Our family was very lucky to take part in the first annual Turtle Island Preserve Families Learning Together. We bought our tickets way back in December of last year, and the event quickly sold out. It was limited to 400 participants and I know next year's event will sell out even faster.
If you don't know about Turtle Island and Eustace Conway, I encourage you to learn more.
The Last American Man- a book about Eustice Conway
Mountain Men- History Channel show featuring Eustice Conway
I feel very lucky to have known about TIP before the TV show and book. I lived in Boone from the time I was 12 until I was in my late 20s. Eustice was a legend in Boone. We all knew of him and the preserve. My younger brother was lucky enough to get to take school trips out there and he still remembers how life changing the visits were for him. I wanted my kids to know about this magical place that exists in our self professed home. I wanted to tell them the stories I heard about my teenage peers who ventured in the woods to find it. Some did. Some tried to work there. Some told stories of how horrible and mean Eustice was. Some talked about him as if he was the kindest gentlest soul they ever met. It was finally time for me to see for myself, and I was very excited. Dresden has watched the Mountain Men TV show and he became a big fan of Eustice. He started playing "Mountain Man" in the yard and would come up with long speeches about killing deers with respect, loving the mother and finding plants to cure your ails. It spoke to him.
We drove up to the mountains on friday evening. The mountains are home to our family. Kevin and I met in Boone, Phaedra was born in Boone. The mountains hold our hearts and even though we love our home in the triangle, it doesn't feel like home like the mountains do. We still haven't found our tribe, although the homeschool community does feel like a community we belong in, strong connections seem to fall short. It's hard to become a part of something where everyone has known each other for most of their lives. You always feel a little on the outside. Homeschool families are busy families and it's hard to make the time. I am also an introvert and feel lonely in my own vibration. In Boone, I have known many of the people there for a majority of my life. Friends from high school and college, teens and homeschool kids I worked with at the library (who're grown up now) and their parents, the parents of my friends from high school, past teachers and co workers. The magical part is that it is so easy to pick up with these people, even after years, like I just saw them yesterday. We hug, our hearts speak. It just feels so much more like home. Some call it the Boonerang. Some say Boone is on a purple earth chakra- whatever it is, it works for me.
Not to mention- my very best friend of close to 20 years lives in Boone. She is my chosen family. I feel very blessed to be so connected to someone for so very long. Not many people have that. Phaedra loves her dearly and she is married to another one of Dresden's heroes. Micah is a man's man, with guns, metal guitar, and bug out bags, a kind voice, and a patient heart. Dresden thinks he is pretty much the coolest guy in the world.
Dresden looks at a photo of Uncle Micah at his age
We started our day Saturday by parking at an offsite spot to shuttle by van to the preserve. We didn't wait long, it was smooth and graceful. A quick scan of attendees showed what seemed to be local families, probably there for reasons like us, because they saw Eustice in school or knew of the stories and wanted to see for themselves. There were also families and couples who seemed to be like us and were there to learn new skills, see them in practice, and get inspiration. There were also a number of TV tourists, some even traveled from other states. They looked a little out of place. The ride was exciting and it was eye opening to see how close it all was to Boone- just tucked secretly away for so many years amongst familiar stomping grounds. We turned in our tickets and were given a bag with/for goodies. Dresden noticed Eustice and had to go say hello. He walked right up to him, said "hello. my name is Dresden." Eustice's face lit up in a huge grin. He commented on his John Deere sweater and complimented him on his hat while shaking hands. He greeted all of us, I told him Dresden was very excited to meet him and I think he could just tell we were there for the right reasons. He made sure to ask us if we were taking the ridge trail in. We assured him that was our plan and we parted off.
Dresden meets Eustice
The ridge trail was beautiful. It was challenging enough but not overly difficult with a 4 yr old. Some people chose to ride standing in the back of a dump truck to the site. It was a little congested with people who were unsure of the hike terrain. I hate that I am quick to pick up energies because I started getting on my own nerves telling Dresden to be careful and instructing him to much instead of just letting him use his really good instincts. I enjoyed that I am a detail noticing hiker. I like to look at everything that catches my eye. We passed a small waterfall, Mushrooms, mountain violets, some small scrap built buildings and lots of beauty.
mountain moss and mushrooms
helping each other on the ridge trail
little woodland elf
the mark of turtle island
After winding ledges and marveling at the sites, we reached a clearing. I noticed some tipis. The grass was new grass green and the trees were bright spring green with bursts of new leaves. I looked around and saw the heart of Turtle Island. My eyes filled with tears and I breathed it all in. The buildings so beautifully puzzle pieced together, each one it's own personality. The children climbing trees, swinging from ropes, barefoot, dirty. The animals. You could tell that every rock that was moved somewhere, every nail, every post was done so with love, respect and purpose. The beauty was overwhelming.
demonstration areas were set up at almost every structure
the blacksmith shop and my favorite building
the pirate ship treehouse- it's quite a climb!
other natural play spaces included a log seesaw, rope swing and toy horses to ride
each building has it's purpose and personality
spring in ancient appalachia
Dresden noticed Eustice giving folks a horse drawn carriage ride. We only had to wait in line a short time. Eustice had room for one more and called Phaedra to get in. She hopped on more like a kid than a teenager.
Dresden waited an extra round to get to sit up front. Dad rode with him.
Phaedra really enjoyed the animals. We were able to see a one week and one day old baby goats, lots of chickens and even some baby chicks, roosters (more on them later), Turkeys (who would frighten us with their gobble noises), ducks, and horses. It was a treat to see Eustice and his horses working together. They have a special relationship and bond of respect.
The highlight of the grounds, for me, was the kitchen. It was beautiful. I really would love to spend a day or two in there with someone who knows what they are doing and learn a few things. This is where I would spend a lot of time if I was ever on Turtle Island. It's amazing how a rustic pot becomes a sculpture and metal cowboy coffee pots are art. I dream of an outdoor kitchen that is this home-y. I was so happy to hear that they asked everyone to bring all their own eating utensils and dishwear. They had a dishwashing station set up and demos to teach how to camp wash. (We are of course, very knowledgeable in the camp washing). The Kitchen is dubbed "Nacho Mama's Cafe". We ate bbq chicken sandwiches. Phaedra said she could taste their happy lives (I really have no idea if they were TIP chickens, but I hope so). We watched them fry potato chips in a cauldron of oil over an open flame. People walked around eating ears of corn and large pots bubbled while smoke and delicious smells were dancing in the air. Yes, the kitchen was one of my favorite spots.
Some of the many large cauldrons. I would love to make a big batch of soup in one of these.
The oven. A metal drum with lid as a door. rocks were stacked around it and covered with clay.
frying up potato chips
One end of the kitchen. This looks like a great spot for cooking and storytelling.
The other side of the photo above. (There is a matching hearth on the opposite side of the kitchen as well.)
The dining area. Next to the dish washing station.
The other end of the kitchen. Now this is doing it right.
We visited with vendors and old friends we ran into. Each booth had something special to share. We learned about our luffas, how to make a drinking gourd out of one of our gourds (something Dresden has been asking to do), watched blacksmithing, learned about the Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm, talked goats, and enjoyed the nature. Dresden entered a raffle to win one of Preston's handmade knives. He really wanted it and I am very happy with how he dealt with the disappointment of the raffle. We were excited to drink the water at turtle island and referred to it all day as "the blood of the mother" as Eustice called it in a Mountain Man episode.
My final station of the day was the rooster slaughter. Neither of the kids were interested in watching. I expected that of Phaedra, but was surprised Dresden did not want to go. I decided to go because although I know Midge and Roxie, our two laying pet chickens will never be slaughtered, I do know I would like to take charge of my own meat consumption or stop consuming it altogether. I wanted an up front experience. I wanted to see what my reaction was. Three years ago I could not have watched. I felt a lot of things standing there- confusion and shock, awe and disgust- I know the chicken had fear in it's eyes, I know I watched life leave. I felt a connectedness to life and death all as one. I understood I was a part of the circle of life yet still felt a little sadness and guilt. I don't know if I ever want to be hard enough to not feel that.
Preston lead the demonstration. Before the slaughter, he briefly explained the process and gave details on what we should expect. He explained that the chicken does move when it is decapitated, but that out of respect you want to prevent such things. He then dips it in hot water, defeaters the bird, "swinges" the bird, and finishes by cleaning. He said the man he learned from called it "swingeing", and he asked if he meant "singeing". He said "No. I mean swingeing". He had someone look into the word and found it could be traced back to pre civil war. Preston realized that he was a part of handed down stories and skills and words and a part of history. He decided from then on, he would swinge his birds too and that he hopes if we slaughter on our own, we'll swinge ours too.
I video recorded the swinge story and the actual slaughter, so I don't have photos. I decided to film because I knew one or both of the kids would regret not coming to watch. I was really happy to catch the swinge story because it really helps to make this a connected whole life learning experience for Phaedra. Her Appalachian history, and knowing it, connects her to the half of her family she doesn't know. It gives her roots. And I think it's pretty awesome roots to have.
Preston and an Intern had to call a few kids out. Things were getting loud. One kid was yelling about letting the rooster run around with it's head cut off. They called attention to the fact that they were witnessing a life changing event and were not showing respect to Mr. Preston or the rooster who just gave his greatest gift to those at turtle island. It was handled well. I am glad they did that. Some kids were poking the roosters head with a stick. At this point I was glad my kids sat it out. I want a more intimate, calm setting for their first time. I was starting to feel like someone was going to yell again, so I just left. I was bummed I missed the entire process. I also missed both Herb Walks by just losing track of the time (as you should in nature).
By this point Dresden was worn out. We refueled him and Phaedra with smoothies from the hippie camp, listened to some drums and started the hike out which Dresden wanted to be carried for. Yeah right. We decided to ride the dump truck shuttle instead of hiking. It was awesomely unsafe.
I left Turtle Island feeling like I needed to stop being so afraid. "Fear is the thief of dreams" was posted somewhere there. I felt like it was written to me. The world is going to hurt me. It's done it before and it'll do it again. From standing in the back of a dump truck driving down a dirt mountain road, to letting kids climb a ladder up 30 ft to a treehouse and just use a damn rope swing, to walking a poorly blazed trail and letting Dresden play Mountain goat, to having no walls. I'm choosing the adventure and the dreams, to hell with the fear.