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Unseen heroes of the woods

We live right on a river. It’s fabulous for a whole variety of reasons—and on fine weekends in the summer and fall recreational canoeists and kayakers wave and cheerfully greet us as they paddle downriver and we sip red wine on the deck: all very pleasant.

But one evening last year, just after dark, our dogs were suddenly rudely and loudly alert and within a minute we heard movement and muffled voices on one of our decks right outside. It was a tad alarming for a few moments. Visitors are usually expected and usually arrive in vehicles. We don’t live anywhere near street lights, we can’t see our neighbours, and it was dark.

A cautious investigation revealed a young couple, soaked to the skin, sparsely dressed in the cooling air and covered head to toe in river mud from clambering up the steep bank. They had dumped their canoe and belongings, had no idea where they were and, fearful of continuing in the dark, headed toward our lights. From their demeanour, alcohol consumption appeared to have been a factor in their mishap.

So we hosed them down, made them comfortable, and called a relative to come pick them up. Excitement over, we resumed our relaxing evening.

But, about two hours later, an impressive vehicle towing a packed trailer and rigged with lights everywhere showed up in our yard. It was search and rescue. Enquiries were made about a young couple who had been reported missing by another couple who had been in a canoe ahead of them.

We, of course, set them straight that it was a false alarm and were able to recall the telephone number of the relative so they could satisfy themselves their “subjects” were home safe.

But we were thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and obvious rapid deployment and co-ordination. These volunteers already had people all along the river, in the dark, checking.

The word “volunteers” is key here.

We have a piece inside this issue offering a snapshot of a representative group of these people who, mostly unseen and unheralded, perform lifesaving service to their communities. They are heavily self-funding and self-reliant, motivated by very fine values.

Most searches have happy endings, but it’s important to bear in mind that not all do—and volunteer search and rescue team members, just ordinary community-minded folks, sometimes have to deal with the distressing realities of not so happy endings.

We have wanted to shine a light on these groups for some time. Regular contributor Janet Wallace from New Brunswick has done that job for us—on snowshoes in mid-winter no less.

She deserves our appreciation, as do the folks she has profiled.

(And, don’t forget the Saltscapes East Coast EXPO, April 26, 27, 28—back at the Halifax Exhibition Centre.)


~ Linda & Jim Gourlay
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