I’m a walker. I walk everyday. It’s my exercise time and my ‘me’ time. Sometimes it’s meditation, sometimes it’s daydreaming, but it’s always about trying to be healthy. Living close to our local park is really great because I enjoy the quiet of the park walking trails, as opposed to the neighborhood streets. I usually have the trails to myself, and if I do see someone else, I’m not likely to know them (with the exception of one or two people).
Usually my walks are quite uneventful, save for the occasional moment of joy in a flower or amazement at an animal or insect. My mom has expressed concern at my walking alone, but she lives in the big city where scary things happen, not out in a rural small town where the police sometimes know what’s going on and usually who’s doing it! She also worries that I might collapse or be injured all by myself with no one to rescue me. (Worrier!)
I prefer to walk unencumbered by technology and electronics, for the most part. Sometimes I carry my Ipod (but I play it low enough I can still hear sounds around me). Sometimes, but not always, I carry my cell phone. Yesterday, I happened to be carrying my cell phone, thinking that my husband might need to call me because he was in another part of the park fishing with our boys.
As I mentioned, I don’t usually encounter much traffic of other humans, but yesterday was different.
I was nearly halfway through my walk when I headed down the creek-side path. It was after 8 pm, so I was trying to get in a good workout before it got dark. The path twists and turns with the creek, switching back on itself here, running a long stretch there. I had just come round the twisty-est part of the path when I saw something unexpected. I keep my eyes out for animals, just in case something interesting shows up, scanning the creek banks and the upper woodland trail.
At the point where the woodland trail reaches it’s highest creek overlook I saw and heard the whimpers of a boy. He was about 12 or 13 and overweight. He was trying to climb up the creek wall to the overlook where his bike was parked next to the bench. Only he couldn’t get any footing. The creek has been very high this spring with the thaw of record snow levels followed by rain. Each time he put his bare foot down, it sank into mud up to his knee, and he let out a little whimper as the bits of rock in the humus were scratching at his bare skin. He had his shoes in his hand and had reached a point where he could put them on the ground above his head while he tried to get up onto the steep sloping woodland floor.
I don’t know how long he had been there, but it was evident he was frustrated and tiring out. All the helpers in me came to the surface (the mother, the pastor, the teacher, the coach, the encourager, et al), I called out to him and tried to guide him to a spot where he might have a better chance of getting up from the mud to a more solid level. He pushed and pulled, tried to get a leg up, but just sank deeper into the mud and despair. He was stuck in something very like quicksand.
After about five minutes I could see he wasn’t going to be able to get himself out of this predicament, and I knew that I didn’t have the physical capability myself to get him out. The creek was just a few feet below him, but I couldn’t tell how deep it was, and if I guided him through the creek he’d still have a steep, but shorter, hill to climb up on my side. There was only one sensible thing left to do. I asked the boy what his name was and then I called 9-1-1.
The dispatcher answered and asked for my emergency. I filled him in on the details and where we were in the park. He told me he’d send someone out and that I needed to go back to the trail head to meet them. That meant I’d have to leave the boy alone and hope that he could stay put without panicking or falling into the creek. I asked him if there was someone he wanted me to call, but he couldn’t remember his mom’s cell phone number and they didn’t have a phone at their house. I explained that I would need to leave him for a few minutes, but help was most definitely on the way. He said “OK” as I turned to go.
I ran to the trail head, there was no way I could keep an eye on the boy now, as I had run several hundred yards down the ambling path, crossed the bridge to the other side of the quiet creek and stepped out from the hardwood trees towards the baseball diamonds. I called my husband to see if he was still in the park. He wasn’t. He was putting our kids in the bath, but he’d come right away. I told him where the boy was and his name. I checked my watch, wondering where the rescue squad was. We live in a small town so I didn’t think it would take very long (5 minutes tops), but that’s my big city background thinking. In the small town, the Fire Department is volunteer which means the rescue squad gets paged, they listen for the call and then leave whatever they are doing to go to the firehouse, get the equipment and then get to the emergency (about 20 minutes later–you learn to not to waste time waiting to make the call).
The 9-1-1 dispatcher called me back and said the police officer was looking for me and could I get to a place where I could be seen. It was twilight now, but still bright enough that I had seen the truck across the park before he would have been able to see me at the edge of the wood. I ran down the path to meet him as he drove across the grass.
When we met, I quickly filled him in and asked if he had brought a rope. He said “no”, but that there’d be more help on the way. Then he drove past me, over the bridge and headed down the walking path. I ran behind him. (He later apologized for that as he thought the man walking a dog behind me was my husband.)
Running again, I went back to the place where the boy was stranded. My husband was already there, trying to think of the best approach for the rescue. The officer assessed the situation and confirmed the need for the rescue crew, radioing location instructions to them. By now it was really darkening and the police and the fire chief, who had just arrived, were training their spotlights on him. The firemen arrived, after additional instruction on where to find us, and quickly jumped to work. Our town hadn’t seen a rescue like this in 37 years!
Once the crew found the angles of approach with flashlights and instructions from the other side of the creek, one fireman went through the creek and on the bank with the boy, another climbed down the bank/wall, the remaining firemen were able to secure a rope and get down to the boy to lift him out of the mud and over the precipice. While this was happening, boy #2 showed up.
Sweaty and dirty, he told us he was friends with the stranded boy (#1); that they had been skipping rocks in the creek when he (#2) had gotten hit in the head with a rock that made him bleed so he’d gone home thinking his friend (#1) would find his own way. When his friend hadn’t returned with the borrowed bicycle (and presumably wasn’t home either), he came back looking for him, only to find the rescue squad pulling his friend out.
It was then that we learned the boys live in the trailer park. The officer, still trying to get a location on boy #1’s parents, asked if boy #2 knew the names of the parents of #1 or their address. He didn’t know the names but he said he thought the lot was #100, so the officer called dispatch for someone else to head over the house and bring the mother round to the park. (Bet that would have been frightening for the mom!)
By now it was completely dark, the firemen had gotten the boy, the shoes and the bike out of harm’s way. And since the mother in me was satisfied that the boy would be all right, my husband and I headed back to our house to tend to our own boys.
As we got back to our routines, I was beginning to worry what the boy’s mom would have to say about the rescue. Would she be relieved that her baby was safe and had averted disaster due to the aid of a passer-by? Or would she be angry that he’d gotten himself in to that mess? Would there be bills to pay as a result of the rescue? Would he be embarrassed to go to school on Thursday? Would he even go?
I may never know the answers to those questions, but at least I know that boy wasn’t stuck in the creek bank all night with critters and creepy-crawlies. And maybe, just maybe, if my kids ever need rescuing, some kind passer-by will make the call for them.