Lessons in Living, From the Backcountry

This is  one in a series of interviews featuring people invested in our homes, our neighborhoods and the power of place. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

February 27, 2013, Washington, DC: Making a deliberate decision to change where and how you live can make a world of difference. Campbell Gerrish knows this firsthand, both personally and professionally. We worked together more than decade ago as co-leaders guiding a summer backcountry trip for teenagers throughout British Columbia, hiking long days, pitching  tents, cooking dinner and sleeping soundly in our down sleeping bags. In the mornings, we’d pack up all of our belongings, heave our tents, utensils, clothes, food, pots and pans onto our backs, and move on. All that we needed we carried with us. What we packed in, we packed out.

It was serendipitous that Campbell called a few weeks ago from his home in Bozeman, Montana, the very day after the Traveler of the Year event that had prompted me to so vividly recall that afternoon pictured above in BC’s Stein Valley. Campbell and I hadn’t talked in four years, but as we caught up, it was clear we shared a continuing interest in examining where and how we live, shaped largely by our experiences in wilderness living. Living in a tent in the backcountry with just the bare necessities will change you. It will change the way you think about home and it will remind you that your exterior living space is intricately tied to your inner well being.

“It’s interesting to articulate because it’s such an intuitive thing to me,” Campbell said. “The way we live in our environment reflects our state of mind. So if I live in a room that is covered in tons of crap and I let all my papers pile up, if I live in a space that is cluttered and messy and disorganized, that reflects what I’m like inside. For me, if I let my living space get out of hand, I feel I’m not being disciplined in my thinking, I’ve got some loose ends going on.”

Campbell speaks from personal experience as well as his professional ones. He describes his early adult years as those in which he faced a crisis that required both a change of scenery and a change of lifestyle.

“I came up against finding my way to living in integrity,” Campbell said. “When I was 19 or 20, I was confronted with the consequences of some of my negative behaviors — the procrastination, general laziness and aloofness that I’d gotten away with for a little while. It all caught up with me with bad grades in school and a lack of relationships. I hit this breaking point of feeling like I needed to learn some discipline and learn some things about growing up in order to move forward. At the end of sophomore year of college, I ended up deciding to do a three-month long Outward Bound course to get an experience of challenge and discipline and living in a community and working on a team. It was in North Carolina, the Florida Everglades and Chile.”

Campbell describes his return to school as similar to “coming out of a gnarly cocoon.” He returned committed to his schoolwork, health and relationships. He became involved in his community and his grades soared. A year later, we led the British Columbia backcountry trip together.

“Going on these trips was like cleaning up shop,” he said. “I think the lesson I got out of doing Outward Bound and being a guide for Adventures Cross Country was learning how to live my life — in that wilderness setting but also in general — based on the values of quality, simplicity and hard work.”

By quality, Campbell explains that he’s referring to the quality of materials that provided us with the shelter and basic technology needed for living day to day in the wilderness. “There’s a level of reliability that comes out of having quality,” he said. “Simplicity had to do with traveling lightly — having not too much and not too little, just enough. Hard work, that’s a pretty broad category, but it involved woking hard as a team, working hard to prepare dinner. What I learned from those experiences was the value of hard work, the fruit of being disciplined, the need to pay attention to details.”

Campbell is now committed to each of those values professionally as a team member for YesHaus, a Bozeman, Montana based company creating comfortable, affordable, energy-efficient homes with the intent of making them available worldwide. One family is now living in the first YesHaus in Montana and many more are in the works. YesHaus homes feature well-insulated walls, open floor plans, air-tight construction, south facing windows, environmentally friendly materials, and a mini-split heat pump and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) air circulation system, all of which serve to cut a typical family’s home energy bill in half.

The job is a natural fit for my old friend, given his views about the connection between one’s internal state of mind and external living space.

“The mission is about dignity and nobility,” he said. “There are people who live in this country in substandard housing and that creates a certain vibe in people’s lives. A house is where we start our day. It’s where we come back to. It’s where we live with our family. If I live in a house that’s poorly put together with cheap materials and leaks and I can’t get my basic needs met inside that structure, then I’m gonna be stressed. We take impressions from our surroundings. It makes a difference for me to live in a space that reflects how I want to be.”

“By living in a refined, dignified and simple space — having that external environment allows for an internal experience of upright, dignified and simple living. That allows me to reflect joy and creativity.”

YesHaus

Photo credit: YesHaus

YesHaus

Photo credit: YesHaus

YesHaus Exterior

Photo credit: YesHaus

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3 thoughts on “Lessons in Living, From the Backcountry

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