Background notes on "Briefing for Entry
Into a More Harsh Environment"
I wrote "Briefing for Entry into A More Harsh Environment" while hiking
on a NOLS wilderness course in 1989. For a few days previous, I had been
talking to a student, Eric Anderson, who had come on the course to prepare
himself for the adventure of taking off with a backpack and working his
way around the world. I wanted to distill for him the essence of adventure
education, something compact he could take with him that would be of value
anywhere. Since everything at NOLS is a "class," I thought of it as putting
together a "What to Take Home" class. My co-instructors must have thought
I was demented, because I kept pausing on the trail (with my pack on),
pulling out a piece a paper from my shorts pocket and scribbling on it.
The text of this essay more or less poured out, fully- formed, into my
mind. Its "voice" seems largely in imitation of Robert Fulghum's "All
I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten..." which I suspect someone
had read to me shortly before.
I polished the first draft up a little bit in my notebook that night,
and read it aloud at the end of the course. When I got back into town
I typed it up and gave a copy to my friend Amy Cilimburg. From then on
it seems to have been passed person to person, turning up far and wide.
It has always been a thrill to learn that someone whom I don't know is
reading it to their students, or that it has been modified to apply to
another environment such as a sea kayaking course. I am excited to hear
it has travelled to other outdoor schools, who have hopefully substituted
their own name for "NOLS.".
Certainly this piece is about what we loosely term "transference," meaning
how the lessons of a wilderness trip come home with us. But I have always
observed that the challenge is not "transference" but rather "retention;"
that is, the lessons come home just fine, but they tend to get lost there
almost at once. So this piece functions as something you could stick on
your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator, as a reminder.
The popularity of this essay prompts me to remind people that it is not
a complete picture of "transference." There are many aspects of transference,
and "Briefing..." is really only about one: the personal habits learned
on a wilderness expedition. It says nothing about other important things
we acquire, things which may be even more challenging to maintain a grip
on. What about retaining the societal inspirations we come away with,
such as to consume fewer resources or to take a stand on issues of social
justice? What about staying in touch with the personal power one might
have found? What about just holding on to the outdoor skills? These may
be equally important transference issues.
- Morgan Hite