A close friend who has been part of the Colorado Search and Rescue operations for decades (although he is still a young man 🙂 ) recently called my attention to Rebecca Young’s short story, “Joan,” which won the Conger Beasley, Jr. Award for Non-Fiction in 2021 and recently appeared in New Letters Magazine.  He wrote, “What struck me when I first read this story was that it has always been difficult to illustrate what we do to those who have never done it. … In her nonfiction narrative, Becca successfully uses one of our [teaching] search scenarios to convey the desperate and often emotional circumstances of a real search party from a patient’s imagined perspective and absolutely from a search leader’s perspective.”  It’s excellent.

Our friend and I have discussed the Colorado Search and Rescue team’s efforts a number of times over the years, but I never “got it” until I read Ms. Young’s story about a search and rescue effort in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Her recital did cause me to recall an account in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, in which Mr. Abbey, in the 1950s a park ranger in Utah’s Arches (now National Park), searched for a member of the public who had gotten lost in its desert terrain.

Without giving away Ms. Young’s story, I would suggest that the main takeaway for those of us – from our 20s to our 70s and beyond who will never participate in rescue operations but enjoy the wonders of our national and state parks and other wild areas — is:  Be Careful.  A couple of times since our retirement, TLOML and I – although any veteran outdoorsperson would consider our excursions terribly tame – have had to deal with uncomfortable uncertainty, although never actual danger.  Whether in the snowy Rockies, on the searing rock of the southwest, amid Everglades flora and fauna, or in Alaskan bear country, one needs to be aware of one’s limitations and surroundings.  Ms. Young notes at one point about her own experiences:  “So many times, I’ve been lucky instead of smart. … I can’t say why I’ve always come home from the mountains when others haven’t.  Often our choices were the same, the dead and me.”      

“Joan,” by Rebecca Young – New Letters

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