The days before Greg was to pick up Vic at school were anxious ones for him. The weather wasn’t really bad, but temperatures were below normal, and local morning fog made some roads icy. A surprise snowfall of a couple of inches occurred at Burley – not far away – but there weren’t even flurries at the refuge. Not being a winter driver, he began to wonder if he had been wise to agree to drive to Pocatello.

   Chuck didn’t seem concerned. “The road to town is fine, and temperatures are supposed to warm up a bit by Friday. You won’t be down close to the river in many places, so there shouldn’t be much fog. Just don’t leave too early, and take it slow and careful. You’ll be back here before dark. You should be fine.”

   They spent much of the work week in the office, then ate together and played checkers at night. Greg took several drives out onto the refuge, including one to the hunter check station on Wednesday. The ponds weren’t deeply frozen, but there was a skim of ice over most of them, that lasted through the day. There appeared to have been a significant exodus of ducks from the area.

   The situation was not happy at the check station. “Here we are,” complained Todd, “Bundled up like Eskimos, while one die-hard set of hunters waits for some hapless duck to fly close enough to shoot at. They haven’t fired a shot all morning. And unlike Eskimos, we don’t have a nice warm igloo, with a polar bear rug to wrap up in.”

   “And a nice warm Eskimo girl to wrap up with, in the polar bear rug,” observed one of the guys.

   “Your wife would not sympathize with that particular fantasy of yours,” Todd rejoined.

   “No, but if I was home instead of here, she would offer similar services – sans igloo and bear rug, of course.”

   “Yeah, point taken. But the main point to be taken from this sorry gathering, Greg, is that I’m going to try to get us out of here after next weekend. All of us want to be home for the holidays, and we’re not really ‘serving the public,’ here, anymore.”

   “So, Sunday’s your last day?”

   “Well, I’ve got my proposal in. I hope it will be honored. I think I made a pretty strong case that we’re not doing any good, here.”


   The temperature hovered around 10 degrees Friday morning, but was dry with only high overcast, as Greg prepared to leave for Pocatello. On Chuck’s advice, he loaded several warm blankets in the car, some food, a thermos of coffee, and another of herb tea. (He wasn’t sure how tea did in a thermos, but thought Vic would like the gesture, anyway.) He made sure his tire chains were in the trunk, and that he had two working flashlights. At about 9:30, he was ready to go.

   “We may get back here before you leave for the day,” he told Chuck. “If not, we’ll call as soon as we get here.”

   At the check station, the Fish and Game boys were huddled near a fire set in a large barrel. Todd came over to his car. “You’re out fairly early.”

   “Yeah, I’m on my way to pick up Chuck’s daughter, and bring her home for the holidays.”

   “That explains your car, rather than a government rig. I had heard a rumor that you might be engaged.”

    “That’s one rumor that turns out to be true. We announced it at Thanksgiving. Haven’t set a date, yet.”


   “Thanks. So, what’s your status?”

   “This morning, we have two parties hunting. They’ve actually fired a few shots, so maybe they’re getting a little action. We’ll leave as soon as they come out. As for the future, I did get approval to shut up shop here after Sunday. We’ll haul out the station and the big stuff then, and clean up a bit. After the holidays, we’ll come back and take down the hunting signs, and clean up any other messes left. I’ll save our final report until after the holidays, if that’s okay with you.”

   “Sure, that’ll work. Say, I’m a little hesitant about the road conditions. Being a California boy, I’ve hardly seen ice and snow, before – let alone driven in it - and I heard some of the roads were slick from frozen fog.”

   “No, you’ll be okay. We came out from town this morning with absolutely no trouble. The only place you might hit some fog is where the old road meets the Interstate at Raft River, but it shouldn’t last more than a few minutes. Just keep your mind on your driving. Once you start up the hill, you should be clear all the way to Pocatello. I understand that they’ve actually been ten or twenty degrees warmer than here in Magic Valley.”

   ‘Yeah,” chimed in one of the others, “I heard that the college girls would be sunbathing in bikinis by this afternoon.”

   Greg laughed. “Well, I hope at least one of those predictions will be correct  - well, both would be okay, but I’m more concerned about the roads, right now.”

   “You sound like a married man, already!”


   Greg’s trip did prove to be uneventful. At Vic’s dorm, he met Mrs. McPherson.

   “Hi, Greg. It’s good to see you. She’s around here, somewhere. That’s her bag, over by the couch. I hear that congratulations are in order?”

   “Thanks, Mrs. M. We haven’t set a date yet – probably after school gets out in the spring. Vic probably told you that we were planning to go to California this vacation, to introduce her to my folks. That’s not working out, however. It’ll have to be later. By the way, I haven’t forgotten about the Nevil Shute book. I’ll bring it whenever I finally get home and find it.”

   “Oh, I know. There’s no hurry, but I am intrigued to read it when I can. Oh, here’s Vic.”

   And there was Vic in full winter attire, looking twice her usual size in bulky sweater and down jacket. He couldn’t help smiling extra broadly as he thought of bikini-clad sunbathers.

   “Hi, Greg,” she said, as she gave him a quick kiss. “Nancy says ‘hi.’ They’re going to leave in an hour or so. Are the roads okay?”

   “Yes, I’m glad to say the roads are safe and dry.”

   “Oh, good.” She turned to Mrs. McPherson, and gave her a hug. “Merry Christmas. I will miss you, but not enough to stay around and miss my time with Greg and family. I’ll see you next year.”

   In the car, they took time for a little longer kiss. “Do you want to grab some lunch?” Greg asked.

   “No, let’s get out of here.” She was quiet as they got back on the Interstate, headed west. “I have so much to tell you,” she said, as she linked her arm with his. “But for right now, I’m just going to hold on to you, and enjoy the ride.”

   “There are blankets on the back seat if you get chilly. If you get hungry, there are some nuts and dates and some other stuff there, too. Also, I brewed you a thermos of herb tea. I don’t know how tea tastes in a thermos, but I thought I’d give it a try.”

   She squeezed his arm. “It’s definitely the thought that counts. I’ll try it in a little bit.” She went silent, again, for a minute or two. “There is one thing I wanted to ask you about.”

   “And that is…?”

   “When you first saw me in the dorm, you got a very silly smile on your face – something more than just the pleasure of seeing me come into the room. What was that about?”

   Greg felt the silly grin returning. “Well, okay, when I was a little worried about the road condition driving up here, the guys at the check station were assuring me that it was safe.  Todd said that he thought Pocatello had been quite a bit warmer than the Magic Valley, and that’s when one of the other guys said he’d heard that the girls at the college were sunbathing in bikinis. I think I had already mentally removed a couple layers of your clothing when you asked me how the roads were, and broke my concentration.”

   She went quiet, again. “Quite a story. I’m sorry I interrupted your thoughts. Perhaps when we get home, you can pick up where you left off, and remove the rest.”

   “Perhaps I can.”

   “But perhaps you won’t find a bikini.”

   “And perhaps I won’t care.”


   Vic had been dozing as they passed American Falls Reservoir. They were just emerging from a rocky canyon when she woke.  “I always get cold shivers when I come through here,” she said.

   “Massacre Rocks? You know it’s been 100 years since Indians ambushed a wagon train here? They aren’t still around.”

   “Actually, 103 years – 1862. We learned that in high school. But no, I was talking about what happened this year.”

   “What happened this year?”

   She glanced at him to see if he was teasing her, but she didn’t really think Greg would have such bad  taste. “I mean the traffic accident – ten people dead, the worst traffic accident in Idaho history.”

   “I guess I didn’t hear about it.”

   She stared at him in confusion. Then, she remembered. “You weren’t here, yet! It happened in April, a week or so before you arrived. I’m sure everybody was still talking a lot about it, but you were on the refuge, and probably not yet hearing much news.”

   “That would explain it, all right. So, what happened?”

   “There was a head-on collision. Four people from over around Boise were in one car - going east -  and a family of seven from Arkansas were in the other, going west. Apparently, nobody saw what happened – you know how little traffic there is on this road a lot of the time – but the Idaho car crossed over into the westbound lane, and hit the Arkansas car full on. Nobody knows if the Idaho driver wasn’t paying attention, or fell asleep, or had a heart attack. It was broad daylight, it was clear, and the road was dry. Anyway, there was only one survivor, a boy with a broken leg. They took him to the hospital in American Falls. I never heard what happened after that.”

   “Wow! And that is the worst traffic accident in Idaho history?”

   “Yep. They said that six was the most people ever killed in a car crash before that. As the newspapers tried to keep the story alive, they started comparing the accident to the original massacre – the Indians had only killed nine pioneers. Also, several bibles were found in the Arkansas car, so the papers tried to create some religious angle. It was really something for several weeks.”

   “It sounds like it.”

   Vic reached in the back seat, and found some nuts and the thermos of tea. She doled some nuts out to Greg. She opened the thermos, and smelled the contents.

   “It smells like my herb tea, and it’s still pretty warm. I guess I won’t try it now, but it looks like it may be a good future option.”

   At Raft River, they turned off onto the old highway. “A story in the newspaper says we won’t recognize this area in 20 years’ time.”

   “And why is that?”

   “Because all this dry, gray sagebrush, will be converted to lush, green alfalfa.”

   “Is that true?”

   “I don’t know. I’m just reporting what it said in the newspaper. Your dad and I talked a little about this when we were discussing water rights. Apparently, the land and the climate are very good for alfalfa. The problem is water. Obviously, there’s not much of that on the surface around here, but apparently there’s a pretty good underground lake – the aquifer – that can be reached with wells. I still don’t understand the water rights situation with wells – obviously, if you’re pumping out of the aquifer, it isn’t all your own water. Other people have claim to it, too. Anyway, they say if you drill enough wells, then get some of those big irrigation sprinkler wheels, like you see down closer to the river, you can turn a lot of gray land green in no time at all.”

   “Would that be a good thing?”

   “You mean, environmentally? I don’t know. People around here seem to think we have plenty of sagebrush – you’ve seen the signs for the Stinker Service Stations: Sagebrush is free. Stuff some in your trunk. But there are some animals that depend on these sage areas, and there must be long-term effects from depleting the aquifer. I guess it’s a question of how much is okay, and how much isn’t.

   “Say, do you want to get a burger at the diner? I’m getting hungry.”

   “I think that would be lovely. Oh, you know what Stinker Station sign I like the best? The one they put out on the driest sagebrush flats they can find, that says no nude swimming in this area!”


   Not surprisingly, the parking lot at the diner was empty. Cora greeted them as they entered. “Hey, Jackson, it’s that newly engaged couple we heard about.”

   Vic and Greg both laughed. “I guess you can’t keep any secrets around here,” said Greg.

   “No. Between smoke signals, jungle drums, stirrings in the air, and Fish and Game, the word is bound to get out.”

   “So, Todd told you.”

   “Yep, you got it on the first try. Vic, it’s good to see you. How’s school going?”

   “Hi, Cora. Hi, Jackson,” she yelled to the back room. “It’s good. Some of it is kind of like another year of high school, but some of it is really exciting and stimulating. I miss being with the family, but I’m liking school more and more.”

   “Well, that’s good. I don’t think all the young folks from around here feel that way. It’s more just something they feel they have to do to get a good job.

   “You want burgers, I imagine?”

    “Yes, please, with lots of fries.’

    “Wouldn’t serve them any other way. Sit anywhere you want, as long as the space isn’t already taken.”

   Jackson soon brought out the patties and fries, Cora added the fixings, and brought them over to the table. She and Jackson both pulled up chairs, so they could chat while Vic and Greg ate.

   “I guess Todd told you that they were closing shop after Sunday?” Greg asked.

   “Yes, he did,” said Cora.. “I guess it’s been a pretty poor season, overall, and they’re all getting antsy to get home for the holidays.”

   “Most of the hunters stop here for a bit before they go on home,” said Jackson, “And I don’t think the story has changed all season. When the birds were around, the weather was too good for hunting. Now, many of the ducks are gone, and everybody’s just standing around, freezing their behinds. That sounds like time to shut down for the holidays.”

   “Changing the subject,” began Cora, “Have you two set a wedding date, yet?”

   “Just a general time period,” Vic replied. “We just told my family at Thanksgiving, and we were going to try to go to California during the holidays to introduce me to Greg’s parents. There are schedule conflicts, so we’ll have to do that, later.

   “Anyway, we’re looking at spring, after I get finished with the school term. You know my parents are probably going to be moving sometime next summer, and we want to have the wedding while they’re still here.”

   “That’s right,” said Cora. “They are planning to move as soon as your sister finishes high school. Do they know where they’re going, yet?”

   “No. Daddy’s been putting out feelers, trying to get an idea of what might be available that looks good for them. There’s no set time, but he’s ready to go. So is Mom. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

   “Changing the subject, again,” said Greg, “Did you see the big article in the paper about turning all this area into one big alfalfa field?”

   “We did,” replied Jackson. “Pie in the sky type stuff, but I guess it would be doable if some money people got involved. Well drilling and big irrigation systems would be the key to success.”

   “We’d probably have a lot more antelope than we have now,” Cora opined. “That wouldn’t be bad.”

   “No, that would be okay,” Jackson agreed. “None of it would probably make much difference to us unless the antelope developed a taste for our hamburgers.”

   “Or your fries,” Vic added.


   They left soon after that. It was already getting dark as they entered the refuge, but they took their time, stopping occasionally to listen to the ducks settling down for the night on the deeper, unfrozen parts of the ponds.  Their usual parking spot was quiet - and very cold, even wrapped in Greg’s two blankets – so they only lingered a minute. Near the narrows, two jack rabbits hurried across their path, to be followed closely by a large dark shape. The shape, with eyes that shone yellow in the car’s headlights, stared at them a moment, then was gone.

   “I think we may have just seen a bobcat,” exclaimed Greg.

   “Really? I’ve never seen one before.”

   “I’m not sure you can positively say you’ve seen one now, but I think so. As I recall, coyote eyes would have appeared much brighter white, or maybe even a little greenish. Those were definitely on the yellow side.

   “Too bad the gravel is so heavy on the road, here. If it was a little sandier, or muddier, we might have seen its tracks.  You can usually see claw marks with dog tracks – coyote tracks. Both cats and dogs have four toes, but the cat prints don’t show the claw marks.”

   “What fun! Are bobcats rare here?”

   “It’s the first I’ve seen – or, probably seen – but I think they might actually be fairly common. They don’t get seen a lot, because they come out mostly at night. I think it’s pretty rare to see one in the daytime.”

   “Wow. Well, certain identification or not, I’m going to claim it, and tell our grandchildren about the time I saw a bobcat on the refuge. What a fun night!”

   Chuck had probably only been gone from headquarters for an hour or so, but it was already very dark and very cold and very lonely-looking. He had thoughtfully left the porch light on, so they could at least easily see their way into the house.

   “I told your dad that we’d call just as soon as we got here. If you want to do that, I’ll get all the stuff out of the car.”

   Vic was just finishing a call with her mom when Greg came in the house. She was excitedly discussing the probable bobcat. “Have you ever seen one? Oh. Well, this was a first for me. Of course, all we could see was a big shape in the road, with those shiny yellow eyes. But those eyes were memorable!

   “Yes, everything looks good, here. Daddy left the porch light on, and he got the heater going before he left, so it’s nice and toasty in here. We shouldn’t have any trouble. Yes, I’ll keep in touch, and let you know when we’re coming to town. Yes, I love you all, too. ‘Bye.”

   Greg sat on the couch next to her. “It is nice and warm in here. I was afraid we were going to have to wrap a couple of blankets around us, and snuggle up to keep warm.”

   “Nothing says we can’t do that, anyway, is there?”

   After a half hour or so wrapped in blankets, protecting each other from the dangers of frostbite or hypothermia, Greg asked if Vic was ready to talk about her school adventures.

   “No, I don’t think so. There’s a lot I want to talk to you about, but right now I’d just like to doze here next to you, and think about how nice it feels to be with you, again. Despite all the excitement, I have really, really missed our together time.”

   Quiet time on the couch turned to an hour or so of nap time for both of them. “So, tell me about Christmas at your house,” Greg suggested after they regained consciousness. “How do you celebrate? Do you have traditions?”

   Vic was still a little groggy, but it was something she was willing to talk about.  “Christmas. You want to talk about Christmas? You’ve come to the right place – well, actually, you were already here, but you know what I mean. When you say Christmas, you are also saying Anderson. That’s my family. The Andersons of Idaho are Christmas, personified!”

   “I take it that means you like Christmas.”

   “Well, of course we like Christmas. Haven’t you been listening to me? We’re not so much the religious Christmas type – well, you know we aren’t church people – but we like Christmas carols, and wise men, and creches, and the baby Jesus. We’re just a lot more into Santa Claus. Mandy and I are never giving up on Santa, and I don’t think our parents are far behind us. And Santa likes us pretty well, too. We may not always be as good as we could be, but we’re always nice.”

   “I can certainly attest to that.”

   “See? Santa, did you hear that?” she asked as she raised her head and her voice toward the ceiling. “Testimony from an impartial witness – well, maybe not entirely impartial, but nevertheless a man of good character and with a good eye for the good character of others.. Greg, you have made us shoe-ins for another great visit from Santa.”

   “That pleases me. So, how do you prepare for Santa’s visit?”

   “Well, let’s see. We do Christmas shopping and stuff ahead of time, but we don’t really start to do Christmas until three or four days ahead. That’s when we buy the tree. That’s not always a good idea, because neither here nor North Dakota have an abundance of Christmas trees, and a lot of people buy them early. We always find something, but sometimes it’s kind of scraggly. However, we’ve found that even a sad little tree that only its mother could love can turn into something really elegant with enough lights and ornaments – and, of course, tinsel. Gobs and gobs of tinsel, and suddenly you have a beautiful creation.”


   “Yes, very, but you remember that we are Andersons. I think Anderson may mean ‘clever’ in Norwegian. Anyway, we don’t decorate the tree right then. We look at it for a day or two, check it from all angles, and come up with the perfect plan for decorating it. Then, on December 23 – the day before Christmas Eve – we give it the full works.”

   “It sounds like a well thought out strategy.”

   “Oh, it is. You’ll see on the 23rd. Now, about other decorations, we’ve never done anything outside. Well, we’ve been on refuges, and there hasn’t been anyone to see them except other refuge people, ducks, deer, and bunny rabbits.”

   “Wouldn’t some of them be appreciative?”

   “Maybe, but if so they can peer in the windows, and enjoy what’s inside.”

   “Good plan, except maybe for the bunny rabbits.”

   “Yeah, I guess I hadn’t really considered them. Well, you can’t please everybody! Now, indoors, we have the tree, of course. Then, Mom likes to string a few colored lights around the kitchen and dining room. She also has a few figurines – Santa, reindeer, elves – that she sets out. Finally, she has a big box of lovely fake flowers – poinsettias, lilies, and other Christmassy stuff. She has a big bowl that she puts them in, and sets it in the middle of the dining room table. It’s really, really beautiful.”

   “It sounds like it. I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

   “Good. Now, that brings us to Christmas Eve. It’s kind of a secretive day. People are wrapping presents, and then trying to get them under the tree when nobody is looking. We put the names on the packages of who they’re going to, but we never say who they’re from, because we don’t want anybody to know which are from Santa and which are from the family.

   “Besides that, we eat and talk and play games and look at old photo albums. In the evening, there are usually some good old Christmas movies on the TV. After that, we all go to bed pretty early, so we don’t interfere with Santa’s doings.”

   “You and Mandy don’t sneak down to see if Santa has arrived yet?”

   “Of course not! You don’t do that if you want to stay on Santa’s ‘good list.’ No, we stay in bed Christmas morning, just as long as we can stand it, then rush out to see what’s changed. We’re allowed to look in our stockings right away, but we have to wait until after breakfast for Daddy to dole out the presents. He makes a lovely breakfast with eggs and pancakes, but the wait can be excruciating.”

   “I can imagine.”

   “That brings us to the rest of Christmas Day. When we were on a refuge where there were other families, we’d all eat together, usually at the manager’s house. Of course, sometimes people were gone over the Christmas holidays, so it was just dinner with whoever was around.

   “Here, we haven’t had other refuge families, and none of our own relatives nearby, so we usually just have our own dinner. It’s so far from town, and the weather is sometimes not really good for traveling, so we don’t usually have visitors, or go to visit anybody, ourselves.

   “I suppose that might change this year, with us living in town. I don’t know what, if anything, Mom and Daddy are thinking about.

   “So, that’s the Anderson Christmas. What is the Cleveland Christmas like?”

   Greg considered for a moment. “Well, I didn’t know it, but it seems like we might have some Norwegians in our family tree. Our Christmases are pretty similar. We get our tree maybe a little earlier than you do, and decorate it over a couple of days, but overall it’s pretty much the same. Even though we live in the city, my dad has never decorated the yard or the outside of the house. I understand that, nowadays, some neighbors get really incensed if every house isn’t lit up. That doesn’t sound very Christmas-spirited. I don’t know if my parents have had any of that kind of agitation in recent years. We never did, before.

   “Christmas Eve is really our big difference. I probably never told you that my dad’s mother – my grandmother Cleveland – died when he was just a baby, and he was pretty much raised by his sisters. He’s always been very close to them. Just about everybody is in southern California, but his one sister – my Aunt Beth – and her family live in Albany – which, for all intents and purposes, is the same city as Oakland, where we live. There are ten or twelve “cities” – Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, Alameda, etc., etc. – that I’m sure were once separate places, but over the years they’ve all grown together. If you don’t happen to notice the ‘Berkeley city limits’ sign, for instance, as you drive by, you don’t really know you’ve left Oakland.

   “Well, I’m side tracking myself. What I was trying to say is that Dad loves his sister, but I think also feels a real obligation to her. So, every Christmas Eve, we would drive across town to Albany, and spend the evening with her family. She’s very nice – my sister and I spent a lot of time with her, and she even took us up into the hills to her summer cabin one year – I think probably the longest I’d ever been away from home at that point. Well, again, I’m getting off the story. The problem for us spending Christmas Eve with them was that they open all their packages that night, not waiting for Santa to come. We got to open one package with them, but then we just had to sit and watch them go through all of theirs. It was pretty awkward for us kids.”

   “I can see that it might be, particularly with it implied that maybe there wasn’t any Santa to wait for?”

   “Maybe so. I don’t know what we thought, just that it wasn’t much fun. Now, Christmas morning has been like yours – stockings before breakfast, everything else afterward. While we only had the one Cleveland relative in the area, there always seemed to be a jillion aunts and uncles and cousins on my mother’s side of the family, and we always had a big crew around for Christmas dinner. After that, Christmas was pretty much over, although we did usually keep our tree up until New Year’s.”

   “I didn’t mention that, but we do the same – the trimmed tree and all the various decorations up until New Year’s.

   “You know, looking ahead to our own family Christmases, our experiences and expectations are so similar, we shouldn’t have any trouble developing our own Cleveland-Anderson traditions.”

   “No, I wouldn’t think so. We might even consider spending our Christmas Eves with Aunt Mandy.”

   Vic laughed, “Now, that would be something, wouldn’t it? One thing we could be sure of – in Aunt Mandy’s house, there would be no opening of presents before Santa arrives.

   “You know, Greg, I am getting very tired. Happily, pleasantly tired, but still very tired. Would you mind if we headed for bed?”

   “I wouldn’t mind at all, if that’s what you want.”

   “It is, but let me ask you: if we went to bed now, would you want to continue your investigation into the presence or absence of a bikini?”

   “It would be my great pleasure to do that.”

   “And, if in the end, you didn’t find a bikini?”

   “The pleasure, my dear Vic, is in the search.”


   Vic was still sound asleep when Greg got up Saturday morning. He turned up the heater, took a look outside (cold, but dry), and started looking around for something to make for breakfast. The phone rang.

   “Hi, Alice. Your daughter, I think, is still pretty far off in dreamland. Oh, we mostly just sat on the couch and talked. Spent a lot of time talking about our Christmas traditions. Somewhat surprisingly, they aren’t much different. Yes, that is nice. We went to bed fairly early. I think she was pretty wound up from school, and just needed the day to come down. No, no. She’s fine, I’m sure – just needed to relax for a while.

   “No, we don’t have anything in particular planned for the day. There are several things – some about our engagement, and some about school – that we’ve wanted to really talk about in depth. I think that’s what today will be. You want me to have her call you? Oh, okay. Thanks, Alice.”

   Greg was getting out the fixings for French toast when Vic appeared at his shoulder. “Did I hear the phone ring?”

   “You did hear the phone ring. It was your mother, checking in on her little girl. I told her you were still sawing logs.”

   “I don’t ‘saw logs’ when I sleep.”

   “How do you know. Did you ever stay awake to listen?”

   “I repeat, I don’t ‘saw logs.’ Now, on another subject.” She kissed his neck. “I’m sorry there was no bikini.”

   “I’m not.”

   “No, I’m not either, really. It was a fun search, though, wasn’t it?”

   He turned around, so they could share a long, deep morning kiss. “It was a fun search. And it turned out you weren’t nearly as tired as you thought you were.”

   “No, I was. I just forgot for a little bit. I mean, here I am, just appearing after almost twelve hours. Doesn’t that show I was tired?”

   He kissed her, again. “I think it means that you’re ready for breakfast. Is French toast okay?”

   “Sure. I’m going to go get dressed. I’ll be back, shortly.”

   After a breakfast of orange juice, French toast, sausages, and coffee and tea, they settled on the couch, again.  “We have a lot we wanted to discuss. Is that what you want to do, today?” asked Greg.

   “Sure. Could we take a little walk outside, first? I know it’s freezing, but I could use a little exercise to get my brain going.”

   It was freezing outside, the thermometer at the weather station reading 9 degrees. Even though they were well bundled up, and there was no wind, they didn’t think they should venture far, or be out too long. Not surprisingly, no wildlife was moving around, and after about 15 minutes, they went back inside.

   “Wow, that got the blood moving!” Vic exclaimed.

   “I’m not sure. Mine may be frozen in the veins, but it was invigorating.”

   They took off their heavy clothes, kicked off their shoes, and settled back on the couch. “So, what’s first on the agenda?” Vic asked.

   “How about the Mormon Church? Did we cover that well enough in our letters?”

   “I guess so. I’m still curious, but I’m also confused about this ‘revelation’ stuff – you know, God suddenly deciding to allow and then not allow polygamy, or their changing attitudes about Negroes. I mean, these are really big things. You pointed out to me that most of the Christian churches have changed the rules over time – like Peter and Paul deciding that their churches needed more hard and fast rules than Jesus said they needed, or the Pentecostals loving ‘speaking to tongues,’ but the Baptists hating it. I don’t think those are right, but they’re still nothing like the Mormon ‘revelations,’ are they?”

   “I think you’re right, but the whole church denomination thing is hard to follow. Are we losing the message? Are we following Jesus, or is Jesus following us?”

   “That’s my question! Looking into all these different churches is confusing me, and also making me unhappy. If God really wanted us to know something – if he really wanted us to go a certain way – wouldn’t he have made it pretty clear?”

   Vic sat very quietly for several minutes. “Shall we move on?” Greg asked, finally.

   “Not yet. I’m in kind of a funk, right now.” He just sat quietly beside her. “Okay,” she said, after a while. “I think I know what I need. If you kiss me really long and really hard, I think it will clear my mind, and let me think of other things.”

   Greg snorted. “I don’t know. I’ve never thought of my kisses as being used for such a purpose. I always thought that they had just the opposite effect – not to calm, but to stir up.”

   “Well, that’s generally true, but this is a special situation that requires a special kiss. I know it will work. Now, be sure you don’t kiss me twice. If you did, I don’t guarantee that we’d do any more talking this morning, about anything.”

   “Wow. Well, I’ll try to remember after Kiss Number One, but…”

   “Just do it!”

   Brief interlude. Then, the brief interlude got a little less brief.

  “Okay,” she said, at last. “I think I’m ready for the next topic.”

  “I’m not sure I am. I think Kiss Number One acted for me the way you thought Kiss Number Two might have acted for you.”

   “Well, I guess there can always be unforeseen circumstances. Just work through it. We have things to discuss. How about bird-watching, and how to have the kind of discussions you had in college?”

   “You are a cruel taskmaster, but okay. Actually, I don’t know what else to say about that situation. You hit the nail on the head when you said that I really miss the kind of brainstorming that goes on in college. I don’t know if there’s anything to do about it. It seems like it’s just the nature of the work that people with interests like mine end up doing. Probably, we’ll always be  more or less alone on the job. I could stay in college for another couple of years and get an advanced degree, but then I think I’d be back in the same place.  I don’t know. I guess we just keep our eyes open for what’s available. Let’s move on.”

   “If you’re sure… Okay, I guess the big situations that I wanted to talk about are the anti-war protests at school. What I didn’t get to tell you – because there wasn’t time to write another letter – is that more things happened this last week.

   “Sol, going back a week, first. I told you how I became an impromptu sign carrier, and how disappointing I thought it was. I mean, it turns out it wasn’t meant to be anything more than a statement against fighting wars. Let’s have peace, not war. Is there anybody who is pro war?”

   Vic couldn’t stay sitting down. She got up, and moved around the room, talking to the furniture and occasionally directly to Greg. “The professors who showed up made statements specifically against the Viet Nam war – or, at least, the way it was being handled – which left the door open for them to maybe favor some wars. But still, they weren’t pro war. The alternative to anti-war is not necessarily pro-war. I don’t think anybody would confess to being pro-war, even if they came up with lots of justifications for specific wars.”

   She slumped back on the couch. “Well, I’m just going around in circles here, but it just seems pointless and a great waste of time to not have any more purpose for a rally than to say you don’t like war. Duh. I could carry around a sign saying I’m against illegal drugs. Is anybody for them – I mean, other than the ones selling them and the ones using them? Remember when we were talking about abortion? Just because some people are anti-abortion doesn’t mean that the other people are pro abortion! Come on!”

   “Wow, I thought that kiss was supposed to calm you down.”

   She leaned up against him. “Calm me down? Did you think that’s what you were doing? Can you imagine any kiss from you being calming? I mean, wouldn’t that be – what, an oxymoron? Is that the word I want?”

   “If you mean that suggesting that any kiss I gave you could be a calming kiss would be oxymoronic, then yes.”

   “That’s what I’m trying to say. That kiss wasn’t meant to calm me. It was meant to settle me – to get all the extraneous thoughts out of the way so I could concentrate on this discussion. It worked. I’m wound up, but I’m very lucid.”

   “Yes, I can see that now.”

   “The potential problem with that first kiss is that it created a void in my control and my emotions. That was what was supposed to happen, but that put me in a very vulnerable position. If you had kissed me again – before the protest discussion got organized in my mind – all of the emotions that had been temporarily set aside could have come rushing back in one great tidal wave of feelings. I could have fallen so deeply into your magic that we couldn’t do anything but make furious love for the next twelve – maybe twenty-four! – hours.”

   “Oh, my god! That would have been awful. I’m so glad you stopped us.”

   She giggled. “Yes, well, we’re saving that second kiss for later.

   “Now, let me tell you the rest of what happened last week. I think I said there wasn’t much immediate reaction to our sign carrying. The school newspaper had a very short, mild anti-war editorial. Governor Smylie said ‘ho hum, kids will be kids.’ The American Legion said we were ingrates for not supporting the troops. The college president said protests were okay with him as long as we weren’t stopping traffic.

   “A couple days later, the news got out that the Young Republicans club was circulating a petition, asking people to sign it in support of the Government’s policies on Viet Nam. They said it was to show that those on campus opposing the war were a small minority. Last Wednesday, some of the original sign carriers came back, carrying signs opposing the war and the petition. Apparently, only about a dozen protestors showed up – no teachers – and the Pocatello newspaper suggested that not all the protestors were students. A small crowd gathered, most of them booing the protestors.

   “I didn’t join in. It sounded even less meaningful than the first one. But here’s what’s frustrating me. I have a primary agenda, which is to keep you from going to Viet Nam. But, related to that, I think about that press release that the draft people put out, that pretty much celebrated the fact that there are two million boys about to turn 18, who will be available to send overseas to fight and maybe die. It’s just plain wrong! There must be something that can stop that.”

   Greg stood up. “Let’s ponder it a bit more. But first, I need some limbering up. Since you have forbidden our limbering up in the most natural and interesting way – fearing cataclysmic results. I understand we can’t risk it – I suggest we put on warm clothes and go for a walk. I think the temperature may actually be close to 30 degrees and, if we walk a loop through the woods, we will be out of the wind. Who knows, we might actually happen upon a cold, lonely bird or mammal along the way.”

   “That sounds nice. Let’s do it.”

   The wind wasn’t blowing in the woods, and it had warmed up considerably, so their walk was really a nice stroll. Greg hadn’t been in the woods for some time. Obviously, he expected the trees to be leafless, but he hadn’t really considered what the freezing temperatures were doing to the undergrowth. The forest floor looked essentially bare, with just naked tree trunks projecting into the sky. It was very quiet, and seemed almost surreal.

   At one point, they heard soft sounds of moving vegetation off to their left. Greg suggested that there might be deer moving away from them. They stopped and peered under the forest canopy, but didn’t see anything. They got back to the house without scaring up even one bird. Nevertheless, it was a refreshing interlude.

   With toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, and cups of tomato soup, they settled back on the couch.  “So, the question,” began Greg, “is what – if anything – can be done about the Viet Nam situation by people like us? The obvious start would be with the war itself. According to our Constitution, only Congress can declare war. Unfortunately, I don’t think Congress has declared a war since World War II. The President and the armed forces always seem to find some way to leave them out of the decision. This time, if I understand it correctly – and I’m not positive I do – the United Nations came out against the North Vietnamese aggression, and as a partner, we were just ‘backing them up.’ I think that was supposed to only mean providing supplies and planning help. However, the Administration then said that the enemy had fired on U. S. ships in the area, and that was enough to move more aggressively.

   “I guess how we got into the war doesn’t matter too much. If Congress could somehow stop it, they don’t seem to want to. The President seems to want to accelerate it. The big, general questions that the war opponents  want answered are, why – other than backing up the U. N. –were we even in the area? What does Viet Nam have to do with us? What is their threat to our security? We hear the same talk as in Korea, about stopping the spread of Communism, but is that really the issue, or does it have more to do with how we might profit from the economy of the area, or the general world balance of power? I sure don’t know.

   “I guess marching and carrying signs against a specific war is more relevant than against war in general, but still what do you protest? I don’t think Congress can be swayed on either the legitimacy or the cost of the war. They seem to have accepted both. It would have to be outrage at the number of Americans dead and maimed in a war that can’t be explained.”

   “So, what about the draft, itself?” Vic asked. “Isn’t that forced labor, or denying men their rights, or something?”

   “You would think so, but I’m pretty sure we’ve been drafting men as far back as the Civil War. Sometimes, there has been outrage expressed, and the draft has been prohibited for a time. Then, it gets reinstated in ‘emergencies,’ but then left in place when the presumed need no longer exists. It’s been the subject of legitimate protests over time, but it always seems to creep back in, and be generally ‘accepted.’

   “I don’t know if you could really start a national protest against the draft, one that would develop widespread support. What I think you might do, however, is get Congress to reconsider how the draft is actually handled.”

   “What are you thinking about?”

   “Well, okay, to start with, I’d say that the draft couldn’t be initiated unless Congress declared war, or officially acknowledged a ‘national emergency.’ No ‘emergency’ is so immediate that Congress couldn’t have at least a week or two to approve.

   “Second, it seems unlikely that we would be able to get rid of the requirement that all males reaching a certain age register with Selective Service. They would always want to have a list to work from. However, it could be made an all-inclusive national list, rather than having local draft boards all acting individually. The current system isn’t fair to men in smaller towns. Using me as an example, the way it’s set up now, me leaving my registration in a big city office makes it a lot less likely that I will be called than if I was registered here. Well, the lottery is random, so I could be picked sooner than later, either place. But in the big city, there will be more volunteers, so the lottery part of the selection won’t have to be as large, and my chances of being drawn will be less. Now, if it was one big national spin of the wheel whenever they needed more men, then everybody of the age group being drawn for  - whether  they lived in Idaho, Florida, Delaware, or California - would have the same chance of being picked, or not picked.”

   “That would seem a lot fairer, but you’d lose the advantage you have by being registered in California, instead of in Idaho.”

   “Maybe not, because local draft boards wouldn’t have quotas, like they do, now. My chances might even go down in a national lottery. Well, remember, the actual drawing is random, so I could be picked Number One, no matter how it was set up. But it’s my chance of being picked that could go way down.”

   “Okay, I get that. So, we’re not going to march and carry signs about war and peace in general, or even the war in Viet Nam in particular. We’re going to try to change the draft, by which we’re probably talking about changing the priorities of who gets selected.”

   “That’s where I would think we could have the best chance. If we could build a case for something that would work better militarily, while at the same time stressing the human problems with the current system, we might find some sympathizers among people who could actually help.”

   “So, what would you stress?”

   “Volunteering would be an obvious place, but I wonder if there isn’t a more important one to start with. I read in one recent news article that there are almost three million men already in military service. That’s mostly Army, but also Marines, Navy, and Air Force. A lot of them are in bases in the United States, but we have troops scattered all over the world – not doing anything in particular, just standing by in case they’re needed. These are all men committed to the military way of life, and they’re all – if not actually ‘combat ready’ – pretty well trained. Certainly, they could get to Viet Nam, and be ready to fight, a lot quicker than new volunteers or draftees, but I never see them mentioned in the reports. Oh, wait, they did bring in a bunch of Marines at one point, but I think that may be all.

   “Okay, next would be volunteers. I guess there always are quite a few, just not as many as the Army would like. Why not offer them double or triple pay for a two-year enlistment? That’s a drop in the bucket in the military budget, but could be a major incentive for young men who had been contemplating enlisting – many of whom expected they would be drafted if they didn’t go in voluntarily.

   “Okay, then, men ages 35 to 45…”

   “Whoa! That would be quite a change. They aren’t even on the draftable list, now.”

   “I know, but why not? A lot of men are at the best of their physical condition and abilities at that time. Some of the best athletes in the ruggedest sports – like professional football – are in this age group. True, that by this time, some men have ‘let themselves go,’ but their bodies are still salvageable with a little training. The Army might not like them as much as teenagers, because they have lived some life, and have minds of their own, that aren’t as easily controlled. On the other hand, their maturity makes it more likely, than with immature kids, that they will make good decisions and be more reliable in the field.

   “Also, from a humanitarian standpoint, these men have had a chance to make something of their lives. They’ve had a chance to go to college, or train for some profession. They’ve had a chance to actually test themselves in the real adult world. They’ve had a chance to meet the girls of their dreams, marry, have and raise kids, and develop a lot of family memories. No one wants to lose a husband or father – either temporarily or permanently – at any time, but at least their kids would be at or near the age of independence, and the wife is probably better prepared for separation than she would have been in her ‘twenties.

   “Contrast that with 18- or 19-year olds. They’ve been itching all their lives to be ‘adults.’ They’re not there yet – they have driver’s licenses, but they can’t vote, and in many states they couldn’t get married without their parents’ signature. But they’re close. They can taste independence. Then, suddenly, they are in servitude – slaves – and nothing legally they can do about it. Not only are their lives on hold, but they may die, or be physically or mentally injured in ways that will dramatically affect their future. They might never have a steady girlfriend – maybe will never seriously kiss a girl, or dance with one. They may never have a career, a marriage, or a family. What was their first 18 years all about, anyway?”

   “Oh, Greg, when you put it like that, it just makes me want to cry!”

   “I know, and as far as physical shape, their bodies are nowhere near maturity. They may ‘work out’ or play sports, and look pretty good at the swimming pool, but most are ten years away from having real adult bodies. Mentally, lots of them are pretty sharp, but – hey – they’re teenagers! Judgment comes with age and experience, neither of which they’ve gained. They are not ready for hard training.”

   “So, what would you do with them on your priority list?”

   “I think I’d take them off, altogether. Don’t make them register until they’re some other age, maybe 25. That way, they could live a few more years of their lives the way they picture them, not how Uncle Sam sees them.”

   “I would agree with that. So, that just leaves you – the 25 to 34s. What do you do with them? Do you separate by married or unmarried?”

   “I don’t think so, Vic. Some men choose not to marry, or to have families, but their careers are just as important to them. I’d treat them the same, by age only. I would exempt any married man with children, no matter what age, because the kids from that group would almost certainly still be dependent on their parents. I’d put this last group – my group – last on the list to be called.”

   Vic thought about it for a few moments. “I don’t know if something like that would ever be possible, but at least it would give our lawmakers something tangible to think about.

   “You know, there’s one other group we haven’t considered: women. Some countries let women fight, don’t they? Women at home don’t have much homemaking – or baby making – they can do, if all their mates, or potential mates, are off at war, hopefully not dying or being catastrophically injured, physically or mentally. In general, women know as much about guns as men, and a lot of country women are excellent shots and have actually killed things – hopefully, not people! Women are not soft – think of all the great women athletes, some of them fairly old. We may not be able to carry 100-pound packs, but if women were in combat, I bet the Army would find ways that we didn’t have to carry 100-pound packs to do the job.”

   Greg pondered what she said. “I follow your logic, and I agree with it all. My problem is what you might call ‘the American Male Problem.’ We – not me, personally, but men – may put you down, think you’re not much good except as sex objects, housewives or secretaries. Even so, we are sure that you need us males to protect you from any possible harm. We couldn’t allow ourselves to put you in dangerous situations. We couldn’t possibly let you carry a gun, and defend America.

   “I think if we suggested women could, or should, be drafted, most people would home in on that one thing, and disregard absolutely everything else that was said. And illogical as that is, I can understand it. The thought of you, Mandy, Nancy, or Jeannie being drafted just appalls me.”

   “Well, I’m glad you said it was illogical, but I do get what you’re saying. Maybe we should just shelve that proposal for the time being.”


   After they’d rested up, and eaten a light dinner, Greg asked if she was ready to talk about a few other things.

   “Yes, if not too complicated. Our discussions got a little intense, and I am feeling a bit drained.”

   “No, these subjects are entirely different, I promise. I think you can handle them. First one, I didn’t get a Christmas present for Mandy.”

   “But you got her that lovely, fairly expensive charm bracelet. Isn’t that enough?”

   “Well, the bracelet was for her birthday, and also for another reason – which I will get to, later. I really want to have something for her under the tree. I have an idea, but it involves giving her a present that I had really bought for you.”

   “I don’t know if I like that idea. What did you buy me?”

   “It’s the brand new Lloyd Alexander book…”

   “Greg, I love that! You knew I was eagerly waiting for the next one, and you got it! I could kiss you right now!”

   “I hope you do – several times, maybe – but what I am proposing is that I give the book to Mandy. She reads it, and then gives it to you. You don’t get it first, but I bet she reads it quickly, and you probably get it before you go back to school.”

   Vic wasn’t hiding her disappointment. “Vic, I’m sorry. It was a dumb idea. I bought it for you, and it should be yours, first. When we go to town, we’ll see if we can find her something else. I am really, really sorry. I know how much you want to read it.”

   “No, wait.” She was obviously still upset, but she had a new thought. “I think you have a good idea – with a little modification. How about this? You give me the book today or tomorrow. We still have a couple days here, and I read fast. Well, I will want to read fast! I’ll finish it, we’ll wrap it up, put her name on the package, and put it under the tree. Two problems solved.”

   Greg was relieved but, for his next presentation, he wanted to be sure that the mood was lightened. “I’m going to need you – your full attention – in some very special circumstances in our remaining days here. Is this marathon reading going to interfere with any other things that might come up?”

   She gave him a calculating look. “If what might come up is what I think you’re indirectly referring to, I can assure you that taking a break from my marathon reading  will be easily – and eagerly – accomplished.”

   “Okay, then. I think we understand each other. Can I move on to item two?”

   “By all means. I can’t wait.”

   “Okay. I want to buy you an engagement ring.”

   Obviously, she hadn’t been expecting that. “An engagement ring? Greg, I don’t need an engagement ring. We know we’re engaged – we’re quite a bit beyond that, actually!”

   “I think everybody knows we’re engaged. Your parents, my parents, the Fish and Game guys, Cora and Jackson… That’s not the point of the ring. The ring is for you to show off to all your friends to make them both happy for you and jealous of you. The ring is for me to present to you as a tangible token of my everlasting love for you, and my everlasting commitment to you. We really need to do it.”

   He was getting to her, but she was still hesitant. “I don’t want us starting out in debt. You can’t really afford a ring, Greg.”

   “Yes, I can. I talked to Jeannie about cost. You’re worth a $1000 ring – you’re worth a million dollar ring! – but Jeannie says there a beautiful rings available for much, much less than that, and I can pay one off in just a couple of months.

   “I could have done like they do in all the movies – the guy buys the ring, gets down on his knee, and says ‘will you marry me?’ Put in that position, the girl would be a real meanie if she didn’t say yes. He’s happy , she’s happy, but does she have the ring that she really would have picked out for herself? They don’t  tell us in the movie. Now, in our case, I knew you were going to say yes – you already did – so my next thought was, why don’t we go in to Jeannie’s and let Vic pick out the ring that she’d really prefer?”

   “Okay, but what if it turns out I prefer a $1000  one?”

   “It won’t happen. Jeannie has made up a special tray of beautiful rings, but ones from ‘The Fairly Poor Refuge Manager’s Collection.’ Any one of them you pick will be okay.”

   “Okay,” she said, finally. “We go look at rings.”

   “Excellent! Now, there’s one more thing to bring up. When I suggested giving your present to Mandy, I wasn’t leaving you without anything to open. There will be something for you under the tree. Also, there is a present that I want to give you now – for two reasons. One, I don’t think it is a gift you want to unwrap with your parents present. Second, if I give it to you now, I expect to reap certain benefits from the early gift presentation. The down side of this is that you’ll know that the present isn’t from Santa.”

   He had her attention. “Well, you’ve made that seem pretty provocative. I don’t think I’ll mind knowing that it isn’t from Santa. Just the fact that it’s something you didn’t want me to open in front of my parents is actually a pretty good clue that it isn’t from him”

   “I suppose that is a little bit of a giveaway.”

   “So, tell me honestly, Is the present going to live up to the fanfare?”

   “Oh, I’m pretty sure it will. Would you like it, now?”

   “Yes, please.”

   Greg got up, reached behind the couch, and brought out a long, prettily colored box. He handed it to her, and she opened it. “Oh, my god!” she said, as she first beheld the filmy folds of pale green. As she took it out of the box, and smoothed it across her lap, it took on the character of a lovely long nightgown. “Greg, what have you done!”

   “I’m not an expert on terminology, but what I have presented to you I think is called a negligee. Also included is what I think is called a Pan-war. It’s a French word, maybe spelled p-e-i-g-n-o-i-r. for the sexy little jacket that you wear over the negligee. The jacket won’t keep you warm, but I think it might heat both of us up a little bit.”

   “Yes, I know what a peignoir is, and it all looks – and feels! – really lovely. Should I try it on, now?”

   “By all means, but I think I should tell you a little about it first. There is a legend that, when the right woman wears this outfit in the right situation, it pulls all the sexy, erotic thoughts and impulses from her, and mixes them with the fabric of the negligee. If her lover happens to touch the fabric when she has it on, all his erotic energy flows to meet hers, and… Well, the result can only be imagined. No, I take that back. It is too unique, too intense, to be compared to anything that they’ve known previously. It’s.. well, we just need to be sure that you only wear it when…”

   “Wow! I don’t even have it on yet, and I feel… Greg, do you think any of that is true?”

   “Well, I said it’s a legend, but I think it’s pretty clear that most legends arise from some previous truth. Of course, legends grow with the telling – but, I mean, who can really know?”

   She got up off the couch. “I’m going to put it on.”

   “Are you sure? Is there anything else that needs doing this evening? I mean, if the legend is anywhere near true...”

   “Let’s take our chances.” She disappeared into the bedroom, but then reappeared at the door. “Do I wear anything underneath it?”

   “There were no directions, so I assume it’s personal preference. It seems to me that soft, filmy fabric would feel rather nice against one’s bare skin, but…”

   She still stood in the doorway. “I have to ask. Did you buy this for me, or for you?”

   He smiled. “Well, I think it will look a lot better on you than it would on me. However, as I think I mentioned, I do hope to derive some benefits from you wearing it.”

   “That’s what I thought.” She disappeared into the bedroom, again. When she came out, clothed in billows of beautiful pale green, Greg found he couldn’t speak for a moment.

   “Oh, my!” he finally got out. “I knew you would look spectacular, but this is beyond all imagining.”

   “So, you’re saying you like it?”

   “I am saying that I am overwhelmed. Please come over here, and dance with me.” He held out his arm to her. She took hold, but tentatively. “Dance with you? Can you dance?”

   He pulled her to him. “We need to find out, don’t we?”

   “But you’re touching me in the gown. Isn’t that a potential problem?”

   “We need to find that out, too.” He held on to her, and began to waltz. “You can dance!” she exclaimed. “And pretty good, too!”

   “Still a beginner, but with a few lessons. I’ve wanted to dance with you so badly for so long, but I wanted to do well enough that we could really concentrate on one another.”

   “Mandy, right? I knew there was some big secret that she wasn’t sharing. We know each other too well. And this was the ‘other reason’ for the charm bracelet?”

   There was no music, but they kept moving effortlessly around the room, with him remembering how to smoothly turn them when they came to an obstruction. “I’ve imagined how this would be, ever since I sent you off to your prom with someone else. It’s even better than I imagined.”

   She stopped them. “Sent me off to the prom? You didn’t really even know me, then. We joked about me getting you a picture, without my date in it, but…”

   “I know we’d hardly talked, and I didn’t think I had any romantic interest in you, but I felt what could only be jealousy. I ached to take you to that dance, and hold you in my arms!”

   “And that’s why, when I talked to you after I got home, you said that about maybe, someday…” She put her arms around his neck, pulled him close to her, and kissed him very hard and very long. When she let him go, she whispered, “We can’t dance, anymore!”

   “Why not?” he asked.

   “The legend isn’t just a legend. You need to take me to the bedroom, right now!”


   When Greg woke on Sunday morning, he found he had a lovely naked girl in his arms. Her new negligee was draped over a nearby chair. He vividly remembered parts of the previous night, but a lot of it was a confused, happy blur. He found he couldn’t stop smiling. He knew it wasn’t ‘the legend’ – he’d made that up on the spur of the moment – but something had surely been different.

   When he started to move her off his arm, she protested sleepily. “Stay where you are. I am very comfortable here.”

   He kissed her forehead. “Unfortunately, my love, some of my internal organs are urging me to get up.”

   “That’s not very romantic. Well, leave if you must.”

   He did. When, later, he wandered into the living room and looked out the window, he couldn’t believe the way things looked.

   “Vic, you’ve got to see this!”

   Vic appeared, back in her new negligee (that had been discarded fairly early the previous evening), and stood beside him. He put his arm around her. “Wow!” she said.

   “Wow, indeed. I’ve never seen anything like it, before.” Outside the house, startlingly eerie against a clear blue sky, everything was white. It wasn’t white like snow, in white colorless drifts. Every tree was clothed in a sparkling, shining coat of ice.  “Did we have an ice storm?”

   “No, it’s the pogonip.”

   “What in the world is the pogonip?”

   “I don’t think pogonip is a real word. I think it’s something that the early pioneers thought the Shoshone Indians were calling it, so that’s what the weather people call it, now. Anyway, it isn’t like an ice storm, when ice freezes heavily on the trees, and can break branches. It’s more like an ice fog. Under certain weather conditions – and don’t ask me what they are. All I know is it’s pretty rare, and occurs on cold, foggy nights. Anyway, the drops of fog freeze in the air, and form little crystals over everything. They disappear pretty quickly, but aren’t they lovely for the moment?”

   “Yes, it’s amazing. Have you seen it before?”

   “I know I did once, not long after we moved here. That memory is pretty vivid. I think I saw it one other time, but I don’t remember that time clearly, so maybe I’m thinking of something else. As I said, it’s pretty rare.”

   “I can’t get over it! And it doesn’t hurt the trees?”

   “No, I don’t think so. It’s just little ice crystals, and they don’t last very long. They used to think it hurt people, though.”


   “Yeah, there was a story that the word pogonip – well, the real Shoshone word – meant ‘white death,’ or something like that. Actually, some professor said it only meant ‘cloud,’ and the ‘white death’ story was made up by pioneers, not Indians. Supposedly, breathing in the crystals could badly damage your lungs. But it’s just bits of ice, and your body heat melts them just as soon as they touch you.”

   “So, it’s just a scary story about a lovely, rare event?”

   “So they say. Well, I’m going back to bed. Call me when breakfast is ready – or, if you’re feeling very romantic, you can serve me breakfast in bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had that – well, except maybe when I was sick as a kid. That wouldn’t have been the same.”

   She was still standing beside him, and his arm was over her shoulder. He turned her so they were face to face. “You know,” he said, “If I was feeling really romantic, it would seem logical for me to just come to bed with you now, and worry about breakfast later.”

   “Yes, but that wouldn’t work in this case. I have something I want to do in bed that would be difficult if you were in there with me.”

   He gave her a puzzled look. “I don’t get it. There are only so many things one can do in bed, and I would think there would be even less if one was alone. What could I possibly keep you from doing?”

   “I’m going to start reading the Lloyd Alexander book, so I can finish it in time for you to give to Mandy at Christmas. Actually, I started before you called me to see the pogonip. I think it’s going to be really good.”

   He turned her so she faced the bedroom. “Go. Have fun. I’ll see how romantic I feel when breakfast is ready.”

   She turned back, and kissed him. “I knew you’d understand!”


   He made a nice fluffy omelet for them, with ham and medium sharp cheddar cheese, and took it to her on a tray, accompanied by a glass of orange juice.

   “This book is really good,” she said, without at first looking up. “Oh, and my breakfast in bed! That also looks really good. Thank you, Greg.”

   He placed the tray on her lap. “I want you to know that this is not any kind of romantic gesture. It’s been so long since you’ve eaten that I was afraid you might be too weak to get to the kitchen.”

   “Why, thank you, Greg. That makes this even more special, that you would do it for me without any thought of personal reward for yourself.”

   “Yes, I am quite a thoughtful guy.”

   “Well, since you have no romantic intentions, why don’t you lay down on the bed beside me, and keep me company while I eat?”

   He did, but soon found he was having a little trouble maintaining his servant persona, and got up, again. “I will return with a nice cup of tea for your ladyship; again, no strings attached,” he said, as he started to leave the room. 

   “But, Greg, you know that tea bags always have strings attached.” He left.

    When he returned, he found that she had moved the breakfast tray aside, and had pulled back the covers, as if in invitation for him to join her under them. The sight of her filmy negligee, pulled up to reveal most of her lovely bare legs, proved irresistible.

   The tea sat forgotten, and got cold.

   Later, she said,  “I need to talk a little about last night. We’ve had amazing times together, but that wasn’t like anything else! The legend talked about all my needs and desires escaping into the negligee, and meeting all of yours there, and that’s what seemed to happen. It was like lightning and thunder was going off inside of me! When you… When I finally… I mean, I was just overwhelmed!”

   “I had the same kind of feelings. When you said we couldn’t dance anymore…”

   “That nightie is dangerous! I don’t think I should wear it except when we want a really special occasion.”

   “Or you could wear it all the time, and every occasion would be special.”

   She started to giggle, but then had a serious thought. “But, after experiencing last night, isn’t it possible that we would – what, implode? – implode into each other – just literally burn ourselves up?”

   “There could be worse ways to go.”

  Later still, she asked, “Do you think this will just seem ‘old hat‘ by the time we get to our real honeymoon, when this kind of stuff is supposed to happen?”

   “What do you think?”

   “No, I think it will be just as new and nice and as exciting then, as it is now.”

   “Agreed. We can keep this up forever.”

   She laughed, and her fingers softly traced a diagonal path down his abdomen . “I’d like to see that!”


   Later, when they were finally up and dressed, Greg commented that this was the day Fish and Game was supposed to shut down the hunt. “I thought I might take a drive out there, and see what they’ve done. Do you want to come along?”

   “No, I think I’ll continue reading Mandy’s book. I should be able to finish it today. It really is good. I love it, and she’ll love it.”

   All signs of the pogonip were gone by the time he drove out of the compound. The skies had pretty much cleared, and there was no wind, so the cold didn’t seem too bitter. However, most of the ponds now had a pretty good covering of ice, and there were few birds to be seen.

   At the east gate, Todd and his crew had already secured the check station, and had it hitched to one of the trucks, ready to begin its journey back to the Fish and Game compound. One of the guys was removing the hunt area signs from the immediate vicinity.

   “So, you’re really going,” Greg observed.

   “Yep,” agreed Todd. “Home for the holidays. We didn’t have anybody show up this morning, so clearly our timing is good. As we talked about, we’ll come back after the holidays to do any final clean up and close up, and I’ll bring you the season report, then.”

   “Sure, that’s fine. It looks like you’ve policed the area pretty well, already. I can’t think of anything that can’t wait a while.”

   “Well, Happy New Year, then. We’re going to get out of here in just a few more minutes.”

   “Happy New Year to you, too.”


   Later that afternoon, Vic was still reading the Lloyd Alexander book. Greg had gone over to his house, and brought a couple of his books back, so was similarly employed.

   “Vic, when you want to take a little break, we should strategize about this week.”

   She closed her book, and set it down. “I am prepared to strategize, now. What are we strategizing?”

   “I want to get you to town in time to do all the traditional things you do with your family. I should put in some time in the office, or else take the whole week as annual leave.  I could take you to town tomorrow, or Tuesday morning, then join you Wednesday afternoon. The alternative is for you to stay with me until Wednesday, and then just go in together.”

   She didn’t respond at once. “I’ll finish the book today, so that isn’t an issue, but I really want at least one more night with you – after tonight, I mean. That would take us through tomorrow night. It’s okay with me if you work tomorrow. I can find something to occupy my time, and maybe you’ll come up every hour or so for a sandwich, or a kiss, or maybe a little longer break… Anyway, I think we’d get by.

   “You could take me to town Tuesday morning, then come back and work. But I really want us both to be together in town Wednesday night, when our family festivities will really begin. That would mean you’d have to make three drives on the god awful road – two in, and one back – in only 24 hours. That doesn’t seem very good.

   “So, why don’t we do this? You be the conscientious working man Monday and Tuesday, while I play the happy housewife. We talk about whatever comes to mind, and we have a nice time sleeping together two more nights. Then, Wednesday morning, we go to town together and spend the next few days having Christmas with my family?”

   “You sure you won’t be bored if I’m working much of the time?”

   “Greg, remember. This is my house. Even if I’m not in it much anymore, I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, and know how to keep myself occupied and happy in it. And now I have the bonus of having regular breaks with you.”

   “Okay, if you’re sure. Can I add one thing to the ‘to do’ list? When we go in Wednesday morning, can we stop at Jeannie’s, and shop for your engagement ring?”

   “Are you really sure about this? I don’t want us starting out in debt. I don’t have to have an engagement ring. We are obviously engaged – in more than one sense of the word.”

   “Vic, we had this conversation. One, we will not be in debt. Jeannie assures me that you will find a ring you love for far less than a thousand dollars. I’ll pay it off in just a couple of months, and the payments won’t be much more than we spend on a motel weekend in Pocatello.

   “Two, you absolutely need a ring.  We don’t need proof of our engagement, but others like to see it. You can show all your family and friends. It will probably be worth the price just to hear the oohs and aahs from Mandy.”

   “Okay, that convinced me.”


   Monday was fair and cold. There was intermittent light snow on Tuesday. It covered the ground lightly, but when Mike brought the mail, she said that the road was clear and dry. It didn’t seem like anything more significant was in store for a while.

    Greg worked in the office most of both days, and got the quarterly narrative report pretty much finished. He’d have to add a little bit for the last part of December, but he doubted there would be much extra to document. When he took breaks with Vic, it was obvious she was working on something specific, but she didn’t immediately tell him what it was. They went for a few short walks, and actually saw one cottontail rabbit and a deer. Both the waking and sleeping parts of Monday night were just right.

   Tuesday evening, after dinner, Vic presented Greg with a sheaf of papers. “This is what I’ve been working on. We said we needed something better than sign waving to fight against the draft. I got to thinking about a letter to the editor, but address it to editors all over the country – and maybe to Congress, too. Tell me what you think.”

   Greg took the papers, and immediately started to read.


   I’m a young woman in love with a young man whose life is on hold because he could be drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war at any time. If not selected before then, his future will be in limbo, and in the Government’s hands, until 1969. The years when most men and women expect to be moving into their adult life – with marriage, the beginning of new families, the launching of new careers – are out of his control. If called, he may never have that “normal life,” at all, because the toll in deaths, life-changing injuries, and incurable mental breakdowns, is rising daily. This isn’t hypothetical: a recent newspaper story reported 240 servicemen killed and 470 wounded in just one week! Since 1961, 1,335 Americans are dead in Viet Nam, and another  6,131 have been wounded and, according to the President, we haven’t even started to deploy the troops he intends to send. The “wounds” talked about are not bumps and bruises; often, they include losses of limbs, paralysis, and serious internal injuries – not the kinds of hurts you get over, and allow you to return to your previous life. Not included are many serious cases of “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” the psychological effects of exposure to the mayhem of war from which many never recover, and which make it impossible to return to previous work or family life.

   These are ruined men with ruined lives, and the carnage is just beginning. President Johnson reported recently that, to make current war plans work, another 650,000 to 900,000 Americans would have to be poured into Viet Nam to reinforce the  Americans already there or due to arrive soon. The draft is increasing to 35,000 inductions a month, the biggest monthly quota since late in the Korean War! Most of these new inductees will be obtained through conscription.

   Slavery was abolished in the United States after the Civil War, yet we have conscription – the draft. Unless deemed unfit for military duty, a man who is drafted has no legal recourse but to serve. He can be held as long as the Government chooses, and forced to do whatever the Government demands. There can be no clearer definition of slavery.

   The draft would be slavery even if Congress had constitutionally declared war, or if a true military emergency threatened the United States. Some might think that one of those circumstances warranted young men giving up their basic civil rights. In the case of Viet Nam, neither exists. Few people understand, and no one in authority seems able to explain, why we are even involved there. It makes the crime of slavery even more heinous.

   The Draft is Un-American, under any circumstance, and should be abolished in favor of a fully volunteer military. Neither the current or past President, nor current or past Congresses controlled by either Party, have shown any interest in doing that, so we will probably have conscription trumping Constitutional rights for years to come. Given that circumstance, we could still make the draft much more effective administratively and militarily, and much more compassionate and humanitarian. Here are some proposals.

   1. No draft should be authorized without a declaration of war from Congress, or the identification of a specific need for emergency action approved by Congress. In past military situations, the President has bypassed Congress, declaring them too slow to act in emergency situations. In reality, selecting inductees is followed by up to a year of training before they are sent into battle. Clearly, the draft itself is not an emergency action.

  2. Our librarian tells me that there are currently over two and a half million United States servicemen. They are stationed all over the world, apparently none of them currently in emergency situations. All are dedicated to military life, and should be willing to fight for their country. Some may not be combat-ready, but they certainly could be made that way much quicker than any new recruits. No draft should be authorized until Congress is convinced that all existing servicemen who can reasonably be deployed to a war zone have been.

  3. Many men are willing to fight without being conscripted. Their reasons may be patriotic, military career-oriented, or just seeking relatively short-term work for pay. Before a draft is contemplated, full advantage should be taken of this willing labor pool. They want to fight, which makes them easier to get combat-ready, and they don’t require a different level of preparedness than do draftees. Their numbers could be greatly increased by offering them double or triple the usual pay and benefits for two-year enlistments. Congress almost never questions the size of the military budget, and these incentive packages would hardly make a difference in the funds already allotted. Again, Congress should not permit conscription until a significant effort has been made to increase voluntary enlistments.

  4. If Congress can be convinced that there will be a serious shortage of manpower without a draft, it should be started with men in the 35-45 age bracket. Currently, these men are not covered by conscription, but there are good reasons they should be, both militarily and from a social standpoint. First, their bodies are mature, and not harmed by rigorous training the way a child’s body (e.g., a 19 year old) could be. Men this age might be out of shape, but can easily be re-toned. That many professional athletes playing rigorous sports like football are in their middle and upper 30s shows that the age group is physically able to perform war duties.

   Psychologically, this age group has experienced deaths of loved ones, and the traumas of daily living, and are much better prepared to deal with the horrors of war than are children. This age group should suffer less from “combat fatigue” than younger recruits.

   Finally, men of this age have had a chance to live an adult life. They have married, raised children, and successfully started on a career. Many will have children reaching emancipation age, when the presence of both parents is not as important as earlier in their development. Losing a husband or father, or seeing their future life options curtailed by serious physical or mental injury, is difficult, but they are nearing the age when death or disability is more expected. They have had their chance to live as adults! Nineteen-year-olds have not!

  5. Men in the 25-34 age bracket should only be drafted when it was clear that major effort had been made to induct older males. The slavery of conscription is highly disruptive of personal life at that time, but at least their bodies and minds are better prepared than those of younger males.

  6. Males under 25 should be removed from consideration for any draft. Although some look pretty well developed when wearing bathing trunks at the pool, the body structure of most are still not fully formed, and not up to the stresses that rigorous military training would put on them. The Army considers them “men,” but the rest of  society has always treated those under 21 as children, without the maturity needed to make adult decisions. They aren’t allowed to buy alcoholic beverages or tobacco products, many states still don’t permit marriage without signed parental consent, and only two states allow anyone under 21 to vote. How can these same “children” be expected to make adult decisions in combat?

   Many males under 21 have never experienced the death of a close relative or friend, nor have they ever personally witnessed the carnage of a major traffic accident. Many have never even suffered a broken bone. How then are they expected to survive the horrors of war -  including having men they know die around them, or themselves having to kill other human beings – without later living with “battle fatigue” and “shell shock?”

   Finally, there is the inhumanity of our boys living two decades impatient to embark on adult lives, only to be denied that transition, perhaps forever. At 18 and 19, many boys haven’t yet had a serious girlfriend, have never “gone steady,” or never taken a girl to a prom. They’ve waited for that time when they were free to make their own decisions about school, work, marriage, kids. Being under the cloud of the draft for perhaps another six to eight years – and of the after-effects of the draft perhaps forever - is the ultimate unfair blow.

   Every parent, every lawmaker, every citizen should be aware of how this group of kids is perceived by the military and Selective Service. Consider this from a recent news article: When President Johnson added newly-married men without children to the draft pool, there was considerable public backlash. To try to ease the dissension, Selective Service released a statement that, while those married men could now be called, they probably wouldn’t be, because “150,000 to 190,000 youths a month are coming to their 19th birthday, and this year about 2 million will reach the age of 18.” In other words, American families are producing plenty of young “cannon fodder” for the immediate future!

   You won’t see me out marching, carrying signs protesting war. What good does such marching do? Who would I convince? Philosophically, almost everybody is against war, even if some wars seem inevitable.

   You won’t find me protesting the Viet Nam war, either, even though it seems a tragic, pointless use of our people’s lives. Who would I convince? The President and Congress have made it clear that we will be in it for a long time to come.

   You may see me fighting to abolish the slavery of conscription, or at least fighting to make the draft more humane. It’s a fight that won’t be won in time to help me and my love, but winning would remove a terrible blemish from the operation of our democracy.

   With the draft almost a certainty for us in the next few years, we’ve been reluctant to plan our future in any detail. We’ve changed our minds on that. We refuse to let the Government decide our lives for us, so we’re getting married soon. Maybe we’ll have one day together, or a week, or a month, or a year. It only matters that we are going to be in charge of our own lives and love.


   Greg spent a long time reading, and seemed to go back several times to re-read something. Vic was getting anxious.

   “So, what do you think?” she finally asked.

   Greg set the papers aside, and smiled at her. “It’s brilliant, Vic.”


   “I said it’s brilliant – first class, excellent.”

   “You’re teasing me.”

   “Not a bit! You’ve taken all our talks, your conversations with professors, newspaper articles, and some thoughts of your own that are entirely new to me, and worked them into a very compelling presentation – one that some people with authority to do something might actually take seriously.”

   She collapsed onto the couch next to him. “Really, Greg?”

   “Really. It is superb.”

   She started to cry. “I thought it was pretty good,” she sobbed. “But…” She cried some more, while Greg held her.


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