CHAPTER Twenty: THE INVITATION

      Greg spent most of the work week writing the April-June refuge narrative report. Both he and Chuck had kept good notes, so it was fairly easy for him to put together a draft. It disappointed him in a way, because – even though they had kept busy - there seemed to be so little to write about. There certainly wasn’t anything very inspirational. He added some observations on songbirds and shorebirds – not covered in previous years – and a little bit on “new employees” (him). He wondered if something should be written about the “Venita affair,” but anything he wrote just seemed stupid and embarrassing. He decided he’d let Chuck write that section, if he wanted it.

 

   When Vic arrived Saturday morning, she claimed to be chilled, again. Greg wondered aloud if she might need vitamins to get herself in better shape. She rejoined that her shape was just fine. (He agreed.) It just needed some physical therapy, she said. He was able to help with that. After, they took up their positions on the porch steps.

   Greg talked about writing his first refuge narrative report. “I read back through a number of years of those reports, and after a bit you don’t know if you’re reading a new one, or rereading the one you just finished. The only things that change are the numbers – the temperatures, the number of duck broods, etc., etc. It’s  sad because, in the long run, they are probably the only records that will be available to show what the refuge was like over the years. I know from talking to your dad, and to John O’Brien – that refuge manager who visited while you were on vacation – that a lot of  refuge managers hate to write them. Partly it’s because they don’t like to write any reports, but it’s also kind of the self-fulfilling belief that they are going to be so boring that nobody will ever read them.”

   “Can’t they just write them more interestingly?”

   “Sure, but that takes more work, and if you really don’t want to do them, at all...” He left the thought unfinished. “John told me a story about one manager’s rebellion against the narratives. I guess it’s become a refuge legend – your dad mentioned it, too – but I guess a legend that really happened. An old timer at the National Bison Range up in Montana got so frustrated that, one year, he sent the Regional Office a folder with just one page in it – a picture of a large male buffalo, with the caption ‘Same Old Bull!’ His boss may have been amused, but he wasn’t pleased, and the manager eventually had to send in a real – boring – narrative.”

   “Funny!”

   “Yeah. So, what have you been up to, since last we chatted on these hallowed steps?”

   “Paperwork, just like you. Do you know that it is just two months from now that I start college life? September 12 is the start of Freshman Week. I can check into my dorm the day before, and then it’s a whole week of registration, tests, meeting advisors, learning where things are, etc., etc., etc. This week I’ve been filling out a ton of applications and other papers.”

   “Remember I said I’d type anything for you that you need.”

   “I remember. I’m actually a pretty good typist, but I will call on you if I need you. You know, I wonder if I could get a little portable typewriter to have at school. It would certainly make life easier. I’ll have to ask Daddy.”

   Greg stood up. “Just a minute. I need to go in and get a present for you.”

   “Greg, not another!’

   “Well, it’s not really a present; more of a loan.” He went inside, and came back with a book. “Another John Buchan. Janet and Archie are main characters in this one.”

   She took the book. “Oh, goody! ‘The Courts of the Morning.’ What’s it about, other than Janet and Archie?”

   “The setting is kind of strange; you have to pretend that it could be real. In any event, I think it’s a lot of Buchan-type fun. Janet and Archie take a honeymoon trip to South America, and find themselves in the middle of a revolution. Janet becomes a real heroine, even if she is blond and blue-eyed. I close my eyes, and I see you, instead.”

   “Doesn’t that make it a little hard to read?”

   “Yes, that is a problem. But, since I’d rather see you, than read – any day! – I just keep my eyes closed for a while.”

 

   Sunday, the Andersons made their usual trip to town. Greg waited until they had gone, then went to the office to finish up the trip planning. He had saved the old ribbon from the typewriter, and he replaced the newer one with it. It probably was unnecessary, but it was possible that suspicious, eagle-eyed Victoria (his own Nancy Drew!) would see the difference in type between the invitations and Alice’s instructions. With the old ribbon in, and a non-descript slip of paper, he typed:

 

Alice, please help the girls pack something dressy -  not formal, but nice. eat-out, go to party attire.

 

   Of course, Alice knew that already, but she had to seem to receive her information at the same time as the girls.

   He replaced the typewriter ribbon, put Alice’s “instructions” in a plain envelope, and addressed it to her at the refuge. With it and the two invitations in hand, he followed the Andersons to town, mailed the three envelopes at the post office, and drove home. He thought about doing his weekly shopping – it would save him a later trip - but he decided not to risk being seen in town by Vic or Mandy.

   Now, he just had to wait, probably until the Tuesday or Wednesday mail delivery.

 

   In the office Monday morning, Chuck and Greg discussed the week’s work schedule.

   “We don’t have an early season duck banding quota this year, so we won’t start actual banding until the migrants start to arrive,” said Chuck. “I still think it might be a good idea for you and Tim to haul out the traps, and make sure they’re in good repair. You might even want to take them out and set them up, but leave them open. That way, the ducks can get used to them being there, for when you bait them, later.”

   Every year, the Migratory Bird section of Fish and Wildlife Service set waterfowl banding quotas for the various wildlife refuges and other cooperators. The assignments were based on long-term studies and statistics, building a database of information on wildlife movements, sex and age ratios, longevity, and other aspects of duck and goose life history. The quotas were also designed to help set waterfowl hunting regulations, by noting trends in the various species and populations.

   Greg knew all this from his school work, but he had never actually participated in bird banding, or even seen a duck trap in person. The ones at the refuge were just large “boxes” constructed of stiff, metal hardware cloth. They had a wire “door” in the top, wide enough to insert a net on a pole, to scoop up individual birds for handling. Three sides of the box were solid; the fourth was made in two pieces, the pieces folded inward to provide access to bait placed inside. The traps were called “funnel traps,” because the entry way started out wide, then progressively narrowed until the actual opening into the trap was just wide enough for a duck to fit through. Theoretically – and sometimes – a duck could just leave the trap the way it came in. What they usually did was follow around the sides of the cage until they came to the “funnel,” which diverted them back into the middle of the trap. It was actually pretty effective, baited with a good supply of grain.

   The traps needed only minor maintenance, and on Tuesday, Tim and Greg took them out onto the refuge, to locations where banding had been done previously. There wasn’t much needed to set them up, just an open spot close to the water. They left the “funnels” wide open. Ducks weren’t likely to go in if there was no grain, but some other bird or mammal might wander in out of curiosity. It wouldn’t be good for something to get trapped without an obvious way out.

   A group of about 20 white pelicans rested on the pond where they placed the second trap. “If you had been here last year, or the year before, you would have seen something you wouldn’t soon forget,” said Tim.

   “What was that?”

   “Yellow pelicans! Green pelicans! Brown pelicans! Pelicans are striking enough in their normal color but, believe me, a completely turquoise pelican is an amazing sight!”

   “I can imagine! But what is all this about colored pelicans?”

   “Some guys were coloring young pelicans in California and Nevada, so they could follow where the birds went after they left their nesting area. Kind of like bird banding, but a lot more conspicuous! The colors were from different colonies, and we saw all three kinds. As I recall, the yellow ones were the most common here – we sometimes saw two or three at a time – but we had regular visits by the other colors, too. Ask Chuck. The pelican guys came over here last year, and told us all about it, so Chuck could give you more details.”

   “You don’t think we’ll see any this year?

   “No, I’m pretty sure it was just a two year study, and the colored dye only lasts a few months.”

   “Interesting. I would love to see a turquoise pelican!”

 

   When he got back to the office, Greg did ask Chuck about the colorful pelicans. “Yeah, that was really something! I think Tim and Rusty saw the first one – bright yellow! – and came and told me about it. I thought they were kidding me. Then, I saw one – another yellow – and after that we regularly saw all three colors: yellow, turquoise, and brown. As I recall, the yellow ones were from the Lower Klamath Refuge, the brown from Clear Lake – that’s also in the Klamath Basin in northern California – and the turquoise ones were from Anaho Island, in Pyramid Lake northeast of Reno. It was interesting to me that young birds from different colonies would move around together in the non-breeding season.”

   “Were they marking pelicans for a particular reason, or just studying the species?”

   “You probably remember that a lot of pelicans were found dead in the early ‘60s. Pesticides were the big problem, as they were for quite a few species of birds. The study was in part to pinpoint where the birds were spending their time, then analyzing those areas for pesticide use to see what kind of correlation there was. Of course, they were also just trying to learn more about pelicans, in general.”

   “But we won’t see any colored pelicans this year?”

   “No, it was just a two -year study, and the colors only last about four months. The dyes fade in the sun, and the birds eventually molt all their old feathers and grow new ones, so the colors just disappear on their own. That’s good for the birds because they look normal by the breeding season, when weird coloration might upset their courtship routines, but it also means it’s a pretty short study.”

   “Well, I would have loved to see them,” said Greg.

  

     Greg had decided that it would be better if he wasn’t around when the girls first opened their envelopes. His reaction might inadvertently give something away, or at least make Vic suspicious. He and Tim had been out with the duck traps all day Tuesday, but no invitations arrived. On Wednesday, he stayed out a couple of hours, making his weekly waterfowl count (lots of duck broods now, all species and all ages). When he pulled the truck up to the office, Vic immediately came walking quickly from her house.

   “What do you make of this?’ she asked, as she thrust the invitation toward him.

   He took the sheet of paper. “What do you have here?” He read the brief message. “So, what is this? You and Mandy are taking a late – or early, depending on how you look at it – birthday trip to somewhere?”

   “I know what it says,” she said, impatiently, “I just don’t know what it means!”

   He pretended to read it, again. “This is the whole message? Was Mandy’s the same? Does your mother know anything about it?”

   “Yes, that’s all. Yes, Mandy’s is identical. No, mother says it’s news to her. She got a message to tell her what she’s supposed to help us pack, but that’s all. It’s so weird, it’s almost scary!”

   Greg turned the paper over, and seemed to be examining the back side. “No clues here. Was there anything on the envelope? No return address?”

   “Nope, but it was postmarked in town, which kind of points to somebody local. It was postmarked a couple days ago.”

   “So, it was mailed this week – or the end of last week – from town. That pretty well narrows it down to a local sender, doesn’t it?

   “I suppose. But that doesn’t really help much. I can’t think of anybody...”  

 

   When next he saw her, Vic was still in a dither about the invitation.

   “I know you’re excited, but is it good excited, or bad excited?”

   “I don’t know!  Anything could be about to happen. We could be sold into white slavery!”

   Greg had to smile. “That probably isn’t too likely, is it, considering that your mother is supposed to help you dress appropriately?”

    Vic giggled. “No, I guess we can rule out that idea. So, that only leaves a thousand others.”

    Greg seemed to consider the situation seriously. “I can’t think of any way to help you. I just don’t know many of your friends, so I don’t know what anybody might do.” He paused. “I did think of one possibility: Bob Eastman. He’d do anything for you, I think. Could he be involved with this some way?”

   “Bob?” That made her think. “That’s an interesting idea. I haven’t seen him or heard from him since he was out here the day you met him. I don’t even know if he’s in the country.”

   “Well, depending on the surprise, he wouldn’t have to be anywhere nearby. You said the invitation was postmarked in town. Would his folks be party to something like this?”

   He watched as the wheels obviously turned in her brain. I am so clever, he thought to himself. That is an amazing red herring – and so plausible. That will keep her occupied awhile!

 

   And the next day: “I’m still trying to make sense of this invitation. It’s coming right after my birthday – which could mean it’s just a later birthday present for me – but, if so, why is Mandy included? Her birthday isn’t until December.”

   Greg seemed to ponder that question. “I don’t see any real obvious connection, but here’s a thought. You told me that Mandy was your best friend (apparently, even best-er than me!). You’ll be in school for her birthday, and probably won’t be able to get home on the actual date. Maybe it’s somebody who knows how nice it would be for the two of you to celebrate together. I mean, assuming that the message is not a ploy from a white slavery ring.”

   “Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that – not the white slavery business, but the chance for us to do something together. That still leaves the question: what are we doing together?”

   “I don’t have an answer to give you. I’m just trying to help you think of possibilities. How is Mandy handling all this mystery, by the way?”

   “She’s intrigued and excited, but she’s letting me be the one to tear my hair, and go crazy.”

 

   Saturday morning, he heard her on the steps, but she didn’t come in. He went to the door, and saw she was already seated in her spot. “Bring me my tea, please.” He did.

   “You’re not cold today – not in need of a little warming up?”

   “No, I’m hot. I think I may be running a fever.”

   He touched her forehead. “You don’t see too warm.”

   “I don’t mean really a fever. I just mean I need to solve this mystery,”

  “What mystery?”

   She gave him an “are you dense?” look. ‘”You know what I’m talking about. The invitation.”

   “Well, you’re going to know in just a couple of days, now. Can’t you relax and wait? “

   She started to give him another sarcastic look. But then, it changed, and suddenly she looked almost sad.

  “I don’t know if I really want this surprise, whatever it is. I love Mandy, and I love doing things with her. But when I think of dressing up for dinners or parties, I think of me with you. I don’t want to go to a party without you!”

   Greg put his arm around her, and pulled her closer to him. “Thank you, Victoria Anderson. You know I feel the same way about you. Our lives, wants and wishes are getting pretty intertwined, aren’t they?” He kissed her on the forehead. “But don’t give up on this secret. I have a feeling that it will be even better than your best imagination might make it.”



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