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News & Views - Oct, 1999 Issue #62

Echo Springs Alaskan Adventure
By Russ Hersrud,
Director Phase Two
Echo Springs Center

“I have done more work on myself in these last eight days than in the last two years” commented Dave as we sat around the campfire next to the cabin. We were north of the Arctic Circle in the interior of Alaska on the tenth day of a two-week experience. 

This trip was designed to allow five Echo Springs students to take some time away from the trappings of civilization and complete the field portion of a North Idaho College course in “Cultural Anthropology and Ecology of Interior Alaska.” It had turned into much more than a routine academic field trip. Immediately upon setting foot on the Alaskan Tundra, the students started to look within. The challenge of the tundra and mosquitoes had brought out the best and the worst in them. This was not a traditional wilderness experience. 

In its remoteness, lay its challenge. We had no access to the trappings of civilization and could not leave until the float plane picked us up at the lake on the designated date. Interdependency was quickly taking on a new and more poignant meaning. 

True “Wilderness” has an effect on people that is very hard to define. When you are in a situation that demands a high level of awareness, something very primal is awakened in each one of us. A very high level of honesty and self-examination is reached without any overt guidance. Young people seem to open up and expose their true feelings very quickly when placed in this environment. 

During the long hikes into the mountains of the Brooks Range, the conversations were very intense and filled with truth and emotion. One student commented, “The world here is on mute.” It never ceases to amaze me as to what this environment nurtures in each and everyone who allows themselves the experience. Each of these students expressed the new insights they had discovered about themselves and their relationships with others. Bill expressed the feeling that maybe now he could have the life that he had hoped for. 

After the trip, the returning students had obviously made inroads into discovering their actual needs, in contrast to their perceived needs. John felt that now he could allow himself to be who he really is rather than the “act” that he had used before the trip. He knows that it will be hard to give up the “act,” but he definitely wants to let go of it. Four of them immediately went home for two weeks. One of them had the best home visit that he had ever had with his parents. This student has made a commitment to himself to change this behavior and look at life from a different perspective. 

This trip was not about counseling; rather, it was about letting people find out who they really are. Discovering who we really are is very difficult when you are competing with television, walkmans, autos, peer pressure etc. Without the influence of modern civilization, these students were presented with a unique opportunity and for the most part they seized the opportunity with fervor. 

Are we really that much better off, apparently being controlled by machines, rather than controlling them? Y2K is a great example of how the machine has taken control. Without computers there would be no concern about Y2K. Without timepieces, there would be no year 2000! 

As I return to “civilization” after completing experiences like this, I am reminded of two things. One, the students always get more than I could ever have imagined. Two, perhaps Thoreau was correct when he said “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life are not only dispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” 

To quote a student: “Alaska is a lot like any other place in the world if you hear about it and do not experience it. But once you have been there and seen the people and the land, you will realize that there is no other place like it.” 

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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