Just outside of Athens in the town of Bogart lies a 98-acre property, most of which is untouched woods, called Earthsong. The first thing one sees upon arrival is a sign that says “Earthsong” on one side and on the other “Mitakuye Oyasin,” a Lakota phrase that translates to “We are all related.”

Earthsong is developing a model for sustainable living and community dwelling that serves as a point of personal growth for many who come there, be it for several years or just one afternoon.

According to their statement of intent, residents of Earthsong are “committed to listening to the Earth” and “hear the voices of future generations who will hold us accountable for leaving them a world rich with blessings.”

Though the community is small and geographically isolated, residents check in with one another and are sources of support for each other.

Earthsong does not have any established community ideology, but the people who are drawn to live there tend to share some common mindsets, including the desire to connect to the nature surrounding them.

The community has an organic garden where each resident gets their own row to plant things such as strawberries, leeks and squash. Sometimes they all come together for gardening parties to catch up and work on the plants.

A common theme that seems to connect residents is a general sense of creativity expressed through different mediums, from journaling or writing poetry, to woodworking and playing instruments.

Making baskets and harvesting mushrooms is a common community practice, along with taking quick dips in the river or exploring the hiking trails throughout the property.

‘A gift of spirit’

The land was called “Hole in the Dam” back in the 1960s and 1970s when some Athens residents would take advantage of the original owner’s absence by trespassing onto property to hang out, fish and drink by the Middle Oconee River that runs alongside the land. 

Tina Tinsley, founder and current owner of Earthsong, was one of those people who would go on the property. After practicing psychotherapy in Alaska, she came to Georgia in the late ‘70s to be closer to family and was in search of a property that allowed her to stay connected to nature. 

Tinsley said the property was “a gift of spirit.”

 

 

“I didn’t give a very high price for it, but it was all I could offer and [the seller] accepted it,” Tinsley said. “[The seller] went into her bedroom, and I know she went to pray. That’s just my hunch, and she came out and said, ‘I’ll accept it.’”

By 1998, both she and Baxter Hammock, a long-time Earthsong resident who runs a timber furniture business, lived on the property and began construction of the structures. During that time, they both lived in tents on the property for the first two years. 

Earthsong is a home for 11 residents, plus others who live there part of the time. Only 21 acres are inhabited on a regular basis, however. The other 77 acres have been left mostly untouched but contain hiking trails, meditation spots as well as some structures such as a medicine wheel, which is a Native American stone monument that represents different spiritual concepts. 

Meet the residents

Patrick Reilly, who has lived at Earthsong for over six years, first came to the community when he was going through a difficult time in his personal life. He said if he had lived anywhere else at the time, he would have likely wanted to isolate himself, but at Earthsong he found himself naturally opening up to others about his struggles and finding support. 

“It doesn’t work in a community like this when somebody isn’t being open with their feelings or animosities or anything,” Reilly said. “Stuff happens — people step on each other’s toes, but if you’re not able to communicate, that’s what breaks things apart.”

Katie Orton, a 22-year-old Earthsong resident, first came last March for a couple of months to pet sit for one of the residents. She was in the middle of renovating a tiny house at the time but sold it in October of last year and moved into Earthsong’s mandala home. 

She said what has changed in her life since moving to Earthsong likely would have changed wherever she went, but that living there helped give her mental clarity and in turn the ability to make those decisions sooner. 

For Orton, there is a sense of comfort and community living at Earthsong. She does not have any family living in Georgia, so she said she sees it as a kind of safety net for herself. 

Tinsley said due to the alternative nature of the community, it has a way of self-selecting. Those who are drawn to it tend to already have the mindset needed to live well at Earthsong — a desire to connect to the earth, a sense of openness towards others and a desire to live alternatively.  

Reilly, who works as the HIV Testing, Prevention and Linkage Program Manager for the Northeast Health District Department of Public Health, said he enjoys changing out of his work clothes and heading down to the river to swim. He typically waits till the weather warms up around April but has gone for brisk swims as late as October. 

The animal residents of Earthsong also take advantage of their outdoor home. If touring the community, one might be joined by three dogs who live there: Junebug, Bo and Lucy. 

Junebug belongs to Reilly who said the dog has never known what it is like to be in a fenced backyard. The three dogs can be seen running around the property, yelping and leaping over dips in the land and looking for sticks in the river.

 

 

Sustainability in the community

Earthsong residents incorporate sustainable practices into many aspects of their lives. 

They do not live completely off the grid, however. The community is connected to the main power supply and offset their power use through a company called Arcadia.

Companies like Arcadia allow consumers to purchase renewable energy credits. Regardless of where the renewable energy is generated, people are able to purchase these credits and offset the use of nonrenewable energy because all power is connected through the grid.

Earthsong also has a tower which holds 10 solar panels, enough to power the woodworking shop for Hammock, Tinsley said.

In building the tower, Earthsong residents had the difficult decision of balancing access to renewable energy while disturbing as little of the natural landscape as possible. 

Other sustainable practices at Earthsong include composting toilets and organic gardening.

When Tinsley and Hammock first began constructing the structures in the late ‘90s, they knew they wanted to stick with the most natural materials possible. They avoided materials like drywall in favor of cypress wood and clay. 

In building with clay, they implemented the techniques of Irish cob homes which use a combination of mud, sticks and hay to build structures that according to Tinsley are designed to last 40 generations or 1,000 years. 

Tinsley said they want to incorporate sustainability even more so into what they do, but at the core of every decision made, consideration for how it will affect the spirit of the community was at the forefront. 

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