When Chuck came in the office Monday morning, Greg’s mind was on swans. “You remember that news article a couple weeks ago, about a swan caught near Burley? Did you ever hear anything more about it?”

   “No. I thought we might. As I recall, the Fish and Game warden talked about releasing it on a wildlife refuge. But, no, nothing more. Did you hear something?”

   “No. I’ve just been thinking about swans, in general. It seems there’s a pretty good chance that we get both whistlers and trumpeters here, but it would take a bit of effort to find out for sure. The news article said they didn’t know which species they had. I just wondered if they found out anything more.”

   “Why don’t you try calling the warden? I’ve got the Fish and Game telephone list somewhere, here in my desk. Yeah, here it is. He’s in an office with several other people, so somebody should answer, even if he’s not in. Give it a try.”

   Greg did, got connected, and found the warden was in. He introduced himself.

  “Are you new? I don’t think I know your name.”

  “I’m Chuck’s assistant. I’ve only been here since April. I haven’t met too many of the Fish and Game guys so far, mainly those who run our hunter check station.”


   “Yeah, Cal,  and Todd, who replaced him.”

   “Todd. Oh, yeah. He came from - where? – Idaho Falls, right? I haven’t met him, yet. I should drop by the check station, and say hello, before they close up for the season. So, what can I do for you?”

   “I saw that story in the Burley paper about the swan you had. I wondered what happened to it.”

   “That swan. Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it? It seemed fine – seemed pretty fat, didn’t seem weak, and didn’t seem to have any broken bones. It just wouldn’t fly.”

   “Did you ever determine what species it was?”

   “No, I guess that’s pretty hard, unless you cut them up, and look at their vocal cords.”

   “I guess that’s true, when you’re just seeing them in the field. I’ve never seen a trumpeter – never seen one that I knew was a trumpeter, anyway. But my bird book says there are a couple things to look for if you see them up close. One is their weight.

   “The paper said your bird weighed about 12 pounds. Did they get that right, and was that a real weight, or an estimate?”

      “I think that’s probably what I told them, but it was just my estimate.”

     “That might be helpful. I guess even a fairly small trumpeter would be closer to 20 pounds – you know, like a good, big, family-sized Thanksgiving turkey, with a big wingspan.”

   It was quiet on the line for a moment or two. “No, I don’t think it was anywhere near that big. It was a big bird, all right, and maybe more than 12 pounds, but I don’t think it would go 20.”

   “Another possible clue would be on the bill. Trumpeters apparently always have an entirely black bill. Whistlers have a little bit of yellow -  I guess it varies how much there is, but the book says all whistlers have a little yellow up where the bill joins the forehead. The photo in the paper – besides being in black-and-white – was pretty grainy, so I couldn’t tell if there might be a little light coloration there. Did you notice, or did you take any photos?”

   “I didn’t photograph it. I wouldn’t swear there wasn’t any yellow, but I don’t remember it. Sorry.”

   “What happened to the bird?”

   “Well, since it didn’t seem sick, we took it out to one of our management areas, and released it. We figured if it was still alive when things started to freeze up, and if it still hadn’t flown, then we’d try to grab it again, and take it somewhere else.”

   “Sounds like a plan. If any of your guys get to see it close, you might tell them about the yellow on the bill. I guess for now it has to remain a never-never bird. Well, thanks for the info. I’m just kind of interested in how many trumpeters get down this way. I may try to do a little more looking.”

   “Glad to talk to you, and give my regards to Chuck. I don’t think I ‘ve seen him in two-three years. I get by the hunt area every once in a while – although it’s really outside my district – but that road into your headquarters is god-awful long.”

   Greg laughed. “Yeah, I’ve heard it described that way, before.”


   “Any help there?” Chuck asked, after Greg had hung up the phone.

   “No, not a lot. He’s obviously not an expert bird identifier – and maybe not real interested.”

   Chuck gave a little laugh. “Well, in this state, the wardens are pretty much policemen, not biologists. That isn’t true of all of them, but there’s a pretty big separation between the wardens and the wildlife managers. Not like our federal game agents, who specialize in law enforcement, but almost all have wildlife degrees. Listening to your end of the conversation, it sounds like they did release the swan somewhere?”

   “Yeah, on one of their wildlife areas. If it sticks around – or if it dies – there might be some more info, but right now, nobody knows what species. If the estimate of weight is anywhere near accurate, I’d say it has to be a whistler.

   “If you have no other jobs for me, I thought I’d do a little bird counting, check a few more water control structures, and stop by the check station.”

   “No, that’s fine. I’ve got a little paperwork to do, then maybe I’ll take a run out to the check station, myself. I haven’t really had a chance to visit with Todd.”

   Greg stopped at the door, and turned back. “Say, when you talk to your womenfolk, would you ask Mandy if she’s up for a dancing lesson Saturday or Sunday?”


   It was a partially overcast day, with a little mist that might turn into rain, later. It was calm, and still unseasonably warm, only down into the mid-30s overnight. The weatherman was predicting highs close to 60! (They should be in the 40s.) The hunters wouldn’t like it – not “bluebird weather,” but not likely to get the birds flying, either.

   In each pond he passed, there were a variety of ducks and shorebirds, but not many. It was obvious that there had been a significant exodus over the past week. Mallards were most common, but even their numbers seemed low.

   From his and Vic’s parking spot, he spied a small group of swans. They were against the far bank – too far away to look for yellow spots on bills – but maybe they’d “sing” for him. He stopped the truck, rolled down his window, and waited.

   As had been the case on the ponds he passed earlier, most of what he was seeing now were mallards. There were a few scaup, and also a couple of canvasbacks, but most of the divers – those species that actually went under water for their food - were gone. Dabblers – the ducks that just scooped food with their bills - were represented by a few shovelers and wigeon, but they were almost lost among the mallards. His swans gave no indication that they were going to vocalize for him.

   After about fifteen minutes, it dawned on him that he hadn’t heard one shot fired in the hunting area. It was still only 10 o’clock; there must be some parties still hunting. If so, the ducks clearly weren’t cooperating. He waited another ten minutes, then drove on to the check station. The lot was empty, except for the Fish and Game trucks.

   “We only had two parties this morning,” said Todd, “And I don’t think any of them fired a shot. I thought with the grayer weather, they might do a little better, but they said there was absolutely nothing moving.”

   “Too bad. It does look like we’ve had a pretty major exodus of birds this past week or so. I didn’t see much besides mallards this morning.”

   “And yet the old timers who have hunted here for years say that the usual fall flight of mallards hasn’t occurred, yet. They think there are still gangs of them up in Montana, waiting for a little bad weather to move them south.”

   “Interesting. I wasn’t here last year, so I don’t have any way to judge. I’ll check our counts from the last few years, and see what we’re supposed to have.

   “So, are you going to stick around for a while, or  close up shop for the day?”

   “We’re supposed to wait until about noon, just in case some party comes in, wanting to hunt a little later. They never do, but we’ve been waiting until after 11 o’clock, anyway.”

   “Well, Chuck said he might drive out a little later. That wasn’t definite, so I wouldn’t wait for him if he doesn’t show up soon.”


   Greg was checking one of the weirs when Chuck arrived.

   “Not much going on, today, is there? I didn’t see our eagles, either.”

   “Todd says almost no shots have been fired, so maybe no cripples for the eagles – although it may just be that the gray weather has them grounded this morning.

   “Speaking of Todd, he says that the hunters are still expecting a major flight of mallards. Is that possible?”

   Chuck pondered. “Possible, I guess. We haven’t had any weather severe enough to force birds to come south. On the other hand, it could just be wishful thinking.”

   “I thought I’d check through past narrative reports, to see what we usually have, now.”

   “Good idea. I’ll make some calls to Benton Lake and Bowdoin refuges up in Montana, and see if they’re still holding a lot of birds. Right now, I’m going to go on and say hello to Todd and the boys.”

   “You may or may not find them. Todd was thinking about closing up shop early.”

   “Well, I’m almost there, so no harm done, one way or the other.”

   Greg checked a few more water controls, waited a few minutes to see if his swans would “sing” (they didn’t), then went back to headquarters. He was reading through old narrative reports when Chuck returned.

   “It does look like we should have more mallards coming a little later. The last four or five years, our peak hasn’t come until about November 20th.”

   “Interesting. I didn’t remember it like that, but the weather has been so different this fall, I’ve kind of lost track. So the old duck hunters are right?”

   “Apparently so. My rough estimate is that we have about 5,000 mallards now. We could go back up to 20,000 or so, in the next couple of weeks.

   “Did you get to see Todd?”

   “Yeah, they were packing up, but we visited a few minutes. He seems pretty competent – a pretty good replacement for Cal.

   “Oh, by the way, Mandy’s at school, so I couldn’t get a confirmation on a dance lesson. However,  Allie says come for lunch on Saturday, and she’s pretty sure you’ll get your lesson, as well.”

   “I don’t see how I can refuse that offer.”



Monday evening, Nov. 8

Hi Vic,

   Our letter writing stopped pretty abruptly when we started seeing each other at shorter intervals than the mail takes. (Still, not often enough!) I thought I better start another batch, to get us through to Thanksgiving.

   I’m really, really, really sorry for messing up the start to Friday night. I’m glad you found it in your heart to forgive me, but I still feel bad. I know if you try to analyze my insecurities, it looks like I think you’ll give up on me. I guess that is how it would seem if my worst fears were realized, and you did move on. But insecurities are not rational! I would never blame you – I would blame me for not being adequate. Like I said, it’s not rational. I guess the real truth is that I sometimes feel almost overwhelmed and in awe that you picked me. My wildest dreams didn’t include anybody as wonderful as you.

   So, anyway, if you find me wandering off into moments of self-doubt or inadequacy, be sure to give me a strong piece of your mind – or a swift kick in the…. Of, if you can think of any other ways to get my mind off myself…

   Switching gears entirely: Today, I went out to try to get some swans to sing to me. They wouldn’t (or, at least, didn’t). Remind me to tell you the tale, sometime.

   Your dad and I had dinner together tonight, thanks to all the food your mother sent out from town. She invited me to lunch on Saturday, and I feel I would be a fool not to attend. While in town, I thought I would try to finalize my choice of a birthday present for Mandy. I think I’m leaning toward a charm bracelet. I’ll see what selection Jeannie has, or if she has any other suggestions.

   Not much to write about yet, but I think I’ll send this in the morning, just so you have something from me (besides grief) by the weekend.

   I love you a lot.



   On Tuesday, Greg took an early walk through “the forest,” but there wasn’t much obvious bird activity to report.  He got to the office just as Chuck was beginning a phone conversation.

   “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of angry duck hunters down here who think you’re keeping all their mallards penned up there. They want to know what your ransom demands are.”

   Greg listened with half an ear to Chuck’s half of the call, but waited to get the details. Chuck finished up the first call, but immediately made a second. His opening line was pretty much a repeat of the first inquiry. He talked for some time, first about mallards, but then just visiting with whoever was on the other end of the line. Finally, he hung up, and turned to talk to Greg.

   “Our duck hunters are correct. There are still a gang of mallards up in Montana, and so far no bad weather to encourage them to move. But the refuge folks say that isn’t unusual. Probably the next big storm, or real change in weather patterns, will get them out of there.”

   “Interesting. So, if Todd keeps the hunt open until freeze-up, they might get some shooting, yet. He’ll probably take that as both good news and bad news. I think he’s mentally ready to call it quits for this season. I’ll go out and talk to him later, and tell him what you found out.”

   Greg did go out later, and gave Todd the mallard information. “Thanks. We’re actually having a little better day, today. With the overcast skies, and even a few actual showers, all our hunters have opted to stay out for a while. That’s – what, Pete? – five parties. We’ve even heard a few shots fired, which is an encouraging sound after the past week. Maybe we will get a good hunt in, after all.”

   After leaving the check station, Greg continued with his inspection of water control structures. He wasn’t finding any obvious problems, and found himself wondering exactly what the issues were that he was addressing. He also had some questions about where their water supply was actually coming from – questions to ask Chuck, when he got back to the office.

   At his and Vic’s parking spot, he saw that there were still some swans in the pool. He turned the truck around so he was facing the water, turned off the engine, and rolled down his window. The swans were silent. Miscellaneous ducks floated on the pond near him, seemingly oblivious to his presence (and everything else). He sat for about ten minutes – very pleasantly, but without any obvious accomplishment.

   He was pretty sure that, if he made the swans fly, they would vocalize. Did he want to? He thought he did. He also began to think he might be able to get close enough to the group before they flew that he could get a look at the coloration of some bills. Could he get close enough? He would be walking pretty much in the open as he approached them, but maybe he could.

   He started walking along the edge of the pond, moving slowly but steadily toward the swans. There was no way to hide his approach. Ducks that had been closest to the bank moved a little farther offshore, and the swans made little, nervous, intention movements, but nobody seemed particularly disturbed, yet. When two Huns – gray partridge – seemed to explode from the tall grass under his feet, he thought his startled jump might have cleared the pond. It hadn’t, although the swans were clearly a little more agitated. With the poor light, he found he was still too far away to see any real swan details through his binoculars. He started walking, again.

   The swans had made up their minds. Without further preparation, they quickly lined up, and took off to the east. They gained almost no altitude, and appeared to settle again on the next pond. Greg had no chance to see head and bill characteristics. What he did get - loud and clear – was the song of the swans. He questioned the use of the terms “whistle” and “trumpet” to describe the two calls, but there was no question that this was no trumpet. His quarry – this time – had clearly been whistling swans.


  Back in the office, Greg told Chuck about his swan adventure, then asked about the water situation. “Tell me again about why we lower the water levels in winter.”

   “Two reasons. One is general maintenance. Everything will freeze up eventually, and the ice can get pretty thick. Less ice grinding on the edges of roads and dikes, and less high water when the spring thaw comes, mean less damage to the facilities. The other reason is just to make space for the additional water that we expect to get in late winter and early spring.

   “How much do you know about water law?”

   “Not much.”

   “Me, either, but there’s a lot that relates to us, that we need to have at least a general understanding of. Although the water is on our – Uncle Sam’s – property, we can’t do whatever we want with it. We have the right to use only so much water out of a stream – rights that were acquired by law, and are attached to the deeds to the property, or described in later documents. But we share the water with those upstream from us, and also those downstream. There’s probably no stream in the West that doesn’t have more ‘rights’ subscribed to it than there is actual water available to fulfil those rights. People upstream from us might have the rights – on paper – to completely stop any water from reaching the refuge. Just by the terms of our water rights, we could keep any water from flowing downstream from the refuge. In practice, no matter what – in a perfect world – you are legally entitled to, you can’t keep water from downstream users who also have water rights. Cooperative agreement must be reached on how much of your ‘right’ you can fill before you release the rest for other users. As you can imagine, it gets very complicated at times, and the courts are crowded with litigation involving use of water.”

   “I can imagine. So, what stream do we get our water from?”

   “Well, that’s another complication and confusion for us. Our ponds and marshes aren’t natural.  Before the Civilian Conservation Corps came in here, and built dikes and put in weirs, the area now in the refuge was just a valley with a nice creek running through it. There was probably a little wet meadowland, and maybe a little marshy area, but no ponds. Once the dike work was finished, water from the creek was diverted into the new impoundments.”

   “So, where is the creek?”

   Chuck laughed. “Think about building a dam across a river. The river ceases to exist as it spreads out and becomes a reservoir. However, when water is released from the dam, it runs down into its former channel, and becomes a river, again.

   “If you go through ‘the narrows’ to the first pond, and walk up to its northwest corner, you’ll find a pretty good-sized creek flowing into the pond. If you go to the other end of the refuge, and walk down to the southeast corner, you’ll find that water from the refuge is flowing into the original creek bed. Like the reservoir behind the dam, all the water on the refuge is still the creek, just diverted into the various ponds, before coming back together at the last pond.”

   “Okay, I see that,” said Greg. “Now, tell me about our probable water thief. Doesn’t he have a water right?”

   “He can’t have a water right to our stream, because his land isn’t in our stream’s watershed. Probably, there isn’t anything serving his property that could be considered a source for water rights purposes.  A problem for all these new dry-land farmers – like him trying to grow alfalfa in what has always been just sagebrush desert – it that they either have to depend on what Mother Nature supplies them in the way of moisture, or they have to drill wells, and irrigate. I don’t know much about the water laws relating to well drilling – and I’m glad we don’t have to face that! – but there must be a whole set of regulations and restrictions on that, since you’re drilling into an aquifer that is not just under your land, but could be under hundreds of properties. I envision many, many complications.”

   “Yeah, I see what you mean. So, what happens if somebody does challenge our water use, or if we feel we need to challenge somebody else?”

   “Luckily for you and me, we just outline the problem, as we see it, then our Department lawyers and Fish and Wildlife Service engineers take over. Some of these cases take years to resolve. But to put our particular situation in perspective, all we have upstream from us are small family farms, that don’t use much water at any time, and aren’t likely to change enough to interfere with us. There are water rights downstream from us, but so far very little development or use. That could change as more people move into the area, and more sage land is converted to agriculture. Both of us should be long gone from here before that becomes an issue!”

   “Sounds like a good deal for us.”



Wednesday evening, Nov. 10

Hi Vic,

  Not much to report, but I’ll start this letter now, and send it later in the week. As tomorrow is a Federal holiday – Veterans Day – your dad went to town tonight, will take a day of leave Friday, and stay in town until Monday morning. I don’t have anything special planned, so I’ll probably just work through like always. I wish you could share the day with me.

   I have been learning about water law from your dad – where we get the water for the refuge, what rights we have to it, how we can legally use it, etc., etc. It’s very interesting, but very complicated. It seems like it’s a subject that keeps a whole lot of lawyers busy full-time. Thankfully, all I have to know are the basics.

      Potato news: You may remember that I told you in September that the Idaho potato harvest was predicted to be smaller than in 1964, but well above average, and that the quality of the potatoes should be well above average. Well, the actual results are in.  The harvest was not only better than earlier predicted; it broke the all-time record set in 1961. It was 58 percent higher than last year, and 29 percent above the long-term average. Not only that, but as predicted, the quality of the potatoes is better than usual. Hurrah for the spuds! Long live French fries!

    Also on the news, I heard that the sugar beet harvest is pretty well over, now – maybe about 100 acres left to go. Everybody was worried about how our early freeze would affect the crop, and I guess the harvest is a little lower than had been expected earlier in the year. However – and here I am obviously speaking as a “sugar expert” – the per acre harvest has turned out to be better than last year, and the sugar content is as good as – maybe better than! – the usual levels. They expect the processing to continue until about January 20. I don’t think we’ve heard anything from Tim yet, about his intentions.

   Finally, on the radio this morning, I heard a bit of Viet Nam news. It’s a little more hopeful for us than most of what we’ve been hearing. LBJ has announced that they will only be drafting 40,000 men in December – only 40,000! I know that hardly sounds like good news, but they had been planning to conscript 45,000 of us. Apparently, there was a big increase in the number of voluntary enlistments, mostly for the Marines. There will still be The Lottery, but every reduction in demand means there is a little less chance I will be drafted. Go, Marines!

   Well, I’ll leave this for the time being, and probably send it Friday.

   I love you.

Friday morning, Nov. 12

   Well, I’ll close this and get it in the mail. As I expected, I did work through the holiday. Well, not much work, but I did drive around the refuge in the morning, then spent most of the day skimming through about 50 reports that came in all together from the “Narrative Club.” I feel that I’m getting a pretty good idea of what the National Wildlife Refuge system is like, without actually seeing  many refuges. One thing that continues to strike me is that – with only a few exceptions – the reports say almost nothing about any species that isn’t “huntable.” That seems kind of sad, considering the vast number of other birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, etc., etc.,  that must inhabit those areas. Don’t we care about them? It does make me continue to wonder if our future will be on wildlife refuges, or…….

   We’ve had some cloudy weather, and a few drops of rain, and the duck hunters were hoping that their luck was going to change this week. It didn’t. It’s still ten or fifteen degrees above normal for this date, and perfectly calm, and the ducks just aren’t flying around. Your dad called a couple of the refuge managers up in Montana, and they say that they still have tons of mallards waiting for some real change in the weather to get them moving.

  So, I guess that’s all the news, for now.  I love you, Vic, and wish it wasn’t still a week and a half until I see you.




Wednesday  evening, Nov 10

Hi my darling Greg,

   You’re probably wondering by now why you haven’t heard from me since you left here on Sunday. You may even be thinking that I’ve forgotten about you. Well, you know, I almost did. I’ve just been kind of going on with my life here – not really thinking about anything else. Then,  I picked up a book I had been reading last week, and discovered my book mark was a photo of me with some man. In the picture, I was sitting on his lap, in what looked like a hotel room. To be in that position made me think that we probably knew each other fairly well.

   My mind seemed to be grasping for some memory of what came after that – or maybe came before. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning! – I seemed to see me in bed with some man – the same one? – with his body pressed close to mine, and my head nestled cozily on his arm. That seemed important.

   Next, my mind jumped to me talking to my sister Mandy, and her asking me, “Did you and he…?” “No, of course not!” I quickly answered; but then, “At least, I don’t think so.”  And immediately, the floodgates opened, and I was overwhelmed with a cascade of images of books and porch steps and tractors and wedding talks, all culminating in some amazing – what is the word I want? Erotic? Yes, some rather erotic! – memories. For quite a while, I couldn’t do anything but dwell on those last memories. (It was nice – and if I had been with you while I was remembering it all, I think we would have had some great fun, reliving certain incidents.) Anyway, I clearly remembered you, Greg Cleveland, and decided that I better quickly write you a letter.

   Even then, I had a brief moment of disquiet: what if you had forgotten me? But then I remembered that you had said – several times! – that I am unforgettable. Also, I was pretty sure you have a photo of me as a bookmark in one of your many tomes – maybe in several. And third: after reading what I wrote in the last paragraph, I’m sure you are remembering all those same things, and finding it hard to go back to whatever you were doing before you started reading this.

    So, anyway, Greg Cleveland, here’s all my news from the start of the week. My classes are about the same, without much to report. There is one interesting one, and that’s my American History class. It’s pretty basic – I think we may be using the same text book we used in high school – but the teacher is clearly really interested in, and knowledgeable about, history, and I get the feeling he’d love to say more than the school calls for. For instance, when talking about the Revolution, he said that he thought the Loyalists – those who didn’t want to go to war against Britain – “got a raw deal.” He didn’t say anything more, but I think even that upset some of the students. Another time, he told us what you had told me, that almost all of our “founding fathers” – everybody important except maybe John Adams – had owned slaves. I don’t think anybody in the class – except me – believed him, and some students were angry that he’d say that! I’d like to have a class with him where he could really speak his mind, and give us his version of our real history!

   Today, I gave my speech on bird-banding. I think the teacher was concerned that I was just going to expand a little bit  on what I said in my introduction speech, and not really give a new presentation. I think I satisfied her with some history of bird-banding, a drawing of how a funnel trap works, a couple of authentic bands of different sizes, and my demonstration of putting a band on a duck’s leg – a real duck, this time, not a teddy bear.

   I’m going to bed, now – alone again, alas.


Friday evening, Nov. 13

    I got your short note that you sent Tuesday. Thank you. You did better than me.

   Yes, I forgive you entirely, unconditionally, fully, positively, and absolutely. Yes, if I feel you wandering off track, I will come up with something very inventive to call you back.

   I’m glad you’re going to have lunch with my family. I wish I could! I think a charm bracelet is a very good choice for Mandy, and it’ll be something that any of us can add to in the future. You’re a lovely man to think of her.

   I was able to return the duck and the bands to the Biology Department today. They were in as good a shape as when I was given them, so our first-born is not in any jeopardy. After that, I went to my ‘non-coffee” with Matt, and we had a nice chat. He is originally from eastern Washington, from an area he called The Palouse. I had never heard of it; have you? Apparently, it’s a vast area of what used to be prairie, and is now mostly wheat fields. The main town is Pullman, and that’s where he started to college. He said he went to “Wah-zoo,” which didn’t sound like it could be a college, but it turns out that’s how they say Washington State University – W. S. U., Wah-zoo!” He went there through his sophomore year, then transferred over here.

   He said he’s always been interested in biology and nature, but he didn’t have any special interest in bird watching. Then, when he was still at “Wah-zoo,” he was invited on a bird watching trip to extreme southern Texas. In just a couple of days, he’d seen about 50 species of birds he’d never seen before – some he’d never heard of, before! - including about a dozen that I guess aren’t found anywhere else in the United States. He mentioned chachalacas – that’s kind of a big turkey-like bird, isn’t it? – and Kiskadees, and green jays – not blue jays, green jays! - I don’t remember what else. Anyway, he said that really started him thinking about birds differently. When he learned that ISU was developing a pretty good biology department, and there was still a lot to learn about Idaho birds, he transferred over here. He got his Bachelor’s degree last year, and is starting to work on a Master’s. I’m not sure he’s really settled on a thesis yet, but something to do with bird distribution in the state. That’s why he’s working so closely with Dr. Fichter.

   One odd thing came up. He asked me how you got interested in bird watching and Daddy’s “dicky birds,” and I realized that I don’t know. I told him that you like to hike, and camp, and climb mountains, and that you don’t hunt or fish. I know that, because of those likes and dislikes, you’ve wondered if you really want a career in refuge management, but it doesn’t explain the “dicky birds.” You’ll have to tell me about that. I want to know.

   So, here we are at the weekend, again. I know you’re going to town tomorrow. I hope you have something nice you can do on Sunday. I don’t have any particular plans for tomorrow, but “the girls” are still church-hopping, so I plan to go with them Sunday. They’ve lined up a Pentecostal church, and after what you’ve told me about “mighty winds” and “speaking in tongues,” I’m excited to go.

   I’ll mail this in the morning. I love you, Mr. Cleveland!


   Greg got up fairly late Saturday, had a leisurely breakfast, cleaned up, and headed for town. His first stop was the jeweler’s. Jeannie was on duty.

   “Hi, Greg. Christmas shopping already?”

   “Hi, Jeannie. No, my quest today is for something to give Mandy for her birthday. It’s the week after Thanksgiving.”

   “That’s nice of you. Do you have something in mind?”

   “I’ve had several thoughts. I know she liked the necklace that I bought for Vic, but I think Vic wants to do something about that, herself. I’ve seen some earrings that I think would look great on her – or Vic, for that matter - but neither has pierced ears. I haven’t wanted to be too obvious in suggesting that they consider having it done.”

   “No, that might be a little suspicious. Maybe I could ‘girl chat’ with them, sometime, and get them thinking about it."

      “Thanks, Jeannie. I’d appreciate that."

     "That would give you some future gift options. But, you know that women don't have to have pierced ears to wear earrings. That's actually a very recent craze. We didn't even have any of those a couple of years ago."

   "I know. Vic explained the difference to me, but for Mandy I was thinking of some of those showy, dangly ones that I see high school and college girls wearing. You do have to have pierced ears for those, don't you?"

   "Yes, you do. And I think you’re right; those kind would look really nice on Mandy - on Vic, too. We have some pretty nice ones, and we're getting more all the time. I will try to have a chat with your girls at some point."

  "Thanks, again. The other thought I had was a charm bracelet. Do you have any other suggestions?”

  Jeannie let her gaze wander around the store, as she thought about other gift ideas. “No, I think a charm bracelet is a very good idea – appropriate for the person and the occasion, and one that offers future gift possibilities, to add more charms for other memories. Charm bracelets are kind of a fad, right now – everybody’s getting them. But I think they may last, too, because they can provide nice reminders of a person’s adventures and history.”

   “I suspected they were maybe the current rage – I see all kinds of ads in the newspaper – and even gas stations are selling them! - but they do seem like a good idea.”

   “Well, we have some really inexpensive ones, and some real jewelry, and then a bunch in the middle range. Want to see some?” She took him to one of the display cabinets, and showed him an array. “Any you particularly like?”

   Greg picked up several of them, and examined them closely. “I don’t like the really thin links; they look a little common. And I don’t think these that are like real bracelets are what I’m thinking about. One of these that has a little solider-looking links, maybe?”

   “I think so, too. Gold or silver?”

   “I think silver.”

   “Any ideas for the charms you want?”

   “I’ve had a couple ideas. I know she likes to dance, so some kind of dancing figure. Maybe a duck or a goose – or, really, any kind of animal - to represent that she’s grown up on wildlife refuges. Maybe a heart – just because everybody likes hearts.”

   “Sure, we can do all those.” She showed him a selection, and he picked a flying bird, a dancing girl, and a dainty little heart. “Anything else you’ve thought of?”

   “Well, she’s lived half her life in Idaho, and half in North Dakota. I assume you have Idaho charms; I doubt you have North Dakota ones. Could you get one?”

   “I never tried, but I would think that there are charms available for every state. A North Dakota one is probably just a rectangle, with ‘N.D.’ inscribed, but it would be recognizable. Want me to check?”

   “Sure, if you can. That would make a good selection.”

   Jeannie did a little calculating in her head. “That would come to about $15.00. Is that too much?”

   He considered. “No, I don’t think so. It’s for her birthday, but it’s also a kind of a ‘thank you.’ She’s been giving me dancing lessons – a secret surprise for the other sister, for when we finally have a chance to go to our own ‘prom,’ together.”

   “That will be a very nice surprise. So, do you want to take these now, or wait to see if I can get a North Dakota charm?”

   “Why don’t you set them aside until Thanksgiving, when Vic will be here. I can pay now, if you like.”

   “No, let’s wait.”


   From the jeweler’s, Greg did a little grocery shopping, then arrived at the Andersons’ about noon. He got hugs from Alice and Mandy, chatted with Chuck, then all sat down together to a light lunch of salad and cold cuts. Then, Greg and Mandy retired to the living room, while Alice and Chuck left to do some shopping.

   After they had moved the furniture around to give themselves a little more dancing space, Mandy asked if Greg had been practicing.

   “A little, but not regularly. It seems I have been busy with other things, and forgetting to take the time.”

   “Probably you and my sister have been practicing other stuff,” she said, without looking at him.

   “I have no idea what you could possibly mean by ‘other stuff.’ However, if I did understand the reference, I would wish I could say you were right about that. I have been seeing Vic regularly – which had been very nice – but the time and the circumstances haven’t provided a lot of time for the kind of ‘practice’ you are apparently hinting at.”

   She grinned at him. “Okay, I stand corrected.”

   “But are you contrite?”

   “I’m not sure. Does that mean I’m sorry I suggested such a thing?”

   “More or less.”

   “Can I be contrite with my fingers crossed behind my back?”

   He laughed. “I don’t think the contrition is quite as strong that way. So, what are you going to teach me, today?”

   She started the record player. “Let’s just waltz a little, and get back in practice.” Mandy let Greg take the lead, and do whatever he wanted. He led them successfully through a couple of standard boxes, traveled around the room for a while, then interspersed boxes and traveling. It went very well, particularly considering that they hadn’t danced together for several weeks. After going through three or four songs on the record, she told him to sit down for a bit.

   “That was really good. You led me very nicely; I almost always knew just what you wanted to do next. I pronounce you officially a Waltzer!”

   He took a little bow in place. “Now, I think I said last time, that I wanted to show you a few waltz variations. They can liven up the dance, and make it more fun and interesting. Some of the moves are pretty easy; some take a little more getting used to. I don’t think we should take the time with them right now - I want us to work some more on the fox trot, before you forget it – but I’ll show you a few of the possibilities.

   “You can start with the basic traveling steps, but then turn so you’re side by side – kind of like you were doing a tango.” She demonstrated. “Instead of moving squarely ahead, you can pivot slightly, so you’re turning your partner off to the side.” She made a sweeping motion, turning her steps to the left, rather than straight in front. “Once you get comfortable, you can invent your own. As long as you remember that the waltz is always ‘one, two, three; one, two, three’ – and you give your partner a little nudge in the direction you want to go – you can come up with a lot of variations. We’ll try some next time. Right now, let’s get back to the fox trot.” She motioned to him to join her. “Do you remember?”

   “Yes. Slow, slow, quick-quick.”

    “You do remember. Good. Let me get a different record going.” She did, and held out her arms for him to grasp. “Now, remember, we put a little slinkiness into this. Our upper bodies are apart, but our knees are almost touching when we start out. You sort of slink forward with the ‘slow, slow,’ then come more erect as we do the ‘quick-quick’ to the side. Let’s try it.”

   They did pretty well with a few forward slinks. “We’re a little stiff, though. As we get into position, flex your knees a little – kind of bounce in place, just to loosen up a little bit. Then, try to keep that bouncy feeling as you stride forward.”

   It was much better the next time, and they traveled around the room until the song was finished. “Very nice. Now, we want some variation. So, because our dancing space is pretty limited, we’ve been kind of forcing turns at the corners. That’s okay, but it’s a lot smoother – and more interesting – if you put in a rock step. Sit a minute, and I’ll demonstrate.

   “Okay, I’m doing your part, so we’re going forward – slow, slow, quick-quick; slow, slow, quick-quick. You’re a little loose and relaxed; our knees are almost touching. One thing I didn’t show you – to make the dance even more relaxed – is, when you do the ‘quick-quick,’ end slightly up on your toes, and then relax into the second ‘quick.’ Like this.” She demonstrated a few more moves forward.

   “Now, we’re coming to a corner, or coming up to another couple, and we want to change direction. As we’ve been doing, we can kind of break stride, and turn ourselves to the side. The smoothest way to do it, however, is to put in a rock step. Okay, you’ve been doing the basic steps – slow, slow, quick-quick – then you want to turn. You do your step forward, but then you take the next step back, at the same time turning slightly – maybe an eighth of a turn – before you do your ’quick-quick.’ Like this.” She demonstrated. “Now, you can go forward with your basic steps until you want to turn again. Slow, slow, quick-quick. Slow, slow, quick-quick. Forward, back and turn, quick-quick. It looks nice, and adds a little bit of action. Come up here, and we’ll both do the man’s part, side by side.”

   They did the basic steps side by side, then she had them do the rock step. “That’s the idea, but you’re doing it a little too broadly. Remember, you’re going to have a partner in your arms, and she isn’t going to know what you’re doing next. You need to be able to keep control, and guide her where you want to go. You step forward, so she knows to step back, but then you immediately stop her with a little pressure on her back. As you turn to the side, you gently guide her along with you.” She demonstrated. “Okay, now, let’s do it together.”

   She stood in front of him. “Okay, as we’ve been doing, my left arm and your right arm are held at about my eye level. Now, your right hand rests gently, but firmly, on my back. That’s how we’ve been doing it, but it’s more important with the rock step. When you step forward with your left foot, I step back on my right, but you don’t let me go too far. You hold me with your right hand, and as you start to turn, you gently guide me with the hand on my back.”

   They did a few rocks and turns, a little roughly but not bad. She put on a record, and they danced for several minutes, alternating basic advances with rocking turns. Mandy pronounced it a good exercise. They rearrange the furniture, and sat together on the sofa.

   “You’re getting pretty good, Greg.”

   “Thank you. I have an excellent teacher.”

   They sat in silence for a few moments. “Contrite,” said Mandy.

   “Contrite? What about contrite?”

   “Why do you use big words all the time?”

   He glanced over at her. She seemed to be sincere. “That isn’t a big word.”

   “Okay, you’re right. Different words – different than most people would use. You have my sister doing it, too.”

   “Hold on there, young woman. I will grant I express myself differently than some other people, but your sister does that all on her own. The very first time we talked, I was impressed by her vocabulary, and the way she used words. I had nothing to do with that.”

   “Okay, then why do you both do it?”

   Greg laughed, but he also put some thought into his answer. “I think we just like the sound of words. You know, there must be a million words in the English language, but I think only about 200 of them get used, regularly. Isn’t it a shame to waste all those others? I mean, you could probably write a whole novel, using only 100 words or so – and it might be pretty good, if the story idea was a good one. Actually, I think it has been done quite a few times. But think how the people or the places in the story could really come to life, if you just used a few more of those available words?

   “I’ve been reading all my life. I mean, I have really read thousands of books, and I’ve seen a lot of words. Some of them just seemed worth holding on to, and using again. I think it works the same for Vic. She runs across a word – likes the sound of it – figures out what it means – and adds it to her vocabulary.

   “Instead of asking if you were contrite, I could have asked if you were sorry. They mean pretty much the same thing, but I think ‘contrite’ is more interesting. And I wasn’t talking over your head – you didn’t know exactly what it meant, but you knew, generally.

   “Think about words used to describe girls and women – cute, pretty, beautiful. ‘Cute’ is your little sister, or what a Senior boy thinks when he sees a Freshman girl. ‘Pretty’ is kind of generic – lots of looks could be included in that description. ‘Beautiful’ seems the word for someone with  really classic good looks – you’d see her in a painting -  and maybe she’s just a little unreachable for us mortal men. Now, if those were the only words we had to describe the female of the species, I think it would be kind of sad. For instance, the only possible word for some women is gorgeous! Where would we be without that describer? The fact that rude boys and men think you can rate a female between 1 and 10 means that there must be a lot of words that could be used to express what their numbers are trying to convey – Well, I need to pause here and say that it is very wrong to have a 10-point rating system – first, because the ratings are most likely not based on any really significant attributes – or, more likely, are based on certain conspicuous attributes. But, more than that, just being female rates at least a ‘6,’ or maybe a ‘7.’ There are absolutely no girls or women in the 1 to 5 categories.”

   Mandy leaned across, and kissed him on the cheek. “That is a very nice thing to say.”

   Just then, they heard her parents at the door. “Oh good, you’re still here,” said Alice.

   “Yes, we just finished up, and were taking a breather,” Mandy replied.

   “Well, we hoped Greg hadn’t left yet. We had kind of a light lunch, so we stopped for burgers and fries.”

   “I would have eaten yours, if you were already gone,” offered Chuck.

   “Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself,” Greg replied.

   They settled down around the kitchen table, and were soon happily engrossed. “So, how did it go?” Chuck asked.

    “Good,” Mandy replied. “We refreshed ourselves a little on the waltz, since we hadn’t practiced in several weeks, then picked up the fox trot again, and learned a new step. He’s getting quite good.”

   “Good teacher,” Greg said again, through a mouthful of hamburger. “Excellent teacher.”


   Later, back home, Greg practiced his dance steps for a few minutes, but he was restless. He got in the truck, and drove out onto the refuge. The sun was already down, but it was still light enough to see the shapes of water birds on the ponds. He stopped at his and Vic’s parking spot, shut off the engine, and rolled down the window. It was still fairly warm for a late autumn evening, and there wasn’t any wind to speak of. It was quite pleasant.

   He could hear light splashing sounds, as ducks moved around on the surface of the water. A flight of geese passed over him, lost to view in the gathering darkness, but clearly audible as they called to one another. Some larger bird skimmed over the surface of the pond, but he couldn’t make out what it was.

   He sat for some time, thinking about the day. He enjoyed being with the Andersons, but in some ways the  visits made his longing for Vic even more acute. He really wanted to talk to her about some things, but mostly he just wanted to be with her.

   As he prepared to drive back to headquarters, a coyote chorus began in the rimrock north of him. It sounded like a half-dozen or so were in the concert. He listened for a moment, but they stopped as quickly as they had begun, and the night was quiet. He rolled up the window, started the engine, and drove home.


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