Please help me adjust to leaving the wilderness!
December 15, 2010 8:12 AM   Subscribe

What are some readings/stories/essays/poetry that might ease the shock of returning to "civilization" after 3 months in the wilderness?

I've just come home from an 88-day NOLS Semester in the Southwest, most of which was spent in pure wilderness, and all of which involved sleeping outside, eating camp food, living simply and going without, and making some of the dearest friends I've ever had.

Now I'm back in bustling grey urbanity, vast distances away from all the people I grew so close to, and feeling not a little bit lost and alienated. I'm going to try and get back out into the woods as much as I can over the next while, but in the meantime, can you recommend anything to read that might help with the transition?

I found the two essays After the Adventure and Briefing for Entry Into a More Harsh Environment especially helpful, but anything you can give me will be deeply appreciated. Thank you!
posted by daelin to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you should write one yourself!
posted by mareli at 8:30 AM on December 15, 2010

Why not just read a bunch of Muir? He takes you back there very well.
posted by H. Roark at 8:51 AM on December 15, 2010

I did the NOLS semester in the southwest more than a decade ago. What I remember doing was sitting in the airport in Tucson and reading the Sunday New York Times as I waited for my plane. That worked for me.
posted by dfriedman at 9:46 AM on December 15, 2010

Edward Abbey is a must. His book, A Desert Solitaire, will bring you to your knees with its gorgeous description of his time in Utah's national parks.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:03 AM on December 15, 2010

I guess Thoureau's Walden is an obvious choice.
posted by Paquda at 11:05 AM on December 15, 2010

There's a bit in Rudyard Kipling's Kim towards the end (I think he's recovering from a sickness) that really resonated with me when I came out of the wilderness.

"...and with an almost audible click he felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without...Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to be lived in, cattle to be driven, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to."

Note: I think there are a lot of problems with the book but I enjoyed it anyway.
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:29 PM on December 15, 2010

Oh man. I've been there, and it sucks. I worked as an outdoor educator for years, and it's always really hard to leave the backcountry and go back to normal life. Here are things that I've learned through hard experience that help. First, you've got to be kind to yourself and not expect to be completely re-adjusted in a week or two. It takes a while. I've always liked the stars and the night sky for this reason, because they're the same everywhere, and going out and looking at the stars in the city makes me feel like the desert and the mountains are not all so horribly far away.

But the best antidote I've found to that awful homesick feeling is to put a lot of energy into making a good life for yourself in the frontcountry. Find some like-minded people who like hiking and whatnot. Be forgiving of people who don't do things the NOLS way. I know a bunch of really interesting outdoors-people who had never heard of cam straps before, or who were wearing their gaiters on backwards the first time I met them. Find work--or subjects in school--that fascinate you.

If you let yourself mope and close yourself away, just missing the backcountry and all of your amazing friends, you'll just stay stuck in the unhappy mud you're in right now, and a few months down the line you'll still be unhappy. But if you take what you learned from NOLS and use it to make a good life for yourself now--in the frontcountry, because ultimately that it is where we all have to learn to live--and go looking for the beautiful parts of the city you're in now, you'll find yourself in a better spot by the spring. I promise it gets easier.

And know that the desert and the river and the mountains are always there, and you can always find your way back to them. You can make trips to the desert a regular part of your life. And if you work at it, you can keep in touch with the amazing friends you've made. It's possible. Feel free to memail me if you need a sympathetic ear.
posted by colfax at 2:17 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I got so busy giving you a lot of cheap free advice that I forgot to give you some actual recommendations. The first is a verse a leader on my first trip gave to me:

Hold on to what is good,
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life,
even when it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand,
even when I have gone away from you.

-Pueblo verse

Two other poets who I have loved and who have been very helpful to me with the transition are are William Stafford, The Way It Is, and Mary Oliver, Wild Geese.

And although I have never been able to figure out if the Hopi Elder's Prophecy is real, I've decided I like it so much I don't care.

And here are some book recommendations, all thoughtful people writing about the West or the South west:

Desert Notes by Barry Lopez. Especially the essay that starts: " I know you are tired. I am tired too."

Almost anything Terry Tempest Williams and Edward Abbey have written. Wallace Stegner writes about the arid West: look at Angle of Repose or some of his short stories.

If you are interested in southwest rivers and history, read John Wesley Powell's Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons.
posted by colfax at 2:19 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your answers. Sorry this comes so late - I was trying to track down some of the suggestions (harder to find than I expected - I'm still searching out Desert Notes). I've marked as best the answers that helped me the most, but all of them were lovely to read, so thank you.
posted by daelin at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2011

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