Most folks who know me are aware that beyond my work as an executive coach, I am also a K9 handler with two search dogs (Bosse and Keb) and an active member of Mountain Rescue. Over the past decade I have spent literally thousands of hours searching for lost individuals and helping to save lives in the mountains and communities of western Washington. The work is often physically challenging and not infrequently involves life and death situations. It is how I have chosen to give back to my community.
Fifteen years ago, there is no way I would have been willing to even consider such an undertaking. The reason was simple: to do so would have required me to deal with my worst possible FEAR – one that arose decades earlier as result of a jarring and tragic event that played out in the mountains of California's Sierra Nevadas.
One day in 1976, the year I arrived in the United States from Sweden, forever changed my life. It was the day I witnessed the traumatic death of a Swedish friend visiting me and my then boyfriend – now husband- Scott at his parents property just outside Yosemite National Park. Staffan, was an amazing young man practicing as a psychologist in Lund, Sweden. He had a sense of adventure and was excited that morning to be hiking and scrambling with us in the awe-inspiring nature surrounding Yosemite. Scott’s parents’ property had several water falls along Gertrude and Whiskey Creeks, one of them was 5 or 6 stories tall with an expansive, sloping glacial polished rock shelf on top and a large pool below. On that hot summer day while we were reclining against a boulder Staffan got up and walked about 30 feet or so onto the shelf and laid down in a trickle of water to cool himself. I remember telling him "be careful, the rock over there is much slicker than it looks." And I remember a few moments later, hearing a wet thud and glancing over to see that in his attempt to get up and move, he had slipped and fallen on the slime under the thin sheen of water where he had been sitting, and was now, sliding, as if in slow motion, towards the edge some 30 feet away. The slope of the rock was not steep, but the angle was just enough to keep him sliding, and the moist expanse was wide enough and slippery enough to prevent him from maneuvering out of harm's way. Burned into my memory are the images of him, on that slick rock, grasping for something, anything, to hold on to, as he slid slowly but inevitably toward the edge. Worst of all is the memory of him looking back at me, desperate and helpless, as he soundlessly disappeared. That moment is forever etched into my memory. The replay is always the same, always in slow motion, and always includes searching for him – it seemed like forever – and finally noticing that one of the side pools at the bottom of the falls was colored red.