the author did, but I feel suddenly that I should at least try to know the names and uses of wild plants that grow in and around my neighbourhood. In my first foray I managed to identify cotoneaster (with berries that are NOT edible) which is in fact an invasive plant from China. I've passed clumps of it every day and only now thought to find out what it is. I think anyone who reads this will be inspired to know more about the plants and animals that we share our space with.
57 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2014
Fascinating. It was a well crafted memoir of an amazing experience of living in the wild of British Columbia's west coast.

It gave me a peek at a remote community (Echo Bay) and wilderness survival. Just reading Nikkis prose made my mind more quiet. Now when I walk through parks in the city - I notice the flora more and take more interest in the natural fauna (such as eagles, heron's and other native birds of my area).

Anyone interested in wilderness survival, nature and the wilds of British Columbia will love this book. I also recommend it for anyone who wants to consider a slower paced, more reflective life.
Profile Image for Neill Smith.
1,138 reviews36 followers
September 19, 2014
Becoming Wild tells the story of Nikki Van Schyndel's search for life in the wilderness of the Broughton Archipelago north of Vancouver Island with her friend, Micah. She prepared with wilderness courses, reading, and experimenting with a life in the wild but the realities of being in the wilderness, hunting, fishing, beachcombing, scavenging in the woods and on the beaches and on the ocean, scrounging for materials for tools led her to become what she both wanted and needed to be to survive in an incredibly beautiful but nevertheless harsh environment. If you love nature, or even the idea of nature, read this book.
363 reviews
November 4, 2014
A dozen years or so ago an attractive young woman gave my wife and I a tour of some rural property that a land trust was attempting to acquire. She was teaching at a survival school on the property. Deep in the woods she showed us a shelter she had built by scraping an indentation in the dirt and then covering it with branches, sticks and mud. She told us she had spent five nights in the shelter. I was both appalled and impressed. But, as it turned out, that was nothing compared to what Nikki Van Schyndel was about to do for a year and a half in the Canadian wilderness.

My favorite kind of book is one that takes to places I'll never see and, often, where I would never want to go. There is no way that I'd be willing to voluntarily commit myself to living like a primitive in a nasty ass shelter for a year and a half, unable to bathe or groom, eating wild foods like seaweed, nasty looking bottom fish, bear meat and limpets. But Nikki and her boyfriend Micah did this and if one can believe her testimony, turned it into a spiritual experience.

It's fair to say that Nikki is not a normal person. One wouldn't expect a woman who is movie star good looking to opt for a stone age life. Yet she does and relishes the experience sucking the marrow, literally, and figuratively from her life of becoming wild.

It's a compelling read spoiled only by the cryptic ending where she briefly mentions being attacked by a human with no other details. If I had read the book before buying this copy at one of her book readings (she is equally amazing in person) I would have been tempted to ask her to elaborate on this detail.

One might expect to see Nikki on TV in the near future with the popularity of this type of programming. If that happens, I'll be certain to be in the audience.
Profile Image for D.
324 reviews9 followers
March 9, 2016
Pass. Or rather, I wish I had. I found myself too curious about the nitty gritty details and ended up reading it to the end. The vaguely christian, explicitly new age approach just takes over the whole book. The serendipity, the platitudes, the it-must-be-destiny, the animism, was all pretty overwhelming and had me doubting the recollection of events. The writing isn't great and the dialogue felt forced. And the fact that she ends up owning her own eco business has me doubting things as well. Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but plainly said, this book just isn't for anyone who would shy away from over-romanticizing nature.

The Stars, the Snow, the Fire by John Haines is much more lyrical and transporting. Chris Czajkowski is also much easier to swallow. On the Edge of Nowhere by James Huntington has more entertaining stories. This book does have the most bare bones, starting from scratch aspect to it, and if you're specifically interested in the BC coast, then perhaps this book is worth swallowing your pride for, but otherwise, maybe just watch the Dick Proenneke movie.
Profile Image for patrick.
209 reviews13 followers
May 30, 2019
Fast read. Written in an ADHD a lot of coffee drinking way. A lot of exaggerations, such as stating she could identify a plant by driving down a road at 70 MPH.

Contradictions abound by the constant humoring of being a city person and can barely function in a forest (see the plant comment).

Killing bears in a questionably humane way, questioning the legality. Catching fish and smoking it. Don’t see the need to burn so much energy smoking fish when they could go to the water and catch one anytime.

What did the cat eat when they were low on meat and skinny?

Rowing 6-8 miles to get some vegetables on another island?

Everything seems so questionable. And a lack of details and how they really felt as they grew to live somewhat independent of civilization.

I only finished it to catch the questionable comments and facts.
Profile Image for Christy.
51 reviews2 followers
October 1, 2017
Fun memoir of living almost 100% off the land in a BC archipelago.

Narrative is simple, and like others I found myself wishing an editor had helped her massage it into something more mature.

She drops a little bomb in the finale about being attacked by a human after returning to civilization, which left her almost dead. I think readers want to know more--was someone stalking her as she lived solo in the wilderness after starting her eco-tour business? Or did she get randomly attacked in the city after she returned from her adventure? It really interfered with the story for me, and needed to be explained or woven into the experience somehow.

Overall it was a fun read and it was empowering to learn about this determined wilderness survivalist.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Colleen.
778 reviews
January 19, 2016
Readable, but I was appalled by some of the needlessly life-threatening chances they took. There were many times when they almost died from lack of preparation and knowledge. Her weird flaky spiritual beliefs and unbelievable stories about the supernatural and dreams she had turned me off.
Profile Image for Grazyna Nawrocka.
449 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2019
What a beautiful writing? The book read as easy, and had feeling of a fairy tale. I'll be missing it.

I worked in school in Indian Reserve. Many people there were completely confused and lost as to further education of children. They did not want their children to read books. They wanted them to be hunters and trappers, and were angry with the system.

Very strangely, the author is obviously of native origin, but was not equipped with all this traditional skills and knowledge. I still cannot believe how great her language skills are. Anyway, she started with reading and taking courses in survival, herbal medicines, edible plants, and then she just made a decision to "get into deep water, and start swimming." Although it wasn't easy, she was able to reclaim her heritage. What an awesome synthesis! I also loved spiritual side of her life.

There are different stages to human life. Young people look for themselves, try to figure out what is their faith, what is the meaning of their life, how to live it. I would recommend this book to everybody, because it is fun to read, but especially to native students and youth.

I still cannot wrap my mind around eating mouse without skinning it first. I have never hears or seen anybody cooking furry animal with the skin on. This photo made me question honesty and credibility of the whole story. Yet, as young people, Micah and Nikki sometimes took shortcuts, which, when I reach back with my memory to my teenage years, happened to me also.
Profile Image for Clewchuk.
37 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2015
I enjoyed the story of Nikki's travels to remote places and her ways of surviving and eventually thriving there.
The writing is simplistic and I would have liked a little more detail in certain parts of the book, but I did overall enjoy the book. It did make me wish to learn more about what she is doing now, and how she has continued on with her life. The vague description of the very last life events begs a little more explanation. Perhaps I will have to visit one of her eco-tours and see for myself how she is living these days. The book did inspire me to seek out greater knowledge of survivalism and journey to see more wild places.
Profile Image for Nowick.
Author 40 books20 followers
June 8, 2019
"Being still is about melting into your surroundings. It’s not vacuous staring. That creates boredom. It’s about shifting from a mundane mindset to one of wonderment. Enjoyable stillness comes from expanding one’s awareness and finding excitement and interest in even the smallest happenings."

"The pattern of blaming others for nature's crisis will continue until each of us feels a soulful connection to the wild world. With this profound understanding we will make informed decisions about how to coexist with nature. Only then will we be able to make a positive difference for all life gracing our beautiful planet."
Profile Image for Unit of Raine.
280 reviews
June 29, 2016
I was afraid this was going to be like "Wild", but no, Nikki is skilled and knows what she is doing.
I am in awe of her skills with herbs, tracking, and intuition. I really appreciated her use of Kwak'wala, which is alluded to in my favorite book of all time (I heard the owl call my name), but never really used. And, of course, I'd love to explore the Broughtons.
667 reviews5 followers
February 16, 2017
What an adventurer you are Nikki! This fraidy cat, only-in-my-dreams armchair explorer applauds and admires you. You made me think about consumption and waste, jealousy and desire, what I am doing to the planet and how I can be better and "good". I wish I could tag along with your mom and Sherri on their next trip to Echo Bay. Dreams are good too!
110 reviews
February 26, 2018
A very interesting read about a young woman and a friend who choose to live off the land in a remote area of BC. Eating wild food, using plant medicinals, trapping and killing a bear and building their own shelter, the two did something very few of us could ever do ( or perhaps ever want to do ). Their's is a story of resilience and good planning.
34 reviews
January 1, 2015
interesting. a bit too much like Grizzly Man

Interesting how someone can live off the land but a few more practicalities of these 2 years would have made for a slightly more interesting read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
127 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2016
Interesting true story of a woman who abandons all the amenities of the modern world to live "primitive" on an isolated island off BC's West Coast. Poignant in its illustration of just how much our once all encompassing connection to (and care for) the natural world has faded.
Profile Image for Lee Roversi.
435 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2016
this book was loaned to my by my son-in-law, who, along with my daughter, met this author in british columbia this summer. she is remarkable and her story is as well.
Profile Image for Barb Kelownagurl.
201 reviews3 followers
January 28, 2018
I always love books about living off the land and/or wilderness survival. If you enjoy the show "Alone", you might like this book.
Profile Image for Lael.
361 reviews2 followers
June 28, 2020
I was enjoying this jaunty read until the third botched killing of an animal and then I was not.
Profile Image for Olga.
138 reviews7 followers
May 7, 2021
ok, jāatzīst, ka tas nebija tas, ko es biju gaidījusi. Biju domājusi, ka tas būs vairāk par puslīdz komfortablu dzīvošanu prom no pilsētas, bet te bija full-on izdzīvošana uz nosalšanas vai bada robežas.

Par izdzīvošanu runājot, autores uzvedība brīžiem bija bezatbildīga, piemēram, neapgūstot makšķerēšanas iemaņas, lai gan dzīvoja ūdeņu tuvumā un tas bija viens no pārtikas avotiem, ogu lasīšana blakus lāčiem, nezināmu sēņu ēšana (atstājot "pirmsnāves vēstuli"). Manai gaumei te bija par daudz botānisku aprakstu, kā arī "bezvārdu sarunu" ar kokiem, visumu, dzīvniekiem, utt.
Profile Image for Valerie.
11 reviews
August 12, 2022
The best thing that came out of covid for me was discovering Alone which led me to Nikki, the author. When I found out she wrote a memoir of her experiences living as a survivalist prior to the show, I had to read it. Her edible plant knowledge is enviable. What an amazing experience she had and what a courageous woman! I enjoyed every minute of this book.
March 24, 2023
Living Wild/Becoming Wild

What a wonderful story. Although partly disgusting and sad, it rings of truth. Even as a young man, I could never have lived the life that Nikki, Micah and Scout did, I understand the pull. Incredible as it sounds, I choose to accept her words as she has written them. Highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Kris.
22 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2022
I bought this book for my son because Micah is a friend of mine from years ago and read it before I gifted it. I enjoyed Nikki's writing and have since gifted it to others who enjoy the idea of living in the wild. Great read.
Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews

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