Hidden in the mountains of North Carolina is a merry band of friends who’ve seceded from the hustle and bustle of modern life to reconnect with nature and each other.
Hidden deep in the forest of North Carolina’s Smokey Mountains is a group of friends who’ve given up their jobs and cell phones for a life closer to nature, and each other.
They make their “living” scavenging wild animals, gathering nuts and berries, forest gardening and drinking straight from the stream.
NBC recently caught wind of the Wildroots community and made their otherwise quite lives national news:
“I would find myself sitting at my desk wishing the day was over so I could go home,” says the community’s founder “Todd.”
“And then I would wish it was Friday … and then I would wish my next vacation was coming up. And then I realized I was very literally wishing my life away.”
Todd was a successful engineer until he quit and moved to the woods 11 years ago.
He, his girlfriend, her 8-year-old daughter and a handful of other unruly characters live in handmade mud huts on a 30-acre primitive homestead, where they host about a dozen other transient residents at a time, teaching them wilderness “thrival” skills.
Wildroots has no electricity or running water, other than streams and springs throughout the property, from which they haul water to camp in jugs.
Its members make their own leather clothing, shoes, tools, baskets and earthen homes.
They’ve been cultivating a food forest on 5 acres of formerly logged and eroding hillside for the last seven years, planting chestnut, hickory, persimmon, apricot and cherry trees, and kiwi, currant, raspberry and pawpaw bushes.
“As modern people we’ve evolved to the extent that we’re not capable of feeding ourselves, clothing ourselves, providing our own water, or even getting rid of our own shit and piss,” Todd says.
“The food – it just grows,” says Whip, another refugee formerly employed in cyber-security. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, but I don’t need it if the chestnuts grow on trees.”
“Seems like the more money I’ve had in life, the less freedom I’ve had,” Todd concurs.
“A graduate degree in engineering seems like a spec of shit compared to … just being down there drinking that water and being free … instead of sitting in an office, breathing recycled air, going clickety, clickety click on a computer.”
A young woman named Sparrow says a lot of people to come to the community to learn survival skills in case “shit hits the fan.”
“I think that’s pretty cool,” she says, but “I’m also here because I love how it is here.”
Whenever Sparrow goes to town, she’s amazed by the number of people she sees staring at their phones. “I feel like people are becoming robots,” she says.
While Todd says he gave up on “hope for the mass of humanity” a long time ago, both he and Sparrow both acknowledge they are still somewhat dependent on the industrial society they were born into, dumpster diving to supplement their diets while their food forest matures.
They still purchase supplies they don’t know how to make, and sip an occasional latte while in town catching up on the news via the internet.
“We’re not in this bubble pretending society doesn’t exist,” Sparrow says. “We’re like hyper aware that society exists. We reap the bounty we can from the scrap yards.”
“We have destroyed the ecosystems to such an extent that even if we did know how to live off them, there’s just not much left,” Todd adds.
“We’re basically wealthy white people living in an area that hasn’t been utterly demolished,” Todd says.
“Being on the fringes, you get away with a lot more. If my skin was darker, or if I wasn’t as well educated, or if I didn’t have all my teeth, I know I’d be looked at differently by the police. I’m going to try not to use it to anybody else’s disadvantage… except the police.”
But Todd doesn’t let his occasional glimpse into the outside world get him down.
“It’s been raining all morning and now the sun’s coming out,” he says. “There’s a lot of joy in that. It doesn’t matter what Trump’s doing. It can’t take that from me.”
Visit Wildroots’s website for more info on visiting, earth-skill training, donating and how to become a member.