I consider myself to be quite natural. I enjoy walking barefoot upon the earth. I dig in my garden without gloves. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my hair. I often have un-shaven legs and rarely ‘dress up.’ These things have compiled over the past six years, mostly. It began with becoming a Mother. Many mothers know that self care can often take a back seat as we choose to become selfless for our children. In the center of my journey into motherhood, I began to look deeper into my own human existence. Children can prompt deep discussions and thoughts like this. They change you. They change your body. They alter your mind. They make you stronger. They help you grow.
At first, I was uncomfortable with the transition of becoming, well… counterculture. Not many women my age (I’m 36) have “let themselves go” quite like I have chosen to do. There aren’t very many understandable answers to the question “Why?” when it comes to these decisions, at least not by the typical standards of the USA’s society.
Question: “Why don’t you dye your hair anymore?”
Answers: “Because I don’t want to have any more filters placed upon my appearance. Because my true hair color is grey/silver. Because my scalp burns from the chemicals of conventional hair dye. Because my skin breaks out when I use hair dye. Because I don’t want to pay $60-100 every two weeks to cover up a skunk stripe/tree ring. Because it is empowering.
Question: “Don’t you want to stay clean outside? Why don’t you wear shoes or gloves? Aren’t you afraid of bugs and disease?“
More descriptive answer: “I am a mammal of the Earth. This is my environment. Why would I choose to be afraid of my environment? It’s just dirt. Dirt can be healing. There are many beneficial microbes in soil. These microbes typically outweigh the bad guys. I don’t have biophobia. I don’t choose to live in fear.
I have conversations/ Q&A Sessions like these all the time with friends, new and old, who feel comfortable enough with me to inquire. Each time this happens, I find myself in mourning. “Why aren’t there more people like me?” I wonder. Thoughts of societal programming pass through my seemingly unhinged thoughts. “Why is it such a big deal to just… choose NOT to?” Have I gone wild?
Humans have been trying for a very long time to become civilized beings. We work to be able to pay lots of money to have the privilege to hide our body odors and poop in potable water. We alter our appearance to avoid being judged. We are led to believe that if we don’t get all “gussied up” (I’m southern), that we will never succeed in “the real world.” We will never be rich. We will never be successful. We will never be powerful, lest we wear the mask. Lest we hide our flaws. Lest we act civilized.
I recently met a wonderful woman who is becoming well known in our area for her ability to use natural building materials (cob, pise, clay) to create art and dwellings. For a period of time, she lived in a cob house with no electricity. (I found myself a bit jealous of this.) She walked barefoot around her cob house… and she LIVED! In my opinion, she was able to truly live. To live simplistically.
After quite some time of living as a creature of the Earth, she later returned to what many would deem to be basic living: a carpeted apartment. Upon her return to the stick built world, she found herself appalled at the feeling of carpet beneath her feet. She also found the electric lighting in her apartment to be brash and intrusive. She had been used to walking around her cob house with a lantern. It took her quite some time to adjust back to our normal human standard of living. She later found herself being interviewed by a reporter, who quoted her to say that “She had gone too wild to go back.” What a great story.
Eustace has gained internet fame and popularity for his ability to really, truly, live off the land. He lives entirely off grid, in a home built using trees and materials from the land. He has his own sawmill. He grows food and raises livestock. He started a 501c3 Non Profit known as Turtle Island Preserve. He has battled local zoning officials and municipalities to fight for his right to live off the land, and to teach others how to do the same. Legend says that this man even traveled across America on horseback.
51-year-old Eustace Conway, who currently resides on a 1,000-acre plot of land he calls Turtle Island in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, got his first taste of living at-one with nature when he spent a week in the woods at the age of 12, completely empty-handed, making his own shelter and living entirely off the land. That stint in the wilderness sparked a fire in little Eustace that led to many more adventures. From GQ:
When he was 18 years old, he traveled down the Mississippi River in a handmade cedar canoe. When he was 19, he walked the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, surviving on only what he could hunt or gather along the way. Over the next few years, he hiked the Alps (in sneakers), kayaked across Alaska, scaled cliffs in New Zealand and lived with Navajo in Mexico.
When Eustace was in his mid twenties, he decided that he wanted to study a primitive culture more closely, so he flew to Guatemala. He got off the plane and pretty much started asking, “Where are the primitive people at?” He was pointed toward the jungle, where he hiked until he found a remote village of Mayan Indians. He lived with the Indians for months. They liked him a lot.
As I’m sure you probably guessed, Eustace’s adventuring didn’t stop after hanging out with the Mayan Indians in Guatemala. In 1995 he and his brother Judson rode horses across America, from South Carolina to San Diego, in 103 days! They reportedly set out after eating a hefty Christmas dinner and arrived in And Diego just before Easter, surviving “off the land” the entire journey, which included roadkill deer and squirrel soup. They slept in the barns of folks they met along the way, or else snoozed beneath the stars when weather permitted. And perhaps most shockingly of all, there were no sponsors for the trip or reality show cameras along for the ride.
Obviously… this man is a legend. Eustace Conway, The Last American Man, is an idol for Nature lovers around the world. From my experience at Turtle Island, I can tell you that those hills attract allllll different types of people. The eccentrics. The “dirty hippies”. The herbalists. The stilt walkers wearing a swan hat. All the wild ones.
Here’s a quote from Eustace himself. I feel that it pretty much sums up the experience that many of us nature lovers seek.
We created a place where people can get in touch with the roots of humanity and connected with the resources and abilities that sustain our existence. We simplfy our day to food, shelter, water, and clothing which enables us to see more clearly the picture of how we fit into the bigger circles of life; our food chain, water cycle, Eco system, and environmental economics.
We break rocks to make stone tools, bend bark to fashion baskets, and spin sticks to create fire. We drive horse and buggy, plow gardens, dry wild persimmons, cook stinging nettle, watch the morning light first hit the tree tops and lift a rock in a stream to see what mysteries reside there. We watch a spider weave a web or 42 butterflies stir at our quiet passing.
We enchant the overstimulated apathetic bored spirit within us as we wash the dust off by standing in the rain watching the deer come closer, listening to the wren’s call — not just hearing but listening to the wild things as if they matter and then realizing that they do.
At Turtle Island you can meet people who really live in the forest and take immediate responsibility for their actions. We work with groups of all types from business professionals to elementary classes. We are eclectic, diverse, spontaneous and creative we offer a door to a renewed vision of an ancient natural reality that governs all. With a few sticks and bones we can wake up your world!
Being Star-struck is an interesting thing. When you first come into the presence of someone who is living an existence you admire, your inner self wants nothing more than to make contact, in some way, with this person. The first time I met Eustace, I didn’t even introduce myself. I wandered into a conversation on a walk toward the outdoor kitchen, where we had been invited to eat after being a vendor at Turtle Island’s Families Learning Together Event. The group was discussing the conch shell used to signal the guests of the Island (which is not an actual island) that dinner was ready. I shared with the group, making eye contact with Eustace, that my mother used to ring a large cast-iron bell to get me to come back inside from outdoor play. Eustace shared that his mother used to do the same thing with a bell. That moment was enough for me 🙂
This year, I saw Eustace a few times. Once, at another shared dinner in the outdoor community kitchen and again as we were packing up our tent and booth contents to prepare to leave the Sunday morning after the event. I didn’t speak to him this year, but what I saw the second time he passed by triggered the need to write this blog.
It is easy to put men like Eustace up on a high, moss and dew covered pedestal. “This man is really doing it”, you think. This man is living the life. My opinion of Eustace, after seeing him ride by on a dirt bike, has increased in admiration. Here’s why.
In my experience of being a simple, meek, transitioning Gypsymama, I have ran into the purist crowd. The crowd full of judgement, at all times, willing to point gnarly, dirt covered fingers at anyone who uses modern conveniences…especially gas powered conveniences.
Early in our trip to Turtle Island, I found myself feeling guilty about driving our large, gas guzzling truck into this pristine Island wilderness. A part of me wanted to unpack our belongings and set up our tent right away, so that we could hide our vehicle in one of the provided parking lots, in order to blend in better with this memorial to natural living. As I unpacked the belongings of myself, my husband and our two young boys, I began to feel more comfortable and welcomed– “no more modern inconveniences!”– I thought to myself. I’m ready to live wild and free, if only for a few days! That’s about the time that the calm winds of Turtle Island picked up a plastic grocery bag that I had used to pack the boys’ shoes.
I was inside the tent at the time of the crisis, placing our thermarests and sleeping bags into position for en evening’s rest. “What!??!” “Where did that come from!??!?!” “Get it!!!” I heard being yelled outside the tent. My husband, Aaron came to the tent entrance and poked his head inside, “Did you leave a plastic bag outside?” Daaaaaamn. Yes. Yes I did. Apparently I had not weighted it down enough after removing a pair of shoes. Luckily one of our new friends was able to rescue the bag from the branches of a nearby tree. In my mind, I was instantly deemed the camp impostor. I came to this mountain top with the enemy as a stowaway. I would be branded a sheeple and be pummeled with spit and tomatoes. This of course, did not happen. It was a simple mistake, quickly forgotten– yet a maddening reminder of the “outside” world.
This all too familiar feeling, of being the girl with the plastic bag, looms as a heavy fog above my awakened mind. It haunts me. I want to be the girl in the cob house! Not the girl with the plastic bag! Societal norms compress my open mind, forcing it back into a box. Modern day conveniences become inconveniences stuck in nature’s branches.
All too often, we judge each other. Our egos are checked and tested. We are reminded that we must do better and that there are more things to be done. We pick and choose our battles. We compost our processed foods and brew our fermented beverages with mass produced tea packets. Can one ever be completely free of this tower we have built? The tower which holds our health, our beauty, our petroleum, our freedom?
When Eustace Conway rode past us on his dirt bike, some unseen, weighted force was released from within me. I was trying. I care. I try and I care. I have a respect for the Earth, and I do my best from within the belly of the beast to reject the products and methods introduced to me that I don’t agree with. I primitive camp, but I burn gallons of gasoline to get to the camp site. I own cloth bags, but plastic bags are better for muddy shoes. I use cloth napkins in our kitchen, but not to clean up our puppy’s accidents. Double standards abound. I am in this world, I am of this world. I am not a purist, but I do try to live as naturally as possible– changing my will power from day to day, introducing new practices into our home in an attempt to live a better life. In an attempt to be the change. In an attempt to be wild and free, and no longer the girl with the plastic bag. I struggle between these worlds.
It is suspected that the increased dependence of the human species on technology has led to an attenuation in the human drive to connect with nature. Wilson and others have argued that such declines in biophilic behaviour could remove meaning from nature, translating into a loss of human respect for the natural world. In fact, the loss of desire to interact with the natural world, resulting in a decreased appreciation for the diversity of life-forms that support human survival, has been cited as a potential factor contributing to environmental destruction and the rapid rate of species extinction. Thus, reestablishing the human connection with nature has become an important theme in conservation.