When the wind took her skirt it revealed tight, black bike shorts underneath. The kids raced her. The school buses passed her, tooted their horns and kids leaned out their windows to wave. She jingled the bell mounted on her handlebars and waved in response. She threw back her head and laughed as a bus driver laid on her horn for a long blast. She still had that wild, unrestrained laughter he remembered. Before she noticed him, he slowed down and turned off the main street, heading back to the substation to park.
The department had always had a strong presence here as there was no local law enforcement, but the substation office was only about ten years old. The clinic next door was new so he made that one of his first stops. He walked into the clinic to face a beautiful woman standing in the reception area. She could be mistaken for Catherine Zeta Jones with her dark straight hair and black eyes.
Mac starts working in Coquille in about a week. And this is Devon Lawson, our office manager. The doctor came to the front of the clinic wearing the native dress — blue jeans and denim shirt. Seth laughed and stuck out his hand. I grew up here. Norm Sileski is my dad. He has a very good reputation. Anything you want me to know? Scott chuckled. Let me ask you this — how do you get along with the youth in town? Any problems I should be aware of?
Scott shook his head. He shook his head. Asking about the teenagers is just something I do when trying to get a profile on a new town. Seth shook his head. Sometime after I left. My dad used to say that place would never work here — too fancy for this town. Feel free.
Peyton laughed and took the card. Until then, just call me if you need me. There are three ways to reach me — the office, the cell or in emergencies. Seth made his way to the diner to say hello to Gina. It was safe to say that he knew Carrie better; Carrie and his mother, Gwen, had been friends for years. He headed for the flower shop which still bore the same name although the owner was relatively new.
Iris sold the shop a few years ago after her mother had a stroke. Then Rose passed away after a couple of years of infirmity. Seth talked to his mother at least once a week, usually more often, and she kept him current on the happenings in town. Rose had died too young and it left Gwen feeling like she was living on borrowed time. Gwen was now sixty-five. Norm, his dad, was seventy-two and just as cranky and unforgiving as ever. He still worked for the new owner. Why Gwen wanted to spend leisure time with the old coot was beyond Seth, but he felt sorry for her, sitting out her last years in the same small town, not having too much fun except for church, cards and bingo, missing her best friend, Rose.
He dropped in to Pretty Petals and took off his hat. He said hello to Grace, the owner. His mother had mentioned her several times. She was an attractive young woman about thirty years old or even younger, living the dream. She bought the flower shop from Iris and was thrilled to own her own business. Looking around he saw that it was updated since the old days. Just introducing myself to the folks in town, or re-introducing, as the case may be.
How are things in the flower business? She shook her head. In fact, I should swing by there now…how about a nice arrangement to take along. That always makes her so happy with me. Grace turned and pulled a centerpiece out of the cooler. At least once, usually more. Sometimes she comes in and makes her own arrangement. Be sure to let me know if I can help in any way. Then he gave her a second one. But he could tell Iris anything. They talked on their porches, on the phone, anywhere they met around town.
Then there was some misunderstanding their senior year. But he and the steady girlfriend had had a blow-up, a messy breakup, Seth had been bummed, had a few beers, and as usual leaned on Iris to talk about his girl problems. He could only vaguely remember, but he had uttered some lame thing to Iris like, I wish I was taking you, anyway.
And then he got back together with the girlfriend the very next day. He thought Iris would be happy for him. He had expected Iris to understand — it had been a spat and they were all made up. But Iris did not understand. He apologized about a hundred times, but she was through. Find yourself another sap to be your pal. From that day on, they were only cordial. When her mother died, Seth had come back to Thunder Point and took his mother to the funeral.
He also bought the biggest bouquet he could afford. They exchanged news, said nice things to each other, then… nothing. Deep sigh. So now he was back. This town was going to be a big job. Mac had told him to be prepared to be on duty all the time whether he was on duty or not. Seth understood; he knew that when he signed on. Along with a commitment like that, he had two other impossibly big projects ahead. He had to somehow make amends with his father. And he had to get Iris back.
He was going to find a way to show them both — he might have been that shiftless, inconsiderate kind of teenager, but he was not that kind of man. She was wearing running tights and shoes covered by a fleece vest and long-sleeved T-shirt. Her thick, chestnut colored hair was pulled into a pony tail and poked through the back of her cap.
So I thought a jog out across the beach was a good idea. I know, I should be looking for cottage cheese and fruit but Stu might burn it. If I know where those guys stand on grades I can line up tutors before anyone goes delinquent because of grades. And some from town. Then there are teachers. Tutors are everywhere I look, including some students. And of course I have the usual number of requests from football players for pretty girls. And the football players, in danger of being suspended from the team for failing grades, are a lot more visible.
Especially the girls. Boys, too.
Even football players. Or pays something forward. Like I said, it was fitting in, having self-esteem, identity. Like about ninety percent of the girls I know.
Then I ran into him — we were both getting gas. He was the most popular kid in school! The homecoming king and star player. He dated the pretty girls. But we grew up next door to each other and we were friends. In fact, I helped him with English and Biology. Big dumb jocks. Hey, what happened to his amazing football career? It seemed like it was here and gone awful fast. He was pretty badly injured. That was the end of his pro football career. Football careers are fragile. And Iris nodded. She looked down at her plate and picked at a couple of potato chips.
Gwen told Rose and also Iris everything about Seth. The injury and the repair left his right leg a little shorter and he wore a lift in his shoe. Gina smiled. What a lady killer. I remember Seth better from the last ten or twelve years, the few times he came through town and sometimes stopped here for a burger or cup of coffee.
Gwen must be so thrilled to have her son in town. So, while I do that, tell me about married life and your new family. My college girls help a lot but their time is at a premium because of studies and jobs. But life as Mrs. Iris sucked the last of her shake through the straw, making it gurgle. Or he took his sweet time moving to town. Who cares? He was worth waiting for. Are you seeing anyone, Iris? Not at the moment. There have been a few I thought had potential, but in the end I preferred my own company.
But I have my eyes open for an older, more settled model — say thirty-five, single, sexy and really into me…. The diner door opened and Seth Sileski walked in, as if made to order. Beautiful Seth. High cheekbones, chiseled chin, moody eyes, white teeth, thin scar slanted across his cheek. In fact, I could already be late. See you around. Next time, Seth. She took off at a gentle jog down the street and up the hill toward home. Why the hell does he have to be here?
What did I ever do to deserve this? He could be here for a long time! How am I going to avoid him for years? Make a difference against a backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal clear rivers. Rent-free cabin included. When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad, she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to reenergize the nursing career she loves.
But her high hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving—the cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. But a tiny baby abandoned on a front porch changes her plans…and former marine Jack Sheridan cements them into place. Originally published April and reissued December in mass market paperback and eBook. Mel squinted into the rain and darkness, creeping along the narrow, twisting, muddy, tree-enshrouded road and for the hundredth time thought, am I out of my mind?
And then she heard and felt a thump as the right rear wheel of her BMW slipped off the road onto the shoulder and sank into the mud. The car rocked to a stop. She accelerated and heard the wheel spin but she was going nowhere fast. She turned on the dome light and looked at her cell phone. Maybe go to a small, private hospital? Try to think this through? The woman said this place, this Virgin River, is calm and quiet and safe.
And Joey was right—with every additional mile, Mel was doubting herself; her decision to escape into the country. At every curve the roads had become narrower and the rain a little harder. It was only p. Of course there were no lights of any kind along this winding stretch. She could get lost in these woods and never be seen again. Instead, she fished the pictures from her briefcase in an attempt to remind herself of a few of the reasons why she had taken this job.
She had pictures of a quaint little hamlet of clapboard houses with front porches and dormer windows, an old-fashioned school house, steepled church, hollyhocks, rhododendrons and blossoming apple trees in full glory, not to mention the green pastures upon which livestock grazed. There was the Pie and Coffee shop, the Corner Store, a tiny one room, freestanding library, and the adorable little cabin in the woods that would be hers, rent free, for the year of her contract.
The town backed up to the amazing sequoia redwoods and national forests that spanned hundreds of miles of wilderness over the Trinity and Shasta mountain ranges; the Virgin River, after which the town was named, was deep, wide, long, and home to huge salmon, sturgeon, steel fish and trout. Of course, she could see nothing now except rain, mud and darkness. The town doctor, she said, was getting old and needed help.
The county was picking up the tab for liability insurance for at least a year, to get a practitioner and midwife in this remote, rural part of the world. Maybe you should go up there and look the place over. Mel took Mrs. McCrea, Mel began effecting her move out of LA the very next morning. That was barely two weeks ago. Far away. The dangers of the big city, where crime seemed to be overrunning the neighborhoods, had begun to consume her.
Just going to the bank and the store filled her with anxiety; danger seemed to be lurking everywhere. Her work in the three-thousand-bed county hospital and trauma center brought to her attention the victims of too many crimes, not to mention the perpetrators of crimes hurt in pursuit or arrest — strapped to hospital beds on wards and in Emergency, guarded by cops. What was left of her spirit was hurting and wounded.
And that was nothing to the loneliness of her empty bed. It seemed like sheer heaven. McCrea told her to pack only durable clothes—jeans and boots—for country medicine. So what had she packed? After scrimping for years through college and post grad nursing, once she was a nurse practitioner with a very good salary, she discovered she loved nice things. She might have spent most of her workday in scrubs, but when she was out of them, she liked looking good. She was almost relieved when the dark consumed her, for she could at least see approaching headlights around each tight turn.
Her car sunk into the shoulder on the side of the road that was up against the hill and not the ledge where there were no guard rails. Here she sat, lost in the woods and doomed. With a sigh, she turned around and pulled her heavy coat from the top of one of the boxes on the backseat. She hoped Mrs. McCrea would be traversing this road either en route to or from the house where they were to meet.
Otherwise, she would probably be spending the night in the car. She still had a couple of apples, some crackers and two cheese rounds in wax. She turned off the engine, but left the lights on in case a car came along the narrow road. She settled back and closed her eyes. A very familiar face drifted into her mind: Mark. Sometimes the longing to see him one more time, to talk to him for just a little while was overwhelming. Forget grief—she just missed him—missed having a partner to depend on, to wait up for, to wake up beside. An argument over his long hours even became desirable. Forever lasted four years.
She was only thirty-two and from now she would be alone. He was dead. And she was dead inside. It was the butt of a flashlight that had made the noise and holding it was an old man. The scowl on his face was so jarring that she thought the end she feared might be upon her. Piece of crap indeed! It was a new BMW convertible, one of her many attempts to ease the ache of loneliness.
But thank you very much for the insight. His thin white hair was plastered to his head and his bushy white eyebrows shot upwards in spikes; the rain glistened on his jacket and dripped off his big nose. You going to the McCrea house? So, she would have a bed after all. And if Mrs. McCrea had a heart, there would be something to eat and drink. She began to envision the glowing fire in the cottage with the sound of spattering rain on the roof as she hunkered down into a deep, soft sofa with an old quilt wrapped around her.
At last. Her car groaned and strained and finally lurched out of the ditch and onto the road. The old man pulled her several feet until she was on solid ground, then he stopped to remove the chain. He tossed it into the back of the truck and motioned for her to follow him. Along she went, right behind him, using lots of window cleaner with her wipers to keep the mud he splattered from completely obscuring her vision. In less than five minutes the blinker on the truck was flashing and she followed him as he made a right turn at a mailbox.
The drive was short and bumpy, the road full of pot holes, but it quickly opened up into a clearing. The truck made a wide circle in the clearing so he could leave again, which left Mel to pull right up to… A hovel! This was no adorable little cottage. It was an A-frame with a porch all right, but it looked as though the porch was only attached on the one side while the other end had broken away and listed downward. The shingles were black with rain and age and there was a board nailed over one of the windows. It was not lit within or without; there was no friendly curl of smoke coming from the chimney.
The pictures were lying on the seat beside her. She blasted on her horn and jumped immediately out of the car, clutching the pictures and pulling the hood of her wool jacket over her head. She ran to the truck. He rolled down his window and looked at her as if she had a screw loose. She showed him the picture of the cute little A-frame cottage with Adirondack chairs on the porch and hanging pots filled with colorful flowers decorating the front of the house.
It was bathed in sunlight in the picture. She said I could have the house rent free for a year, plus salary. But this—? She raised her voice to be heard above the rain. And certified nurse midwife. Seems like you shoulda come up here and look the place over and meet the doc before making up your mind. Headlights bounced into the clearing as an old Suburban came up the drive. Good luck. Actually he cackled as he drove out of the clearing.
Mel stuffed the picture under her jacket and stood in the rain near her car as the Suburban parked. It was pretty well splashed up, but it was still obvious it was an older model. The driver trained the lights on the cottage and left them on as the door opened. Out of the SUV climbed this itty bitty elderly woman with thick, springy white hair and black framed glasses too big for her face. She pitched a cigarette into the mud and, wearing a huge toothy smile, she approached Mel.
Completely unruffled, Mrs. I meant to get over here yesterday, but the day got away from me.
You said it was adorable! Precious is what you said! Do you want to stand in the rain or go inside and see what we have? Without comment, the little white-haired sprite stomped up the three steps and onto the porch. McCrea had. Rather, she tested it gingerly. It had a dangerous slant, but appeared to be solid in front of the door. A light went on inside just as Mel reached the door. Immediately following the dim light came a cloud of choking dust as Mrs.
McCrea shook out the tablecloth. It sent Mel back out onto the porch, coughing. Once she recovered, she took a deep breath of the cold, moist air and ventured back inside. McCrea seemed to be busy trying to put things right, despite the filth in the place. She was pushing chairs up to the table, blowing dust off lampshades, propping books on the shelf with bookends.
Mel had a look around, but only to satisfy her curiosity as to how horrid it was, because there was no way she was staying. There was a faded floral couch, a matching chair and ottoman, an old chest that served as a coffee table and a brick and board bookcase, the boards unfinished. Only a few steps away, divided from the living room by a counter, was the small kitchen. The refrigerator and oven doors stood open, as did most of the cupboard doors.
The sink was full of pots and dishes; there were stacks of dusty dishes and plenty of cups and glasses in the cupboards, all too dirty to use. She went to the front door and pitched it out into the yard. She shoved her glasses up on her nose as she regarded Mel. That old man in the pick-up had to pull me out of the mud just down the road. Been drinking again is my guess. I have a big house with no room in it—filled to the top with junk. It would take all night to clear off the couch.
That husband of hers can be a handful. Then ignoring Mel completely, she went to the refrigerator and stooped to plug it in. The light went on immediately and Mrs. McCrea reached inside to adjust the temperature and close the door. She felt a lot safer here than in the house where her hostess would be lighting a gas water heater. She had a passing thought that if it blew up and destroyed the cabin, they could cut their loses here and now. Once in the passenger seat, she looked over her shoulder to see the back of the Suburban was full of pillows, blankets and boxes.
Supplies for the falling-down house, she assumed. But then, at first light…. A few minutes passed and then Mrs. McCrea came out of the cottage and pulled the door closed. No locking up. Mel was impressed by the agility with which the old woman got herself into the Suburban. She put a foot on the step, grabbed the handle above the door with one hand, the arm rest with the other and bounced herself right into the seat. She had a rather large pillow to sit on and her seat was pushed way up so she could reach the pedals. Without a word, she put the vehicle in gear and expertly backed down the narrow drive out onto the road.
We got all the most challenging cases and hopeless patients, and did a damn fine job if I do say so myself. By tough, I thought you meant medically. The only thing she really dreaded was owning up to Joey. Plus, she was fascinated by the ease, speed and finesse with which Ms. McCrea handled the big Suburban, bouncing down the tree lined road and around the tight curves in the pouring rain. She had thought this might be a respite from pain and loneliness and fear. A relief from the stress of patients who were either perpetrators or victims of crimes, or devastatingly poor and without resources or hope.
When she saw the pictures of the cute little town, it was easy to imagine a homey place where people needed her. She saw herself blooming under the grateful thanks of rosy-cheeked country patients. Meaningful work was the one thing that had always cut through any troubling personal issues. Not to mention the lift of escaping the smog and traffic and getting back to nature in the pristine beauty of the forest. The prospect of delivering babies for mostly uninsured women in rural Virgin River had closed the deal. Working as a nurse practitioner was satisfying, but midwifery was her true calling.
Joey was her only family now; she wanted Mel to come to Colorado Springs and stay with her, her husband Bill and their three children. Now, in the absence of any better ideas, she would be forced to look for work there. As they passed through what seemed to be a town, she grimaced again. Damn, this is a big rain. March—always brings us this nasty weather.
He makes a lot of house calls, too. They passed a pleasant looking steepled church, which appeared to be boarded up, but at least she recognized it. There was the store, much older and more worn, the proprietor just locking the front door for the night. A dozen houses lined the street—small and old. The street was wide, but dark and vacant—there were no street lights. The old woman must have gone through one of her ancient photo albums to come up with the pictures.
Or maybe she snapped a few of another town. McCrea said. She looked at her watch. Nor did she have an umbrella. Her jacket was now drenched and she smelled like wet sheep. Once inside, she was rather pleasantly surprised. It was dark and woody with a fire ablaze in a big stone hearth. The polished wood floors were shiny clean and something smelled good, edible.
Over a long bar, above rows of shelved liquor bottles, was a huge mounted fish; on another wall, a bear skin so big it covered half the wall. A hunting lodge? There were about a dozen tables sans tablecloths and only one customer at the bar; the old man who had pulled her out of the mud sat slumped over a drink. Behind the bar stood a tall man in a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled up, polishing a glass with a towel.
He looked to be in his late thirties and wore his brown hair cropped close. He lifted expressive brows and his chin in greeting as they entered. Then his lips curved in a smile. Mel took off her coat and hung it over the chair back near the fire to dry.
She warmed herself, vigorously rubbing her icy hands together in front of the flames. This was more what she had expected—a cozy, clean cabin, a blazing fire, a meal ready on the stove. She could do without the dead animals, but this is what you get in hunting country. She let her eyes drift closed for a moment, appreciating the unexpected fine quality. She looked back at the bar, but the bartender had disappeared. Come on. Miss Monroe, meet Doc Mullins. He looked up from his drink with rheumy eyes and regarded her, but his arthritic hands never left his glass. He gave a nod.
So much for the friendly small town atmosphere, she thought. McCrea was walking back to the fireplace. She plunked herself down at the table. He turned his gaze toward her, but his bushy white brows were drawn together in a definite scowl, peering over the top of his glasses. His white hair was so thin over his freckled scalp that it almost appeared he had more hair on his brows than his head.
So, you wanted help up here? Which is it? The bartender and presumably proprietor was carrying a steaming bowl out of the back, but he paused at the end of the bar and watched as Mel conversed with the old doctor. It was grossly misrepresented. A young man, a teenager, brought a rack of glasses from the kitchen into the bar. He sported much the same look as the bartender with his short cropped, thick brown hair, flannel shirt and jeans.
Handsome kid, she thought, taking in his strong jaw, straight nose, heavy brows. As he was about to put the rack under the bar, he stopped short, staring at Mel in surprise. His eyes grew wide; his mouth dropped open for a second. She tilted her head slightly and treated him to a smile. He closed his mouth slowly, but stood frozen, holding the glasses. Mel turned away from the boy, the doctor. She headed for Mrs. The bartender put down a bowl along with a napkin and utensils, then stood there awaiting her. He held the chair for her.
Close up, she saw how big a guy he was—over six feet and broad shouldered. Mel felt the urge to correct them—tell them it was Mrs. Monroe, a Dr. Monroe in fact. She dipped her spoon into the stew and gave it a taste. He hovered near the table for a moment. He seemed to confer briefly and quietly with the young man, who continued to stare at her. His son, Mel decided.
She shook one out and lit it—this explained the gravelly voice. Mel just shook her head in frustration. She held her tongue. It was settled, she was leaving in the morning and would have to sleep in the car, so why exacerbate things by continuing to complain. Hope McCrea had certainly gotten the message by now. She ate the delicious stew, sipped the brandy, and felt a bit more secure once her belly was full and her head a tad light. There, she thought. That is better. I can make it through the night in this dump. It had been nine months since her husband, Mark, had stopped off at a convenience store after working a long night shift in the Emergency Room.
He had wanted milk for his cereal. But what he got was three bullets, point blank to the chest, killing him instantly.
I couldn't walk away. Episodes 39 , 29—38 But the ruse worked," McAfee recalls. Maybe he couldn't maintain multiple estates around the world, but surely he could clean up one village. The House Natural Resources Committee investigated Vice President Cheney for having released extra water to ranchers for possible political gain.
There had been a robbery in progress, right in a store he and Mel dropped into at least three times a week. It had ended the life she loved. He stayed behind the bar while she ate, drank and seemed to glower at Hope as she smoked. It caused him to chuckle to himself. The girl had a little spirit. What she also had was looks. Petite, blond, flashing blue eyes, a small heart-shaped mouth, and a backside in a pair of jeans that was just awesome. You could have cut the girl some slack. Ricky came behind the bar and stood next to Jack. Any suggestion Hope had made at getting Doc help was stubbornly rebuffed.
Doc might be the most obstinate and pigheaded man in town. He was also old, arthritic and seemed to be slowing down more each year. This goddamn rain is killing me.
My bones are cold. But then he put the bottle on the shelf. It was his habit to look out for Doc and left unchecked, he might have a bit too much. Jack laughed. She was maybe five-three. Hundred and ten pounds. Soft, curling blond hair that when damp, curled even more. Eyes that could go from kind of sad to feisty in an instant. And when she took on Doc, there was a light that suggested she could handle all kind of things just fine.
But the best part was that mouth—that little pink, heart shaped mouth. Or maybe it was the fanny. Improve the scenery around here. Melinda Mel Monroe —Nine months after losing her ER doctor husband in a violent, big-city crime, this burned-out RN, certified nurse midwife and nurse practitioner, age 32, comes to Virgin River, answering an ad to assist the local country doctor. There he meets Mel Monroe.
Virgin River town benefactor. They become involved, and their romance is an ongoing story through the first six books. Come back to Thunder Point with an emotional, uplifting story in book 5 of the beloved series by 1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr. Scott Grant has a bustling family practice in the small Oregon community of Thunder Point. Peyton Lacoumette considers herself entirely out of the dating scene.
But love can blossom faster than you think when the timing is right, and this short visit just might hold the promise of forever. Chapter One Peyton Lacoumette drove slowly down the main street of Thunder Point, past all the small businesses including the clinic. She drove all the way to the far end of the point where she was stopped by the ornate gates to what could only be a mansion.
She could barely make out the structure behind overgrown hedges and untrimmed trees. She turned the car around and went back through the town. It looked pretty well lived in but it was clean and it was obvious by the small groups of people who had stopped to chat here and there that people were neighborly. A lot of them paused to stare at her car.
It was a shiny new black Lexus and had been ridiculously expensive. In Bayonne, France it was more common, almost required that you never be in too big a hurry. Or Bayonne, for that matter. The main street appeared well scrubbed and friendly. She parked in front of the clinic and went inside. It was noon, there were no patients waiting and the young woman behind the counter stood up to greet her with a smile. How can I help you today? Or, Cooper has a beach bar on the far side of the beach, up on the hillside. Peyton looked around the small office. Do you need to see the doctor?
Then there are small business owners and people who work in those businesses, like me. A lot of the local population works out of town — Bandon, Coquille, North Bend. The stuff of legends around here — the old Morrison place. He was just a teenager. Devon shrugged. Lots of big rooms, a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms, a restaurant size kitchen, thousands of square feet on hundreds of acres right on the point. The only other inhabitant out there is the lighthouse because that point and its twin across the bay — very rocky.
It feels safe, like it hugs you. This town could use a twenty-four hour Urgent Care, but that takes much more room and staff. Devon laughed. Grant, too! Spencer has an eleven year old son, Austin. And I have a 4 year old daughter, Mercy. Well, Dr. Plus he volunteers with Spencer to be the game doctor for the football team. School programs and sports are the main entertainment here and most of the student athletes are working hard for scholarships. I wish you could meet him. She came back with a cloth briefcase. She opened it on the counter in front of Devon and pulled out a thin newspaper.
Devon glanced at the resume and her mouth stood open just as her eyes became very round with surprise. From Portland? I was there for three years. Very busy practice. I was hoping for something a little quieter for a while. Peyton laughed. Peyton looked up and there, standing in the space that would lead into the back of the clinic, was a very attractive man in his thirties. He was dressed in faded jeans and a yellow dress shirt, open at the collar, sleeves rolled up.
Although he was clearly over thirty-five he had a boyish quality to his good looks. But not to his physique — he was broad shouldered and had strong arms and big hands. Even from where she stood she could see a depth to his blue eyes. Devon looked over her shoulder. Scott Grant, who obviously just snuck in the back door. After getting to know Devon a little bit I decided to drop off a resume.
Then she laughed a little uncomfortably. She was only a woman, after all. Not even the type he usually found himself giving a second look. She was very pretty, yes, but his eyes were usually drawn to blonds, like his late wife. This woman had dark hair and dark eyes and a slightly olive complexion.
Her hair was long and straight and looked like a sheet of silk. Her eyes were large and her eyebrows curved in a perfect arch. She was trim — she took care of herself. Very nice collar bones. He almost laughed at himself. Collar bones, Scott? He was afraid to look up. He might lean over the desk to look at her feet and ankles, not that he gave a shit about ankles, but he hoped they were at least thick and weird looking.
But he knew they would not be. Interesting name…. Originally from the south of France. Most of the Basque blood in our family is Spanish but the name originated in the northern Basque country and has survived for generations. My parents are second generation. They have a farm near Portland. I wanted to see where our people came from. She was stunning. With her experience, she could very likely make more money than he did, in the right place.
Was he glaring at her? He shook himself. I started this clinic on a shoestring. I run it on a tight budget. Where salary is concerned, I doubt I could meet your demands. He folded his hands on top of the exquisite, sexy resume and smiled at her. I just happened to be looking through the employment section… I think it was the North Bend paper. I was just curious. I saw your ad and had never heard of Thunder Point.
In many cases their medical coverage is spotty. They need a good medical team. Also because the grandmothers, both widows, get a little invasive and high maintenance. I need them in smaller doses. So, that was my original motivation but I like it here. Now, tell me why you would consider Thunder Point? He felt we had accomplished as much as we could as a team and it was time for a change. I had no interest whatsoever in her boyfriend. Well, that cleared the air, all right. He coughed lightly. And he smiled.
He smirked slightly. He stood from behind his desk. We also netted different species of fish and recorded their basic data, including stomach contents. The method for that: Grab the slippery fish, stick the tube from a squeeze-bottle of water into its mouth and flush the stomach contents into a pan; then release the fish back into the stream.
The scientists climbed trees to retrieve memory cards from cameras positioned to shoot photos and video of predators gorging on the salmon when reviewing the images, scroll past the vegetarian moose that wandered through the frame. They clipped fins off fish so the DNA could be recorded, to track not only individual fish, but also generations of offspring over the years. They used tweezers to extract otoliths — the tiny stones in a salmon's skull cavity, formed by the minerals it swims through — which can show not only where a salmon traveled in fresh- and saltwater, but also the timing of its movements.
This kind of science is incredibly laborious, requiring high tolerance for immersion in cold water, hours in the rain punctuated by blasts of sunburn, swarms of stinging and biting insects, and the constant risk of irritating a bear, even in camp. One evening we watched a bear swim across the bay and pad ashore into the brush on our side; a few weeks earlier, within sight of our camp, a bear killed a moose calf while the mother moose circled helplessly.
You also have to put up with fragrant outhouses and the lack of electricity, as a generator and solar panels provide only a few hours of juice per day. The fieldwork is less Herculean than Sisyphean; day after day, the scientists push the boulder up the hill, gathering precious data for later analysis and re-analysis and re-re-analysis. All this work reveals an underlying truth: The sheer complexity of inter-related species and habitat is essential for an ecosystem's health, particularly for resilience to stresses like climate change. And the inverse is also true: When you "coarsen" an ecosystem Schindler's term by introducing roads that carve up the habitat, channeling streams, erasing wetlands, and bringing in mining projects, new transmission lines, more buildings, more traffic and so on — as we've already done in most of the West, and as is proposed for the headwaters of part of this area — the ecosystem weakens and may even collapse.
The University of Washington's Alaska Salmon Program is billed as "the world's longest-running effort to monitor salmon and their ecosystems. They have six camps in the area, concentrating on the Wood River, which they consider a proxy for the eight other major rivers that also flow into the saltwater of Bristol Bay — a megasystem collectively hosting the world's best sockeye runs. The only system comparable in the Lower 48 is the Columbia River and its tributaries, stretching from the Oregon coast to headwaters in Idaho and Canada.
Coarsened by more than a hundred big dams and vast modifications to floodplains and wetlands, the Columbia supports roughly 1 to 2 million migrating salmon in a good year — 10 percent of the number it used to support — and most of them are raised in hatcheries and injected into the system like a shot of methamphetamine.
In Alaska, most salmon runs are still near the historical highs. The Wood River system alone — an area less than one-one-hundredth the size of the Columbia — averages 2 to 3 million sockeye per year, and sometimes hits 10 million. And they're all wild. Commercial fishing boats hovering near the Wood River's mouth capture 60 percent of the migrating sockeye, on average, yet enough make it past the fishermen to form "the Red Wave" — a huge pulse of sockeye in the river and associated streams and lakes that supports the abundance of predators, from bears down to the blowflies that lay eggs in salmon carcasses so their maggots can feast.
Scientists have found that a single carcass can support 50, maggots, which, in turn, are consumed by other insects, birds and fish. The first scientists here "developed an integrated view — what we would call 'ecosystem science' today," Schindler told me. The program's current luminaries include gray-haired Thomas Quinn, the author of a definitive textbook, The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout. He helped establish how salmon navigate far out in the ocean and then return to their home streams: They sense geomagnetic fields in the ocean and smell distinctive odors in freshwater, which lead them back to the exact spot where they hatched.
Some of this information is genetically passed to offspring, Quinn believes. The salmon face very long odds. The average spawning female lays 3, eggs. To maintain a healthy population, at least two of those offspring need to grow up and return to spawn a new generation.
That doesn't always happen: Bears kill an astounding number of the Wood River sockeye that make it past the fishermen, ranging from 5 percent on the river itself to as much as 90 percent on the tiniest creeks. Once the bears' initial hunger is sated, they become connoisseurs, often chomping out only the brains of the males and the females' eggs. Scientists calculate that salmon flesh provides a respectable 2 kilojoules of energy per gram, while the eggs and the brains provide 10 kilojoules per gram. As the ripples of the Red Wave spread, the predators transport the dead salmon and their eggs around the ecosystem: Bears carry the carcasses a short distance, spreading nutrients in the riparian area, while gulls take fragments and salmon eggs longer distances to their nesting places, where they enrich little islands and lakes, providing food for snails and Alaska blackfish.
Scientists have even found "salmon signatures" embedded in the feathers of songbirds, because nutrients derived from salmon feed the plants that produce berries the birds eat. Jonny Armstrong, a post-doc working with Schindler, dispensed this expert advice about how it all fits together, pointing to a salmon carcass: "When you find a dead salmon that still has its eyes, you know you're tight on a bear.
It's probably hiding in the bushes waiting for you to move on. The gulls will arrive any second. The complexity of this wild ecosystem begins with the water in the hundreds of creeks that form the rivers of Bristol Bay. Each creek draws from a different ratio of snowmelt, summer rains and fall rains. When some creeks are low due to a dry summer, others will likely be normal or high, which means the average is more consistent than you would expect looking at just one or two of them.
The same goes for the nine rivers: Their average total flow is more reliable than any individual river. The natural topography and geology are also complex. Some creeks rush down super-steep mountain valleys, while others dawdle down gentler grades from little spring-fed lakes; some drain volcanic soil and others don't; some are colder and some are warmer.
This provides a varied habitat for salmon to exploit. Hiking up Lynx Creek one day, above Lake Nerka, Schindler explained the "hydrological complexity" of just this single creek. It has a cold tributary roughly 44 degrees Fahrenheit fed by groundwater, a warm tributary 65 degrees originating in a small headwaters lake, and a general mosaic of relatively warm pools and cold rapid segments, plus much warmer pools off the main channel, where young fish get stranded in low flows.
This complexity provides "refugia" during varying weather and flow conditions, Schindler said. When a tributary floods with rains, for instance, the juvenile salmon attempting to feed in it leave, hanging out in the main channel just above the confluence — "a velocity refuge" — until the flood subsides. If the whole main channel floods, they seek sanctuary in the side pools that are barely connected to the main.
I sat on a bank at the confluence of Lynx Creek and its cold tributary, where bears had flattened the grass and left portions of carcasses, and watched sockeye swim up to me. In many places, the water was so shallow that it didn't even cover their humped backs and dorsal fins. In brief stretches that were merely soggy gravel, the fish wriggled, rather than swam, uphill. Some turned left at the confluence to go up the cold tributary and spawn there, while others kept going up the main channel, heading for higher segments or the headwaters lake, to spawn in warmer water.
Those spawning in the cold tributary are genetically distinct from those spawning in the main channel — one data set that supports the conclusion that the locator information is passed on to offspring. If salmon can't spawn in one segment of the creek for some reason, the other segments might be OK, so the predators can find salmon pretty consistently during the run in this creek. Even the timing of salmon runs is complex. Some creeks have early runs, in June and early July, some have middle-of-the-season runs, and some have late runs, in August.
Runs on the spawning sites in the river itself last into September, and runs on the lakeshores, where some fish spawn, last into October. Each run hits its peak for two to three weeks, but because the timing is staggered, the run for the whole Wood River system lasts eight weeks or longer. The predators have learned to roam around the fenceless, roadless miles, hitting each creek, river segment and lake at its peak, Schindler said.
The salmon's varying life cycles also lend resilience to the system. Of the offspring from a single batch of sockeye eggs, some will stay in the freshwater for a year, while others linger for two years. Once they migrate out, some spend two years in the ocean, some three. So one batch of eggs can produce salmon that return to that exact spawning site three years later, four years later, and five years later, providing multiple opportunities to successfully reproduce at that site.
Schindler made this point tangible on Berm Creek, which has a persistent sandbar where it meets Lake Nerka. A few years ago, a flood deposited so much sediment on the sandbar that it completely closed off the creek to spawning salmon. No problem for the ecosystem: Other creeks did well that year, and the next spring's runoff was strong enough to blow an opening in the sandbar, allowing the next run to return to every spawning site in Berm Creek. Ultimately, the one-year disaster didn't matter.
Jonny Armstrong. A fox captured on a wildlife cam in the Bristol Bay ecosystem.. Researchers measure salmon specimens captured in the Bristol Bay ecosystem. Republish Like Tweet Email Print.