Greg wrote his letter to Mac soon after he arrived back at the refuge, and had it ready to mail  on Tuesday.


Greg to James McDonald – 21 February 1966

   Mac, when you were here on inspection, you asked if I might be interested in staying through next winter, after Chuck leaves for a new assignment. I know you weren’t offering me a job, as such, just getting ideas for how to handle the transition to a new manager. I thought I should give you a definite answer, nevertheless.

   The idea interested me, but I also had some immediate concerns. As a lifelong central Californian, I had never experienced a real winter, and didn’t know how I’d do in the upcoming one, let alone a future one. On the other hand, I saw it as a way to stay close to Chuck’s daughter, Vic, who I thought would probably continue at Idaho State University, no matter where her parents ended up.

   I’ve done “okay” with this winter – even enjoyed parts of it. I still have a lot to learn about winter driving and general preparedness, but I wouldn’t hesitate to transfer to another location with a similar climate. Having said that, I couldn’t stay here, particularly not by myself. The isolation, and the lack of any real work to keep me busy, would just be too much, mentally. I know Chuck has weathered a lot of winters here, but I’m not sure he could have done this one without me. In the past, he’s always had Alice with him full-time, and the girls on the weekends, so there was someone to talk to, some ways to break the monotony. They’re in town, now, and I have been sort of his “Alice,” as far as having someone to let off steam to. We’ve probably helped each other stay sane through this winter, but it has also highlighted the fact that – from hunting season to ice break-up – there isn’t work here for one person, let alone two.

   With that in mind, I really need to be somewhere else by next winter. You may have heard from Chuck that Vic and I plan to get married next summer. We’re reconciled to living apart much of the time while she attends school, but we need someplace where we can see each other every few weeks, at least, and where she has a “home” to come to on school breaks. If John O’Brien’s assistant position opens up, it would be ideal, and I would certainly compete for that spot. If not that, we would try to find a location that had a college relatively nearby, to which Vic could transfer.

   I’ll say one more thing about the winter here, maybe something that Chuck has already talked to you about. We were wondering if the needs could be met here, say from December through February, by just having a local caretaker check the place a time or two each week. I know that then poses the problem of what do you do with your manager during those months, but maybe something could be worked out. Just a thought, anyway.

   Thanks always for your interest and consideration – Greg


    In the Magic Valley, the final days of February and the first days of March gave every indication that Winter was gradually giving way to Spring. There were regular snow flurries, and occasional sticking snow, but it seemed half-hearted. Nighttime temperatures remained below freezing, but not far below, and 50 degree days were not uncommon. Although most water areas remained frozen, the ice was thinning and cracking.

   In contrast, Pocatello during the same period was still dominated by Winter. Some snow fell almost every day, and both high and low temperatures averaged 10 to 15 degrees colder than average. Snowfall had diminished by the second week of March, but temperatures remained unseasonably cold.

   Vic took the weather in stride. She was busy with her new classes, and most days her outdoor time was limited to walking between the various school buildings. By the end of the first semester, the weather had taken its toll on the few remaining women from warmer climes. Of her special friends from the first days of class in September, only Crissie, from upstate New York, remained. Almost everyone else in the dorm were Idahoans.

   Tuesday, after political science class, her teacher gave her several news clippings, spin-offs from her letter on the draft. They were pretty general, but were from two papers she hadn’t seen anything from, previously.

   “I should tell you, Vic, that I got two complaints from parents about our classes focusing on your letter.”


   “Yes. It’s not unusual for some students to take an open discussion like we had, and tell their parents that I was talking against our elected officials by raising questions about the draft.”

   “That’s stupid!”

   The professor smiled. “I would not disagree with you, but the ‘climate’ of Idaho is not receptive to discussion of subjects that might be controversial.  ‘Controversial’ means particularly topics that might suggest that America might have made some mistakes in how we handled things in the past. There are a lot of ‘mights’ in that sentence, and here it often takes only one to get a teacher in trouble. I don’t mind worrying the college president occasionally, but if a teacher worries him too often, he or she might not be able to do any administrator-worrying in the future.”

   Vic took a moment to think about that. “I don’t know if you remember, but I talked to you last semester about protests and marches, and Dr. Obermayr had said pretty much the same thing to me – that ‘other opinions’ were not welcomed here.”

   “Obermayr? He’s the art professor, right? I do remember talking to you, but don’t really recall the context. Anyway, Idaho isn’t unique in our stand against dissent – real or imagined – but we are more like a Southern state than we are any of our Western neighbors. There’s a good deal of prejudice involved, but also there’s the philosophy that ‘patriotism’ is another way of saying that America can do no wrong. I think a lot of our social and racial issues persist after all these years because we refuse to face the facts about our country. It’s a pretty nice country, overall, but if we don’t acknowledge any faults, then there is no incentive to get better.”

   “I mentioned to Greg last fall that I thought my History prof had stopped short, without discussing some things that he really wanted to. I remember once it was about treatment during the Revolution of those who opposed the war, and another time I think it was something about slavery.”

   He gave her another smile. “You’re probably right that he didn’t say all he would have liked to. I find myself in the same situation regularly.  We’ve made some progress in trying to make history and government more interesting -  like explaining that George Washington had wooden dentures, or that he didn’t really chop down a cherry tree – although that last can be controversial! But we are a long way – and sometimes the ways seem to be getting longer – from pointing out that a relatively small part of the American populace really wanted to go to war with Britain, or that our ‘founding fathers’ were reluctant to make a serious effort to abolish slavery. To even bring up those possibilities comes across like sedition to some people – like we are trying to overthrow the government. It seems silly to you and me, but a teacher here could easily lose a job if there were too many complaints about such subjects. College – ‘higher learning’ – is imaginatively portrayed as an ongoing, freewheeling discussion of important subjects. It’s better than not having college, but sometimes just barely.

   “It’s a little hard on me, personally, because – as I think you know – I just came up here from California, and the whole situation is far, far different than what I expected. I’m trying to hold on, because ‘new blood’ is really needed here, but it is pretty discouraging.

   “For me, the saving feature is that, last semester and this one, I have one or two students – like you – who really want to learn. I want to try to figure out ways to work with those ones. As for the rest of the classes, it reminds me of a line from ‘East of Eden.’” He paused. “Do you read Steinbeck?”

   “No, I never have.”

   “You should. I get the feeling you read a lot, and I think you’d really appreciate his books. Well, sorry about that digression. What I started to say is that in ‘East of Eden,’ Steinbeck has one of his characters say something like, being a person requires more than just taking up space where air would otherwise be. I get the feeling that a lot of college students are just taking up air space. I wish they could learn to do more.”

   Vic laughed. “Thanks for that. I do enjoy talking to you. I hope I’m not keeping you from anything more important.”

   “No, this is a lunch break for me. I enjoy talking to you, too.”

   “There is one thing I wanted to ask you – actually, the reason I wanted to talk to you, today. You have students monitoring the newspapers all the time for interesting political stories, right?”

   “I do. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to keep up with what’s going on in the country.”

   “Do you know about the school arm band controversy in Des Moines – where high school students got expelled for wearing black arm bands to silently protest the Viet Nam war?”

   “No, I missed that. Was it recent?”

   “Well, it happened just before the Christmas break. Two of the students gave up right away, one before the break and one as school was reopening. The other three held out a day or so, before returning without their arm bands. What Greg and I are interested in is that the parents of the students are taking the school administrators to court, for violation of their kids’ right to free speech. We don’t have any logical way to follow the news in Iowa, and Greg says it could stretch on a long time, particularly if there are appeals by either side.”

   “He’s right about that. Some of those cases can go several years, particularly if they go all the way to the Supreme Court. Sure, I’ll put it on my list of things for my researchers to look for. Do you have a personal interest in the case?”

   Vic laughed. “No, Greg and I are just busybodies. We see something about civil rights, or the war, or whatever, and find out what we can. It’s just learning, for us.

   “That’s how I first met Dr. Obermayer. I was trying to find out about a Viet Nam protest that had presumably happened here. He was able to tell me that no such protest had occurred. The really interesting thing to come out of it was that I found out he had been a witness in the first case of discrimination brought after the passage of the Idaho state civil rights act.”

   “Really? I’d be interested in knowing more about that.”

   “You should talk to him. He and Dr. Oboler, the librarian, seem to be the two people around who know the most about civil rights issues locally.”

   “I will. Thanks.”


   By the end of the first week in March, it really did seem like Winter was giving up at the refuge. Winter songbirds were still common, but the first house finches and red-winged blackbirds were already singing. Although there still was no open water, ducks and gulls (the first gulls Greg had seen since fall) were often overhead. Warmer daytime temperatures were clearly weakening the ice, and cracks were appearing in the surfaces of many of the ponds.

   One day, a greater crack appeared in one of the water areas, and Greg was there to see a group of buffleheads going through their late winter rituals. Four males, their black and white plumage standing out clearly in the icy opening, were encircling one female. The males chittered softly while puffing out their chests and standing upright on the water, their wings flapping and heads bobbing. The lady sat quietly, seemingly oblivious to all the male hormonal action, until one drake leaped slightly into the air, then dove for the female, nipping her tail feathers. Just as quickly, she dove beneath the icy water, came up suddenly, and was off on a short flight down the pond. All four drakes pursued in close formation, clucking softly as they circled the still ice-covered pool, then came to rest near where they had started. The head bobbing and wing flapping began anew.     Pretty cool! thought Greg.


   On Friday, March 11, Greg drove to Pocatello, picked up Vic at her dorm, after which they spent the weekend at their usual motel. Greg had stopped for burgers, fries, and drinks before he arrived at the dorm. After a period of reminding one another that they hadn’t been together for several weeks, they found that their food was still warm. When that had been reduced to used wrappers and empty drink cups, Vic slumped back on the couch.

   “I don’t think I have anything more to offer you. We have kissed hungrily. We have eaten, equally hungrily. I wrote you a letter telling you about my talk with my Government professor, and about the complaints about our discussions of the draft. I haven’t had any more interviews. All of my classes are okay. There are no new ‘girls’ in the dorm to gossip about. No, I guess that all I have.”

   “So, may I go home?”

   “No, you may not. Besides, this is ‘home’ until Sunday morning, and I think there may yet be activities to emphasize that.”

   “Oh, good.”

   “So, don’t you have anything for me?”

   “Well, let’s see. I wrote you a letter, telling you that I wrote to Mac, along the lines we discussed. In that letter, I told you I love you and missed you, which I think was already obvious to you. I think Spring is trying to come to Magic Valley, as noted by warmer temperatures and by cracks in the ice on some ponds. Your dad and I seem to have made it through the winter without killing one another, although he continues to regularly kill me at checkers.

   “I don’t understand that. I am still under the impression that checkers is not a hard game to play. It must be that he always has a strategy, and I don’t.

   “Let’s see, what else? Oh, I know. They are going to open up a new potato processing plant in Rupert. I think the newspaper said they will be hiring 120 people, and should have part of the operation going by fall. They hope to eventually process other stuff – carrots and bell peppers, and I think some other vegetables.

   “I’m glad I remembered that. I didn’t think I had anything else to tell you.”

   Vic gave a theatrical yawn. “Yes, that is interesting.”

   “Oh, wait. I do have a good story for you. Talking about the ice cracking on the ponds reminded me. Do you know what a bufflehead is?”

   “Sure. It’s that pretty little black and white duck. I think Daddy calls them butterballs.”

   “Yep, that’s the one I’m talking about.” Greg went on to describe in detail the courtship display he had witnessed. “I doubt there was any actual love-making going on at the refuge. They’ll probably fly another day north before they start thinking seriously about nest building, egg laying, duckling raising, etc. Still, nothing wrong with the guys showing off their moves a little in advance.

   “Besides, I bet more than one romance has begun on the way to somewhere else.”

   “You mean, like us?”

   “No, I don’t think so. Before we met, each of us probably had lots of ideas, hopes, dreams, schemes, etc., etc. Once we got together – and I realized the inevitability of our situation, which had been clear to you from the start – we were already at our destination. Our main stop, and our ‘somewhere else,’ were always the same – my front porch steps.”

   She snuggled a little closer to him. “I suppose that’s right. The porch steps may sometimes just be a symbol, but in our hearts, that’s where we always are.”

   She got up off the couch. “So, having exhausted all our conversational possibilities, what shall we do with the rest of our afternoon?”

   “I was thinking about a long walk. We haven’t had many days recently when frostbite wasn’t a real issue. It’s great out there today. Shall we just stroll for a while?”

   “That does sound nice.”

   They wandered pretty much aimlessly for an hour or so, just enjoying the sun and the above freezing temperatures. The sun was going down as they got back to the motel.

   “Are you hungry?” Greg asked.

   “Not very, but I’ll need something before morning. You know what sounds good to me? A hot roast beef sandwich. I haven’t had one in years. Do you suppose the coffee shop serves such a thing?”

   “I wouldn’t be surprised. That does sound good.”

  “Do you need a whole one? I’m not sure I could eat a whole one, but I would share with you, if you don’t need more.”

   “I think sharing would be fine.”

   The coffee shop was able to take care of their needs, and nicely cooked beef on bread, slathered with rich brown gravy, tasted as good as it sounded. One serving proved plenty for both of them. Back in their room, they settled on the couch.

   “Home again,” observed Greg. “Well, we know what’s on t. v. – ‘Mr. Roberts’ and ‘Man from U. N. C. L. E.’ Are you interested?”

   “I don’t think so, but you can watch, if you like. I’ll just curl up against your shoulder for a bit.”

      “My shoulder is always available.” She leaned against him, and almost immediately was asleep. He didn’t turn on the television. After about twenty minutes, when he was sure she was out for the night, he carried her over to the bed. He removed most of her clothes – perhaps taking a little longer at it than was absolutely necessary – and rolled her under the covers. He joined her on the bed, a few minutes later.

   He sat for a minute, just looking down at her. He never got tired of the view. However, something began to bother him. It was her bra. He began to think that it would probably be very uncomfortable for her if she slept the whole night in it. After a little more thought, he rolled her slightly onto her side so he could unhook it. He rolled her back. That certainly had to be better for her. Still, with it loose like that, might it get crumpled and uncomfortable underneath her if she rolled over on it later in the night? He gently raised her arms so he could pull it the rest of the way off. That was definitely better. He felt like he had done a really good deed. He though she would think that by morning, also.

   After another long view to make sure she looked comfortable, he lifted her just enough to get his arm under her, then rolled her gently until her head was on his shoulder, and her body was pressed closely against his. He liked the result.


   The sun was shining in their motel room window when they woke on Saturday. Vic leaned back against the person close behind her in bed, and stretched. “I must have fallen asleep last night,” she said.

   “Yes, I believe that’s a good assumption,” her partner confirmed.

   She lifted the covers slightly. “I see that my undies are still in place – although everything else seems to have vanished in the night – but I assume that means that you did not have your way with me, when I couldn’t protect myself.”

   “Oh, I definitely had my way with you, make no mistake. I would never miss any opportunity. But ‘my way’ this time turned out to be letting you sleep on my shoulder until I had lost all circulation in that side of my body. ‘My way’ then involved turning you on your side, pressing my nearly naked body closely against yours, and going to sleep. As you can now observe, we spent the night in much that same position. I had some lovely dreams. I hope you did, too.”

   She turned to face him, and delivered a memorable kiss.

   “Are you hungry?” he asked, after a moment.

   “I was hungry for that! You seemed to be, too. As for other types of sustenance, I need something, but I don’t think it will be the trencherman’s breakfast, or farmhand’s feast, or whatever they call it. Maybe one scrambled egg, some bacon, and a glass of orange juice?”

   “That sounds about right for me, too. Maybe a pancake thrown in. Then, what do we do with our day?”

   She sat up in bed, and stretched. He enjoyed the view. “I was thinking about that. It looks like another sunny, warm day. How about a hike?”

   “A hike? You mean another stroll around town?”

  “No, I was thinking about a real hike. I’ve never been, but I understand that just south of town, the Mink Creek Road goes up into the national forest, and that there are some nice trails just inside the boundary. The snow level is still pretty low, but I think the nearest trail or two should be clear.”

   “That sounds excellent. I have missed the mountains. Let’s do it.”

   After breakfast, they easily found the Mink Creek Road, and followed it up to the national forest. They found one trail below the snow line, and spent a couple of hours exploring. With snow so close, and with the canyon deep and shaded, it wasn’t a very warm hike, but the temperature was well above freezing, and they had a good time.

   “This is great,” said Greg. “We’ll have to come back later in the year, and look around more.”

   “Someone at the dorm was saying that the road follows close to the creek all the way to the divide. The drop is pretty steep, but beavers have created little dams all up and down it, so there are little ponds of water here and there. They see the beavers, too.”

   “We definitely have to come back for that. Also, it sounds like the kind of place that might have some interesting bird habitat, too.”


   They arrived back at the motel in mid-afternoon, happy but ready to take a nap.

   “I had wondered about going to a movie, tonight,” said Greg. “We haven’t been in a while. It looks like there are two Disney-type shows playing. I don’t know anything about either.”

    “I don’t think I want to go out again. Let’s save our show-going for something we’d really like.”

   “Okay by me. Then, I thought that later, when we get hungry, I’d order a pizza for us. How does that sound?”

   “It sounds very nice. I’m sure I’ll be ready.”

   “Do you want to stick with pepperoni, or get adventurous?”

   “Pepperoni, with extra pepperoni, please.”

   “Well, as an added treat, and continuing with my new tradition of contributing to the delinquency of my favorite minor, I have brought along a bottle of wine. Also, some nicer glasses than we had last time.”

   “Oh, goody. What kind is it?” She read the label. “Caber-net?”

   “Not ‘net!’ My word, what is wrong with you?”

   “Not a thing. All my Norwegian ancestors spoke fluent French – from spending all their holidays in gay Paree – so we all know that ‘net’ is ‘ney.’ Cabernet sauvignon. But, what is it?”

   “Well, it’s obviously a red wine. Last time, we had a Burgundy – a pinot, as I recall – not pee-not, pee-no. I think it was a fairly light Burgundy – meaning not a lot of extra sediment – and dry, but a little bit sweeter than some other Burgundies. Cabernet is a pretty full-bodied wine, but very dry. I think its actual alcohol content is pretty high, compared to pinots. And that pretty well exhausts my wine knowledge, so don’t ask me anything else.”

   “I shall look forward to a little more delinquency-contributing. Right now, I think I will take a short nap. If you want to stay right where you are, I will just lean against you, and sleep for a while.”

   “I’m here for your leaning pleasure.”


   When Vic woke up, Greg went down to the lobby, ordered the pizza, and waited until it was delivered. They poured the wine, and settled down to a quiet feast.

   “As usual, their pizza is delicious,” said Vic, after a while. “The wine is very good, too, although it seems more like you’re getting a real drink than it did with the pinot. I think maybe I like the Burgundy a little better.”

   “I’ll keep that in mind the next time I break the law on your behalf.”

   Vic paused with a slice of pizza halfway to her mouth. “Did you ever consider how strange it is that you could have legally had sex with me at eighteen, but I can’t drink alcohol until I am twenty-one?”

   “I barely knew you when you were eighteen, so the issue didn’t arise. But I think I know what you’re getting at.”

   “Think in terms of my moral character. Which would be most likely to be harmful to it?”

   “Your moral character is just fine, but I see what you mean. Laws should be in agreement with one another. Perhaps they should make sex with young women illegal until age twenty-one.”

   She gave him what she thought might be a steely-eyed look. “You don’t want that.”

   He laughed. “No, I definitely don’t.”

  “I mean, just think of the list of violations you would already have against you.”

  “Yes, and the list is certain to get a lot longer in the next couple of years.”

   “Oh, good. I’m glad to hear that.”


   They finished off the pizza, and sat sipping their cabernet. “I think I should watch ‘Gunsmoke,’ so I can discuss it with your dad. Are you game?”

   “Sure, I like ‘Gunsmoke.’ It’s nice of you to think of being able to discuss it with Daddy.”

   “It’s partly self-preservation. If I get him talking about Marshall Dillon, he won’t have time to think up new strategies to beat me at checkers.”

   “Gunsmoke” was a new episode. (This time of year, they interspersed new stories and reruns.) With Vic curled up beside him, Greg commented that they probably should be drinking rotgut or redeye, while watching a shoot-em-up. Vic thought that her wine had been just fine.

   When the hour was over, Vic got up and went into the bathroom. As she came out, she said, “If you want me awake in bed for any reason, you better start moving me that direction.”

   Greg hastened to her, unbuttoned her jeans, and pulled them down over her hips. He sat her on the edge of the bed, and helped her step out of them. Then, he assisted with removing her sweater. She took care of the remaining fortifications, then Greg helped her crawl under the covers. When he returned from the bathroom, Vic’s steady breathing suggested that she was already on her way to Dreamland.

   Greg pretended that he hadn’t noticed.


   Sunday was another sunny morning. They got up, had breakfast, straightened up their room a bit – making sure the empty wine bottle and glasses were out of sight in Greg’s pack. There was still about an hour until check-out. They relaxed on the couch.

   “Have you given any thought to what you’d like to do or see on our pre-wedding honeymoon trip?” Greg asked.

   “Oh, are we still doing that?”

   “The honeymoon, or the wedding?”

   “Either. We hadn’t talked about them in a while, and Mandy had suggested that, since we were already doing pretty much everything people got married to do…”

   “Your baby sister is a precocious little creature.”

   “My baby sister is only a year younger than me. And what do you mean by precocious?”

   “Well, we say that some baby birds are altricial, those that have to stay in the nest for a long period after they hatch. You’ve seen pictures of baby robins in the nest, hungrily waiting for their parents to bring them some worms to eat. They are said to be altricial.

   “Now, other birds come out of their eggshells pretty much fully developed. They immediately go running off after their parents. They are termed precocial.”

   Vic waited for more, but that seemed to be all Greg was going to say. “Well, thanks for the lecture, Dr. Science, but what does it have to do with my sister?”

   “Ah, you need further explanation. We say that baby birds that develop quickly are precocial. We say that human children are precocious when they show signs of developing faster than one might expect of their age group. This often appears in the thoughts they have, and the way they express themselves – like, talking about things that they’re not supposed to know about, yet.”

   “Like, what happens on honeymoons? But every kid knows that, nowadays. Are all human kids precocious?”

   Greg threw up his hands in mock defeat. “Probably. The times are changing. Mandy is not precocious. Can we talk about weddings and honeymoon trips?”

   Vic snuggled up against him. “You give up too easily. So, what do I want to do? Well, my whole life to date having involved three states – make that four, cuz we went to Utah. Anyway, other than the obvious, I don’t know what is done on honeymoons. Have you any suggestions?”

   “Well, let’s see. One of the main purposes of this trip is to introduce you to my family, so they’re not completely overwhelmed by your beauty and intelligence when they are introduced to you at the wedding. That part just involves taking two days to drive to Oakland. Other than most of it being new country for you, there’s not a lot that’s really exciting. We can go up over the mountains near Mt. Lassen, where there are some pretty nice forests – maybe spend a little time there. Then, it’s just a long straight shot down the Sacramento Valley to the Bay Area,

   “We’ll be with my parents for a day, or a day and a half – hopefully, get to see my brother and sister while we’re there. Then, we just figure out a nice way to get home again. I thought maybe drive north through the redwoods…”

   “Redwoods? Like, big tall trees that block out the sun, and have big ferns growing around them? I would love that! Is that something we can really do?”

   “Sure. It’s a very logical way to start home. If we do that, it will inevitably involve you seeing your first ocean, too.”

   “Really? This is sounding amazing – two of the major items on my wish list in, what? Two days?”

   “We might actually see both on the same day, but I think we should slow down and really look around in that area, before we go on.”

   “Oh, that sounds so good. An ocean! Redwoods! And, of course, the usual stuff one does on honeymoons. This is my dream trip!”

   “From the redwoods, we could take a couple of extra days to go north, and get a look at Portland. I think maybe we don’t want to take the time, just then. We can talk about that more, later. If we don’t do that, then we just head east across Oregon to Boise. One side trip we might make would be to Crater Lake.”

   “I’ve heard that is really something to see!”

   “That’s what I’ve heard, too. It wouldn’t be out of our way, really.

   “Okay, next stop: the wedding. I’m thinking maybe mid-July, which would give us several weeks after we get back from California? And at the refuge – well,  in town, not actually out the god-awful road. Town is where most of your friends are, right?”

   “That sounds like a good general plan. How about your friends? Would anybody be coming?”

   “I think it will just be my mom and dad, and hopefully my siblings. I have some friends who will wish us well from afar, but nobody that I think will actually come to the wedding.

   “I was thinking of asking Tim to be my best man.”

   “Tim. That would be a nice idea, but what about your brother?”

   “If he’s able to come, it won’t be for long, and probably not until the last minute. Tim is part of the family, so to speak. I like him, he loves you, he likes me okay, and I’m growing on him. I think it would be a good deal.”

   Vic got up off the couch. “Okay. Trip in June. Wedding in July. Tim best man. Mandy bridesmaid. Hurrah! Our life is settled.”

   Greg got to his feet. “Well, there might be a few other things to sort out, but that seems like a good start. Let’s pack up, and get you back to your dorm.”


   At Vic’s dorm, they visited with Mrs. M. for a few minutes. She had been to Mink Creek a number of times, and said it would be well worth their time to visit again later in the spring. They retreated to the car for a more private goodbye kiss.

   “I didn’t even think about lunch,” said Greg. “I guess it hasn’t been that long since breakfast. Are you hungry?”

   “Not yet. Nancy’s probably around here somewhere, and she’ll want something, later. We’ll get by.”

   “Okay. I’ll probably stop and visit with Cora and Jackson, and get a burger.

  “Well, my love, it has been a really nice weekend, with a little change of pace. We should be able to get out and enjoy the countryside a little more, in the coming weeks. Take care, don’t study too hard, think of me constantly day and night, and long for my next visit.”

   “I will do all of that, Greg. I miss you already.  Be careful on the road.”


   Greg’s drive home was uneventful. He did stop at the diner, and had a burger while chatting with Jackson and Cora. Driving through the refuge, the effects of the last few days of relative warmth were evident. Cracks in the ice had widened to actual open pools, and a few Canada geese and mallards were taking advantage of the new habitat. He arrived back at headquarters just before dark, cleaned up a bit, and called it a day fairly early.


   The weather had obviously taken a turn. It was still a little warmer than average, but there had been a few sprinkles as he drove in Sunday evening. Now, on Monday morning, the clouds had thickened, and there was light rain on and off all day.

   Chuck arrived from town just as Greg was walking over to the office. They got a pot of coffee brewing, and spent a little time just catching up. Chuck didn’t have anything particularly new to report. Greg filled him in on the Pocatello trip – the hike up Mink Creek, Vic’s new class schedule, and the slow-down of response to the letter to the editor. He did mention the parental criticism of discussing the draft in Vic’s Government class. Chuck’s only comment on that: “It seems like the ‘thought police’ surface pretty regularly in this state.”

   “We did talk a little about weddings and trips to see my folks. Nothing definite, but I think what we’ve settled on for now is to drive to California the second week in June – her finals week is the first week in June, and Mandy graduates May 22, I think. Then, we’d have the wedding a month later – mid-July – here in town. It seems like we should have a pretty good idea by then what you and I will be doing. We’re staying flexible.”

   “Those sound like pretty good targets. I’ll let Allie know what you’re thinking.”


   Not a lot had changed with their work with the coming of warmer weather, but it was nice to feel that one could go outdoors with some purpose, and not be stuck behind a desk all day with nothing really to do. Greg made regular trips out onto the refuge, just to check the seasonal progress of things. He and Chuck ate dinner together most nights, and played checkers with the expected results. Chuck had made a trip to town on Wednesday, and came back with several recent newspapers. After dinner, they settled down to catch up on current events.

   The front page of every paper had four or five stories on Viet Nam – big battles, little battles, enemy casualties, American casualties – but no obvious trends evident in who was “winning” and who “losing.” Greg skimmed the articles, but only took the time to read one if it looked like there was any information on the war policy. There wasn’t much. Seemingly, there was a lot more discussion in Congress – and with the public – on the pros and cons of the war, but it seemed to be just “talk.” The war looked like it could go on forever.

   The other big story had to do with satellites and space exploration. NASA had a big program planned, which included a number of “firsts.” A manned spacecraft and a satellite were to be launched at approximately the same time. Once both were in orbit, the spacecraft was supposed to catch up with the satellite, and dock with it. If that happened, it would be the first time in space history that two orbiting vehicles had joined. If they were successful, then there would be several more tries to release the satellite, then link up again. If all was going well, NASA then planned to have one of the astronauts make the longest spacewalk ever done.

   A few mechanical problems delayed the blast-offs, but then everything went as planned. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott launched in Gemini 8, propelled by a Titan 2 missile, and successfully docked with an Agena satellite. However, while they were docked, the Gemini began to gyrate dramatically. Armstrong was able to get them unhooked from the satellite, but the mission was aborted, and they made an emergency splashdown in the ocean. The astronauts were rescued without any problems. At the time of the news article, NASA didn’t seem to know the cause of the vibrations.

   “Well, I would think they’d call that a pretty good success,” Chuck said. “I mean, the docking had never been done before.”

   “Probably, but when you put billions of dollars into a project, even very good partial success may seem like failure.

   “Here’s an interesting one. Apparently, we lost a hydrogen bomb in the Mediterranean, and we’re trying to find it, hopefully before some other country does.”

   “How do you lose an H-bomb?”

   “I saw some of this story a month or so, ago. One of our B-52 bombers crashed in Spain. It had been transporting the bomb – I don’t know why, or where to. Anyway, the pilot must have known he was going to crash – or at least make a very rough landing – and apparently he decided to jettison the bomb at sea, rather than have an inconvenient explosion on land.”

   “Probably a good move.”

   “Yeah, probably. I think they’ve figured out where the bomb is, but they haven’t positively located it. Or maybe they have, but they haven’t figured out how to salvage it. Either way, it sounds like kind of a hairy operation.”

   Chuck set aside his newspaper. “On a work-related subject, I’ve been thinking of bringing Tim back on board the first of the month. Do you think we’re ready for him?”

   “The ice is going quickly, now. It’ll be awhile yet before we can really look over the water control. Of course, he can service vehicles any time, and have everything ready to go.”

   “What about the roads? It would be good to get them bladed once, before things dry out too much.”

   “They’ve been frozen all winter, of course, and nobody has used them but me. There hasn’t been a rut or mud hole, anywhere. Of course, now the frost is going out of the ground, and we’re getting a little rain, so they’ll be getting a bit softer. If the season progresses as it has been, the roads might be ready to blade in a couple weeks.”

   “Okay, I’ll give Tim a call. I’ll leave it up to him when he wants to start. With Rusty gone, and him helping his folks more, he might want to delay.”


  By March 20, Greg had seen the first western bluebirds, mountain bluebirds, and robins of the spring. Some swallows had arrived, also, but he hadn’t taken the time to identify the species. Numbers of ducks, geese, gulls, and shorebirds were increasing daily. It looked like Spring had definitely arrived.

   However, Winter had one more surprise. On March 20 and 21, enough snow fell in the Burley-Hazelton area to close the schools for a day. Strong winds caused local power outages, and some roads were closed by drifting snow. The winds subsided and most of the snow melted quickly, but Mother Nature got everybody’s attention for a few hours.

   Vic also experienced some late winter weather. The temperatures had cooled somewhat after Greg’s visit, and there were even a few snow flurries. By the end of the week, a warming trend seemed to be settling in. Then, just when Magic Valley was experiencing their wintry change, Pocatello received up to four inches of snow, winds blew 30-35 mph, and temperatures didn’t climb above freezing for a full day. A few days later, it was sunny and warm, with high temperatures nearing 60 degrees. If it had been Winter’s last gasp, it was a pretty good one.


      On March 28, Mac called. Greg was alone in the office, working on the January-March narrative report. There really wasn't much to write about - mostly the weather - and Greg was glad to be interrupted. “Chuck is over in the shop, Mac. He should be back any minute.”

   “That’s okay. I wanted to talk to you a bit, anyway. I got your note about not wanting to stay there another winter. I think your reasoning is good, and we’ll be sure to get you relocated before then. I also talked to Chuck about having just a winter caretaker. As you noted, it will take a little planning to figure out what to do with refuge staff during the winter, but I think we will go ahead. Chuck is going to ask Tim if he would want the job.

   “I know you’ll be planning for a move that will accommodate Victoria’s schooling, as well as your job. I know you’ve expressed interest in John O’Brien’s assistant position, and it looks like that is still a possibility next summer. I don’t know what else will come up, but I’ll keep working on it for you. I’m sure you’ll be doing your own looking. For my part, I’ll plan to have something specific to offer you by July. Does that sound okay?”

   “Sure. I appreciate anything you can do, or suggest.”

   “There’s one other consideration. If it fits in with your other job possibilities, it would be good if you could consider staying where you are until around Thanksgiving. That would give a definite transition point to the winter caretaker. That isn’t anything you need to commit to – just something to keep in mind.”

   “Sure, that sounds reasonable. Oh, here’s Chuck. Thanks for the talk.”

   Greg pointed Chuck to his phone, mouthed the word “Mac,” and gestured that he would be leaving. Chuck waved, and moved over to his desk.

   “Mac, how are you doing? Is it summer there, yet?”

   “Not summer, but definitely spring. We had a pretty wet winter, and are just drying out, now. How are all your womenfolk?”

   “Well, Vic is well into her second semester at Pocatello. I think Greg is going up to see her this weekend. Mandy is champing at the bit to be a high school graduate in another couple months. I think Allie really benefited from being in town this winter – hard on me, but really good for us, overall.

   “Something particular that you called about?”

   “Well, yes, if you have a little time to talk. I’m trying to put together one of my famous – or infamous – deals where I move half a dozen people around at the same time. You can be part of this one, if you’re interested.

   “Here’s the basic story. There’s going to be a project leader retirement in Montana, probably around July. John O’Brien wants the position pretty badly, as it would get him and Annie back close to their parents. It would be a lateral move for John, so I can make it happen without getting embroiled in any extra personnel issues. I think I will do it.

   “That will leave John’s refuge open. I am prepared to offer it to you, if you want it. I know you and Alice are thinking North Dakota, but let me give you my sales pitch, then we can talk about it.

   “First, it will be a long overdue promotion for you. It’s not a bigger refuge, but it’s a lot bigger operation – more staff, more diversity, more problems… The experience – and the higher grade level - will look good on any future job applications. For Alice, there is a small, active community on your doorstep, and Idaho Falls only a half-hour away. You two could actually get used to sleeping in the same bed, again.

   “For you,  you’d be on the edge of some fantastic big game hunting – deer, elk, antelope – something I know you’ve been missing. I’m trying to work something for Greg that will allow Victoria to keep going to Idaho State. With her, and likely Amanda, that close, it means you keep your family together for another couple years. One more thing – a possible further incentive – is that it would place you a relatively short two days from Fargo, rather than the current three.

   “Now, let’s mention what is clearly obvious, and that you don’t need reminding of – but I will. You did a good thing for your family staying in place so long, but it took you off the list of obvious candidates when ‘dream jobs’ become available. If the job you really want comes up, you may or may not be considered viable. I know what you can do. You know what you can do. Maybe you have some old friends in Region Three who know what you can do. But maybe that’s not enough, until the next time the right job rolls around.

   “Here’s what I propose, and then we can talk about it, if you like. I am offering you the job. Talk it over with Alice. Take your time, but let me know some time in April if you are definitely not interested. If you tell me no, I’ll look for another candidate.

   “If you want to tentatively accept it, it can be with the understanding that you are free to continue to compete for anything else that comes open, even if you and Alice have made the move up there, already. If you find something you like better by late summer, I’ll offer the job to someone else.

   “Any initial questions, or comments?”

   Chuck took a moment to organize his thoughts. “Thanks, Mac. It’s a great offer, particularly with the caveat that I can back out if something else comes up. I’ll talk to Allie, but I think I can assure you now that we won’t give you a positive ‘no.’

   “You said that you’re looking for something for Greg. Is he potentially part of your grand shuffle?”

   “I’ve talked to Greg, and told him I will definitely have him somewhere else by winter. One possibility that you have probably heard about is that Dan, John O’Brien’s current assistant, wants to move back to the Midwest, and he hopes to do it this year. If that happens, that would be a logical opening for Greg. We’ve talked about it, and we’ll see how that plays out.

   “For now, don’t mention any of this to him. Actually, if you don’t mind, don’t talk about it to anybody but Alice. I want to try and have it all sorted out by some time in May.”

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