Surrounding a small house and dilapidated barn of the same warm rust-red color stands a grove of trees; tulip poplar and hickory, locust and birch, black gum and massive oaks, each unfolding towards the sky and the mountain cove, sipping warm sun and fresh Appalachia air. On my first lunch break on my first day at work for Sugar Hollow, about three weeks ago, I stood in the driveway, breathing, stretching, and drinking the light. Having been inside all morning, my body was rejoicing in the fresh air and the warm sun. In this moment of reflection on all the new tasks in my day and the faces I’d encountered at work, balanced with the satisfaction of the quiet peace of the sunny space, I felt connected to the trees who also needed sunlight to grow, think and stretch. I realized how the work done at Sugar Hollow Solar is essentially an attempt to imitate the trees. Capturing the sun’s energy and using it to make food and carry out other necessary functions is something trees have been doing for 385 million years. 3.4 billion years ago photosynthetic bacteria appeared on earth and now, in the 21st century, humans also are trying to use sunlight. We’re late in the game, but better late than never! Imitate the trees, that is what solar panels are all about. A SHS co-worker, Chavo Kreneck, explained in more detail what I was catching on to. “Plants”, he said “have been using incoming solar radiation for hundreds of millions of years to turn dirt into energy in the form of food. We are just now figuring out how to do something similar by using the same incoming radiation and utilizing silica (which is basically sand) to create energy in the form of electricity.”
Every house where panels are stuck on the roof is a little bit more tree-like, a little bit more sustainable. If photosynthetic organisms have survived for billions of years, I’d say we’re better off taking a page out of their book than any revolutionary idea a human comes up with today. Our species is young and naïve. What I realized on my first day of work is that what we are doing at Sugar Hollow Solar is not revolutionary, it is ancient, it has been happening since before time was conceived, and it speaks to the wisdom of nature. The insight of all the good people who work here at SHS and others who are investing time and energy in pursing solar energy are inspired partially by a recognition of our responsibility as a species within the web of living things. As humans who have been doing damage to the earth, we must reflect on what we might do to mitigate our impact, to imitate the trees; breath, stretch, grow. We are learning, and solar will help us get there.
Old Tjikko, the world’s oldest living tree, has been converting sunlight into sugar for about 9,550 years, since the last Ice Age! The Norway Spruce lives on the Fulufjället Mountain in the Dalarna province in Sweden.
Reflections of an intern at Sugar Hollow Solar
By Lily Clarke