"A Spearfish Lake Story"
It was a nice spring day in Spearfish Lake. The sun was still high, and there was a smell of new-mown grass on the ball field where the Little League players held their practices. "Tigers, weíve got a couple new team members," Terry Curtis said to the Little League team members at the first practice that John had taken Shay and Cody to, Monday night. "They just moved up here from Decatur. This is Shay and Cody Archer. Theyíll be going to school here next fall. Now, I want you to introduce yourselves around."
One by one the boys on the team introduced themselves, and Terry, the coach of the team, sent the kids out to toss some balls around while he talked with John. "Your kids havenít played Little League before, right?" he said.
"Not Little League," John said. "They did have some kind of a playground league that they played while school was in session down there, but I got the impression that it wasnít too serious."
"We try to keep it from getting too serious here," Terry said. "Weíre not too successful, sometimes. Thereís always going to be some parents who take it a little too seriously, but we have a policy that everybody plays during a game, no matter how good they are. After all, weíre trying to teach the fundamentals of the game."
"Iím willing to help where I can, if Iím needed," John told him. "Iím afraid I wasnít much of a ballplayer, though. I always ran track in school."
"Any help is appreciated," Terry smiled. "You realized that you just volunteered to be assistant coach, donít you?"
"Sure, I donít mind. It gives me another chance to be with the kids a little. I havenít had much of it this spring. Youíre going to have to tell me what you want me to do, though."
"Well, mostly just be an extra set of hands until you get a feel for what weíre doing," Terry smiled. "Do you know if your kids have any experience with any particular positions?"
"Not really," John said. "Like I said, that playground league was pretty informal."
"Weíll move them around then, and see," Terry said. "Nothingís settled yet, anyway. Letís let them get warmed up a little, and then weíll get started on some serious fielding."
John and Terry stood for a few minutes watching the boys throw balls around. John really was concerned that Shay and Cody might not be up to the level of the other kids. The playground league was pretty much that, but John knew from having been brought up there that sports were a big deal in Spearfish Lake, and the boys really hadnít been exposed to much. Being a success in this league would be the key to them getting some friends in the community quickly and fitting in, he thought, and it would have been nice if they had been able to start sports a little earlier. But there really hadnít been that much available in Decatur, and of course, he hadnít been able to spend the amount of time encouraging the boys that he would like to have done. Those days were over, now; he intended to make up for it a little.
As they got the practice under way, he could see that while the boys were rough compared to some of the more experienced players, it didnít appear to him as if they were doing too badly. The practice went fairly smoothly, and the two hours flew by, and soon Curtis called a halt. "OK, Tigers, same time tomorrow," Curtis called. Some of the boys hopped on bikes to ride home, others got into waiting cars. A few hung around, since Curtis had promised to take them home, and he called Shay and Cody over. "You kids did fine for your first practice," he told them. "You just need to work on your fielding some more, and maybe get a little batting practice. Maybe your dad can work with you some. But, weíre real glad to have you with us."
That man is a good coach, John thought. He knows the boys arenít exceptional players, donít have much experience, and are new in town, and heís trying to make them feel at home. It could be a lot worse.
"I suppose we ought to be getting home," John told his sons. "I expect your mother is going to be getting dinner ready."
"Can we work on batting a little?" Shay asked.
"Better not right now," John said. "We really should be getting home. Maybe after dinner."
They got in the car to head for home. "How do you think it went?" John asked after they got in the car.
"OK, I guess," Shay said.
"Itís just hard, since we donít know anybody," Cody observed.
"Youíll get over that in a hurry," John promised.
"Are you going to take us tomorrow night?" Shay asked.
"Sure will," John said. "Mr. Curtis asked me to be the assistant coach. Thatís why I stayed around tonight. Itís nice to be able to spend the time with you two."
"Aw," Shay said. "We were sort of hoping we could ride our bikes to practice."
"I suppose you can sometime, if I canít be there," John told him. "Or, as far as that goes, your mother could take you. Youíll have plenty of time to ride your bikes, but you really ought to learn your way around town a little, first.
"Mom had us pretty busy today," Shay complained. "Can we maybe ride our bikes somewhere after dinner?"
John smiled. "Donít see why not. Iíll get out my bike and go with you, and maybe we can go down to the park and do a little batting practice. Would that be OK?"
"I guess," Shay said, a little disappointed. John guessed that it was because he and Cody wanted to get out and explore a little on their own. Well, theyíd have a whole summer of days to do that.
The pizza shop also delivered subs; it was at least an alternative for Brandy. Actually, she was getting a little better at cooking, but not reliably enough yet to want to serve to company.
"I really hadnít thought about the Iditarod much for next year," Phil said as they sat in the living room, with sub wrappers and paper cups of pop scattered around. "Weíve been busy with other things. I can run it again, or not. I mean, I think I pretty well accomplished what I wanted to accomplish."
"Itís not a decision that we really have to make now," Josh replied. "For that matter, Tiffany and I havenít fully made up our minds about what weíre going to do." The one thing that they were pretty well settled on was that Josh was going to get to run the A-team this year, if he ran at all Ė and he was still thinking about giving it a pass. But that was still subject to change, and there was no real point in bringing it up just now.
"We talked it back and forth till we almost talked it to death, back when we were running Keyhole every night," she agreed. "And, we really havenít talked about it much since. But, if we want to get in the first draw, then weíve got to be getting the entry fees and applications off to Shelly in the next week or two."
"Theyíre refundable up till the first of the year," Josh explained. "So I pretty much figured weíd go ahead and file entries for us and see what we wind up doing. Weíve both given consideration to giving it a pass, but at the moment, I think weíre both leaning toward running next year. The year after that is getting real fuzzy, though." If he did run the A-team, and couldnít get a pretty good run out of it without running into obviously uncontrollable problems, then he might well not run it again, he knew. Besides, the time issue really wasnít improving. Perhaps Jennifer was right, and that it was time to think about giving it up.
"One thing is for sure," Phil told them. "My problem is that I donít know if Iím that interested."
"Itís not so much the running of it," Josh said, "as it is all the preparation time. Weíve had zilch luck in finding a dog handler who might like to run the race sometime, and weíre starting to run out of time if we want to talk about a dog handler who wants to run next year. I think weíre going to be able to use the Aho kid a little for cart training, but with Tiffany running the store, that cuts into the training time a lot. Frankly, I donít know that we can run three teams this year, unless one is going to be pretty marginal. I think weíd be best off concentrating on one, or two at the most."
"We just donít have time to train three teams this year, unless youíre in it and you do more than your fair share," Tiffany added. "I think weíre going to be pushing our limits with two. Josh and I have started thinking about which dogs to start training with, but even if we limit it to two teams, thereís still fifty or sixty dogs that weíll have to start with, and thatís not a lot less than we trained last year for three teams."
"Well, you can count on me for help with the training, in any case" Phil said. "I donít know that Iíll be able to commit the time that I did last year if I decide not to run, but youíll get some help out of me."
"We donít have to make a final decision right now," Josh went on. "We can wait, oh, a couple months. But if weíre only planning on running one team, or two at the most, then thereís no point in wasting the extra time training an extra team or two. Thatís a lot of trail time that could be saved by concentrating on the dogs that we need to work with. But, I figure that if we all file entries, then that gives us a little time to figure out which way weíre going to jump."
"If you really want to run, then one of us wonít," Tiffany said. "But we do have to file entries for all three of us, just to stay flexible."
"Iíll download an entry form tonight, get it filled in, and get a check for the fee over to the store tomorrow," Phil said. "Itís still $1049, isnít it?
"Better check the web site," Josh replied. "There was some talk of bumping it up."
"Yeah, we need to check it, too," Tiffany agreed.
Brandy had been hovering in the background of the dog discussion; it really wasnít something she was directly involved in. Now, she spoke up: "Just from the way you all are talking, it doesnít sound to me like any of you are all that interested in running it again."
Josh shrugged. "I donít think I had the interest in it that I once had. I mean, I can see a few years down the road that Iím going to want to give up all the hassles of trying to run the Iditarod, and just keep a few dogs around for touring, and maybe run a local race now and then. But, I donít know if that time is here, yet. I do know that if weíre going to run the race, I want to be able to do it at a high level, or else I donít want to do it at all."
"I can understand that," Brandy said. "You want to do the best you can, not just put in an appearance."
"Thatís it exactly," Josh agreed. "We about have to run two teams to be able to run it at a high level, and, like we said, itís a reach to train two teams, even if one of them is a B-team. Weíve done it for years, but it gets harder every year, since thereís so much else that we need to pay attention, too. And, thereís other stuff a few years up the pike that will draw our attention even more, and maybe even make running it impossible. So, itís sort of a case of doing it while we still can."
With Brandyís help, by Wednesday evening John and Candiceís new house was starting to look like a home, and not a warehouse, although they would still be unpacking for months to come, and for some storage boxes, it might take years.
The old living room furniture didnít really fit the new decor, but there would be time to do something about it. Candice and Brandy were sitting on the front porch discussing it; the day had been a rather long and warmish one. They were tired, and it was something to do as opposed to doing something useful, when Tiffany parked the Jeep out front.
"Just thought Iíd drop over and see what was going on," she said. "The evenings get a little long when Josh is doing nothing but night runs."
"Just us girls," Candice announced. "John and the boys are at Little League practice again, lucky them. Itíd be nice to be able to get out and get around. Iíd settle for a swim, but I think the water is still a little too cold."
"Actually, I was thinking it would be a beautiful night to get out and paddle around for a bit," Tiffany said. "Would you like to come along? Weíll just take it real easy and float around for a bit."
"You know, that sounds like fun," Brandy replied. "Phil has been talking about wanting for me to get out, but now that itís warm enough, we never think about it at the right time."
"Iíd like to," Candice said. The lake was calm, and it looked both appealing and relaxing to be out there. "But I donít know if I want to go to the hassle of finding a swimsuit and changing clothes right now."
"No need for a swimsuit," Tiffany said, eyeing Candiceís T-shirt and shorts. "If you want to stay with it, we really should do some in-the-water safety stuff pretty soon, but for a quiet introductory paddle on an evening like tonight, what you have on ought to be fine."
"John and the boys will be home pretty soon and will be wanting something to eat."
"Leave them a note and tell them to get something themselves, or go to the Frostee Freeze," Brandy snorted. "Youíve worked enough for one day, and theyíre out playing. Come on, you deserve some down time."
"All right," Candice said. "Give me a minute to leave them a note."
In a few minutes the three women were in Tiffanyís Jeep, heading back down to Spearfish Lake Outfitters. Tiffany parked out front and led the other two through the darkened store, out into a fenced-in area on the waterfront side, where a number of rental kayaks were resting on racks. "Weíll just take some rec boats tonight," Tiffany announced, pointing at some of the boats on the rack. "Theyíre pretty stable, and not real tippy. They are kind of slow, but, weíre in no hurry."
One by one, Tiffany and Brandy set the boats on the ground, turning them over. From the back of the store, Tiffany produced paddles and life jackets, while Brandy and Candice carried the boats down to the waterís edge. "They look so tiny," Candice commented.
"These are just fat old rec boats," Tiffany said. "The bottoms are all dented up from sitting on the racks for too long, but theyíll be all we want tonight." She shoved one of the boats partway out into the water, and handed Candice a life preserver. "You always want to wear one of these on the water," she said. "This is a rental jacket, and is sort of cheap, but if you get into paddling, weíll see that you get a decent one thatís a little more comfortable."
"Do we need those things for around our waists?" Candice asked.
"Not tonight," Tiffany said. "Look, if you do get goofy and the thing rolls over, just push yourself out. When we get you into wearing a spray skirt, we really should spend some time on going over wet exits and things like that, but I think we can skip it tonight."
"If you say so," Candice said, a little dubiously.
"No big deal, just basic safety stuff," Tiffany explained. Candice put the life preserver on, and Tiffany had her sit down in the boat and knelt down to adjust the foot braces, so she would have something to rest her feet on. She handed her a paddle. "OK, Iíll push you out," Tiffany said. "Just float around a little and get the feel of sitting in the boat on the water while I get Brandy set up." She grabbed the bow of the little kayak, lifted it up a little and gave it a shove.
In an instant, Candice was sitting out on the water, looking at the two of them standing on the shore. "Wiggle your hips a little," Tiffany said. "Get a feel for how stable the boat really is. Go ahead, you wonít tip over."
"Says you," Candice said, following Tiffanyís instruction. To her surprise, it was pretty stable. If she leaned a little to one side, the boat would lean, too, but it was more solid than she would have expected. "Hey, this isnít bad."
"Like I said, itís a fat old rec boat," Tiffany explained. "Youíd really have to lean out to turn it over. If you stay with it, weíll start getting you into something narrower, but for tonight, that will be fine. Let me get Brandy going."
"Iíll wait for you," Candice said, taking an experimental dip in the water with her paddle.
It didnít take long for Tiffany to get Brandy out on the water with Candice, as she already had her life preserver on and was in the boat, paddle in hand. Tiffany told the other two to watch how she got the boat in the water. Rather than shoving off from shore, she got the boat afloat, parallel to shore, put her paddle across the back of the deck, and eased her way in sideways.
"This is how youíre supposed to do it," Tiffany explained. "With these plastic boats, we donít care about how bad you tear the bottoms up, and you canít hurt them on the sand very much. But you have to be a little more careful when you get into fiberglass boats. OK, if youíve ever paddled a boat any before, paddling one of these is pretty straight forward. Again, if you get into it a little, there are a number of different strokes that youíll need to know, and as far as that goes, thereís even a lot of finesse and technique to a simple forward stroke. But we wonít worry about that tonight."
"A stroke is a stroke, isnít it? Brandy asked.
"Not really," Tiffany told her. "For instance, if you want to make a turn, you should plant your paddle blade way out from the boat, and make a long, curving stroke," she demonstrated. "On the other hand, for going straight ahead, you want the blade planted in closer to the boat and your stroke is with the shaft more vertical. On a straight-ahead stroke, you want the blade to be exiting the water at about the point where itís passing your butt. Then, there are a lot of nuances, but we wonít worry about them tonight."
"Besides," Candice snickered, "These are fat old rec boats, and it doesnít matter, right?"
"See, youíre learning already," Tiffany smiled.
They turned and paddled down along the beach, not very far out. There was a little breeze, but all it did was ripple the silky water. Not far out, a family of geese was swimming past, the adults in lead and sweep, and a gaggle of fuzzy little goslings in between. Not far off, a heron stood along the shore, looking for bait fish, while another flew overhead. Along the shore, a woman lay in the sand in a bright red one-piece swimsuit, hoping to get a little tan off of the low rays of the slowly sinking sun. They paddled on, to where they could look down Central Avenue through downtown to where it turned and disappeared over the hill, heading on out to the state road, and continued on down the beach as the business district turned to the stately older houses near downtown, one of which Candice had spent the day turning into a home.
Another block or two went past, and Candice could turn and look down the side street to her new home, hidden partly by another house along Lakeshore Drive, and could see John and the boys pull in and get out. "Hey!" she yelled, without much hope that she could be heard, and then all of a sudden Tiffany let go with an ear-piercing whistle, and that got their attention.
John and the boys walked toward them, crossing Lakeshore Drive, and came down onto the beach. "Having some fun, huh?" John smiled and called out over the thirty yards or so of water that separated them.
"We just needed to get out for a while," Candice explained. "You three are on your own for supper. Thereís some hot dogs in the freezer, or you could take the boys down to the Frostee Freeze, or something."
"I take it youíre not planning on being back soon," he said.
"Oh, an hour or so, probably," Tiffany said. "Thatís probably long enough for a first trip."
"Well, have fun," John said. "Iíve got to give that a try some time soon. I guess weíll go to the Frostee Freeze. Maybe ride the bikes. The boys were hitting pretty good tonight."
The three of them stood there, watching the women paddle off farther down the beach. "Heís getting into that Little League stuff pretty good, isnít he?" Brandy said after theyíd gotten out of earshot. "Better watch it, or Mom is going to have a bad case of bleacher butt."
"It gives them something to do with their dad," Candice said. "He went so long not being able to spend much time with them that I think heís trying to make up for it now, but the boys seem to be taking to it pretty well. Are we going any place in particular?"
"Not really," Tiffany said. "Thereís a little bay down here thatís kind of neat to poke into. There might still be some geese on their nests, although most of them have already hatched out. Are you doing OK?"
"Fine," Candice said. "This is really sort of fun, in a relaxing sort of way. I figured youíd be tiring me out."
"Oh, it can be tiring if you want to do it that way," Tiffany said. "You get to doing it a while, get into a fast boat and have a good power stroke, and you can kick out a few miles at five knots and wear yourself right out. This is just a lazy evening stroll, compared to running a race."
They paddled on down the shoreline, to where a small notch opened in the shore in front of them. On one side of the bay that opened up before them were some summer cottages, mostly with docks in front and boats along the shore, but the other side of the bay was marshier, and they paddled along it. The air was filled with fat, poorly flying insects, and fish were jumping from the water. "Hey, neat," Tiffany smiled. "Weíve got a mayfly hatch going on, and that doesnít happen very often. Letís just sit and watch." They rested their paddles across the decks of their kayaks, and watched as the air around them was full of activity, the fish feeding on the freshly hatched flies. "Why they donít eat them when theyíre larvae is beyond me," Tiffany said. "Who knows, maybe they do, and we just donít see it."
After a while, they paddled on. There was a goose sitting on a nest, but they could see two or three tiny yellow goslings peeking out from under a protecting wing. "Just like any children, theyíve got to see whatís going on," Candice smiled.
The sun was noticeably lower in the sky by the time they emerged from the little bay and started to paddle back down along the beach toward Spearfish Lake Outfitters. As they neared the takeout, Tiffany pushed ahead a little and got out to help the others land, get out of the boats and put them away.
"That was a longer trip than I intended," Tiffany said. "But it was sort of interesting."
"How long were we gone?" Candice asked. "I didnít bring a watch."
"Close to two hours," Tiffany said. "So, how did you like it?"
"I thought there was a reason my legs were getting a little stiff," Candice said, "But it was a lot of fun. We need to do this again."
"Yeah," Brandy agreed. "I wouldnít mind going a little faster, though."
"We were sort of poking along," Candice agreed.
"Tell you what," Tiffany said. "Itís getting a little late tonight, but letís get together tomorrow night. Wear some swimsuits under your clothes, and weíll come out here right after work, and Iíll dig out some faster boats. We can spend a little time playing Ďdump the kayakí so youíll be a little more comfortable with them, and then we can go out and pick up the pace a little."
"Thatíll give me something to look forward to," Candice agreed. "Thanks for inviting us tonight. I really enjoyed it."
"Itís nice to be home," Jennifer said, as she and Blake pulled into the driveway of the big house on Point Drive a couple miles out of town about noon on Thursday.
"Weíve been gone long enough, thatís for sure," Blake commented.
"Yeah, we let that one get out of hand," she agreed. "Well, we donít have to go anywhere again for a couple months, and that wonít be a long trip."
They had started out with the week in Nashville, then on to Hollywood, then back to Nashville, then on to England, and followed up with the time on the movie set in Italy. On the whole, it had been a good trip, and theyíd been able to accomplish a lot.
Nothing had been firmed up yet on whether there would be another Wonderful Winter World after this yearís annual edition, but they really couldnít do much about it at this stage, anyway. Theyíd need to be making their minds up pretty soon so they could get to blocking out a rough script and planning the exteriors for the coming winter.
Theyíd firmed up their concept for Saturday Night with Jenny Easton, Blakeís idea for a honky-tonk one-shot cable special. It wouldnít be a great trick to shoot; they imagined it could be done in two or three days, although they hadnít settled on whether they really wanted to use the Pike Bar for a set. Theyíd bounced the idea off a couple of cable channels, and had received a favorable response, but it would probably be fall before they could get around to dealing with it. But, they could see an album out of it, too, and it might well be one theyíd produce themselves.
"I wonder how Josh and Tiffany are getting along," Blake wondered as he unlocked the trunk and started setting out bags to carry into the house. "We havenít heard much from them since they left us at Talladega."
"Yeah, we need to nose around about that a little bit," she said. "Not enough to make them think weíre watching over their shoulders, but they should know we havenít forgotten about them."
"Tell you what," Blake said, taking an armload of bags. "Once we get unpacked, maybe Iíll take a run down to the shop and look at those new boats they got in before we left. Maybe I can find out something."
"Iíll go with you," Jennifer said as she followed him into the house. It was wonderful to see the familiar place again after living in hotel rooms for so long. "Iíve been thinking how nice itíd be to get out kayaking again, and a new boat might be a good way to treat myself for getting home safe and sound. Iíve been looking forward to getting out on the water again. But, maybe we donít want to do it today. After all, we just got home."
"Are you feeling all right?" Blake asked. Normally they enjoyed Italian food, but theyíd had a lot of it the last few weeks, and it hadnít always set well with Jennifer; sheíd complained of her stomach feeling upset on several occasions.
"Iím fine," Jennifer protested. "Itís just that I think Iíve been sitting too long. Three flights today, one of them trans-Atlantic, plus the crap that airline food has become, then the drive up here is just too much. I guess Iím getting too old for that kind of thing. I think I just want to lie down and let the clock catch up with me."
"Yeah, Iím still running on Italian time, too," Blake admitted. "I could stand some time in bed, too."
"I meant sleeping," Jennifer smirked. "Iíll call Mom and let her know weíre home."
When Blake came in again with another armload of bags, he found Jennifer hanging up the phone. "That was quick," he said.
"Momís not home," she replied. "I left a message on the machine."
"Maybe sheís over at Brandyís," he suggested.
"Good thought, Iíll try there."
It soon proved that Jenniferís mother wasnít there, either, but Brandy was home. "So how was the trip, Jenn?" she asked.
"Oh, pretty good," Jennifer replied. "But itís nice to be back home. What have you been up to?"
"Not a whole lot," Brandy admitted. "I thought I had a nice deal set up doing some processing for Front Range, but it fell through. Itís kind of a long story what happened. Other than that, Iíve just been helping Candice move in and unpack. "
"Yeah, you remember Candice Archer from the wedding?"
"Medium height, long black hair, wore a skirt? Sheíd be hard to forget for wearing a skirt at your wedding. Sheís some relation to Josh, isnít she?"
"His brotherís wife. I guess all that happened after you left. He bought into McGuinness Accounting with Joe, and moved up here from Decatur. They bought George Lindquistís old place."
"Yeah, she was a neat person. I liked the both of them. Now that you mention it, I guess I remember her from Tiffanyís wedding, too."
"Yeah, Iíve been helping her unpack boxes during the day, and then in the evening, she and Tiffany and I have been out kayaking this week. Thatís been more fun than I thought it would be, and now Tiffany has me thinking about buying a boat. You ought to come join us, make it a foursome."
"It sounds like fun," Jennifer admitted. "Iíve been looking forward to getting out a bit. Now that summerís here, I need to enjoy it."
"Yeah," Brandy smirked. "While you get all golden tan, and the rest of us just get sunburned. Thatís part of the reason weíve been going out in the evening, we donít get burned so bad."
"Well, not tonight," Jennifer said. "Iím still tired from the trip. Maybe tomorrow, or something."
"Hey, are you doing anything Saturday evening? Weíre having a housewarming for them. Phil and me, Josh and Tiffany, Mark and Jackie, his parents, maybe Tiffanyís folks, maybe Terry and Wendy Curtis and their kids. Youíd be welcome."
"I donít know," Jennifer said. "We really donít know them that well." She did know the rest of the group pretty well, though, although Walt and Sarah were more acquaintances than friends.
"No better way to get to know them," Brandy said. "Theyíre good people, maybe a little straight, but they need to get to know some people up here."
"Well, maybe we will," Jennifer agreed. "Is this some sort of potluck deal?"
"Yeah, I think Iím going to risk a salad. I canít mess that up too bad. "
"Iíll see if I canít have Blake throw something together," Jennifer offered. "After all, us kayakers have to stick together."