A Salute to Selflessness


That’s generally the type of text message that ruins my plans—as it does just as I come down for coffee this Friday morning, May 8th. It’s all about me, you see, and I’m irked that Mike, our son Nick and two other young responders will be out on a snowy, stormy mountain all day rescuing one lost, and I believe irresponsible, hiker. When I hear that he’s requested a helicopter, I get really pissed, and my thoughts take me to a dark place.

“Let Darwin take this one,” I suggest. It seems to me that more and more people throw caution to the ominous clouds in foolish personal quests knowing that all they have to do is call 911 when things stop being fun.

But my husband cannot do this despite all the past rescues that have ruined weekends and holiday dinners and left me feeling like poppin’ a cap in the asses of the asses he’s rescued. A little buckshot in the butt might keep them from ruining someone else’s day down the road, I think.

It also irks me that most people think Search and Rescue (SAR) folks get paid for their efforts. In our county, as in most, SAR is strictly a volunteer organization. Those who offer their time and risk their lives for others do it because they believe in it. They have a unique genetic code that screams of selflessness, and if only our scientists could harvest and implant that code in others, our world could be a much finer place.

I don’t consider myself to be a helicopter wife, but I make my first call to Police Dispatch at 8 p.m. and my second at 10:45 p.m. I’ve long ago put dinner in the fridge. It’s been storming and thunder-snowing and, hell, they left early this morning and know the mountain inside and out. I’ll be seriously pissed off if they’re not back soon. I’m worried.

“They’re almost to the North Trailhead and sounding fine,” the dispatcher tells me. She probably thinks I’m a cry-baby.

Sure, I’ve written and sent out far more queries to literary agents than I had planned for the day, and I’ve almost finished reading Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent (appropriate, I think), but hours of anxiety leave me feeling edgy.

It’s 12:07 a.m. and my phone pings. It’s Nick.

Heading back now. If you’re still awake, can you heat up all the food?

Yes, I respond, smiling at his phrasing while sticking the dinner I hoped they would have enjoyed much earlier back in the oven. But I’m still a little irked.

Finally, they’re home. They’re tired and wired and starving. They’re wind-burned and sunburned and smiling. They’ve saved the life of an individual unfortunate in many ways who surely would have perished had our volunteers decided not to respond to the IRIS page. They thank me for the hot dinner, devoured in an instant, and tell me how pleased they are with how the mission turned out.

Close to 1 a.m., I hand Nick a container of what remains of “all” the food and hug him. He’ll be heading to the Mine to begin his 12-hour shift in about four hours.

I’m no longer irked. Tired, yes, but bursting with love for my family and pride in them as people. My fatigue, my inconvenience, is less than insignificant. I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Lucky, too, are the countless individuals whose lives are saved by the selfless volunteers who risk everything to ensure those individuals have another opportunity—hopefully—to make better decisions in their future.



7:10 a.m. and I’ve slept through the night, the first time in months. This amazes and delights me. I hit the pillow at 10 last night feeling drugged. Maybe popcorn, white rice, M&Ms and Campari over ice make the perfect pre-sleep meal.

My dream lingers. I’m at my cousin’s funeral and there’s a young boy there talking incessantly, oblivious to his somber surroundings. I’m really irritated at this child, but there’s nothing I can do without making the situation worse.

I allowed myself the indulgence of waking without an alarm because my walking buddy isn’t available this morning. Typically we’re on the road at 7 and home by 8. I shake off the dream-webs and stretch my legs over the edge of the bed. Ranger stretches as well, yawns noisily and licks my toes.

After peeing like a rhino, I wash my face, slather on SPF 15 and fill in my gray-blonde eyebrows with brown eye shadow. “Don’t leave home without your eye-browns” is Mom’s beauty tip this year, as if anyone will notice my “eye-browns” under my visor and behind my mirrored glasses. I know it helps to frame my eyes, and I might as well do it now since I probably won’t shower today. It’s part of my morning ritual.

I throw on my walking clothes and let Ranger out the back door. I was too tired to take him for his routine evening stroll last night and I feel bad. He, too, pees like a rhino in the back yard and wants to come back in immediately. He’s my shadow.

I make the bed, though no one would notice that either. Admiral McRaven delivered a speech to UT graduates this year in which he told them to make their bed every morning. If you can’t do a little task like that each day, how can you expect to accomplish anything greater? It’s a simple concept, and I do like walking into a neat room.

Mike has already been working for an hour. I sip hot coffee with him and we chat about the upcoming day. I throw together rice and eggs and cheese before his first meeting, and since he can’t eat it all—he rarely eats breakfast—I finish it with a second cup of coffee. “Laurel never has a 2nd cup.” I think we should watch Airplane tonight to offset the sadness in the world.

By 8:30 Ranger and I are out the door and noticing the 90-minute-later temperature difference. I generally wear a light jacket and am comfortable until we get home, but this morning, I remove it almost immediately. Last week of July and it finally feels like summer in Leadville.

photo 3 (3)We hustle up the hill and Ranger is happy when I stop to take photos of whatever catches my eye: wispy grasses, sun pouring through bridge beams, clover patches buzzing with bees. Inappropriate Army cadences come to mind: “Roll me over in the clover do it again, do it again.”

Turning at the bridge to head back home, I check out the Mt. Massive skyline. It’s beautiful. It’s always beautiful, but by 9 a.m. the brightness of the day washes away the crispness of the earlier contrast between mountains and the just-rising sun.

“Beautiful dog!” someone yells from an ATV. I get that a lot.

Back home by 9:30, my beautiful dog pants in the shade out back while I tidy up in photo 4 (4)preparation for my writing group to arrive. I do a speed-vac of the downstairs, enough to pick up the dusty clumps of dog hair gathered in corners and around chair legs, and pour M&Ms and peanuts into bowls.

My group, two high school girls today, meets me on the deck and we write and chat and challenge one another for two hours. They don’t know it, but I’m honored by their presence each week. It’s something they don’t have to do. Much like my morning walk, it has become a ritual I relish.

Thunder clouds roll in early today and by 4 p.m. the ground is soaking up the drenching rain. The couch is calling me. Time for a nap.



“We could turn around here if you want,” Mike says with just a hint of disappointment in his voice.

We’re not quite to the halfway point on the 3-mile Fish Hatchery loop, and our new dog, Ranger, is staging a peaceful protest. He sits in the snow staring at the pooch-booties on his paws—a gift from a friend—probably wondering why on earth “this family” rescued him from the shelter. He used to have it so easy, just laying around and getting fat.


It’s 5 degrees out, much colder with the wind chill, but it doesn’t feel too bad in the trees. I look at my dog who looks at me, and know that I must make the right decision.

“Come on, Ranger, let’s go!” I say with great, feigned enthusiasm as I take the lead back on course. We must not turn around. The sun is peeking through the trees. It’s not even snowing.

“We can take a water break at the top of the next little rise,” Mike says, happy to be finishing what we’ve started.

It is only because I now take the lead that Ranger will stand up and follow. Although he loves Mike—the one who takes him out first thing in the morning and picks up his steaming “presents”—he loves me more.

Both Ranger and I enjoy a few sips of water at the top of the rise. I’m actually sweating in my $10 gold retro one-piece ski suit, and with snow shoes on for the first time this season I’m feeling like I understand Ranger’s disdain for his treadless booties.


“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Mike asks. He loves this. He lives for this.

“Yeah, it kinda sucks,” I say, honestly.

“No way! Seriously?” he asks, befuddled.

“You know I always suck going uphill. It hurts,” I tell him, “but I didn’t turn around!”

Although I’ve lived at 10,200 feet for almost 7 years now, I nevertheless have not “gotten used to” the strain of breathing under exertion. Perhaps if I hit the gym more it would help, but even when I was doing that regularly, I still hated the feeling of suffering. In a recent Facebook status I confessed that I hate suffering, but love having suffered, which is why we did not turn around today when we could have.

Mike, who has recently had one complete hip replacement surgery and will put off replacing the other for as long as possible, looks at Ranger, who does not have the capacity to feign enthusiasm for continuing our hike.


“Hey, you’re only 21-years-old and you’re not even wearing a pack! I’m 53, so I don’t want to hear any of your shit!”

I laugh at Mike’s attempt at motivating our dog. Ranger just looks at him, looks at his booties again, then looks at me.

“We’re almost there, buddy!” I say, and although we still have a mile and a half to go, it’s all downhill. I’m actually happy now. I can walk forever if it’s not uphill.

We make it back to our car and Ranger is ready to jump in before the hatch is even up. I give him another treat—a trick my friend suggested as a way to get the booties on him—and all is right with his world again.


I remove the booties when we get home. Ranger’s feet are warm and dry.

We all settle down for a long winter’s nap.