Chris Boswell: Alumni Profile
By Tom Reed
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2000, Vol. 16, No. 1
The term "expedition behavior" is one that doesn't
have to be explained to NOLS alums. No expedition, no NOLS
course, can be successful without good EB.
Chris Boswell first heard this term in 1972, when he came
to Wyoming as a teenager enrolled on a NOLS
adventure course. And on that course, the group's expedition
behavior came unraveled.
"It was sort of a disaster, I was too young and a lot
of people were too young," remembers Boswell. "It
was a struggle."
But the experience wasn't enough to prevent Boswell from
coming back to NOLS and back to Wyoming. He did just that
in 1974, when he enrolled on a Wind
River wilderness course that resulted in "the best
four and a half weeks of my life ever. We had a doctor, a
nurse, and a school teacher on the course. I was the youngest
person. It was great that here I was this 16-year-old kid
and I got to pal around with people in their 30s."
He enjoyed that expedition so much that he returned again
to NOLS in 1976 to sea
kayak in Prince William Sound, another wilderness experience
that heavily affected Boswell's life.
Taking the bad with the good and not giving up seem to be
themes that run through Boswell's life. Today, Boswell is
a member of the Wyoming State Legislature, representing House
District 39 in Sweetwater County in the southwestern corner
of the state. One of only 17 Democrats in a Republican-dominated
60-member House, Boswell goes back to some of the early lessons
he learned at NOLS almost daily. Boswell is the minority caucus
chairman and has been elected to be the minority floor leader
in the state's next legislative term. Those jobs call for
moderation, organization and leadership--expedition behavior.
"If I shake my fist at either side, I'm not going to
get anywhere," says Boswell. "I try to tap into
expedition behavior to keep trying to reach some kind of a
goal without self-destructing. You try to take care of each
other as best you can on the way to the goal. That's kind
of a pie in the sky thing when you are in politics, but I
realized from my NOLS experience that there will be different
people with different philosophies and you have to respect
each other and try not to take too much on yourself and not
think of yourself too highly. If you can do that, it just
works out better for everyone else in the group."
After Boswell's experience on his wilderness course in 1974,
he came back to Wyoming as a student at the University of
Wyoming. Eventually he ended up in southwestern Wyoming in
Green River. At first, he worked as a radio reporter, but
eventually he purchased a business, a bar called the Embassy
Tavern that he operates when he's not in the state capital
in Cheyenne when the Legislature is in session.
Running a tavern is also a task that requires patience, says
Boswell. "There are many times that I really, really
like it, but it's a weird way to make a living," he says. "It's
also difficult because there's always that 5-10 percent of
your customers who just don't take care of themselves and
they are involved in self-destructive behavior."
Boswell describes the Embassy as a neighborhood tavern. "It's
a blue collar bar and Green River is a blue collar town. There's
a good mix of people in that tavern."
Living and owning a business in a blue collar town has tempered
some of Boswell's ideals over the years.
"I was very idealistic when I came to Wyoming," recalls
Boswell. "I did not see great value in extracting minerals.
It bothered me. I wasn't somebody who appreciated the basics,
which is that mineral extraction is how we pay for everything
out here. It's just an absolutely vital part of life here."
Southwestern Wyoming in particular is a hotbed of mineral
extraction with extensive oil and gas reserves as well as
trona, soda ash and other minerals. The people who work in
these industries are Boswell's constituents and his tavern
"I still have a healthy skepticism of the extraction
industries as the result of being in the wilderness (as a
NOLS student)," says Boswell. "I don't swallow everything
that the extraction industries feed the legislators, that
is tempered by my past feelings. But I am so conservative
compared to the way I've been in the past. It works both ways.
I'm not satisfied accepting the company line offered by lobbyists
in Cheyenne and at the same time, I'm often skeptical of the
lobbyists who work for the opposite side.
"You have to moderate and that often doesn't make people
happy on either side," continues Boswell.
Which comes back to expedition behavior, as well as other
forms of communication that Boswell first learned at NOLS.
As the minority caucus chair, Boswell often finds himself
trotting out NOLS lessons. "You try to bring the group
together, to keep people informed. It's very much a group
dynamics situation. We are in such a minority down there (Cheyenne)
that if we don't try to act as a core group, you just are
going to hamstring the party. It is very much of a group effort
that involves a lot of communication, a lot of group work."
These days when Boswell isn't working on legislation or running
his tavern, he finds time to slip out into the woods on day
hikes. "I really unfortunately don't get out that much
anymore, but I try to," sighs Boswell. "I just got
back from Yellowstone where I spent three days looking at
wolves and living in a motel. That's about as much as I get
Not quite the same as sleeping atop Mt. Wilson, or climbing
Geike during the night, but nowadays, Boswell works on another
kind of expedition.
"Paul Petzoldt came and talked to us at the banquet
(in 1974)," remembers Boswell. "He said something
that I'll never forget. He said, 'You'll never be as close
to this number of people in your life again.' He was right.'"