|Posted on October 3, 2010 at 9:38 PM|
Jason Saunders laid his small backpack on the dining room table and began a quick inventory. Satisfied with the contents, he stepped into the hallway where he could see his wife seated in front of the TV. “I’m off for my walk, Hon. See you later,” Jason said.
Muriel’s eyes never left the TV as her head tilted slightly towards Jason. “What, dear?” she said.
“I’m heading to the refuge, back in a few hours,” he said.
“Okay, dear,” Muriel said, still glued to the set. “See you after while.”
Jason stood a moment longer watching her. He knew what she was watching. Taking a few steps closer, so he could see the screen, verified his guess. The Shopping Channel. She spent all day chain-smoking and viewing either that channel or the Home and Garden Network. She was constantly ordering merchandise: jewelry, clothes, accessories. Things she never wore or actually used, just items that the TV hostess made sound impossible to live without. Their closets were full of her purchases, some of which had never been opened.
Shaking his head in disgust, Jason exited the back door. A short stroll across the backyard and through a patch of trees brought him to the paved bike path beside the river. He headed upriver on the path towards the refuge.
The Willamette River ran directly through the middle of River City. Years ago, the city council had approved a proposal to install a paved bikeway along both sides of the river for its full length through the city. To connect both sides of the river, several bike/pedestrian bridges were built to enhance the commuter use of the system. The path hugged the bank of the river on both sides, except in one location.
On the north bank of the river, nearly in the center of town, a 120 acre wildlife refuge had been established thirty years earlier. The refuge had once been an undeveloped park until a colony of Western Pond Turtles, and a breeding pair of rare Egrets were discovered. The refuge was now bordered by the river on one side and the bike path on the other. The path veered away from the river, skirted several ponds, staying outside the refuge boundary, then rejoined the riverbank. The refuge was posted at several locations, including the riverbank, warning of prosecution to any trespassers.
Jason walked to the refuge nearly every day. A brisk pace brought him to the East end in less than five minutes. The amount of traffic along the river was directly related to the weather. Sunny, warm conditions brought the walkers, joggers, and bicyclists out in large numbers. Today, with its light late-Spring rain, few people were about.
Stopping at the East end of the refuge, Jason looked both ways along the path. Seeing no-one was watching, he hopped over the chain-link fence, continuing along the river and out of view of anyone who came along the path. A sudden euphoric rush came over Jason each time he illegally entered the refuge. The slight burst of adrenalin enhanced his senses.
The refuge was made up of two different environments. The six ponds, fifty acres in all, were on the North side and scattered one after the other along the bike path. The woods, a seventy acre buffer between the river and ponds, consisted of old-growth conifers: fir, cedar, and hemlocks, with a mix of hardwoods along the riverbank.
Jason spent most of his visits in the woods and along the river, avoiding the ponds with their open terrain near the bike path. He enjoyed watching the wildlife inside the woods, often following their tracks from the river to their bedding or nesting areas. Over the years, he had become familiar with all the birds and animals inside the wood, giving many of them names.
Twelve years earlier, at twenty-six years old, Jason had his right hand and forearm amputated because of an industrial accident. A settlement had provided for enough compensation for Jason to pay off his mortgage and bills, and also provide for a monthly income, enough so that Jason had decided not to continue being employed. After spending a year in therapy and learning to use his artificial limb, he became somewhat of a homebody. Until he discovered the refuge.
Seating himself on a log, he removed his pack and pulled out a flask and water bottle. After a sip from the flask, Jason chased the whiskey with two sips of water, then settled back to take in the beautiful view to his front. A long slough extended from the river to the ponds. He watched a blue heron fishing along the slough, its long neck extended over the water, preparing to strike.
Suddenly, a movement near the river caught Jason’s eye. Two teenage youths were walking along the bank. They stopped, and appeared to be sharing a cigarette and began tossing stones into the river, unaware that they were being watched.
Jason pulled a green cap from his pack and put it on. The cap had a patch on the front that read Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Years ago Jason had received the cap for volunteering to help during an annual riverbank cleanup. With his cap on, and wearing his green cargo-pocketed field pants and tan shirt, Jason appeared to be an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Dept. He enjoyed playing the role when the opportunity presented itself. Shouldering his pack, he began approaching the teens.
“Hey. What are you two doing in the refuge?” Jason demanded, closing on them from behind.
“Oh, uh, we’re just cutting through along the …”
“You’re trespassing on a wildlife refuge,” Jason interrupted sternly.
Jason pulled a thick notepad from his pack, one that very much resembled a citation notebook, and began taking down their names and addresses.
“Are you giving us a ticket, officer?” asked the taller one.
“I certainly…….should,” Jason said, “but if you’ll promise not to trespass here again, I might just give you a warning. I have your names, so if you’re caught in here again the fine could quadruple and…”
“Sir, I promise you’ll never see me in here again,” the shorter teen said.
“Me too, I mean me neither, mister. It won’t happen again, I promise,” said the other.
Jason took a moment to look them over, and let the waiting sink in real good. “Ok, We’ll let it go this time, but if you’re seen in here again things aren’t going to go well for you. Now, get out of here before I change my mind.”
The two teens took off at a trot down the riverbank. Once they were gone, Jason returned to his log, chuckling to himself as he pulled on his flask.
“Nope, I don’t think you will either,” Jason said to himself.