More often than ever, the last few years or so, we read or hear about a person who left everything behind and became a nomad, a member of an off-the-grid community, a digital entrepreneur, a modern farmer.. Some were fed up with capitalism and inequality and decided to go find or create a life in their own terms; some wanted to blend entrepreneurship with the freedom to travel the world; others wanted to return to greener, healthier environments to be part of, or create eco communities from scratch for a more sustainable world.
I decided to contact Kyer Wiltshire when I read an article he wrote a few months ago under the title: ‘Why I Live the Life of a Modern Hunter-Gatherer’. ‘What is a modern hunter-gatherer’, I wondered, but, more than that, what does a person who has somewhat dispatched himself from society, or, to be more precise (maybe!), the on-the-grid, capitalistic system, think about the issues that I usually question my subjects on? How has being out of it all, rearranged his thought patterns, beliefs and expectations?
The ideas, views and stories he shares imprint a reflection of a balancer. I see him balancing on a rope holding a long stick with his two hands—his dreams and freedom on one edge, survival on the other. I see him trying to cherish and take in all the beauty that surrounds him during his tricky and adventurous endeavour. He takes deep breaths. He is grateful for the colours of every flower. He feels the touch of the winds on his skin. Sometimes he is scared but I see him managing to reach the other side of the river. Safe. Loved. Free.
As I write this, I remember the words of a great man and scientist, Oliver Sacks: ‘We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.’, and I bow and I am humbled, for I understand that we translate other people’s stories according to our personal narratives, dreams and hopes; and that this helps us.
What do you usually want people to know about you when a new friendship, acquaintance or relationship begins, Mr. Wiltshire?
Almost all our interactions are a reflection of others and ourselves. As a humanist, guide and visual artist, I am a bright reflector--perhaps more than most people, and this can be challenging. I will reflect your beauty in a photo or with praise; and I will reflect your shadow via the personal conversations and edges that we are inspired to explore. Above all, I want to create and connect in a meaningful way, even if our time together on this planet is limited.
What do you consider to be ‘small talk’ or meaningless as a subject of conversation?
The basic-life-update ones… No conversation is ‘meaningless’, but I am inspired and I feel more connected by conversations that go deeper. The ones that I find most interesting are about how we interact with the world outside our little energy field. What makes humans and the planet tick? How can our connections be healthier, more enjoyable and more empowering for everyone? How can we create greater understanding, compassion and empathy, especially for those people that we find challenging?
I spent 15 years as a West coast festival photographer and, often, my conversations and interactions were fleeting. I very much enjoyed the creative connections and I value the friendships that occasionally came from these interactions, but the music is sometimes loud, the distractions are many, and many times I felt a bit empty by the superficiality of the spectacle.
It is also true that these campout music festivals can be a safe and enjoyable container to explore boundaries and create more sustainable connections, love and understanding.
Which part or moments of your childhood do you recall more often?
I remember the times that I spent with my father and friends climbing mountains, backpacking and camping. I remember running barefoot on rocky roads to the beach and jumping into cold mountain lakes, walking through the snow and sometimes being a bit mischievous.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe the socioeconomic environment of your childhood to a five-year-old, in a nutshell?
Half the year my sisters and I lived in a big purple and blue house in Northwest Portland. It was built in 1904 and, in my young eyes, it was the size of a castle! My two younger sisters and I lived there with our mother and our wonderful stepfather. He was kind, he had money from a success business that he had sold, and he was generous. He made toys out of wood and other materials. The other half of the year we lived in a cabin in the mountains in eastern Oregon. We had no phone, no electricity, running water or TV. Our father and the mother of my half-sister didn’t have much money, but we were rich in nature and beauty all around. In the winter we rode a snowmobile to school and in the summer we took long walks with our Siamese cat up the mountain and picked wild strawberries!
When was the first time you left the home you grew up in? How did it feel?
I moved a lot when I was a kid, so I never became attached to living somewhere in particular. With two sets of parents who also moved a lot, my life was a bit nomadic, I guess.
How were your 20s like?
I was in college much of that time, first in undergraduate, then graduate school. I spent time in nature and lived in Spain and Mexico. Living in Seville, Spain was transformational for me. I was 23 and it gave me another perspective on my country, culture, as well as fluency in a foreign language. I felt more confident and life had more purpose than it did in my teens.
And how about your 30s?
I was a college professor of Spanish most of that time. I lived and travelled in Latin America and I fell in and out of love. My first wife was from Mexico City. After living in Colorado, Mexico and New Mexico, we separated and I moved back to the west coast in my early 30s. Santa Cruz, California became my home for 12 years. I became an important part of a creative and progressive community there. In my late 30s, I met a beautiful woman in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Several years later we got married. Three years after that we separated, and four years later she remarried. I was her wedding photographer!
So love changed forms..? What enabled the continuation of a deep friendship when passion was gone?
I’ve never had a ‘deep friendship’ with a former lover, but I have continued on as friends with most of my former lovers. We originally connected because we had something in common, perspectives and experiences to share. People with whom I have felt a deep heart connection will always remain close to my heart. They will always be dear to me. It is my belief that if you truly love someone, then you wish the best for that person, even if you’re not meant to be partners or lovers.
What has life taught you about love and vice versa?
In a nutshell, we have two choices in life: love or fear. I do my best to choose love. Love comes in many forms, not just romantic love—which the Greeks called ‘Eros’.
Is a romantic relationship a ‘friendship that caught fire’, according to your personal experiences?
It is not in my experience. I’ve usually started off as lovers, not friends first, with my lovers.
How do you spend your days, currently?
I travel a lot. I photograph a lot. I spend a lot of time in nature. I spend too much time on my computer editing photos, socializing on Facebook and marketing myself as a professional photographer.
What do you enjoy creating the most?
I love creating beautiful art. I love creating safe edges for people to explore and empower themselves.
How is your life ‘style’ different from the mainstream?
I am 52. I have no kids. I have no mortgage. I have almost no retirement savings. I haven’t paid rent in America in almost two years. I am an artist. I love my country and I see clearly both its deep shadows and its beauty.
In one of his multimedia outputs, modern times philosopher, Alain de Botton, talks about the ‘envy of the future’. Which are the things (for instance, the technological tools, new social contracts etc) that would make you feel more envious?
We need to be careful of falling in to the ‘trap of luxury’. This is the belief that we will be happier if we have this or that technological advance. In the last hundred years, we first had the radio, then TV and movies, computers, cell phones, the internet, smart phones, social media… It’s all getting faster. What’s next? Are these things making us happier or ‘envious’ of a more technologically advanced future? I was in Bali five years ago and no one had a smart phone. I lived there for six months last year. Now seemingly everyone has one. I believe that the Balinese, who are arguably the most content people on this planet, feel less happy and connected because of this new technology.
What would you create if all the resources and assistance were available?
I’d create a world without war, violence, poverty, separation, loneliness, fear and disease.
Have you ever felt as if life was resisting in letting you realise a dream?
Only I resist the realisation of my dreams.
What would you whisper to an infant about life if he/she had the ability to understand?
You are safe. You are loved.
Which people would you give your own life to save, if it was necessary?
I wouldn’t intentionally call death to come for me, or donate an organ that would cause my own death, but I would risk my life in the hopes of saving anyone in that moment of danger or imminent death.
Have you ever dreamt of creating a small off-the-grid community?
I do see the value in creating a small off-the-grid community. Anything that can be a model for us to live in a more connected and sustainable way is good, but I am more interested in dreaming about creating community models that are sustainable and realistic for the entire planet, not just a select group of people.
Which is a big fear you have faced and conquered?
My biggest fear is that my life is meaningless and unimportant. In the last couple of years I’ve had some powerful mirrors reflecting how I wasn’t always in an integrity in my actions. When your life has meaning and a purpose you are able to create more joy and equanimity. You are able to live with greater integrity, compassion and understanding.
When was the last time a dream of yours materialised?
In many ways I am living the dream that I am creating today. I continue to sustain myself as a professional photographer. I am able to spend time in nature, enjoy connections with new and old friends, and to create the art that inspires me.
What would you write or draw on a big wall, Kyer?
I would draw a huge map of this beautiful planet, along with colourful little icons of amazing places to explore and visit.
*You can reach Kyer on his blog