Everything I Need Is On The Ground: What I Learned About Sustainable Living


Darley Desormo

Narrow Ridge Sign

I spent my recent spring break as a participant in the Georgia Southern Alternative Break trip. The program offers weekend trips to different nearby volunteer experiences and also a week-long trip to an intentional community.

This year we drove to Washburn, TN to stay the week at Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center. According to their official website, “the Narrow Ridge Mission is to provide experiential learning of Earth Literacy based on the cornerstones of community, sustainability and spirituality.”

Throughout the week. I learned about Earth Literacy, which is the understanding of the earth and the natural tools it provides to you. We stayed in Strawbale Lodge, a homey cabin insulated with straws and powered by solar panels.

The lodge is positioned in a way that uses passive solar design, making the entire residence bright for the majority of the day without relying on artificial light.

The water pumped throughout the house came from a well and the toilets were self-composting, meaning that instead of flushing, I only needed to throw down a cup of wood shavings to help with the composting process.

We participated in volunteer experiences that benefited the community throughout the week including trail clearing, gardening and some woodworking. There was also a chore wheel which helped ration out cleaning duties amongst the group.

Several tours of different homes in the community showcased different ways one can utilize the earth’s natural resources. There was also a library with a large selection of material pertaining to Narrow Ridge’s three cornerstones and voyages through nature to examine the stars, observe the natural flora and fauna, and learn about the history of the land we were on.

I went on the trip with little expectation. I’d just finished midterms and was coming off of a streak of important career advancements. As my cell connection dropped and the crisp spring air began to seep into my lungs, I felt a sense of peace wash over me.

The lodge was full of amazing students who were just as eager as I was to give back. Coming into a group of smiling faces and engaging questions is something I hadn’t experienced in a while. I was surprised by how quickly the strangers I was lodging with became friends with whom I felt I could share anything.

It was a vulnerable and radically emotional environment. I felt the full scale of every moment and was wholly present. We melted into an easy rhythm and became a community, harmonious in our mission to better ourselves and the world around us.

I found joy in sitting out on the porch and going on long walks to perfect apple-eating spots. I realized how much I had to be appreciative of. Ladybugs and coloring books and the sound of someone singing.

There was no better way to end a day of work and learning than to hear poetry about the cosmos, or work on parody songs about sustainability or be introduced to the musical stylings of Braden Wang.

One afternoon in the kitchen, I was among a group of students who were assigned the task of after-meal cleanup. We were talking about what we would do if we had more money. I pointed out how some celebrities donate all of their money to charity before jokingly adding, “which is honorable because I wouldn’t. I like to be more hands on.”

I didn’t mean it. I hadn’t even thought about what I would do if my bank account suddenly pullulated with funds. But the line created a consistent thought throughout the remainder of the trip: is more better?

I had more alone time, more stars to look up at, more knowledge and more opportunity to see the physical manifestation of my work. I had less access to the outside world, less noise and less time to dedicate toward stressing my next steps in life.

I never came up with an answer as the question is arbitrary. It all depends on what one decides to have more or less of.

Living on the narrow ridge for a week taught me not to measure the quality of my life by material things or accolades but by the company I keep and the impact we make on the world.

For more information about Narrow Ridge’s Earth Literacy Programs, visit: https://narrowridge.org/programs-all/