by Anne Patterson, Assistant Director of Development and Alumnae/i
Cate may not remember that when she graduated from White Mountain in 2000, she was named most likely "to travel the world only to realize her heart is at WMS." Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Soon after graduation, she started traveling and has crisscrossed the United States many times from New Hampshire to California, Nevada, Oregon, and Alaska, with side trips to Europe.
More significant in terms of her latest accomplishment, publishing her book On the Run: Finding the Trail Home, as a student, Cate was the recipient of the Ethel Devin Prize for Excellence in English, the Alice Humphrey Prize for Excellence in Spanish, the Faculty Prize, and the Head's Award! She had previously received other prizes and awards, including The Mountaineering Award in 1999. She modestly mentions that she was the first woman to receive this award. Her two brothers also received the award, and she is proud that her name is listed between their names on the School's plaque.
Rarely do I find a book that I want to read all the way through in one sitting, staying up until the wee hours—and even more rarely does this happen with non-fiction. But Cate's personal essays in On the Run drew me in from the first entry. Her words resonated like poetry, and I kept going to see what would happen on the next step of her journey. It was, at turns, intriguing to read about her adventures skiing in the backcountry, and as I told her, sometimes scary when she described whitewater kayaking in Oregon. Thank goodness she had had experience from whitewater trips while she was a student at White Mountain. It is where she also learned more specialized wilderness skills and training that was encouraged and taught by the faculty, building on skills she learned from her parents growing up in the White Mountains. Cate, an avid skier, hiker, runner, and kayaker, notes that education is a solid path to gaining the skills and understanding that aid in being comfortable and enthused about an outdoor lifestyle. Since publishing her book of essays Cate has transitioned from a life of traveling and adventures in the mountains of California, Alaska, and British Columbia to the hills of Pennsylvania, where she lives with her family. Their move from Colorado was motivated in part in order to be closer to her family in New Hampshire.
St. Mary's/White Mountain counts several talented writers among the School's graduates. Cate is the most recent alumna to publish a book. She credits her mentors and teachers at White Mountain, who inspired and encouraged her to write. She continued writing at St. Lawrence University, where she was an undergraduate, before attending Oregon State, where she received her MFA in creative writing. She admits that she was motivated to attend school in Oregon—not just for the excellent program—but because she did not want to be at school in the flat Midwest! In addition to her insights, and as a writer of nonfiction, she has learned how to navigate the path to getting published, beginning with the success of publishing her essays in literary journals. The next step was to present the collection that became the book, and in the future, the collection becomes a full memoir.
Cate has wonderful memories of White Mountain—she and her brothers lived nearby the campus and attended as day students. "The White Mountain School offered me a first taste of a more formal wilderness skills education. That, paired with excellent English classes and wonderful instructors, made WMS the ideal high school for me. I have no doubt that my experience at WMS helped set me on the path that is chronicled in On the Run."
Cate relates that she was lucky to grow up in a family that cherished the outdoors, enjoying the wilderness and mountain landscapes. She was often the only woman in groups of men skiing in the backcountry or scaling high peaks. When she is asked about sometimes being the only woman in a group of men in the backcountry she states, "I don't draw gender lines and instead look for funny, active, smart, safe, supportive partners to create my outdoor community."
In addition to her backcountry adventures, Cate's essays include poignant and sensitive pieces about her family. Her journey is about her travels—including Switzerland, where she taught at the Ecole d'Humanité—but it is also about her quest in a larger scope. The book itself is a family affair. In addition to the essays that focus on her friends and family, her brother, Jim, Class of 2002, designed the book's cover, and Peter, Class of 1998, took the author's photo on the back jacket.
I encourage everyone to find this book at your local independent bookstore, or if not available, please ask them to order it for you! Even flatlanders will enjoy reading it. Personally, I can't wait for her next one!
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.