The Last American Man: Eustace Conway

Long before Julia Roberts starred in the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, the name most closely associated with Gilbert's was Eustace Conway. A National Book Award Finalist, her book The Last American Man is in fact a biography of Eustace Conway, an environmentalist unlike any other.

I won't go into too much detail about the book other than to say that it is truly phenomenal. Gilbert became a frequent visitor to Conway's Turtle Island Preserve, a remote valley in the Carolinas where Conway teaches visitors how to live off the land and out of the city. Her story touches on all aspects of this remarkable but oftentimes impenetrable man's life, from his middle-class childhood to his seemingly radical brand of environmentalism and even his personal life. Eustace is the sort with whom few can form lasting, close relationships but whom many find truly inspiring. He plays the role of pioneer, modern-day Thoreau, environmental advocate, spokesman for the Earth, educator, welcoming host, and so many more. And I couldn't be more excited to meet him in just under a month's time!

Eustace hosts two free open houses each year, on top of the countless (but more costly) camps and events that run throughout the warmer months. Mike and I had talked about taking a visit down to Turtle Island for this past spring's open house, but with all the wedding hubbub it was not realistic to do so. Instead we've marked our calendars for this September's open house and have every intention of taking the trip down the last Sunday of the month.

Read more about Gilbert's book here. Read MSN's interview with Eustace here. Learn more about Turtle Island Preserve here. And below are a few quotes from Eustace and the book to give you a better idea of what Mr. Conway is all about.

"Show up for your own life…Don’t pass your days in a stupor, content to swallow whatever watery ideas modern society may bottle-feed you through the media, satisfied to slumber through life in an instant-gratification sugar coma. The most extraordinary gift you’ve been given is your own humanity, which is about consciousness, so honor that consciousness. Revere your senses; don’t degrade them with drugs, with depression, with willful oblivion. Try to notice something new every day…Pay attention to even the most modest of daily details. Even if you’re not in the woods, be aware at all times. Notice what food tastes like; notice what the detergent aisle in the supermarket smells like and recognize what those hard chemical smells do to your senses; notice what bare feet feel like; pay attention every day to the vital insights that mindfulness can bring. And take care of all things, of every single thing there is – your body, your intellect, your spirit, your neighbors, and this planet. Don’t pollute your soul with apathy or spoil your health with junk food any more than you would deliberately contaminate a clean river with industrial sludge.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, paraphrasing the philosophy of Eustace Conway in The Last American Man

"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 we modern people have lost site 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. People say that I don’t live in a real world, but it’s modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they have stepped outside the natural circle of life. Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in a box of their bedrooms because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into another box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken into little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to the house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box. 
Break out of the box! This not the way humanity lived for thousands of years.
 - Eustace Conway

Man you guys have alot of material possessions. Just imagine if you took all the money you’ve spent on these things and traveled around the world with it instead." - Eustace Conway

…we Americans, through our constant striving for convenience, are eradicating the raucous and edifying beauty of our true environment and replacing that beauty with a safe but completely faux “environment”. … Clever, ambitious, and always in search of greater efficiency, we Americans have, in two short centuries, created a world of push-button, round-the-clock comfort for ourselves. But in replacing every challenge with a shortcut we seem to have lost something… We are an increasingly depressed and anxious people-and not for nothing. Arguably, all these modern conveniences have been adopted to save us time. But for what?…we can now fill these hours with? -Elizabeth Gilbert, paraphrasing the philosophy of Eustace Conway in The Last American Man

1 comment:

  1. How did I over look this one? I have her other two earlier works waiting for me...this one sounds so positive!


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