CHAPTER Twenty-three: PREPARATIONS

     The Andersons were in town all day Sunday, and Greg saw Vic only briefly. The rest of the week followed suit. The Anderson women made a number of trips off the refuge, shopping for school clothes and supplies, and beginning their search for a winter rental. Vic and Greg managed a few meetings – including an event with an owl! – but mostly they were times that gave Greg chances to pre-mourn the fact that there wouldn’t even be these in a little over a month. At least the weather was nice, with daytime temperatures only into the 80s, and few thunderstorms.

   Monday morning, Greg and Chuck started to actively plan the work for the next couple of months. “It’s probably going to get a little crazy for a while,” Chuck opined. “Mandy’s school starts August 30, so we’ve got to find a rental in town as soon as possible. Alice and the girls are doing most of the legwork on that, but I may have to help with the looking, and of course with the moving in. We want to take a family trip to Pocatello soon, and see what it’s going to take to get Vic settled at the college. The sugar campaign starts about the first of October. Tim and Rusty have always worked the campaign, so Tim will probably leave us in late September.”

   “Sugar campaign?” Greg interrupted.

   “Oh, yeah. You probably don’t know about that, although you must have noticed that we grow lots and lots of sugar beets here in the Magic Valley. Harvesting starts, as I said, about the first of October, and then the processing usually takes until December – sometimes, later. Almost everybody in the area works on the campaign - in the fields, in the processing plant, or both. Tim and Rusty terminate with us as soon as the campaign gets going, then work the beets through the processing period. It’s better money than they make here, so it’s good extra income for them – and for a lot of the locals. I’m assuming Tim will work it this year, but with Rusty gone, he may choose to work with his folks, instead. Either way, he’ll leave us about the end of September. Anything we need the extra hand for, we should plan to get done in the next two months.

   “Next subject: You and I have talked a bit about us moving into town. The way I’m figuring it is that I’ll stay out here most work days, then go to town for the weekends. Does that pose any problems for you?”

   “I don’t think so. I’ve been considering taking some time to see my folks in California, but that wouldn’t be until January or February. If the weather’s good some weekend, I’ve thought about doing some birdwatching, maybe visiting our neighbor refuges to see what they’re like. I haven’t seen any of the other Idaho refuges, yet. Would it be a problem if nobody was here overnight?”

   “’Can’t see why. Nobody comes in good weather; why would they come in winter? We do have a gate out there we can shut, if we ever want to look officially closed.”

   “Well, being a lifelong Californian, my experience with icy and snowy roads is near zero, so I’m not likely to venture too far during inclement periods.”

   “Okay. Well, more immediate concerns: You have the duck traps set up, and you should probably start banding around the end of August. I can start you out, then Tim will be around whenever you need an extra hand. We’ll stop banding before the hunt season, which starts October 9 this year. The season runs to the end of the year, but we’re usually frozen up by some time in November, and Fish and Game closes shop, then. As I think we’ve talked about, the State runs the hunt; we help them post the hunt area the week before, and help them close up. They provide us with daily records of the kill, number of hunters, any concerns, etc. It’s pretty low key – not a real popular hunt area because of the short season, long distance from most places, and the fact we only allow waterfowl shooting.

   “Oh, I almost forgot. Our local game agent usually calls a meeting in September for the southeast Idaho refuge folks, when he goes over basic law enforcement questions. Since the State handles most of that business for us, we don’t need a lot of details. I haven’t heard from him, so far. If we do, I’ll let you represent us. It’ll be a good chance for you to meet some of the other managers.

   “The only pressing business I can think of involves our fire planning. The Regional Office wants us to be sure our agreement with the Bureau of Land Management is up to date, probably as a result of their little aborted controlled burn. I think it just says that BLM will fight any fires on the refuge, and any payment for services will be handled by the regional offices of the two agencies. Take a look at it, then go talk to BLM to see if they want to make any changes.”

   “Okay. I can do that this week.”

***

   Later, Greg found the fire plan in the files. It looked fine to him, just as Chuck had described it. He called the BLM office, and arranged to talk to Matt Clausen, the fire management officer – the same one who had started the controlled burn – on Tuesday. They met as planned; took a quick look at the fire agreement; deemed it okay for another year; and went for coffee.

   “Sorry about the burn on the refuge,” Matt offered.

   “It didn’t cause any problems, just a little extra paperwork – and we have so much of that, anyway, the addition was hardly noticeable. What’s the fire outlook ahead?”

   “We have another month left of official ‘fire season.’ The cooler, dryer weather of the past couple weeks has given us a nice break, but the prediction is for a hotter, more thunderstormy period coming up. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get off without another round.”

   “Too bad! Say, I have a friend from school – graduated a year before me – who came to work for BLM, I thought in Idaho. Did you ever run into Bill Gladney?”

   “Yeah, I’ve met him. He came on as a biologist, right? He works out of Idaho Falls.”

   “Great. I’ll have to contact him. We had some good times at school.”

   “Didn’t we all! It’s amazing any of us graduated!”

   That wasn’t the kind of “good times” Greg was remembering, but it didn’t matter. They were just shooting the breeze.

***

     Greg hadn’t been down in the woods, lately. With nesting season finishing up, and fall migration not yet started, he didn’t expect to see or hear much in the way of “dicky birds.” Wednesday morning, he decided to take a break and wander down that way, anyway.

   He was just inside the woods edge when he heard a scuffling sound in the brush nearby. Intrigued, he left the trail and tried to locate the sound. To his surprise, he discovered a well, or some sort of vertical pipe, that looked to be seven or eight feet deep. Something was moving around at the bottom, but it was too dark to tell what it was. Greg retreated to the shop, where Tim was working, and asked him for a strong flashlight. Tim found one, and decided to follow Greg back down to the mystery spot. Meanwhile, Vic and Chuck had come outside. Soon, a party of four approached the hole in the ground. Tim shined the light.

   “It’s an owl!” exclaimed Vic. It was. Greg thought it looked like a youngster, but nearly full-grown. “It looks like it might be dragging a wing, but it could just be that there isn’t enough room for it to sit correctly.”

   “How did it get in there?” asked Vic. Greg shook his head. “My best guess is that it flew into something, stunned itself or hurt a wing. Even after they learn to fly, young birds can be a little erratic. It was probably just dumb luck that it fell into the pipe.”

   “How do we get it out?”

   “Beats me. The hole is too narrow for anybody to climb down. The bird couldn’t fly straight up, even if it isn’t hurt. We don’t have anything that could reach down that far, do we?”

   “Maybe we do,” said Tim. “I’ll be right back.” He headed back toward the shop.

   “What is this thing, anyway?” Greg asked Chuck, about the pipe.

   “I never knew it was here,” Chuck replied. “It must date way back to when the trees were planted – maybe some kind of irrigation system.”

   Tim returned, carrying a long pole, with wooden slats nailed to it: a very rustic ladder affair. “It’s been in the shop as long as I can remember. I have no idea what it was used for, maybe a makeshift way to get up in a tree.”

   “Like to a deer stand, where a hunter might sit to wait for a deer to walk by?”

   “Maybe, but I sure wouldn’t trust it. What I was thinking is that, if we stick this down the hole and get out of the way, the bird might be able to work its way up from slat to slat.”

   “Worth a try,” said Chuck.

   They all moved away from the pipe. When nothing seemed to be happening for ten minutes or so, Tim and Chuck went back to work. Vic and Greg settled down to wait.

   “Hi, stranger!” said Vic. “Things are pretty hard when you have to put a poor little owl down in a hole, in order to get some time alone with me.”

   “Whatever works.” He put his arm around her. “You have had a busy week. Are you making progress?”

   “I think so. We’ve bought a bunch of things for school, and we have a couple of leads on houses to rent. One is pretty nice, and not far from the high school. Mandy really liked it, and so did my mom.

   “Oh, another thing! Mom and Daddy bought me a typewriter. It’s portable, and has a lightweight case. It was awfully expensive – about $40! – but it should really help me at school. And, of course, it’s a lifetime investment. Mandy can use it, too, when she comes to college next year.”

   “She’s planning to go to Pocatello?”

   “Sure. We’re planning to be roommates, again. It’s going to be great!”

   “Probably the best roommate you could have, if you can’t have me.”

   She gave him a long look. “They don’t let boys and girls share dorm rooms.”

   “Particularly if the boy in question is not a college student?”

   “Well, it wouldn’t matter. No mixing girls and boys, period – well, unless they are married.”

   “Which we are not.”

   “That is not necessarily a permanent problem.”

   “Still... Oh, wait. Look over there?”

   A feathered head had appeared over the rim of the pipe, with a feathered body following behind. One wing was drooping, somewhat. “It made it!”

   “What do we do, now?” questioned Vic.

   “I’m not sure. I should have brought a jacket, or a tarp, that I could throw over it.” Greg stood up. “I’m just going to try to grab it.”

   He rushed toward the pipe, but the owl was too quick. It fluttered off the lip of the pipe, and into the thick brush. Greg grabbed for it, but it moved deeper into the woods. The pursuit continued, until finally the owl took flight, and landed high in one of the nearby trees. Winded and a little scratched, Greg walked back to Vic.

   “It doesn’t have a broken wing.”

   “So it would seem.”

***

   Thursday morning, Chuck had some news. “I got word yesterday that Mac, our supervisor, will be here August 9 and 10 for an inspection. Well, ‘inspection’ is a little formal. He tries to get to all his refuges every few years, and sends some of the other Regional Office staff other years. It’s been a couple years since he made it here. Our problems are not that pressing! He’ll just want to drive around, look things over, and talk about how things are going. We don’t need to plan anything special. The place looks good, after all the work you and Tim did this past month. We just need to keep those two days free.”

   “Chuck, after the owl episode, I was going to ask you: are there any wildlife rehabilitators around here that we could have taken an injured owl to?”

   “Not that I know of.”

   Just then, they heard a vehicle drive up. Chuck went to the door.

   “Oops, it’s the game warden! Hide any illegal stuff.” He turned back to Greg. “Here’s the fellow to ask, though.”

   A tall, blond man in uniform came up the stairs. “Wildlife manager, to you; not game warden.” They shook hands.  “How are you doing, Chuck.

   “I’m okay. Come on in. Greg, this is Cal Graham, Idaho Fish and Game; manager of our hunt, among a variety of other duties. Cal, Greg Cleveland, my assistant.”

   They shook hands. “You’ve come up in the world, Chuck. Last time I was here you didn’t even have a typist.”

   “I think that’s why he wanted me,” said Greg, “Among my other duties as assigned.”

   They settled down in the office chairs. “I didn’t expect you for another month, Cal. Something going on?”

   “No, I was just in the neighborhood.”

   Chuck laughed. “Only problem with that is, there is no ‘neighborhood’ to be in. People who arrive at our door are either lost, or they meant to come here. So, are you just joy riding, or...?”

   “Mostly getting out of the office, I guess, but I do have some news. I’m going to be transferring over to Boise next month, so you’ll have a new hunt contact. I don’t know who, yet, but I’ll bring him by before I leave the area.”

   “I’m sorry to see you go. Boise, huh? Is this something you asked for?”

   “Sort of. It’s a good job, with some new variety for me. Also, my wife was really ready to leave ‘the sticks’ for the Big City. I think it’ll work out well for both of us.”

   Greg spoke up. “We were just talking about something when you arrived. Maybe you have an answer. We had an incident earlier this week with a young horned owl. We thought it was hurt, but turned out it was just trapped in a stand pipe, and needed to be freed. If it had been hurt, are there any animal hospitals or rehabilitators around where we could have taken it?”

   Cal thought for a moment. “I don’t know of any in this part of the state. I know there’s one over by Boise – I think the Department may even have some kind of contract with her – but that’s the only one I know about.”

   “What would you have done?”

   “We don’t get many calls. It’s mostly birds. If it looks like it’s too bad off to survive on its own, we put it out of its misery, then put the carcass in the freezer to give to the ISU museum.”

   Cal stood up. “I better get going. Is it all right if I drive on through the refuge, and see how things look?”

   “Sure, no problem. The road is good all the way to the blacktop.”

***

   Greg took the afternoon to make a quick tour of the refuge. As expected, it was pretty quiet. Many of the resident ducks and geese were “flappers” – in the middle of moulting their flight feathers, so they couldn’t fly. There weren’t any signs of northern migrants, yet.

   Friday was mainly an office day. After work, there was no sign of Vic, so Greg made dinner, cleaned up a little, and sat down to read a three-day old newspaper. A story on page two caught his eye. He read it; put the paper down, and went to look out the door. The Anderson house looked quiet.

   He wanted Vic. With no hope there, he shut off the lights, and sat down in his armchair in the dark.

***

      When Vic arrived Saturday morning, Greg’s door was closed and there were no signs of life. She knocked once, and went inside to find Greg sitting on the edge of his bed in his shorts, apparently just waking up. She sat down beside him.

   “Hey, are you okay?”

   He tried to smile, not very successfully. “Yeah, just a rough night.”

   “What about?”

   “Old ghosts.”

   “Can I help?”

   He touched her arm. “I’m counting on it. I needed you last night, but it was so late...”

   “I’m here, now. Tell me?”

   “Yes, in a bit. I probably should be dressed, first.”

   She put her hand on his bare thigh. “I don’t mind seeing you in your shorts.” She ran her hand up and down his leg. “In fact, I think I could get to like you this way best of all.” After a few more maneuvers with her hand: “However...” She paused. “Me sitting next to you on your bed – with you in your near-nakedness – and me running my hand up and down your inner thigh, might raise some questions with any unexpected visitors.” She stood up. “So, why don’t you get dressed, while I make some breakfast?”

   He looked up at her, with an amused  smile. “You do have a way with words.”

   She turned to the refrigerator, so he couldn’t read her face. “Yes, you have mentioned that in the past.”

   He got off the bed, stood close behind her, and put his arms around her waist. “I think my reference may have been a little different the other times.” He kissed her neck, then went off to take a shower.

   Showered, shaved, and clothed, he came out of the bathroom to find Vic dishing out scrambled eggs and sausage links for both of them. He gave her a second kiss on the neck. “Not only beautiful, but she can cook, too.”

   “A very limited repertoire, but edible, I think. Eat!”

   They ate in silence. “Very good!” he said, finally.

   “Domestic bliss,” she said. “Could you get used to little wifey making you breakfast each morning?”

   “I could get used to doing anything with little wifey.”

   She gathered up the breakfast dishes, and put them in the sink. “I think you are leading me into another discussion of sex, rather than talking about your ‘ghosts’ of the past.”

   “No, I wasn’t. I was just thinking about ...” He paused. “A more perfect union.”   

  “What? ‘A more perfect union.’ You were thinking about the preamble to the Constitution?”

  Greg looked a little sheepish. “Well, I was suddenly feeling patriotic.”

  “You were not! You were thinking about the subject that you just told me we were not thinking about!”

   “Maybe, maybe not.” He started to get up. “You want to go out on the porch?”

   “No, I’m very happy right here.” She sat in his one armchair. “Now, quit stalling and tell me about last night.”

   He went over to his bed, and brought back a page out of a newspaper. He had circled a couple of paragraphs. “This is what I read last night.”

   Vic read the circled paragraphs. “Johnson’s move increasing the U. S. military commitment in Viet Nam by 50,000 men, in a total of 125,000, falls short of expectations. But it is likely further U. S. reinforcements, possibly as many as 50,000 more, may flow into the war zone by the end of the year.

   “The new strengthening of forces in Viet Nam is well below what would be needed to bring about a  10-1 or even an 8-1 margin of superiority over the Communist guerillas infesting the country. Some experts say such a ratio is essential. To reach a margin of 10 to 1 or 8 to 1, another 650,000 to 900,000 Americans would have to be poured into Viet Nam to reinforce the 550,000 South Vietnamese troops and the Americans already there or due to arrive under current plans.”

   “Read the other place I circled,” Greg directed.

   “The draft will rocket to 35,000 inductions a month starting probably with the October call. This is the biggest monthly quota since late in the Korean War. Draft officials said they would have no trouble delivering the extra men, but it may be more difficult to get deferments.”

   Vic put down the paper. “Wow,” she said. “So, this means...”

   “It means my chances of being drafted just about doubled. The lotteries are going to have to get quite a bit bigger, particularly because I get the feeling that voluntary enlistments may be going down as the war gets more unpopular. More and more of the quota may have to be filled by draftees.

   “I said I wasn’t going to worry about the draft, anymore; just wait and see what happens. That’s still all we can do, but this new information makes not worrying less simple.” He thought a moment. “We were talking about prayer, last week. I don’t see why my concerns and wishes are any more compelling than any potential draftee, but I’m willing to try anything!”

***

   Somehow, in the ensuing half hour, Greg had changed places with Vic in the armchair. She was curled on his lap, apparently nearly asleep. Thoughts of Viet Mam had been tamped down, and everything felt pretty good. It seemed a shame to potentially ruin the moment, but...

   “I have a little speech that I don’t want to make, but I think I have to. It goes like this. I love you, and I know you love me. As we’ve been aware from our first few times together, we are quite compatible, and I can see us together for many years, building a stronger and stronger relationship.”

   “We’ve talked about this,” she said, sleepily. “I see that, too.”

   “I know you do. Your folks have seen it a little differently, as parents are prone to do. They saw us as thrown together by circumstance, with you not having had the opportunity to pick among a number of partners. I explained to your dad that wasn’t true. For a couple months, I have had you one or two hours a week. Throughout your high school years, many young men have had ample time and opportunity to win your affection. Yet, you chose me.”

   “Yes, I did, and very deliberately.” She was wide awake, now.

   “And I am very grateful to you for that.” He paused long enough for her to talk.

   “So, why didn’t you want to give this speech? I liked it quite a lot.”

   “Because that’s only the first half. There’s more.” He paused, again. “Now, what I just said about high school is true. There were potential suitors there that you could have picked. But, while high schools have numbers, they seldom have variety. In a small town, almost everybody has had the same experiences, and more or less share the same types of dreams and aspirations. I’m not putting that down; I suspect many romances that started in high school have gone on to be happy lifetime relationships. But college is really a different world.

  “In college, you are mixing with people of all ages, all origins, and with all types of life experiences. You are constantly learning new things, and being exposed to new concepts. You are going to meet a lot of fascinating people. It’s a heady environment! It’s different for everybody, I’m sure, but I doubt that many people  come through four years of it, unchanged. For someone like you – extra intelligent, inquiring, always open to new ideas – there are going to be lots of possibilities. If, by any chance, you...”

   “Stop! I love you, and nothing is going to change that.”

   “I hope that’s true. In case it isn’t I just want you to know that – while I would hate it if I lost you, for any reason – it would break my heart! – I would convince myself that the love I have for you wants to see you happy and fulfilled, even if it isn’t with me.”

   She gave him a look that was far from approving. “I didn’t like your little speech, at all. Did this new Viet Nam information bring it on?”

   “No. Well, maybe it added to my thoughts, but I had this speech prepared before last night. I didn’t want to wait until just before you left for college to spring it on you.”

   “I don’t like it, no matter when or how you planned to give it.”

   “Well, my darling Victoria, just lock it away somewhere, and remember it only if you ever need it. In the meantime, I will do everything in my power to reinforce your belief that nobody could love you more than I do, or make you happier than I do, and that we have a long, long future together.”

***

   Vic didn’t “lock away” Greg’s speech. She was upset all afternoon, and didn’t sleep well that night. She was up and out of the house before 7 o’clock Sunday morning. She gave one brief knock on Greg’s door, and entered. He was up, but just barely.

   “Wow! You said you liked to see me in my shorts, but it’s still a surprise to see you quite so early.”

   “I don’t care about your shorts! I still can’t believe what you said to me, yesterday. How could you think that my going away to college was going to change how I feel about you!”

   He pulled on his jeans, and felt a little less disadvantaged. “I don’t think I said that, Vic.”

   “You did! You implied that we were together only because I didn’t have other choices, and that I’d find them at college.”

   He put on a sweatshirt. It was too warm, but it felt like he needed it for armor. He mentally girded his loins. “I didn’t know you took it that way. I’m sorry. Can I try to say it better?” He sat on his bed, and hoped she would, too. After a moment’s hesitation, she did.

   “You remember in ‘Carousel,’ when Billy is trying to imagine what a daughter of his would be like? He says that she (and here, Greg sang a little) ‘is half again as bright as girls are meant to be?’ You, Vic, are twice again as bright as just about anybody – female or male – of your age and experience. I’m not exaggerating! You are especially perceptive. You love to learn new things. College is going to be an amazing experience for you. Before you start to live it, you can’t know  how different it is to be in an environment where so many people are learning and sharing. You will revel in it! Don’t let anything stop you from making the most of it.

   “I won’t repeat the part of my speech that shook you. Maybe I said it as much for me, as for you. I apologize. Just remember how I closed my statement. I think these are pretty close to the exact words. I will do everything I can to keep alive your belief that nobody could love you more than I do, or make you happier than I do, and that we have a long, long future together.”

   She didn’t say anything, but she placed her hand over his, and kept it there.

   “I’m sorry, Vic. Two pretty bad mistakes in just a couple of weeks – not understanding how you felt about the birthday surprise, and now this. Seems like I need some sensitivity training.”

   She squeezed his hand, and leaned against him. “We’re okay, Greg. It’s a hard time for both of us – so many changes coming so quickly. When I listen with my heart, I hear what you’re saying very clearly – and it’s what I need to hear.”

 

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