Written by 2021 RMFI Intern, Riley Jones
My name is Riley Jones and I am beginning my senior year as a double major in biology and environmental studies at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. This summer, I had the honor of interning with Rocky Mountain Field Institute. Though making me painfully nostalgic, putting into words how much this organization means to me has been a labor of love.
Without an ounce of hyperbole, RMFI has the strongest sense of community of any organization I have ever worked with. Every field coordinator, every field instructor, every program manager, everyone, is all in on every project we work on. The organization as a whole empowers their workers to take the lead on any task while also making them feel completely comfortable asking questions and reaching out for help. This may seem like the bottom line for any successful organization but, you have to work with RMFI to understand how deep this goes. You simply cannot get RMFI employees off of the mountain; they spend all day in the field only to go home and mountain bike or spend their off days rock – climbing and hiking 14ers. It’s not just work to them, it’s their life. The work never ends for RMFI employees because the alpine, and every precious ecosystem for that matter, needs our help.
As an intern, my days with RMFI were numbered and I was only able to partake in a fraction of their already seasonal work. Nonetheless, every RMFI employee I interacted with, whether I worked with them one time or nearly every weekend, was a constant source of advice, inspiration, and most importantly, kindness. They asked what brought me to the organization, my interests in school and otherwise, and my goals in life. More importantly, their "question of the day" activities made me consider what part of a sandwich I would be and what animal would be the rudest if it could talk. Almost immediately, the apprehensive girl who moved 1600 miles away from home to a state where she knew exactly two people drifted away and it became hard to imagine leaving Colorado and all the connections I had made. Because of this, I tried to replicate the “all in” attitude of the RMFI staff on every project I worked on. Not surprisingly, this invigorating and inviting attitude rubs off on volunteers very quickly. I’ve never seen a group of strangers bond so deeply over digging holes, moving rocks, or pushing wheelbarrows. When I try to explain this to anyone who hasn’t worked with RMFI, they do not believe me. But, honestly, I wouldn’t either. Manual labor has this reputation of being repetitious, mind-numbing, back-breaking, grunt work. Very rarely do you hear someone describing work as strenuous as the work RMFI does as being rewarding and energizing. But RMFI employees are like superheroes: they only grow stronger as the task becomes more grueling. They rise to every occasion and bring everyone they can with them.
As I round out a month back in Buffalo and away from my home away from home in Colorado, I can’t help but find myself missing all of the amazing memories I made with the crews at RMFI. From racing down the mountain away from thunderstorms on Devil’s Playground to endless laughs with the Garden Gnomes, a piece of my heart definitely wishes I never had to leave. However, to quote my man Henry David Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land; there is no life other than this.” A few very special people at RMFI taught me the beauty of being present in each moment no matter what. So for now, I will use the skills RMFI taught me to make a difference in the best way I know how: Right here. Right now. Until next time, thank you for everything RMFI, you are one special group of people.