Heading into the Wild: This is not your traditional internship story

Published 4 months ago -

Maureen Lynch, Editor in Chief

Leigh Qualter didn’t want to spend her summer working a nine to five. Instead of staying at home in Marshfield Massachusetts, she decided to take the opportunity to get out of town for the summer. The experience she had working with the Montana Conservation Corps cemented her love of the outdoors and made her think about how valuable the present moment truly is. 

“I learned to listen to my instincts,” said Qualter. “I’ve actually learned a lot about myself.”

Qualter, who is a current senior at Assumption, spent her summer trekking across the mountains of Montana and Idaho helping preserve the natural landscape of those regions by spraying for invasive weeds. 

Qualter recounts that she hiked between 17-20 miles a day in sweltering ninety-degree heat. She worked in shifts, which she referred to as hitches. After nine days in the wilderness, the group got back to base for a five-day vacation before the process started all over again. 

“It was quite adventurous,” said Qualter, “the terrain was so rocky and there was so much scenery… on one of my hitches we actually saw four rattlesnakes and two black bears that day.” 

When asked about what drew her to Montana, Qualter replied that it was all about the view. 

“I’ve always wanted to just… be out in the open,” said Qualter when asked about what drew her to Montana, “I’ve always loved it. There’s just something about the scenery.” 

Qualter had many notable experiences during her internship, but there was one that she says taught her the importance of trusting her instincts. 

While on her way back from a hitch, Qualter found herself in a do or die situation.

“I had my bear spray on my right hip,” said Qualter, “and I sat down to put on my hiking bag and my bear spray was underneath the bag, and all of a sudden, I hear a loud pop.” 

The canister exploded on Qualter, coating her face in the toxic substance that is known to stop a 660 lb black bear. 

As her eyes and nose began to swell, Qualter realized there was no one around who could help her- she had to take care of herself. 

“My day bag, which had my water in it was about 75 feet ahead of me,” said Qualter, “…so I was like, ‘okay calm down, what’s your next step.”’

Going into survival mode, Qualter realized she had to get to her pack. Traversing the cliff face blind, Qualter managed to get to her bag and took out her water, but the water was not enough. 

“So, after that, I was like, ‘okay, I need to get to the river.’ Three-fourths of a mile I walked blind.”

Qualter managed to get to the river safely, however, even after an hour spent in the river, Qualter was still in pain. She had regained her sight thankfully, but she said the following night was torture. 

“My hands were burning, my face was burning,” said Qualter. “Every ten minutes I had to get up and put my hands in the ice-cold river to keep them from burning.” 

Thankfully, there were no lasting side effects, but Qualter has taken the life lessons from that experience with her. 

“You have to take every moment as it comes,” said Qualter about what she took away from her experiences. 

When asked about what made this internship so memorable, Qualter responded that she was able to learn a lot about herself. 

“It was definitely a wakeup call for me to listen to my body more,” said Qualter, “and just be more realistic with what I want to do and how I want to do it.”

Qualter wants to return to Montana to live in the future and enjoy the beauty of nature. She is currently studying business management, with plans to start a farm. 

As for her internship, Qualter told me she wouldn’t trade the experiences she had for the world. 

“It didn’t feel like an internship, just felt like a fun summer,” said Qualter, “you know, minus the bear spray.”

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