CHAPTER Three: THE FOREST

(And Some Other Stuff)


   Sunday morning was far, far better than Saturday morning, and Greg was up early. He decided he’d loosen up by exploring the grove of trees beyond headquarters. With binoculars and notebook, he took a roundabout way past the compound, and down to the edge of the woods. He was sure, just from the location, that this wasn’t some natural woodland. He suspected it was a product of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the group of young men employed in the 1930s to improve the public lands. They had built many of the residences and other structures on national wildlife refuges. Still, some of the trees looked to Greg to be more than 30 years old. Had this particular forest got its birth by some other means before the CCC came along?

   Regardless, it looked like a place that might be a real songbird heaven. He saw many birds now, but most were Oregon juncos and Audubon’s warblers, winter visitors not yet migrated to higher elevations for the summer. What would it be like when spring migration began? He wondered if it might even be a migrant “trap,” of sorts.

     Down in southern California, there were scattered little oases, small groves of trees with a little water nearby in what were otherwise miles and miles of low desert vegetation. These sites – because of their features - acted to funnel passing migrants into them. Usually, it was after some weather front, and usually only lasted (in a big way, anyway) for a few days, at most. He didn’t know Idaho geography well enough to know how likely it was, but this grove was almost certainly the only one of its kind for a long way around. He had never made it down to any of the desert areas at an appropriate time. However, he knew birders who went regularly, because they were almost guaranteed some unusual species in with the expected migrants. Was this going to be an exciting place to bird later in May? He was eager to find out.

   He could have stood there happily speculating all day, but it seemed like he better get back and clean up the cabin. He made his way out of the woods by a route that took him up past the manager’s house. Chuck was there on the porch, nursing a morning cup of coffee.

   “Greg, you’re out early. Did you see anything interesting?”

   “I was just getting a first, quick look this morning. The winter birds are still here; it’ll be a few weeks before the migrants show up. Have you ever seen really big groups of songbirds down in there?”

   Chuck put down his coffee. “No, I can’t say that I have. I don’t really pay much attention to the ‘dicky birds.’ Geese, ducks, pheasants, partridge, quail – the things we manage for, and the things I like to hunt – they’re the birds I pay most attention to.”

   “Logical,” said Greg, not wanting to say anything that might sound disparaging. “Is there a bird list for the refuge? I just wonder what species I might see, later.”

   “We have one, but I don’t think it’s probably very reliable. We’ve never had anybody here who was interested in doing a study. Some time back, the Washington Office – or maybe the Regional Office, I don’t recall for sure – decided that every refuge should have a bird list to hand out to visitors. That may be a good idea for some areas, but we don’t get many visitors way out here at the end of the earth, especially not people looking for ‘dicky birds’.” And, as I said, we’ve never had anybody come here to compile an accurate list. What I suspect was done here – it’s what I did on the refuge I was on at the time, and I know other managers did – was to get out a bird book, read the descriptions, then write down every species that was likely to be in the area. As I said, not likely to be too reliable.”

   “No, I guess not. Maybe I can work on a better one while I’m here.”

   “Sure, fit it in around your other duties, and it’s fine with me.”

   Victoria – Vic – had come out on the porch, and now said hi. He felt a little embarrassed after their meeting the previous morning, but he managed to return the greeting.

   “I saw you come up out of the woods. I go down there a lot, when I’m home.”

   “I was just telling your dad that there might be a major bird migration in there later. It looks like an ideal spot.”

   “I’ve never seen a really big migration. There are always quite a few birds, and sometimes all the singing is really wonderful.”

   After a little awkward silence, Greg said his goodbyes, and started across the compound. Chuck called after him. “Say, I’m going to take a spin around the refuge later today. I want to check on a couple water control structures. It would give you your first look at the area, if you wanted to come along.” He hesitated. “But it’s your day off. We can do it tomorrow.”

   “No, I’d like to come.”

***

   They left after lunch, and drove the dirt roads out onto the refuge. There was a lot more water than had been evident from a distance, and Greg was intrigued by the number and variety of ducks. Mallards and shovelers seemed to be most common, but he saw green-winged teal, cinnamon teal, and ruddy ducks. Some were in pairs, but it seemed a little early for real nesting behavior.

   “You had a little run-in with the wine jug?” asked Chuck, after driving for a while. He asked it like a question, but clearly he knew the answer.

   “Vic told you?”

   “No. As a matter of fact, she went out of her way not to tell me. I saw you when you came out on your porch. You looked pretty disheveled – maybe still in last night’s clothes?”

   “I don’t drink, sir. Well, obviously, I did last night, but I seldom drink more than a beer or two. Even in college, that was my limit. I’m not sure I’ve ever had real hard liquor, and last night was the first time in my life that I’ve been drunk.”

   “That’s pretty much what my daughter said. ‘He’s not a drunk, Dad.’ That red wine is a hard way to experience your first.”

   “And I hope my last!”

   Chuck laughed. “Those Johnson boys. They never would have considered that you didn’t know what you were getting into. I daresay they’ve been drunk more than once, but not often, and not at somebody else’s expense. They’re good guys.”

   “Have they worked here awhile?”

   “Since before I came; started barely out of their ‘teens. Their folks have a ranch about halfway back to town – one of those you didn’t see on your way here! They could go home every night, if they wanted to, but up until recently they’ve chosen to stay here the whole work week, just going home on the  weekends.”

  “Until recently?”

  “Their folks are quite a bit older than Alice and me, and slowing down a bit. Their dad insists he doesn’t really need their help, but probably welcomes their attending to some of the chores whenever they’re around. Consequently, they’ve been going home every night or so, coming back in the morning in time for work.”

   “It’s just them, and their parents?”

   “No, they have an older sister. She’s married, has a couple kids, and lives in town. They also have a younger brother who is in the Service – Army.”

   “Viet Nam?” Greg asked.

  “Well, not yet, but he’s expecting it. Everybody goes eventually, it seems.”

  Greg didn’t comment.

***

   They went on to check the water flow. “We have a water right,” Chuck explained, “But in this arid region, there’s seldom enough to satisfy everybody’s needs. We try to make the most of what we get by drawing everything down over the winter, then bringing the water up gradually in the spring for migrant waterfowl. We try to keep the pools at maximum in summer, for the nesting ducks.”

   They got out of the truck, and Chuck put two more boards in the control structure. “That’ll allow the pools to come up about a foot. Later, if the water is available, we’ll raise the level,  again.”

   Back in the truck, Chuck cleared his throat. “There’s one other thing I wanted to mention about my daughter. She’s a smart kid, and sometimes seems older than she really is, but she’s only in high school.”

   There seemed to be no obvious response, so Greg stayed quiet. “What I mean is, she can be a little spontaneous and precipitous, and could give somebody the wrong impression. She’s sure you’re not a drinker - and I think she’s right - but she’s only known you about an hour. You see what I mean?” Still nothing from Greg. “What I’m trying to say is, just be careful, okay?”

   Greg hadn’t been listening too closely (he had something else on his mind), but he got the gist of what Chuck was getting at. “Boss, as you pointed out, I’ve only known your daughter for about an hour. That wasn’t under the best of circumstances, considering I had a splitting headache and wasn’t feeling too good, otherwise. She was a good Samaritan, and brought me a cup of welcome coffee. End of the story. I have no interest in high school girls, your daughters or anybody else’s.”

   “Okay,” said Chuck.

   They drove on in silence for some time, with Greg seeming to be especially withdrawn. “Did I come across too daddy-ish?” Chuck finally asked.

   “Sorry. No, this has nothing to do with what you said. It’s just a problem I’m working on.”

   “Something I can help with?:

   “No, I think this is all me.

***

      In his cabin, Greg sat on the edge of his bed, and thought. Viet Nam! School had turned crazy because of it. It followed him here to Idaho. He had known he couldn’t really escape, but he thought maybe getting this far away would ease the anxiety, somewhat. It hadn’t. Just hearing the word, and hearing about somebody in the service, brought it all back, almost as strong as when he left.

  

 

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