The frontiersman in an age of rapid technology… by Ryan Ulbrich
Just outside of Boone, North Carolina lives a man in the woods. But not just any man — the last American man, according to novelist Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love.). Eustace Conway is the epitome of a contemporary naturalist, and owner of Turtle Island, a 1,000 acre teaching preserve. What’s taught? Anything and everything a frontiersman / woman needs to know. Blacksmithing. Horse-riding. Carpentry. Botany. Hunting, gathering, cooking, and fire-building. Anything that encompasses “back to basics,” simplistic, natural, authentic living.
I had a chance to visit Eustace and the preserve in 2007 during a work study. I remember building a footbridge with him. The man’s eyes were raw, and gleamed with happiness and a perpetual appreciation of his surroundings. He’s the closest to a truly enlightened person I’ve ever met.
Here’s a quote taken from Eustace Conway in Gilbert’s biography:
“I live in nature where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is the planet around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular teepee and build my fire in a circle. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings because buildings are dead places where nothing grows, where water doesn’t flow, and where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place.”
In 2010, Eustace gave a TED talk in Asheville called “Traditional Lifestyles of the 21st Century” to share his insights on humanity and a life lived far from normalcy.
Table of Contents:
Minute 1:11 – At age 3, his father showed him how to cut small tree trunks to put underneath much larger pine trees to transport them. With no comprehension of the magnitude of that model, it became a precedent for Eustace. It was the first time he realized you can accomplish anything; his first vision of endless possibilities.
Minute 3:13 – At age 7, he had no materials or money, but wanted to build a treehouse. He walked to a construction zone a mile away, picked up bent nails, took them home and straightened them. It was an early lesson of reusing instead of throwing away. Eventually he built a multi-room, multi-treehouse with connected wood bridges by himself.
Minute 4:43 – In elementary school, Eustace read almost every biography in the school library. He read about the most interesting people in the world. After digesting story after story, he set the bar at these great heights of what was possible to do with one’s life.
Minute 5:56 – At age 12, Eustace moved to the woods for a week. He hunted and gathered, ate a garter snake, caught small fish and dug up the roots of cucumber. The first night, he remembers the quiet and the darkness, which drove a fear inside him. But he overcame it and learned to embrace a simple way of living at a young age.
Minute 6:36 – At age 17, he moved into an American Indian teepee. He lived in it for another 17 years. Year after year he lived devoid of television and advertising, living closely to nature like our ancestors. People would say “you can’t escape reality with what you’re doing,” where Eustace would reply “I’m actually going to reality. The natural world governs everything, after all.”
Minute 7:35 – At age 18, he canoed across the Mississippi River. It was a 1,000+ mile trek to New Orleans.
Minute 7:45 – At age 19, he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. He remembers times being very hungry, to the point where he could stick his fingers under his ribs. But food was not a priority. His vision of finishing was.
Minute 9:37 – In college, he remembers taking a canoeing trip on the southern coast of Alaska. It was some of his better education because it was based on experience, not a book.
Minute 10:17 – In 103 days, Eustace rode across the country on a horse named Hastey. A few years later, he did 2,486 miles on a horse and buggy. Most of the things people tell you are impossible really aren’t. “If you set your mind to it, chances are you will do it, even if it hurts.”
OR Read & Watch: