Background notes on "Briefing for Entry Into a More Harsh Environment"

by Morgan Hite

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