Member Monday: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today it’s a pleasure to feature Writers Forum member Steve Callan.  Steve’s book, Badges, Bears and Eagles, released on March 1 and can be purchased  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.  

An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles:

Chapter 14 “Gill Netters”

by Steve Callan

By the time Albert reached the bridge, there was plenty of sunlight, so he dropped behind a railing and directed his binoculars toward the gill net. He was just in time to see a man paddling across the river in the little orange boat. A few minutes later, the same man was freeing the gill net from the cement piling.

It’s getting light, thought Nick. It figures that this guy might be getting ready to leave. Should I wait for backup here by his truck or move in now, catch him in the act and make sure he doesn’t get away?

Twenty-four years and two promotions later, now retired Patrol Captain Nick Albert provided me with a little insight into the decisions he made that day: “Catching a gill-netter in the act was so difficult and rare that I was desperate not to let the violator escape. On the North Coast it was one of our major violations. I had hoped to catch him before he made it very far but that isn’t what happened. Even though things worked out in the end, in hindsight I would have done it differently.”

Without waiting for backup, the young, enthusiastic warden crossed the bridge and began a slow sprint up the south side of the river. Most of the south shoreline was exposed sandy beach with very few hiding places—Nick would have to stay out of sight the best he could and hope for the best. Fortunately, the original suspect and an adult female were busy pulling in the gill net as Albert approached.

Warden Albert stopped behind a pile of driftwood and watched the two gill netters remove a large salmon from the net. The woman was medium height, thin and looked like she hadn’t used a hairbrush in weeks. She wore a bright red, full-length coat. Albert watched her pick up the salmon by the gills and carry it across the beach toward a patch of high grass. The adult male suspect was about Albert’s size, with short brown hair and a mustache. Both subjects appeared to be in their early to mid-thirties. The man continued to work on the net, removing debris and attempting to untangle a large steelhead.

I’ve seen enough, thought Albert. It’s time to end this thing.

Stepping away from his cover, Warden Albert walked across the beach toward the violators. The woman, later identified as Marla Kay Vinuchi, spotted the warden first and dropped the salmon she was carrying. “State Fish and Game!” shouted Albert. “Stay right where you are.” The male suspect, later identified as Ronald DeWayne Tucker, was preoccupied with trying to untangle the steelhead. When he finally saw the officer approaching, he jumped to his feet and stared, wild-eyed, back at him. Brandishing a large hunting knife, Tucker began walking toward Warden Albert.

“Drop the knife and stay right where you are,” ordered Albert. Tucker ignored the command and kept coming. When he had reached a point Warden Albert considered his minimum danger zone, Albert drew his revolver. “I am not going to tell you again, drop the knife!” Tucker finally came to a standstill and tossed the knife aside. His eyes still had the crazed look of a trapped animal. Although no longer armed with a knife, Tucker was clearly weighing his options. Albert flashed back to the suspect’s green pickup, which was missing both the front and back license plates; this scofflaw had little use for society’s rules and regulations.

“Show me your ID,” Warden Albert demanded, without lowering his gun.

“Gotta take off my chest waders first,” Tucker said in a gruff yet whiny voice.

“Go ahead,” Albert said, gesturing with the gun.

“That net ain’t mine,” said Tucker, as he took his time removing the chest waders. “Me and my girlfriend … we was just camping on the beach. We seen the net and thought we’d get it outta the river.”

“I’ve been watching you for the last hour. You’re both under arrest.”

Upon being advised that he was under arrest, Tucker jumped to his feet, dove into the river and began swimming toward the other side. Vinuchi ran off in the opposite direction.

With the ambient air temperature in the thirties and the water not much warmer, Tucker’s stunt took the young warden completely by surprise. Determined to prevent Tucker’s escape, Warden Albert threw all caution aside, dropped his radio on the beach and dove in after him—in full uniform, including gun belt, boots and jacket. He caught up with Tucker about a third of the way across the river. Already tiring, Tucker grabbed at Albert, trying to climb on his back. Warden Albert came to the wise conclusion that an arrest in ten feet of water could be extremely dangerous, particularly with a .357 magnum revolver hanging from his waist and the overwhelming weight of boots and a wet uniform pulling him down in the brutally cold water. He pushed Tucker away and swam back to the south shore.

Albert reached the shore and sloshed his way toward the orange rowboat. Water gushed from the hole at the bottom of his holster and his soaked jacket weighed him down with every awkward step. Tucker had continued swimming across the river and was now crying out for help.

What a mess, thought Albert. Now that crazy son of a bitch is about to drown.

Albert picked up his portable radio, dragged the tiny row boat to the water’s edge and jumped aboard. With a single oar to use as a paddle, he thrashed across the river, fighting the fatigue overtaking his frozen, water-soaked body. A few minutes earlier, Warden Albert’s primary concern had been preventing the gill-netter from getting away. Now it was saving the man’s life.

Meanwhile, Marla Vinuchi had made her way to a nearby road, where she tried to pay a couple fishermen to drive her into town. One of the fishermen happened to be the original informant. When he told her that he knew she was involved with the gill net and the game warden was after her, she ran back into the brush and disappeared.

Tucker continued to swim toward the north shore, all the while yelling for help. He managed to reach the shore just ahead of the rapidly paddling warden. In his stocking feet, Tucker climbed the steep riverbank and, for a few minutes, was out of Albert’s sight. Warden Albert beached the boat and grabbed his radio.

“Outrun this,” said Albert, gasping for breath and still soaked to the gills. “Humboldt Dispatch, Fish and Game 1313.”

“Go ahead Fish and Game 1313.”

“I would like to request a BOLO” (be on the lookout).

“Go ahead with your information.”

“The adult male subject was last seen at 0845 hours, on the north bank of the Madd River, approximately one half mile downstream from Highway 101. He is running in the direction of Highway 101.” Albert paused to catch his breath. “The subject is described as a white male, approximately thirty-five years old, five feet eight inches tall, with brown hair and a mustache. He was last seen wearing brown overalls and a blue jacket.”

“Ten-Four,” said the dispatcher.

Water dripped from Warden Albert’s clothing as he reached the top of the riverbank. He could see Tucker running across a pasture, in the direction of Highway 101.

 A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: Premeditated Murder and Unintentional Thievery by Dale Angel

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a delight to start the month with a piece from Writers Forum member Dale Angel.

Premeditated Murder and Unintentional Thievery

by Dale Angel

On our way to the store we had to cross the railroad tracks and walk in front of the depot. At a certain time each day a train would be sitting in front, moaning and hissing steam. We walked way around it to pass.

One day my brother walked up to the boiling monster to wave to the train man. No one was in the cab. He handed me his bubble gum and pulled himself up the first rung and scrambled on up the ladder and looked inside.  He crawled through the window. He waved down to me.

What ever he pulled or pushed was instant chaos! The ground shuddered the engine gave a giant hiccup, followed by a sort of spasmadic convulsion. The sound of overloaded steam in great white clouds roared. The wheels screamed as they tried to catch up with the motor or maybe because the brakes were on.

A thunderous desperate sound as it tried to charge ahead with screeching whining wheels slipping…suddenly it burped and humped, slowly moving a few feet forward drawing wheels screaming as they caught pulling against itself, trying to pull locked box cars…they didn’t want to go…hot metal sounded like a revved up engine about to rupture.

Mt brothers face had terror written on it.

The depot door flew open out ran a chubby engineer in stripped overalls trying to hook up his strap.  His hat fell off and his bib was between his legs as he tried to run on his cuffs. He ran past me, grabbed the ladder rung and swung up, climbing toward the engine.

I could feel the earth shake and smell burnt oil, eternity passed. It was rendered relief. I could hear the engineer shouting down about jail…prison, but mostly about reform school.

My brother climbed down the ladder and I handed back his bubble gum.  He disappeared in the steam. We never told anyone about this, but later in life I asked if he ever added Unintentional Thievery to his resume.  He replied, “Did you ever put premeditated on yours?  You deliberately stomped on my pet Praying Mantis.”

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: This Amazing Body by Beth Maxey

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to feature member Beth Maxey.  She writes about appreciating her amazing body.  Beth is busy healing from a recent foot surgery, so please join me in reading her lovely piece and wishing her a speedy recovery.

This Amazing Body

by Beth Maxey

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my body, and contemplating each part, especially this morning as I lay on the massage table.

Like most women, and many men, too, I suppose, I’m not a huge fan of what’s there. It’s long and lumpy and somewhat squishy. There is dimpled or wrinkly skin where it was once smooth. An assortment of scars and marks decorate limbs, torso, even face.

A couple of toes are bent and a little stiff; my thumb joints are thick and frozen. My gait can be a little stiff, depending on achy hip joints or lower back; my left elbow doesn’t flex all the way out; my shoulders creak and my neck can grind.

But it works.

My legs take me where I need to go, and my balance is pretty good as long as I do regular yoga. My feet need extra cushioning in my shoes these days but they are straight and still nice looking. I can stand up straight and tall: my back is no more curved than it’s ever been, and I consciously ‘telescope’ my spine and pull my shoulders back when I stand. I can bend over to pull weeds or plant seedlings or pick something up off the floor and get back up again without help.

My arms and shoulders let me carry shopping bags or groceries or pots or piles of fresh laundry or kitties or babies, and I can hoist a sling full of firewood into the house if I need to. My hands slice and chop and shred food for our meals, and I can still easily type with all 10 fingers, and knit or sew or thread a needle.. They may be a little lumpy in places, but they don’t hurt.

My eyes see well, actually better now that I’ve had cataract surgery than I saw all of my adult life, and they let me read and watch movies and ocean waves and plays and see my honey’s big brown eyes right before I turn out the light at night. My ears bring me music and the chirrups of the birds that flock to our feeders and the soft mew of our kitties and the footfalls of the deer outside our window at night. They may not pick up every word sometimes, but that’s usually no great loss.

My mouth may have gold and silver and porcelain in abundance, but my teeth can chew anything I want to eat, and my throat easily swallows the big vitamin supplements that we take every morning. My voice still carries to the back of most rooms and my words are clear.

My hair is bright and thick and healthy, silvery gray though it may be. My mind works well enough for me to understand the books and magazines I read, the conversations I have, and even to memorize lines. It may work a bit overtime in remembering trivia from many years ago and replaying scenes from my past, but I can usually corral those wanderings and come back to what is here and now.  I see things from a perspective that generally cuts through to the heart of the situation or to the essence of a person, and I am not afraid to say what I see and think, although I am careful to choose my words.

I know that our physical appearance can make a lasting first impression, especially upon those who are younger. But I am aware also that outward appearance does not necessarily reflect who we are and what we can do, and as I age, I have begun to look more deeply before I venture an opinion about someone.

I have an amazing body. I am so grateful for all that it does, for all it allows me to be and do. And now, more than ever before in my life, I  am consciously, intentionally working  to keep it healthy and strong for as long as I can, and to say ‘thank you’ every day for all that I do have. If yours works, if it does what you need it to do, you should, too.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Badges, Bears and Eagles by Steve Callan

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

natural resources.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!

Member Monday: Freedom Falls by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday!  It’s my pleasure to share a few thoughts from my month in Uganda.  Special thanks to Larry Watters for watching over the website in my absence.  To read more about my time in Uganda, please visit pedalsandpencils.com.

Freedom Falls

I’ve been home a little over a day now.  To get home I passed through five airports and flew on four different airplanes before my hubs drove me the last leg home.

I flashed my passport through countless screenings and talked with several new friends on the planes home.  Each time someone discovered that I’d spent the month in Uganda, they’d ask two questions.

“What were you doing there???”  I’d tell them about helping 50 or so kids write a book about pivotal moments in their lives.  We’d have a brief conversation about the kids and their writing and without fail they’d ask the second question.

“So how is Uganda doing?”  This question was often times paired with a gulp and a brow wrinkled with equal parts fear and worry.

I loved this question.  It’s one of the reasons I took this journey to begin with.  I wanted to see how Uganda and her people were doing.  I wanted to hear and help record firsthand stories from her children.

The best way I can answer the question of how Uganda is doing is to tell you a story about two of Uganda’s waterfalls.

Murchison Falls

This is Murchison Falls.  It’s a mere seven meters wide and at one point in time the whole of the Nile had to pass through this narrow gap.  It is staggeringly beautiful, but make no mistake, Murchison Falls is a crashing, thundering force to be reckoned with.  Living beings who have the misfortune of falling into the crevice of the falls do not resurface again until the water has suffocated all of the life and breath out of them.

In 1962 Uganda was granted freedom from Britain.  This may surprise you because even Uganda’s most recent history is marred by dictatorial leaders and bloodthirsty warlords, not to mention the corruption that has taken root and entwined itself around the hearts of most of Uganda’s politicians.  But indeed on January 15, 1962 Uganda was declared an independent country.

Another surprising thing happened in Uganda in 1962.

It rained.

Hear me out, during the wet season, it rains a lot in Uganda.  Almost daily rainstorms roll in with the evening and pelt the earth until the morning sunlight glistens in the pools of rain atop the sodden earth.

In 1962 the rains didn’t roll in and out.  They rolled in and stayed, pouring themselves into the mighty Nile who rose to the challenge.  Her waters ascended like never before, sending creatures to higher ground lest the Nile drink them in.  Day and night the rain fell until the unimaginable happened.

Instead of squeezing herself through the oppressive rocks of Murchison Falls, the Nile burst over the land and a completely new waterfall was born.  It was like the whole country, from breathing men to teeming rivers, rose up and claimed freedom.  The second waterfall was called Gulu Falls.  Gulu is a Bagandan name meaning ‘God of the sky’.  However most locals call it by another name: Freedom Falls.

Gulu Falls (left) and Murchison Falls (right)

Each time I answered the question ‘How is Uganda doing?’ I thought of Gulu Falls and I thought of the students I worked with at Restore Leadership Academy.  After living through a time of thundering, crashing oppression, there is a generation of young Ugandans rising up.  They’re dedicated to justice over corruption, love instead of vengeance and healing for their scarred land.

How is Uganda doing?

She’s headed for a bright future because when young people have hearts full of love, minds dedicated to justice and a yearning for freedom, well, that’s a force that simply can’t be contained.  And when it spills out over the land, Uganda is going to find herself completely sodden with the kind of freedom that once caused the Nile to entwine herself over the land and move in a completely new direction.

Freedom Falls

A Note from the Webmaster: Writers Forum has the author’s permission to publish this work. The author retains full copyright ownership and protection. This work may not be reproduced or used in any way without the permission of the author.  If  you’re a member in good standing, please consider submitting a piece of your work to share.  Essays, poems, songs, articles and any other stand alone pieces are welcome.  To submit your piece, please e-mail it to webmaster, Alicia McCauley, at writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.   Members featured here are guests in our Writers Forum house.  Treat them as such in the comments section and enjoy this beautiful thing we call writing.