September 2, 2019 | By: Mary-Beth Skylis
How Turtle Island Preserve Might Save The Planet
I visited Turtle Island in March of this year for about a week. It was the same week as Turtle Island’s big “Families Learning Together Festival.” Tons of local people came out to learn how to blacksmith, woodwork, or maybe even to work with Eustace, owner of the 1,000 acre Turtle Island Preserve located in Boone, North Carolina. I was blessed enough to work in the sawmill for the day. While I was on Turtle Island, I slept in a three sided shelter that was built by one of the Island’s previous Interns (as nearly all of the cabins were). This is my story.
The squeal of dust-covered brakes resounded during an early spring evening on Turtle Island. Eustace was maneuvering “dumpy” (Turtle Island’s endearing dump truck) up a gravel road when I saw him for the first time. His silver braids rested on his shoulders, tousled yet orderly. He wore the grin of a happy, yet tired soul. His desire to create the planet’s last remaining hope could be seen in the grooves of the dirt road. Just a handful of years ago there wasn’t a road on Turtle Island at all. But persistence begets progress.
How do cob buildings work? What is a blacksmith? How do you tan a hide? What happens if we use our bodies for manual labour rather than resigning ourselves to a desk for a day? And if everyone turns off their gadgets, what does the sky look like at night? Turtle Island answers these questions with a series of summer camps, workshops, and festivals that remind us of sustainable times. Nestled in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina, Turtle Island Preserve aims to re-educate the planet’s population about forgotten things.
While Turtle Island isn’t a plot of land that’s surrounded by a choppy sea, it is an island of darkness that’s surrounded by development.If you gaze into its depths from outer space, you’ll see a dark bowl receptive to the natural way of life in a way that modern society isn’t. This isn’t a story about a hippie commune or a utopia that’ll disintegrate into ash. It’s a vision that was born out of necessity. Eustace Conway and his team designed a space intended to re-instill respect for the environment, to educate, to inspire and to motivate..
How Disconnection Wreaks Havoc on the Planet
One night, while sitting next to an unlit fire pit, Eustace told me that the root of the world’s problems relates to disconnection. We go to the grocery store where all the food we could ever want is available to us. We’ve forgotten where it comes from, who grew it, and how much work it takes to sustain our population. Running water pours from the faucet, suggesting that there’s an infinite supply of water that comes from a magical place. We’ve forgotten that our resources are limited. A sense of entitlement consumes the planet. And human eyes glue themselves to screens day after day to eliminate uncomfortable social connection. When was the last time you were engaged in eye contact during an extended conversation? If we open our eyes to the natural environment, maybe we’ll start to remember its sacredness.
Rebuilding Planet Earth
During my time on the Island, I was surprised to find that most of the structures are made without doors. There’s no space to forget about the weather or the changes of the season. It’s impossible to disconnect from the ebbs and flows of the environment because you’re living in the middle of them.
But what’s even more astonishing is that, for years, Turtle Island has focused its efforts on the reversal of mindless consumption. Mindfulness surrounding basic choices like feeding into plastic production is enough to eliminate landfill waste. In the time I spent on the Island, I observed just two plastic entities: a plastic rocking horse (Eustace chuckled when he told me he’d use it to “teach kids how to ride horses”), and a bird feeder that used a single-use plastic water bottle for storage.
So, What’s Next?
We need a paradigm shift. Instead of investing in things, we should invest in people. We should trade status for meaning and money for re-education. By living like the habitants of Turtle Island, we might begin to rebuild a structure that prioritizes the quality of life over quantity of material possessions. What if we begin to tune into our senses instead of zoning out and making mindless decisions? If we consider the repercussions of our choices? Or if we educate ourselves about sustainable living? By remembering simpler ways, we might have a shot at rebuilding the planet. The damage is done. But we have the ability to halt further destruction and to begin again. And yes, those “simpler ways” offer challenges of their own. But the planet is running out of time. Like an idea that’s sprouting with small but recognizable determination, Turtle Island just might offer a solution to the destruction of the planet.