Over at the Wild Rockies Field Institute, we love catching up with our alumni! On a cloudy Monday in Bozeman, Montana I was able to sit down and chat with Rae Fitzpatrick, alumna of Montana Afoot & Afloat (MTAA) 2012. Rae, a wildland firefighter by summer and MSU environmental studies student by winter had some great insight into her experience during and after her WRFI course.
WRFI: When you were looking at WRFI what point were out at in your education and why did you chose MTAA?
Rae Fitzpatrick: I was a freshman and chose the course because it was a compromise between classes that I wanted to take and being outside. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that point and WRFI was great because I got to be outside, which I knew I wanted to do, but also got to earn college credit. It was like, parents look, I’m doing college! [Laughs]. It was a perfect way to discover if environmental sciences is something I actually wanted to do or not, and it definitely was a big factor in helping me decide it was a topic I want to study.
What was your favorite/least-favorite WRFI meal?
One night we made pasta. I’m gluten intolerant and WRFI didn’t this amazing job of making everything gluten free. We had gluten free pasta with veggies and a bunch of cheese and it was on the Yellowstone, it was so delicious.
For least favorite… I remember in the Bob [Marshall] we brought five or six heads of cabbage – so much cabbage- and it came out towards the end of that section that none of us like cabbage! The meals still turned out fine, just that isolated cabbage portion wasn’t so great.
Is there one item you wish you had had on your course?
More peanut butter! I was always rationing out peanut butter so carefully each day. I was thinking, this has to last the whole time! If I had brought two, I might have been happier in some small sense.
Thinking back on your instructors, are there any moments that have stayed with you?
With Brian [Chazar], he maneuvered through decision making on the course so well. There’s one moment that Catie DeMets [another student on course] talk about still. One night in the Beartooths after it had gotten warmer we had a fire and he read Aldo Leopold’s excerpt about the wolf with green eyes and some other parts of the Sand Country Almanac. It was such a perfect moment and he really cultivated that with our readings. That stood out to me.
What was the most memorable section for you?
The Yellowstone section – I’m petrified of water. So there was a lot of very life changing situations [laughs] that helped me get over that fear. Everyone was so supportive and understanding, they really helped me. They would talk about experiences where they were really scared. I think back on that because it helps me deal with a continuing fear of water and other things. And floating through Billings on the Yellowstone River, everything smelled and looked industrial, you would see pipes leading from factories into the water, strange smells, the water was noticeably warmer. That was bizarre because when you drive past it you barely notice.
Also, spending time in Lame Deer and doing a sweat lodge – that was so amazing to be welcomed into a culture and a culture that we’re surrounded by. It was amazing to experience that.
What was the most memorable part of your course academically?
We read a couple Barry Lopez pieces and I can always connect with that author the most. And the environmental ethics section, that was really cool.
You work as a wildland firefighter in the summer, did you do that before WRFI too?
Yup! I worked on Helena and now Lewis and Clark but they’ve combined districts.
How did those two interact? Did that experience give you confidence coming into WRFI?
I had done outdoor stuff before that but going into WRFI after a fire season showed me how many different fields there are within a very broad topic of environmentalism. Fire is a small, isolated world so for me it was going from one outdoor thing to another but they were so different that it was an adaptation. But it made me think, I can go hiking for way different purposes!
What’s your favorite part about being a MSU Bobcat?
Living in Livingston! MSU is an awesome location and there’s a ton of people who are excited about being outside so there’s a cool community around that.
Favorite animal: Bobcat
Favorite outdoor sport: Backpacking or skiing, it’s a tie
Favorite outdoor author/book: The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs
Favorite MSU professor: Tony Hartshorn, he taught my soils class.
Favorite backcountry food: Chocolate. I always bring chocolate anytime I’m in the backcountry.
Number one returning to the front country treat?: Bacon cheeseburger!
Item you don’t go backpacking without: Journal
Favorite plant: Ponderosa pine and Indian paintbrush.
Next adventure: I’m planning two: one for a backpacking trip in New Mexico and one to the Black Hills in South Dakota for a race.
Next dream adventure: Nepal! I’d love to go trekking in the Himalayas.
Thanks Rae, for keeping us posted on where life has taken you since WRFI!