Off the Bookshelf: A Teepee of His Own Design

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Short excerpts from long reads

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"By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. By the time he was ten, he could hit a running squirrel at fifty feet with a bow and arrow. When he turned twelve, he went out into the woods, alone and empty-handed, built himself a shelter, and survived off the land for a week. When he turned seventeen, he moved out of his family's home altogether and headed into the mountains, where he lived in a teepee of his own design, made fire by rubbing two sticks together, bathed in icy streams, and dressed in the skins of the animals he had hunted and eaten...

"The following year, when he was eighteen, Eustace Conway traveled the Mississippi River in a handmade wooden canoe, battling eddies so fierce, they could suck down a forty-foot tree and not release it to the surface again until a mile downriver. The next year, he set off on the two-thousand-mile Appalachian Trail, walking from Maine to Georgia and surviving almost exclusively on what he hunted and gathered along the way. And in the years that followed, Eustace hiked across the German Alps (in sneakers), kayaked across Alaska, scaled cliffs in New Zealand, and lived with the Navajo of New Mexico. When he was in his mid-twenties, he decided to study a primitive culture more closely in order to learn even more ancient skills. So he flew to Guatemala, got off the plane, and basically started asking, "Where are the primitive people at?" He was pointed toward the jungle, where he hiked for days and days until he found the remotest village of Mayan Indians, many of whom had never before seen a white person. He lived with the Maya for about five months, learning the language, studying the religion, perfecting his weaving skills. But his coolest adventure was probably in 1995, when Eustace got the notion to ride his horse across America." ~ from Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert 

Image credit: Flickr user Anoop Joy

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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