Review: “Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue” by Bree Loewen
“Found” by Bree Loewen is as much about the author searching for herself as it is the hundreds of harrowing rescues she participates in as a member of Seattle Mountain Rescue.
Both Bree and her husband Russell are members of SMR, and they frequently answer calls to run rescues in the middle of the night, leaving their five-year-old daughter Vivian with family members. Bree is so used to this lifestyle that she can go from trying to locate a friend’s missing skier girlfriend after an avalanche to being the snack mom at Vivian’s school in a matter of hours with little to no sleep. Her daughter always keeps a treasured stuffed seal and polka dot blanket in a backpack that she takes everywhere in case her parents have to drop her off somewhere for the night.
As Bree tells rescue attempt stories it becomes clear that there is only so much SMR can do. The rescuers are trained to provide immediate necessary care (like temporary splints) but have to leave many medical needs to paramedics who can be minutes or hours behind them. This sometimes puts Bree, and fellow teammates in difficult positions as they arrive to rescue someone but can’t always provide the help they need. It’s common for Bree to never hear what happened to someone she helped rescue once they’re loaded in the helicopter or ambulance. This sometimes-inadequacy is just one place in Bree’s life where she wishes she could do more.
On one emergency run, a paramedic calls Bree an amateur at the rescue of a young man whose brother just fell off a cliff over a waterfall to his death. Hours later the insult was still circling her brain, and she looked up the definition. “Amateur means unskilled person, but it also means somebody who loves something,” she wrote. Bree wished she had something kind to say to the brother who was still alive to mark the occasion or provide comfort but she could only offer her presence. What is there to say?
“It feels like being a midwife, but for death,” Bree wrote, noting that she’d likely dealt with around 80 bodies while on the SMR team. Some were out-of-town strangers and others close friends and acquaintances in the local mountain communities.
Bree often leads rescues, giving orders on who goes where and what equipment they’ll need to assess the situation and get everyone back to the trailhead as safely as possible. But in her own life, she is constantly searching. Her husband wants her to get a job instead of being a stay-at-home mom so she tries various positions, from training to be a volunteer firefighter to going to nursing school and being a hospice nurse. She hurries from studying for nursing exams to running a rescue all night, bringing Vivian to school the next morning and then heading back to class. None of the jobs work out.
At times, reading “Found” feels a little like listening to a therapy session where Bree tells rescue stories and peppers in bits of information about herself and her life off the mountain. You learn about the author and how she approaches the world by the way she organizes litters and supplies to head up a mountain or guides injured hikers back down to safety.
“I always wanted to be the girl who could prove that women could do anything, but now that I’ve tried and failed my way into middle age, I think failing is a disservice to the cause of womanhood, because I’m reinforcing the negative stereotype that women wash out, screwing the other ladies who came after me, and I have to live both with my failure and knowing I helped make other women’s lives harder too.”
I went into this book expecting an action-packed series of short stories about daring rescues and tragic loss. While those elements are front and center, so is Bree’s struggle to be a good mom and wife to her extremely tidy husband, and trying to figure out what to do with her life professionally.
Between tales of hauling rescue supplies up mountains and belaying injured skiers thousands of feet, Bree is searching for a place to belong.
Throughout the book it felt Bree was trying to measure up to standards that didn’t exist. Her constant quest for a new career seems unnecessary – she was kicking ass as a rescuer, running a household and being a mom. Why do more when she was enjoying her life of late night mountain missions and school snack duty? I hope Bree only keeps searching for a career because she wants one – not because she’s shying away from the “stay-at-home mom” role or because her husband said she needs a job. The human desire to feel needed and appreciated is a major motivating factor behind many of the things we do, and if that deep desire it what drives Bree than I hope she keeps trying new things and finds what she’s looking for.
Bree is still searching for the right things to say when a rescue becomes a recovery. “Found” is her second book. You can find her books at Mountaineers Books. Visit Bree’s website and read an excerpt from “Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue” here.