Imagine a weekend without electricity, running water, or any modern convenience. Add cooking your food over a fire and fetching water from a river. For students in the Earth Lodge living-learning community, this is no mind exercise — they experienced all of this firsthand during a pre-semester weekend retreat. 

The retreat is an annual event for Earth Lodge, a living-learning community that studies nature, humanity, and technology in literature.

Professor Lee Carleton explains, “The goals of the retreat are twofold: to provide an opportunity for new Lodgers to meet and bond in an outdoor setting that requires their collaboration for success, and to provide an experience that helps students to get a feel for how people have lived comfortably in the past without the technological comforts we often think we cannot live without.”

This year, students traveled to the Nicholson Hollow area of the Shenandoah National Park, where they stayed in Corbin Cabin, built in the 19th century.

Over the weekend, students worked together to complete ordinary duties such as gathering firewood, cooking, and cleaning, but also spent time hiking, learning wilderness skills, and reflecting on their pre-course reading assignment.

These experiences, void of TVs and laptops, strengthened the sense of community among the students. “Although many of us knew each other before the program began this semester, working together to overcome the primitive conditions of our surroundings added another layer to our friendships that will hopefully continue to grow as we face new challenges together this semester,” says Sarah Friday, ’13.

Earth Lodge is one of the University’s oldest living-learning communities, in which students, predominantly sophomores and juniors, enroll in an English course while living together on the same floor of a residence hall. Carleton teaches the course, Natural Reflections of Fiction and Nonfiction, which uses literature, film, and other media to explore the physical and intellectual interactions between nature, humanity, and technology.

Though the retreat wrapped up before classes began, Earth Lodge members will participate in other activities designed to integrate their course readings and discussions with their real-life experiences, like hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains, working with the James River Park System, and service projects both on and off-campus.