CHAPTER Thirty-four: TWO KINDS OF LEARNING

 

   Greg hadn’t been completely truthful when he had written to Vic about his Saturday possibilities. Well, he hadn’t lied; he just hadn’t mentioned (for good reason) that he had called Mandy during the week, and arranged for his first dancing lesson Saturday afternoon.

   He was up early, made breakfast, then decided to take a quick walk down into the forest. He was thinking that the low pressure and cold snap might have started the songbirds moving south. He was right. Lots of Audubon’s warblers had appeared, as had a number of western tanagers and robins. Among the warblers, he identified two Townsend's warblers, a new addition for the refuge bird list.

   He walked back up to the house, and waited there until almost 9 o’clock to see if any wandering bird hunters showed up. They didn’t, so he drove out to the duck traps (closing the “do not enter” gate behind him). There was no question that the fall migration had begun. Large flights of ducks were constantly overhead, and every pond had hundreds – sometimes, close to a thousand – on the water. He didn’t try to make a real count, but it was clearly a major influx. He also saw hundreds of eared grebes, at least 75 yellowlegs (probably lessers), and miscellaneous other shorebirds. Fall had arrived in the Bird World!

   There were about 40 ducks total in the two traps, almost all of them new migrants, with few mallards and only a couple of re-traps. It took him almost two hours to get them all processed. He returned home, cleaned up a bit, and headed for town. He did his weekly grocery shopping, then stopped at the office supply store. The town didn’t have a book store, but several shops had the current paperback “best sellers” and sometimes a few older books by “popular authors.”  He found a new John Le Carré he hadn’t read (The Spy who Came in from the Cold), and also a new Dick Francis (Nerve). He had found both authors pretty satisfying in the past. Le Carré’s spy stories could get what Greg considered overly confusing and intricate, but usually made up for it by the end. The first novel he read by Dick Francis, the former jockey, was a good yarn about horse racing. There was one scene of what Greg considered extreme cruelty – which he didn’t like -  but the rest was very good story telling.

   He skimmed the selection for something Vic might like, but didn’t see anything of immediate interest. He had a few ideas for her – thinking about Christmas presents, already – but probably wasn’t going to find them locally. Pocatello no doubt has a real bookstore. He should check it out when he was up there.

   Finally, about 2 o’clock, he was at the Anderson’s. Alice let him in. “I understand my youngest daughter is your new dance instructor?”

   “Yes, she is. She did tell you that this is a secret from Vic, didn’t she? If we ever get a chance to go to a dance together, I want to surprise her.”

   “That’s a nice gesture.” She paused. “I really miss seeing you, now that we’re living here in town. And with Vic gone…  Well, things are different. I know we did the right thing moving – certainly for Mandy, but also for me. As much as I loved the refuge, and being with Chuck all the time, I really needed some new diversions.”

   “I can appreciate that. It’s all working out okay?”

   “Yes, the good far outweighs the bad. About Vic: are you hearing from her regularly?”

   “I’ve had two letters, so far. Not much to tell, what with her time spent on general orientation, but it sounds like she’s doing fine. She’s told me a little about some of the other women in the dorm.”

   Mandy came in while they were talking. She gave him a hug, then took his hand. “Come on, twinkle toes, let’s dance!” They went into the living room, and began moving the furniture to give themselves a little more space.

   “School going okay?”

   “Sure, business as usual. I’m enjoying being able to come home to my mom. The boarding was better than the bus ride, but wouldn’t have been the same without Vic.”

   “Have you heard much from her?”

   “We talked on the phone a day or two after she got there, and I got one letter. Nothing very specific.”

   “I’ve had two letters, with a little detail. I brought them with me, in case you wanted to read them. I don’t think there’s anything in them that needs to be expurgated.”

   “What’s ‘expurgated’?”

   “It means that things are deleted that it wouldn’t be appropriate for your young, inexperienced eyes to see.”

   Many snorted. “As if there was anything I don’t know about you two! You do know that we share everything?” She paused. “I don’t mean the detailed details. We know that certain things are strictly for you and her.” She paused, again. “It doesn’t bother you that we share so much, does it?”

   “No, it really doesn’t. I’m glad you have each other. Everybody should have that kind of relationship with somebody, but I don’t think many are so lucky. I’ve never had anybody until Vic.”

   “Not ever? Didn’t you have a long-time girlfriend in college?”

   “I did, and we were comfortable together, but we never shared the way Vic and I do.”

   Mandy thought it was time to change the subject. “Well, I would like to read the – what? – unexpurgated letters. In the meantime, tell me about your dancing prowess. Can you dance, at all, or am I starting with a complete beginner?”

   “Well, not a beginner beginner, but I don’t know much. I never went to a high school dance. I was so much younger than my classmates that I just wasn’t ready for boy-girl things. I went to a couple of college dances, but I just sort of winged it, and tried not to step on my date’s feet too often.”

   “Okay, so we’re pretty much starting from scratch. So, let’s start with the basic waltz steps. They’re probably the most useful to begin with.

   “Now, somebody – probably a man – decided that the man was the leader of the dancing couple. I’ll pretend I’m a man, and show you your steps. You start with your left foot, moving it forward.” She did. “Next, you move your right foot forward and off to the side, then bring your left foot over beside it.” Again, she demonstrated. “Now, to complete the box, you move your right foot back, move your left foot back and to the side, then move your right foot over beside the left. You’re back where you started.”

   She did the steps several times, counting a hard “one,” then a quick “two, three.” “Now, I’m your partner. When you step forward with your left foot, I step back with my right foot. You slide to the right; I slide to the left. I bring my right foot over next to my left, at the same time you are moving your left foot over next to your right. I complete the box, doing just the opposite of what you’re doing.” She did several boxes. “Okay, now you come up here, and try the lead moves.”

   With Mandy coaching, and saying “one, two, three; one, two, three,” Greg did several boxes. “Good. Now, try it with a partner.” Mandy positioned herself in front of him. “Now, left foot forward.” As he started, she moved her own right foot back. “Slide to the right.” He did, while she slid to the left. They completed the box, then Mandy had them do several more.

   “Pretty good start. Now, you didn’t trip over me, or step on my feet, but that was partly because I knew exactly what you would do, and so I was always ready. In a real dance, we might be doing more than one step, or you might want to vary how we do the box. You help me react by bending your body a little toward me as you take your step. That tells me to step back. It also takes the stiffness out of our bodies, makes our moves more fluid. Rather than a hard ‘one, two three,’ it becomes ‘dip, two three.’ Here, I’ll show you by myself a couple of times.” She did. “See, it isn’t a real push forward; it’s just kind of an intention move – something for me to react to. Here, try it with me.”

   It didn’t go quite as smoothly, because he was anticipating his moves more, but eventually he got the idea. They did several rather graceful boxes, together. “Not bad, partner,” she said. Greg was excited that it felt so comfortable, so quickly.

   Alice came in the room to see their last couple of boxes. “That looks lovely,” she said. “Greg, we’re going to have a little late lunch. Can you join us?”

   He could. He and Mandy moved the furniture back to original positions. Before they joined her parents, Greg gave her Vic’s two letters. She took them to her room. They chatted over lunch, then Mandy excused herself for a few minutes. She called to Greg before she came back to the lunch table.

   “Can I let Mom read the second letter? The first might need to be expurgated.”

   Greg chuckled. “I agree.” As Mandy gave Alice the letter, Greg explained, “This was after you talked on the phone, so there may be something you haven’t heard, yet. But she sent it Wednesday morning, so it isn’t really ‘news,’ anymore.”

    Alice read the letter aloud so Chuck could hear. She laughed when she got to the part about all the dorm women referring to themselves as “girls” – something she knew would be contrary to Vic’s desire to be a “young woman.”  She thought it was very Vic-ish setting the South Carolina girl  straight about calling her “Vicky.” She liked the idea of the Pathfinder group helping the new freshmen find their ways around. She was interested in Vic’s assessment of people going to college far away from home.

   “I think she’s right about that,” explained Greg. “Since college is the first time that many ‘kids’ are away from home for the first time, many of them really try to escape the bonds of family, so they can really feel on their own. It’s not bad if they’re not too far out of their comfort zone, but I think her prediction will prove true that wintry Idaho will be too much for some coming from warmer climes.”

   Chuck caught her note about maybe taking some history or political science classes. “That surprises me,” he said. “I didn’t think that would be of interest to her.”

   “Well, you know your daughter,” said Greg. “She’s interested in everything, and can understand a lot of stuff that others of us would find hard. She told me once that she just assumed she would major in English or Art, something that had potential for teaching later on. When she found that she doesn’t have to commit to a major for a year or so, she started looking at possible electives in other fields. Courses in U. S. history and how government works look to her like they might be useful, whatever she eventually does. She registered Friday, so we should know next week what she selected for her first semester.”

   Before he headed home, Greg told Chuck about the influx of northern birds, the banding results, and the lack of bird hunters coming to headquarters. He thanked Mandy with another hug, and tentatively arranged for another lesson next weekend. Alice sent him home with enough left-overs for several meals.

   He had passed the mail truck on his way into town, so his first stop at home was to check the mail box. Just miscellaneous refuge business; nothing from Vic. He wasn’t hungry yet, so he put Alice’s contributions in the frig, changed into some work clothes, and went out to check the duck traps.


***

-Greg-

 Saturday evening, Sept. 18

   Well, my love, I didn’t go down to the mountains, but I had a “pretty good” (if definitely second best!) day. I got up fairly early, expecting that I might have some wandering bird hunters visiting. None came immediately. I got to thinking about our weird weather change, and wondered if it might have prompted some “dicky bird” migration, so I walked down into the woods. It had. There were Audubon’s warblers everywhere, and also quite a few western tanagers. In with the Audubon’s, I saw two Townsend’s warblers, something I didn’t expect to see. However, I don’t know if that’s an unusual observation because they are rare here, or it’s unusual just because nobody’s looked for them. It's a little frustrating. We don’t have any real bird references here at the refuge but, even if we did, there just hasn’t been that much study of Idaho birds. A little bit of research I’ve been able to do tells me that there was a Malcolm Jollie at the University of Idaho in 1950, who prepared some kind of a check-list of Idaho birds. I’d like to see a copy, but don’t know where to look. Maybe he’s still at the University, but 1950 was a long time ago.

   There was also a zoology professor there in Pocatello, Edson Fichter, who prepared some kind of Idaho bird list in 1961. I bet he’s still there, and I might be able to talk to him. Can you check your school catalog at some point, and see if he’s still around?

   I guess I didn’t say it in what I wrote last night, but the weather change finally started the northern ducks moving. They are everywhere! I banded about 30 last night – almost all new arrivals. When I got back from the woods this morning, I waited around a little longer for any hunters to show – none did, so I went out to check the traps, again. I banded another 40. It took me almost two hours by myself, but I got it done. I could have used some help!

   Well, after all that, it was still only noon, so I decided to go to town and do my grocery shopping. I also stopped at the office supply store, and checked over their paperback selection. You should be proud of me – I actually bought two books that are only about a year old: a spy story by John Le Carré, and a detective story by Dick Francis, a British ex-jockey. I’ve read books by both of them before, so I think I’ll like them.

   So, there I was in town, with books and groceries, and it was still early. I hadn’t seen your Mom and Mandy for a while, so I decided to say hello, and also tell your Dad about the bird influx. As luck would have it, I arrived in time for a late lunch. We had a nice visit. I had taken your two letters in for Mandy to read, which she did. She suggested I let your folks read the second one, but thought the first (with references to letters hidden in pajamas) might not be appropriate for parental eyes. I taught her the terms expurgated and unexpurgated. She thought the first letter went in the second category. Your mother read the second letter out loud, and laughed at your comments about Miss South Carolina. Your dad expressed surprise that you might be interested in majoring in history or political science. I explained that you were just broadening your horizons while you had electives you can take.

   I checked the mail when I got back home, but nothing from you. It’s frustrating that we’re less than two hours apart, but it takes about three days to send and receive a letter. I may try writing my congressman about that!

   Oh, I went out to the traps just at dusk. Pretty night, but only a few ducks caught. It didn’t take me long, but I stayed out quite a while, and listened to the ducks on the water, and all the other night sounds. It was very dark when I got home.

   Anyway, it’s bedtime, so I’ll continue this tomorrow


Sunday evening, Sept. 19

      Another sunny, relatively mild day (about 80F for a high). I got up early, and made a quick trip down into the woods. As I think often happens in fall migration – but not so much in spring – the birds go through pretty fast. There were still warblers around, and a few tanagers, but nothing like yesterday morning.

   When I got back up to the house, a party of hunters was just pulling in. They seemed to know where they were, and didn’t expect to hunt here. They had been out for sage grouse yesterday, but didn’t even get a shot. It’s only a two-day season, so they were out again this morning, but so far no luck. I told them I’d only been here since spring, but I’d never seen a sage grouse on the refuge. They asked about Huns; I said we had a few, but I thought most of them were out in the farmland, and down along the river. They seemed like a nice bunch – probably more killing time and enjoying the day, than seriously hunting.

   After they left, I locked up the place, and went out to the duck traps. Only about 25 this morning, so I finished pretty fast. I didn’t want to go back to headquarters and be by myself, so I just started walking. I walked all the way around two of the bigger ponds – saw lots of ducks, and quite a few shorebirds. Up on the rimrock, I scared up a porcupine, then a little farther along, I saw two marmots. Nice morning. I had my camera with me, and took a bunch of general shots for the narrative report. It’s the roll of film that has the photos of you banding ducks, so I can get those pictures developed next time I’m in town.

   Finally, I couldn’t think of any more excuses not to go home, so I came back, made lunch, and started to read the Dick Francis book I bought yesterday. It turned out to be really good, and I finished it in the one sitting. As I think I said, Dick Francis was a jockey in England, and his books (I think this is only his second; I read the first one a year or so, ago) are about horse racing. In this one, his hero is a young jockey, just trying to make a name for himself. There are a lot of strange accidents occurring to other jockeys all over England, and when he tries to play amateur detective, he finds he’s being targeted, too. It kept my attention.

   So: dinner, another trip to the traps (only a dozen or so ducks, but there are still plenty around), and back here to my lonely house. This was a harder day than yesterday, without you here. I’m afraid I’m going to be pretty wrung out by October 1, but I don’t know any way to speed things up. I do miss you a lot!

   I’ll mail this in the morning. When you get it, you will finally have had a few of your courses, and you can tell me all about them. LOVE! Greg.


***

-Vic-

Sunday evening, Sept. 19

   Here I am, back again to finish off this letter, so I can mail it in the morning.

   Some of the “girls” wanted to go to church this morning, so – following up on my recent talks with you – I decided to go along. We went to a Presbyterian service. It was sedate – I think that’s the word I want: very calm, unhurried? – no strange tongues or mighty winds. We sang a couple of slow hymns. I was surprised that I knew most of the words to one of them – “A mighty fortress is our God” – I don’t know why I know it. I don’t really recall what the sermon was about – just something quiet, about God providing. It was nice enough, but not very challenging.

   After lunch, I talked for a long time to one of the Southern California “girls.” Her name is Angela Browning, and she comes from a little town in the mountains – well, she must mean hills, not mountains, because they’re only a few miles from the ocean. Anyway, I don’t know if she’s going to stick around. The cold the last couple days was pretty hard on her, and she didn’t really have any special reason to come here, except to get far away from home for a while. I hope she stays; I like her quite a lot.

   This town where she lives is called Ojai (pronounced O-hi), and I guess it’s on one of those roads that you don’t go on unless you specifically want to go to that particular town. She says the town is in a valley completely surrounded by “mountains” – hills? – and is about half people, and half orange groves. She says the smell of orange blossoms is amazing on some still spring mornings. They don’t get any snow right in town, but sometimes they get some on the hills around the valley, and then you have this amazing combination of oranges ripening on the trees and snow in the background!

   She says it gets very hot there, all summer (and sometimes well into the fall) – 90-plus almost every day. But she says the humidity is very low and, anyway, in summer, they spend most of their time at the beach, which is only about ten miles from her house. They get a little frost in the valley in winter, but never real WINTER WEATHER, and it is often sunny, even in January and February. It is often warm enough to go down to the beach even in those months!

   Now, I have heard that that are “seven seas” – Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, Indian… I can’t think of any others. Are there really seven? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because the point is that I have never seen even one of them. I am a grown woman, and I have never seen an ocean! Isn’t that criminal, or something? I think I would very much like to walk on a beach – even in January or February – preferably with (well, only with) you. I’d like to wear a bikini, and put my feet in the water – maybe not in January, but during one of the warmer months. Do you think I would look okay in a bikini? Some of these “girls” are really thin little things. If not a bikini, just shorts – or even jeans would be okay with me. When are you going to take me there?

   Tomorrow, school finally starts. I’m ready. Monday and Wednesday are my busy days – three courses each day – English, Speech, and American History. Tuesday and Thursday, I have Sociology and Government. Friday is just Swimming, so (hint, hint) I am free any time after noon on Fridays.

   I’ll mail this in the morning, and maybe get Letter Number 3 from you. When next I write, I’ll be able to tell you about real college stuff, rather than just all these preliminaries.

   I wish I knew how you are right this very minute, and what you are thinking about (besides me). Since I don’t, I will just crawl into bed, and hopefully dream up some amazing dreams about what we might be (and will be) doing together, later. Vic

***

-Vic-

Monday evening, Sept. 20

Hi Greg, I got the letter you sent Friday morning; thank you. I’ll comment on it in a bit, but I wanted to tell you about my first day of Real School. As I told you in the last letter I sent, today and Wednesday are my busy days, with three classes: English, Speech, and American History. I don’t know what to say about the English class, yet. It’s an “honors” class, because I did so well on my entrance exams, but we just talked generalities today, so it’s still kind of a question mark. In Speech, the teacher jumped right in and assigned us our first stand up before the class speech for Wednesday. It’s supposed to be introducing us to the class, so I thought I’d talk about growing up on wildlife refuges, and mention some of the exciting things I’ve done - obviously, I mean “exciting” like duck banding, not exciting like me and you…

   We had the head of the History Department give our class, today. I don’t think he’s going to be our regular teacher; I understand he’s retiring next summer. His name is Merrill Beal, and it sounds like he is kind of famous. He’s written several books on Idaho history – Indians and railroads, as well as broader history – and wrote a book on Yellowstone Park. I think he is someone that you might really like because, in addition to his history interests, he and his wife have been summer rangers in Yellowstone for many years.

   Well, we can talk more about those things after I have a few more classes.  Now, about your letter. You didn’t get as cold as we did, but it sounds like it was still pretty impressive for the Magic Valley in mid-September. It was fun for you that it finally started the migration moving.

   Your comments on “belonging” to one another surprised me. I guess I’ve always been happy to consider myself as belonging to you – after all, you are my one and only love – but I never thought of it in terms of losing my identity, or of you somehow becoming “the boss.” So, I guess my “belonging to” has always really been “belonging with,” as you said. I definitely want to always be ME – I just want ME to be so close to YOU that we always work as US. I’m glad you don’t want to “own” me, cuz I think it would take a better man than you to cause that to happen – and I don’t think there are any better men than you!!

   Your comment on Mom and Daddy being homesick for the Dakotas doesn’t surprise me. They’ve done okay in Idaho – as have Mandy and I – but they are really Norwegian Dakotans – all their roots are there. Wherever they go, it seems like I – and Mandy, if she stays with me – will be kind of “homeless” next summer. I suppose that’s what your “scenarios” are about? I’m eager to hear more.

   Well, I actually have a little “homework” tonight, so I’ll stop for now, and write more tomorrow.

   I love you (surprise, surprise!)

 

Tuesday evening, Sept. 21

    I’m back. I’ve had all my classes (except Swimming), now. I’m afraid Sociology may be pretty boring. The teacher is kind of dry, and it was hard to determine much about where he will be going with the class. It is a requirement, so I guess I’ll make of it whatever I can.

   The Government class looks like it might be pretty good. The teacher just kind of talked in generalities about how the government is set up, but he made it interesting. His name is Dr. Dial, and he’s brand new at ISU. He came from California – from San Diego, I think.

   Oh, I wanted to say something about our dorm. As you know, it is strictly “girls only” beyond the front desk, and we have an eagle-eyed house “mother” to make sure it stays that way. She – Mrs. McPherson – is actually pretty nice, and is here to give us motherly advice and soothe us when we’re homesick. But she also seems to consider herself our sole protector against the ravening packs of lustful college boys lurking just outside our walls. I only mention this now because I need to be sure that there is nothing in her code that would interfere with me spending a weekend with my boyfriend. I wouldn’t want to have to stage a jail break so early in my residency.       

   Not much else to say right now, I guess. I’m going to work on my speech for tomorrow, and then go to bed (alone, alas).

   I’ll mail this in the morning on my way to class.

   Vic


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