By Patrick Dodson
What do SAR members think about while waiting in the staging area for an assignment? Maybe, did I bring the right gear; am I wearing the right clothing, what will the terrain be like; will I be the one to make the find?
Phil Novak and I were huddled under a tarp in Del Norte County, trying to avoid the rain, thinking about these things when we were confronted with the real reason we were there. A friendly young woman who introduced herself as “the daughter” came up to thank us for volunteering our time to the search effort.
She had traveled from San Diego to our location 20 miles south of the Oregon border to be present as SAR teams staged a search for the remains of her father, a man known to us as the “mushroom picker.” He had disappeared the previous January while searching for mushrooms with friends. This was to be a last-ditch effort to find his remains before the winter weather set in.
This young woman wanted to express her gratitude and tell us what it meant to her. She was amazed that people from throughout California would give up their weekends to search in difficult weather and terrain for a man they didn’t know.
As she spoke, it was clear that it was important to her that we knew about the man for whom we were looking. She was very proud of her father’s accomplishments in life. How else would we have learned we were searching for a man who was a world-class surfer? She was also very open about his challenges and the complexities of their relationship.
She looked at this event as a means of bringing closure to her father’s life and their relationship. She stated that no matter the results of our search, our efforts brought honor and respect to his life, and brought her a great deal of comfort.
This conversation brought Phil and I out of our concerns about the practical and tactical issues related to searching for the “subject” and made us reflect on the reason we do this. We were looking for a real person, with a life and a family, not just a picture on a flyer. The efforts of the searchers demonstrated the value and respect we all gave to this man’s life, and to the needs of the family.
We felt honored to be a part of helping the daughter deal with one of the most difficult times in her life. It took a young woman in the forests of Northern California to remind us that the importance of our mission extends far beyond search tactics and gear. Our conversation with her was the greatest reward we have had as members of CoCoSAR.