The most difficult search and rescue calls seem to come at the most inconvenient times. It was after 8 PM when the call came in that an 80-year old woman with dementia had left her home and was missing. It was getting dark and time was ticking away.
Despite the time of day, we had an excellent turnout and the search got underway quickly. The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office coordinates search and rescue here. It is one of many hats the organization wears and manages to do well. There were at least fifteen ground pounding searchers, three dog teams and a helicopter fitted with infrared cameras. These cameras pick up the heat of a person against the relatively cooler background.
To set the scene, have you ever been in the woods at night? I mean real forest, not the backyard in Massapequa. Most people today don’t get the chance to experience ‘the dark of night.’ The night time world for most people glows with background and street lights. If you’ve ever been in the woods, under thick trees on a mostly cloudy night, you have an idea. Put your arm out, hold up your hand. Can you see it? Maybe not. Sort of like an unlit cargo hold.
There were a number of houses in the area, but by this time even the yellow light that spilled out of windows was scarce. The woods were thick and time was ticking for this lost woman.
This particular call out was more personal for me. My mother had Alzheimer’s and for years we watched her fade away until the person we knew was buried deep inside the still living body. Everyone in a family suffers from this diagnosis. A disease that seems to be so prevalent today. Is there anyone who doesn’t know someone, some family, that hasn’t had to cope with this?
The moon came up a deep orange color and we searched with headlamps, calling out as we went. Coming around a bend in the road three sets of eyes reflected back from our thin beams of light. They were big, green and glowing. I thought they were aliens. The kind from deep outer space. I was corrected, they were horses. What do I know? I worked in the Bronx for 34 years.
We searched the twisting local roads. Went down dark, uninviting driveways with more than a little hesitation as we passed the “Keep Out” or else signs. This is Montana after all.
By 0230 the Search Leader called it for the night. I kept wondering, what if this was my mother? It certainly could have been.
The sun came up and, luckily, our hero showed up for work when we started again a few hours later. Here’s a piece of obvious wisdom: it is much easier to see things when it is light out. Now you know how I became Chairman of Marine Transportation.
Our hero, Cricket, started life as a castaway. Born in a poor neighborhood she was of mixed heritage. She didn’t have the benefits so many of her kind had. No pedicures or shampoos for this hero. Abandoned and left alone, she was incarcerated, possibly awaiting the final curtain like many other discarded souls. Luck was on her side though. She was adopted and, as it turns out, has a talent for finding things. Things like lost people.
This skill took work to perfect. Hard work both from our hero and her adopted friend. It also took many, many treats.
We humans trudged around the woods and neighbor’s properties again that morning. We weren’t making much progress. We didn’t have super-powers. Cricket did have super-powers and followed her nose. It led to a large garage. Like many garages, the building was filled with stuff. The radio crackled. Cricket had made a ‘find.’ Curled up under an old table was our lost woman.
First aid was rendered. EMS showed up quickly. The local volunteer ambulance arrived on scene to take her to the hospital. She was hungry and thirsty but well.
Our small, mixed breed hero had made another ‘find.’ I bet it won’t be her last.