End of An Era

End of an era! My hubby stepping back as Captain of Upper Ojai Search and Rescue. We weren’t even married yet when he joined up. 1986.
The Ojai Valley News just ran a great cover story about him. I thought I'd add my two cents.
Carl Hofmeister - born in 1921 in Upper Ojai - was the OG captain. They drove to rescues in a much-loathed “milk truck” with bench seats on a Chevy chassis. They were given a rope and a little backpack and a flashlight. On the way home from searches, Carl would always want to stop at Carrow’s for coffee and pie. And you had to do it.
I will never forget, in the early days, the late night phone calls on our landline from his wife Audrey: “Wake up your better half! There’s a rescue!"
It was a big deal when the team got pagers. But Audrey would still call, because she and Carl didn’t really trust the technology.
When Carl retired in 1998, another great Upper Ojaian, Jim Wright, served as Captain for a year until his family moved up to Mammoth, and then my hubby took over in 1999.
I’m thinking about the tired satisfaction in my husband’s voice when he would call me from the turnout at 33 they called “the phone booth“ because it was where you could get a cell, to tell me “we got ‘em,” and the frustration at those few they never found.
I’m thinking about the extra urgency in his voice when he was calling out the team for a missing kid.
I’m thinking about the one tree he says that they would always anchor to whenever somebody got drunk and decided to climb up Rose Valley Falls, because they always ended up stuck on the same ledge.
I’m thinking about the dozens and dozens of Sunday night calls they referred to as “Santa Paula Canyon specials.”
I’m thinking about after the huge floods of 2005 when the team had to completely re-orient themselves in Santa Paula Canyon because all the landmarks - the familiar rocks, the trees, that Billy had been using as guideposts since he first started hiking up there in junior high – were gone.
I’m thinking about the search and rescue vehicles in the Fourth of July parade, draped in Tibetan prayer flags, one of my kids hanging off the back on a harness and the littler kids of the group riding down Ojai Avenue in the inflatable.
I’m thinking of the lifelong friends from the VCSO air unit and the joy Billy took every time he rode in the copter. He was completely stoked, every single time.
Over the course of twenty-five years, SAR evolved, dramatically. Now, as this article beautifully explains, they are a professional organization with their own headquarters and modern technology and training. But they all still volunteer their time. They all still have to go to work the next morning on a couple hours sleep.
And now my hubby is handing over the reins to the newest captain, Brook Belgum, who, fittingly, was born in a barn on Sulphur Mountain Road. I can’t think of a better person for the job.
Upper Ojai SAR is a special organization full of special people. I’m so proud of my husband for his leadership all these years. I’m not gonna lie: it’s sometimes been a hassle when he gets called out at inopportune times, but it’s been a great honor to be affiliated with this organization.
He’s not going away. He will be a member of Upper Ojai SAR forever. If there’s anything time in the backcountry teaches a person, it’s that there’s a cycle to things. Still, it’s a little emotional coming to the end of an era.

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  • Sonia Nordenson
    commented 2024-01-29 18:00:37 -0800
    What a loving summation, Rain. Your man (along with his fellows in SAR) is a hero, and I think we’re all proud of him. Sounds like some wonderful far-flung adventures coming up for you two!
  • Rain Perry
    published this page in Essays by Rain 2024-01-29 14:06:18 -0800

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