Welcome back to Member Monday. Today it’s a pleasure to feature recent Writers Forum member Steve Callan. Steve’s book, Badges, Bears and Eagles, releases on March 1, but can be preordered now on Amazon.com. His book describes what it’s like to be a California Fish and Game warden during the last quarter of the Twentieth Century-working routine details from one end of the state to the other and conducting some of the most successful wildlife-related investigations in California history. Congratulations, Steve!
An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles
by Steve Callan
One September morning in 1975, California Fish and Game Warden Dave
Szody and I were working dove hunters down along the Colorado River.
A few miles south of Blythe, I spotted two men sitting in the shade of an old
Cottonwood tree. “Pull over there,” I suggested, pointing to a wide spot on the
opposite side of the road. “Let’s see what those guys are up to.” As Szody turned
his patrol car to the left, two citation books and a stack of mail slid to the right
and across his dash. “When are you gonna stop using your dashboard for a
book shelf?” I said. Without responding, Szody picked up a filthy, tobacco-stained
coffee cup and deposited a wad of freshly chewed spittle.
“How does your wife like that disgusting habit?” I said, as I directed my
binoculars toward our suspected dove hunters.
“She hates it,” answered Szody, laughing. “What do you see?”
“Looks like a couple old timers. They must be finished hunting for the
day; their shotguns are leaning up against the tree.”
“Let’s go see how they did,” said Szody, opening the driver’s side door and
preparing for a 200-yard hike across the field.
“You might want to wipe that stuff off your chin first,” I said.
At a distance, the elderly dove hunters might have mistaken Dave Szody
and me for brothers. We were only a year apart in age and recently out of the
academy. Both of us stood six feet tall or a little more and weighed about 180
pounds. Unlike most game wardens, who preferred the traditional “cop-like”
appearance, my working partner and I went a little longer between haircuts.
As Szody and I approached, one of the hunters stood up from his lawn
chair and greeted us. Tall and slim, this elderly gentleman wore a wide-brimmed
hat, a tucked in long-sleeved shirt and neatly pressed Khaki pants.
What I noticed most was the curious grin on his face that told me he knew
something I didn’t.
I asked to see the man’s hunting license, while my partner contacted his
companion. The name scrawled across the top of the license looked familiar,
but at the moment I was more interested in how many doves these guys had
killed. “Looks like you had some luck,” I said, staring down at a heavily laden
game bag that was hanging from the back of his chair. The man smiled and,
without my asking, handed me the bag. I counted exactly ten doves—the legal
limit. About the time I had pulled the last bird out of his bag, it dawned on
me who this man was.
“You’re George Werden,” I blurted, a look of surprise on my face. “Why
didn’t you say something?”
Werden laughed. “I was just letting you do your job.”
In his eighties, Werden had retired many years earlier as a patrol captain.
He will always be remembered as Warden Werden, one of the pioneers of
California wildlife law enforcement. Szody and I enjoyed a brief conversation
with this Fish and Game icon and were about to leave when Werden called
us back. “Do you boys mind if I give you some advice?” We had only been on
the job about a year, so questions raced through our minds: What did we do
wrong? Did we miss something? Werden seemed to enjoy making us squirm
a little. With great anticipation, we waited for his words of wisdom. The old
gentleman looked us both in the eyes and said, “You boys are just starting out
on the best job in the world. Don’t take yourselves too seriously and above all,
always think of it as a game.”
We never saw George Werden again, but his simple advice remained
with us for the rest of our careers. Anyone lucky enough to become a wildlife
protection officer should think of his occupation not as a job, but as a career-long
adventure. We were getting paid to roam the fields, forests and waters of
California, searching for anyone breaking the law or harming our precious
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