Turtle Island Preserve: The Echo of Silence

Close to the center of 1,000 acres, Mammals walk the Earth.  Feet, hooves and paws walk near the edge of muddy footpaths. Silence is broken by the call of a rooster, who eagerly speaks in conversation with his echo. The calmness of the land is visited by a breeze. Stomachs shrink. Convenience foods are miles away. Muscles and Minds rest from a day of outdoor labor. Ears long for the sound of the conch shell.  The shell will act as a beacon, calling the hungry toward the kitchen where a warm meal has been prepared over fire.

It is hard to put into words what Turtle Island Preserve is like on a regular day. Each of the times I have visited before, a festival was taking place.  People were everywhere, volunteering and soaking in the beauty of the handmade structures, animals and farm life.  The land is a preserve, sparing itself from the chaos and mess that often follows man.  People come to Turtle Island to learn basic survival skills from those who have continued to practice and utilize these fading arts.

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A stretched animal skin hide, drying naturally outside the classroom.

While visiting the preserve, I found myself with an uneasy feeling.  It took me awhile to figure out that the “ordinary” sounds I had became accustomed to were not present there.   Absent were the sounds of cars constantly whizzing by. Silenced were all Beeps, alarms and ticks. No latches were locking into place, and no plastic was being crunched or rattled. The sounds that fill a normal day are constantly present and familiar.  At Turtle Island, as one stands alone, few sounds are heard.  The majority of the sounds come from the animals who live there… namely the ducks, mules, horses, pigs, chickens and roosters.  The sounds come from Nature. No speeding objects displace the air.  No clicking, squeaking or dinging  interrupts the silence.  Present is the haunting silence of the passing of time.

So much of our daily activities are filled with things designed to entertain us.  Time passes, yet we are comforted by our screens, machines and the familiar hum of a motor, appliance, notification or alert.  At Turtle Island, these things either do not exist, or are rarely present. Here, the sense of hearing must pause and re-asses its surroundings. We must again, become used to the sounds of Nature.

This slow separation of silence from civilization calms the mind.  I felt as if I was able to reset a part of myself there.  The constant inner dialogue that circles around and pounces on the nerve centers of my brain was no longer camouflaged amongst the sound companions it had become used to sharing space with. As a Mother, I find that my mind is commonly set to warp speed.  That speed is often necessary to accomplish all that needs to be done within a normal day.

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The covered kitchen and dining area.

This past weekend, my family and I were special guests at Turtle Island.  My husband, Aaron was asked to build a bamboo wash station for guests to enjoy and use while visiting.  We drove our truck down the mountain with a bundle of bamboo and some hand tools.  Also loaded was our camping gear, clothing, two sons and a little dog too.  We packed food to share, including some of Aaron’s homemade fermented Jalapeno hot sauce, a jar of my beet kvass, a few deviled eggs, carrots, cucumbers and some kombucha.  Our goods paled in comparison, however, to the foods prepared by the volunteers in the kitchen.  We shared hominy, oatmeal, guacamole, salsa, deer meat and a delicious assortment of vegetables with our new friends.

Speaking of friends, also in attendance was a new-to-me 1979 Canon AE-1 film camera and five rolls of film.  I’m relieved and excited to announce that I was able to self-develop two rolls of the black and white film, using our closet as the darkroom and our bathroom as the film lab.

The images that came out of that camera accurately captured the melancholy beauty of a farm and learning center, silenced in simplicity.  It is a place unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited.  Film seems to be the best way to document this treasure in the forest.  I’ll look forward to sharing a few color film images I captured in a following post.

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