Timberlake Earth Sanctuary is a land stewardship project and an outdoor wedding venue and situated in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Here we carry the vision of healing the human-earth-divine relationship by living in accordance with principles of interdependence.
We strive to be a safe space, live simply, act responsibly, create beauty, and experience the wonder and magic of the living world.
Timberlake is a place where people come to be inspired, to renew their spirits, and to remember we are all part of One Earth Community.
Boyd and Carolyn Toben purchased and developed Timberlake Farm in 1967 to expose their children to woods, lakes, pastures, and farm life. Within the first moments of being on the land, Carolyn and Boyd were moved by a certain serenity that was palpable. Although they didn’t have any previous experience in land stewardship, they carried a longing for what was real and potentially important in raising their children; having a place away from 20th century consumer culture values where they could retreat, connect with land, and develop a relationship with the earth as a family. It was a sanctuary for the family from the very beginning.
Fifty-five years later, this family vision evolved in forms that continue today. The original hope of establishing a place of retreat happened through the years as the restoration of the land was undertaken: fences built along with roads, a three acre lake project embarked upon, a farmhouse completely renovated, a four mile trail system constructed with bridges throughout the woods… plus many adventures with creatures of all kinds and enduring relationships as the family met hardships and struggles, joys and triumphs. Little did they know then, that as they were shaping their lives on the land, the land was shaping them.
Following Boyd’s death in 1999, the family began to understand how fully their relationship to the earth had transformed all of their lives, and in 2001 made a commitment to put the entire 165 acres into an easement with the Conservation Trust of North Carolina (CTNC) to protect it in perpetuity from the ravages of overdevelopment that they were witnessing all around them. The seed desire they planted for shaping future generations by intentionally engaging in a relationship with the natural world, continued to grow through Carolyn’s inspiration to add experiential nature education to Timberlake. In 2000 she extended that invitation of Earth Connection to children outside the family, through a non-profit, the Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World (CEINW) And so, a work began at the Center in the form of practices offered in a variety of programming for schools, children, teachers and families that would invite children and educators into an experience with the natural world as a “mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed with in wonder, beauty and intimacy.” In 2012 CEINW formed an educator council and the offices moved to Greensboro under the leadership of the current director, Peggy Whalen-Levitt. The center continued to carry out it’s programming on a rental basis at Timberlake until 2020. Due to the pandemic, the center’s programs for children are currently on hold, and CEINW is working on synthesizing the work of the last 20 years to share with a wider audience.
In the meantime, as environmental conditions were worsening and becoming alarming all over the world, the Timberlake work began to take on new significance. Thomas Berry, celebrated author, cultural historian and dear friend said this: “Today, in this crucial moment of history, we are called to recover the inner vision of a society in harmony with nature, and the urgency of reciprocity of care between ourselves and our environment. (Timberlake) is a perfect context for the continuity of this work with children and the sacred.” Over the past 50 years, Timberlake evolved from a nature sanctuary for one family to an Earth Sanctuary for future generations. The seed and vision was living on in new forms and deepening.
Big changes took place in 2008 when the recession hit, which caused a serious decline in financial resources and encouraged the Toben family to consider new revenue sources that would allow them to continue their work as caretakers of the earth. Wanting to stay true to their vision, they concluded that hosting weddings on the land could bring in the necessary resources needed, while at the same time expanding their capacity to bring more people into a sacred relationship with the earth. Marriage as a rite of passage would become an area of focus over the next 9 years and would be grounded in the understanding that “relationships are the primary context of existence” (Thomas Berry). This new direction would provide Timberlake with the opportunity to bring the sacred dimension of earth into an overly commercialized industry. Couples would be held in the loving embrace of the earth and invited to spend time deepening their relationship to the land as a part of their wedding experience.