Life in the Mountains and Modern World through the Eyes of Bree Loewen

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Natalie, the kids, and I have been cooped up on our suburban homestead for a month now, trying to do our part to beat a pandemic with everyone else. Other than my bouldering pad being used as a crash pad next to the rope swing, we haven’t taken to staging climbing the house, kitchen cabinets, or even the fireplace.
Sticking to our routine has been our key to sanity. For us, it isn’t too much different than a normal day, except we’re eating out less, I don’t have a commute (which I really like,) and I moved my office to our cellar for more privacy during phone and video calls. Plus I can close the office door and officially “leave work” at the end of the day.
I still workout every morning and read and write, though most of my writing is about housing issues these days. We’re working on ways to prevent evictions with landlords and foreclosures with lenders, especially after the 90 day forbearance periods end. Reading time has been my favorite part. It was before this self-isolating and quarantine period too. And I finished the next book on my tick list: Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue by Bree Loewen (2017).
(First off — and I am not being paid to tell you this — Found is published by The Mountaineers Books and they are still shipping and even offering 25% off right now; use discount code TIMETOREAD at checkout.)
Found by Bree Loewen
Loewen’s book won Gold in the Heroic Journeys category of the 2017 Nautilus Book Awards, but it came on my radar when Paula Wright interviewed Loewen on the Alpinist Podcast. Loewen said she used to conduct her rescues and be so affected by the passing of an adventurer, another person like her, that she used write down the story — the story of the other person — and then burn them or make paper boats and sail them out on Puget Sound, because they weren’t after all, her story. Or were they her story too? And that was enough to intrigue me. One of my friends even confessed to have read this book twice already, and it just came out three years ago at the end of last month.
Found is about juggling the crazy life we have today: A foot in the mountains and a foot in our own hectic, modern world, while finding purpose and meaning in the modern world. Loewen is a dirtbag climber that became a volunteer member of Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR) and retells, after years of reluctance to share, the stories from the rescues and the recoveries of someone’s loved one. She explains and contemplates how she is a bystander to someone’s life, whether its an accident or a tragedy. She and her teammates take charge in the backcountry by helping the patient focus on their job to trust the rescuers to lift them back to care and shelter. And sometimes she is collecting pieces of teeth and someone’s jaw, which Loewen feels is an incredibly intimate act; perhaps their mother should be doing this, but their mother can’t be there, so Loewen fills in.
Loewen’s narrative covers several rescues and she blends in her real life seamlessly, showing the tension and trade-offs of having a foot in each world. Loewen is a wife, to another SMR volunteer named Russell, and a mother of a preschooler with big blue eyes and pigtails named Vivian. Vivian gets accustomed to her mother getting paged to join the park rangers and fire department with other SMR volunteers on a moments notice and never leaves anywhere without her bag of the most important things, including a stuffed animal and a pink polka dot security blanket. Loewen drops off her daughter at grandma’s or leaves her with Russ, if he isn’t at work, and heads to her mission in her compact car.
Unfair Judgment
Generally, Loewen and Russ don’t go on rescues together. They try to take turns, going one at a time, but Loewen is the full-time mom and always committed volunteer to SMR. Why is she so committed?
When they both go on a mission together, leaving Vivian at grandma’s, the question is especially complex for Loewen. Russ is the bread winner and the life-insurance policy holder, filling the traditional role as head of the household. When they are the most qualified volunteers on site and look to rappel down to the injured, should Vivian’s mom go too? Is she risking making Vivian an orphan? Who gets blamed in this situation? Was Loewen short-sighted and irresponsible?
Loewen examines this and calls it a Catch-22 because she is a woman and a mother. Because Loewen considers the alternative: What message is she sending Vivian if she backs off and does not go help? Is she telling Vivian that women are too conservative and can’t be committed enough to do good work? She concedes that no matter what, what people think of you has real consequences.
What We Want Most
Throughout the story, Loewen is trying to find what the next step in her career will be as she finishes her era as a stay-at-home mom. She investigates being a full-time fire fighter and settles, the reader is slowly revealed, in nursing school. But why is she so committed with SMR, answering the calls, and letting grandma care for Vivian while Loewen goes on all-nighters in the snowy woods without food. During these forays she usually isn’t even thanked by anyone, and abruptly gets back into her compact car to race home and pour the breakfast cereal for herself and Vivian.
Loewen says she believes that hardship increases camaraderie. And that is what she wants most out of this world. Everything she does is about a human relationship of proving character and trust to her teammates, daughter, husband, and the people she meets on her search-and-rescue-missions. They are all people and human beings like herself, trying to find purpose, belonging, and an expression of human affection, even though it’s rarely ever a hug. The affection is delivered in competence, in coming at the call, and being there for teammates and the person that placed the call.
I highly recommend this story and hope that you read every word, maybe sometimes twice, like I did. It was enriching.
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