Returning to the branch after a month and a half in the field was an entirely different experience from arriving here in September. It was odd to return to a place where in total I'd spent less than twenty four hours, yet feel like I was coming “home.” Stranger still was that, since our arrival to NOLS, the branch has not changed but my perception of it has transformed completely. It's funny to look back on my first day here—I was so startled by what I considered to be a primitive kind of camp. I can no longer understand why I was so shocked that we sleep in tents, that there are only a few buildings, that most of the students' time is spent outside or in the open ramada. I feel silly now for the disappointment I felt on our initial tour of the branch, because just the fact that we don't have to cook every meal for ourselves over a camp stove seems such a huge luxury. Now I realize that it's not rudimentary in the least. Compared to the cars and mattresses and machines that we believe are “necessities,” maybe it seems basic, but this is truly a life of extravagant comfort.
While at the branch we not only have shower facilities, a washing machine, running water and flushing toilets at our disposal, but there is electricity, which means we don't have to go to bed when the sun sets! In the shady ramada, we can feel the warm desert breeze while enjoying TV, computers and wireless internet for our nonstop entertainment and sensory overload. The swimming pool boasts a stunning view of the desert mountains, and a generous buffet is offered at nearly every meal. I didn't realize what I was signing up for—yes, the NOLS Southwest Ramada Inn is a veritable all-inclusive resort!
We were in town for a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, a 10-day class on back country first aid. It's a somewhat intensive course, involving several hours everyday of classroom and practical learning. Our days consisted of arriving for breakfast at 7 am, starting class at 8, and getting done anywhere from 9 to 13+ hours (and nearly as many cups of coffee) later, taking a break for lunch (and dinner, if class extended into the evening). We took the course from Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI), which is somehow partnered or affiliated with NOLS. They taught us about patient assessment and care, and we did many scenarios to practice using this knowledge as well as learn lots of TLAs (three-letter acronyms: it seems that NOLS and WMI like to come up with an acronym/abbreviation/mnemonic device whenever possible).The course culminated in a final exam, which included written and practical components. Even though the long classes were somewhat tedious, pretending to be a patient with all manner of obscure maladies was fun and it was rewarding to earn the WFR certification. (And I felt lucky that my current reality doesn't include lectures or essays, and that “studying for finals” means sitting on a couch in the ramada, sipping coffee and doing pull-ups in between reviewing snake bite care and the symptoms of hyponatremia.) When the course ended, we had an end-of-school pool party at the branch to celebrate. I couldn't help thinking that there must be frost in Minnesota by now, yet we still get to enjoy some poolside sunbathing. I will reiterate: Life is good.