This post was written by Abby Minor and is based on an interview with Deborah Fisher

Turtle Way comes out of many decades of mindful land stewardship, spiritual and ecological path-finding, and creative collaboration, education, and support in the Julian Woods community and beyond. With Turtle Way we are aiming to capitalize on the Julian Woods community’s rich history of self-education, mutual aid, and skill sharing; regionally impactful artistic vision; and inclusive spiritual engagement to move forward as gentle leaders in the Centre region. It is our hope that as we expand programming and invite old and new friends to learn, gather, create, and share at Julian Woods, we can prepare the way for the next chapter of ecological, spiritual, and artistic well-being in these ridges and valleys. 

Turtle Way is founded on a shared belief that relationships with art and nature are fundamental human needs. We see art and nature, working in tandem, as uniquely capable of nurturing spiritual life, however it is defined, and of healing the traumas we all endure in a world which rarely attends to the subtle, the gentle, the nourishing, the balanced, and the true. Our workshops and events invite people to share the special environment we have at Julian Woods—a greenhouse, flower gardens, pond, and woodland trails. We have in the past hosted programs about yoga in nature, gardening skills, intuitive development, print making, ecstatic dance, and watercolor painting by the pond, to name only a few. Going forward we plan to offer programs about harvesting wild food, cooking from the garden, tiny house building, community music making, yogic breath work, and a weekend retreat exploring sources of personal happiness. We also plan to continue our annual day-long intergenerational skill-sharing event. This skill share is a capstone on the rest of our programming, with workshops appropriate for everyone from older adults to little children. Yoga, farm-to-fork cooking, kazoo-making, energy sound healing, and a lively forest parade and potluck make for a special day. 

Through such programming and community-building, our goals are to do two things: First, to introduce people to what a real-live, working intentional community looks like (while media representations often show communal living as disorganized and zany, we are in fact a highly skilled and level-headed bunch!). Our second, larger goal is to help folks find a connection to those parts of existence and self which rarely find a space for expression in our daily lives. We aim to nurture new (sometimes old), more balanced ways of being in harmony with self, community, and ecology. We are particularly interested in providing a space for young people to find their niche in community life—we hope to support the next generation of land stewards, green entrepreneurs, and artists who may be seeking a space and community in which to discover projects and passions. 

In expressing these goals, we take cues from many of the original founders of the Julian Woods community, and from those who have come before: We are and have always been a diverse, quirky, and pragmatic group. We value working with what is on hand and listening to one’s environment. We are artists, farmers, ecologists, Buddhists, small business owners, and more. We operate in the spirit of the late painter John Mangan, one of our region’s most essential late-20th-century artists and a key community member at Julian Woods for many years. John stood by the power and rightness of living in community and collective land ownership and use. Those values are still expressed in the Julian Woods community’s commitment to pooling resources, putting the needs of the land first, and in specific systems such as our greenhouse wastewater system.

Our efforts are timely not only for the Julian Woods community, but in terms of larger ecological and social problems. While Julian Woods is a relatively idyllic space, we have nonetheless seen the impacts of environmental degradation on our land. Many of our maple trees have died from acid rain damage, and we see a reduction in soil health. Bigger rain events erode and cause excess fungus in the soil. This is the time to get people out into the woods, standing face to face with the ecosystems that sustain us. Such out-of-door encounters are important not only for improving our community’s ecological responsiveness, but also for addressing another crisis: that of mental and physical health. It is impossible to separate human health from ecological health; we know that what is healthy for the environment is also what is healthy for people. Therefore, Turtle Way seeks to address mental, spiritual, bodily, and ecological health through an interdisciplinary focus. We teach about farming, painting, gardening, cooking, soil science, entrepreneurship, meditation, poetry, spiritual pathfinding, and more—and we see all of these activities as related to the overall well-being of the land and its people. 

As we plan our next season of workshops and skill shares at Julian Woods, we are particularly mindful of the unique circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic. We are also aware of Turtle Way’s unique ability to serve many of the needs highlighted or exacerbated by this crisis. In this particular moment of social distancing, we have witnessed a growing awareness of how deeply our communities need strong, well-watered connections to nature, art, and all forms of health. We are hopeful that the space, time, and quiet which many people are experiencing this spring gives way to positive change: Maybe it will open up individuals’ ability to listen to their own drumbeat. Maybe there will be a renewed interest in home gardening, creative pursuits, and making do with “less.” Surely folks will be craving ways to connect, but perhaps we will need to re-learn how to gather and be close, and how to trust others. No matter what unfolds when the stay-at-home orders are lifted, we at Turtle Way are standing ready to serve our friends’ and neighbors’ fundamental needs for creative, spiritual, and ecological connection.

There is much talk in the climate change movement about the need for youth leadership. At the same time, Turtle Way acknowledges the ecological wisdom of our elders. The Julian Woods community is a testament to the generation of Centre Countians who established organic farms and farmer’s markets, fought for clean water protections, innovated new forms of communal living, and created enduring spiritual and artistic networks. All Centre Countians who enjoy shopping at farmer’s market, taking a yoga class, attending art openings, buying locally brewed beer, or playing in clean creeks are the beneficiaries and inheritors of this older generation’s efforts. Turtle Way is an ongoing land-art-community experiment instigated by that generation of Centre Countians—and we aim to pass that legacy on to all who live, play, seek, and create in these valleys.

Big Dream:

Building a structure: intergenerational nature/art school at Julian Woods—learning space, performance space, art gallery. This dream comes from John Mangan, who lived in Julian Woods for many years at his house on what he called ‘turtle lane’ and would do these theatre dinners at his house—farm-to-fork meal and performance (“creative madness”). This idea is in memory of John!

About Deb Fisher:

I came from Philadelphia in 1994 to live at Julian Woods, an intentional community started in 1975, and I’ve been living here ever since. For all of these past two-and-a-half decades, I have run my own small flower business on the land. I grow dahlias in the wastewater treatment greenhouse which is run collectively by the Julian Woods community, and have enjoyed selling at farmer’s markets and providing flowers for events throughout the seasons. My two daughters grew up here in Julian Woods, and now my two-year-old grandson is doing the same. I’m motivated to keep this community going not only so that my grandson can have young friends (I call this initiative Friends for Finn!), but because I am passionate about passing this way of life on to younger generations. 

My way of thinking about nature has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. My respect for the trees, plants, and all creatures keeps growing as I try to have less impact on their existence. My art practice takes place mostly in the plant world—in my plantings and bouquets, I try to mimic nature and to work with what is there. 


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