“A More Harsh Environment”

The past few days, I’ve been thinking again of the “Briefing for Entry into a More Harsh Environment” that’s shared with NOLS students returning from field courses.

The first week of a course in the backcountry is also an introduction to an unfamiliar and (in ways) unforgiving environment. Much of that time is spent relearning how to accomplish everyday tasks in new and different ways. Students re-learn how to walk, cook, brush their teeth, and take care of bodily functions.

But after a month, new habits stick — and graduates have to be reminded to wait for the walk lights and to spit toothpaste gently into the sink rather than spraying it across the mirror.

Basically nobody knew how to live in a pandemic, but everyone adjusted to the environment they found themselves in once we all got locked down.

Moving houses in the middle of all this changes the game. The environment may or may not be harsher or more dangerous, but it feels different — and different feels particularly fraught these days.

The ground rules are the same: to care for ourselves and those we encounter as best we can. But the applications feel vastly different now that we can go out among groups of people multiple times a day instead of maybe once a week.