This story is in part a sequel to the previous story. 

wash-arb

You know how it is up here, north of everything, or maybe you don’t, if you’re not from up here. We all kind of stick together, except when we are not agreeing with each other, which, now that I think about it, is often. Our fights can get bare-knuckled—metaphorically speaking only, except in the bars. Sometimes the whole northeast corner of Minnesota, what they call the Arrowhead in weather forecasts, is one big neighborhood. Other times we’re just a bunch of principalities in a big rivalry.

We get people moving in here, teachers for example, from somewhere south of us, to take jobs. Some of them don’t fit in and then move back south. Sometimes they figure it all out and fit right in. Sometimes they stay here and do just fine without becoming one of us. In any case we talk about these immigrants in bars, backyards, kitchens, diners, or these days, in the nearest McDonalds. When immigrants from the south sit with us gossiping about newer immigrants, then they are almost one of us. Almost.

Like back in ’98 this nice quiet kid moved in to teach science in one of our towns. Then he caused quite a stir, which made us get curious about him, and we discovered he was a mystery. Let me tell you about him.

Part I

He Hides His Roots

1998, June

School Superintendent Pete Chernovich, known as Pepper Pete or just Chernovich, watched the young man enter his office. This guy was the third of three science candidates he was interviewing in one hour right before he went to lunch. Each he would send on to the high school principal for a second interview, not that he planned to let Jessen have any say in hiring anybody. Hiring Jessen had been a big mistake that he was not going to repeat. The smooth SOB had fooled him in the interviews. Jessen was harder-nosed than he thought he would be, not the puppet he needed in that office. The elementary principal, Mrs. Aaron, he didn’t worry about. She ran the place fine and did not cause him problems. She never asked for more money. The Parent Teacher Organization raised money for all those wasted extras, like field trips. The teachers down there were more willing to spend their own money on their classrooms, the way they ought to. Who cared about grade school, anyway. It was the high school that gave him grief and where the most money was spent and where the School Board focused most of their meddling attention. Two board members he had in his palm. Two new ones were troublemakers. The fifth one, well, she could swing from both sides. All the teacher union leaders came out of the high school. Enough said about that!

The first person he had interviewed was a woman. He did not want her. She had a few years of teaching under her belt and would cost more. If a woman was willing to cut open dead things, she just might end up a union leader. But she could coach volleyball and track. He had coaches for those sports now, but you never know; they were both young and might get pregnant. He wanted to ask the woman if she were married or divorced or what, but he was not supposed to ask that. Despite his own two divorces, he believed marriage made people more stable and kept them out of the bars. Some people complained to him about teachers going in bars, especially when he was in the bars. Right now he had a convenient friend down in Duluth. If this woman teacher was divorced—he did not see a ring. If she was divorced, then she might remarry and want to have kids. She looked young enough.

He would have to fill an open coaching spot here and there with non-teachers, but those could be pains in the ass. It was boys basketball and girls softball coaches he needed now, plus some assistants in other sports. He managed to get Harju out of the district. His B-ball teams didn’t win, and parents and alumni were on Chernovich’s case about it for the last two years. He only had three teaching jobs open. They would all be coaches. He was hiring a senior high math teacher and a junior high social studies teacher. Soc teachers were ripe grounds for coaches. The Soc. spot was where Harju had been. Tomorrow he was interviewing a guy for math who had done some assistant basketball coaching in college. The kid had a master’s degree in math, which would make him cost more. He would be hired. Well, they were also hiring a music teacher for the elementary school, but they never coached. He would do some fast interviews first, but he would let Coreen Aaron and her hiring committee down there decide on the music teacher. He didn’t like the hiring committee thing, but Mrs. Aaron wasn’t a troublemaker, like Jessen was, so he let it pass. He would keep an eye on the committee thing though.

The second person he interviewed was a kid right out of college. The guy gave long answers to Pepper Pete’s questions. He kept having to cut the kid off. The kid had played some sports in a mid-sized high school over in Wisconsin. Chernovich did not want a Cheese Head, but the kid was willing to coach. He wasn’t certified to coach, but he could be an assistant. Chernovich marked the kid down as a maybe, being at the very bottom of the pay scale like he was.

Then the third guy, he just didn’t look right. A big kid, right out of Southwest State. Bottom of the pay scale.

Pete asked, “So what’s your name, again?”

Marty Hauptmann.”

Where you from then, Marty?”

I grew up on a farm down by the Iowa border.”

Pepper Pete leaned back and locked his arms behind his head. “What do you want to come all the way up here for?”

Marty did not want to answer that inappropriate question, but after twelve unsuccessful interviews, he had to play along. “I am attracted to the forest for its rich botany and zoology, something different from what I have studied so far.”

Do you hunt, then?”

No, I do not.”

Do you fish?”

No.”

Snowmobile?”

No.”

Huh.” Pepper Pete leaned forward to look at the open file. “What are you certified to teach?”

Marty wanted to say “students,” but he knew this superintendent would not like that answer. “Grades seven to nine science and biology.”

Well, that’s what we’re hiring. What do you coach? We need to hire people who coach.”

Marty knew that question would be asked. “I am not interested in coaching, but I very much would like to teach science here. I believe I am a good teacher and will only get better if you hire me.”

Huh, well. Did you play any sports?”

I played tennis but I hurt my knee in tenth grade and did not participate after that. I am, however, a good teacher. I relate very well to students.”

Huh. I didn’t know you could hurt a knee in tennis.” Tennis, well, he looked a little light in the loafers. A big guy like this didn’t play football. Huh.

Pete leaned forward to look at the kid’s file. He wanted to know if the kid was married. But it didn’t say that anymore on the application. It didn’t matter none, because this kid was off the list. Didn’t coach. Didn’t know about the area and how it worked up here, which didn’t work like way down there; might get himself sideways with the voters. But he better ask at least another question before he sent the kid on. He leaned back with his arms again behind his head. “What would you bring to the classroom?”

Marty was prepared for this question. “An appreciation for learning. I think a teacher should be a learner as much as the students. I would search the area for how science applies here. In the forest, in the logging industry, in mining, in local hospitals, in local small business. Even in schools. I would have students doing as much science as I could. I already know what textbooks you use and have scanned through them. One of them I used in student teaching. I would find how the books match what I discover. I have some ideas about how to make the whole year tie together instead of having students just working from chapter to chapter. I would . . .”

Now, that’s all interesting,” Pepper Pete leaned forward to look at his file,” Marty.” He handed the kid his file. “You can carry this over to the high school for Mr. Jessen for that interview at 1:30.” Pete picked up the phone. He waited until the kid left to dial Jessen and tell him, maybe the first kid but not the woman or that second kid. He reminded Jessen they had three more coming in tomorrow, two of them listing coaching as an interest.

Mr. Jessen was waiting for Marty at 1:15. Told Marty to Call him Kyle. Told him he had read the file and was impressed. Told him with all the pressure to improve math and science, he wanted a dynamic teacher who would really dig into teaching. Asked Marty if he were that sort of teacher. Marty got all excited. Sixty-five minutes later Kyle knew Marty was his man. But how to get Marty past Chernovich, that was his problem. Kyle shut his office door and looked out at the line of hills and their new-growth pine. Kyle selected his battles with Chernovich with caution, selecting the battles he needed to win and could win. Kyle had two strong allies on the school board, who were pushing for better academic performance. The man who Marty would replace, assuming Kyle could win the battle, had retired from any interest in teaching years ago, a burned-out failed coach who for five years ignored the boxes of new science textbooks stored in his closet to teach from a long-out-of date edition. A good math teacher had taken a better-paying job with 3M in St. Paul. The math replacement was certain: the young man with the masters in math and solid coaching credentials. Was the math teacher a lever? He could be, if Kyle played it right. Chernovich, he was certain, had no clue of the math man’s good teaching credentials.

Kyle faced down Chernovich clinched jawline facing clinched jawline. Kyle cited the concern of the two newest board members for math and science. He hinted, without knowing, that the swing vote was with them. After fifteen loud minutes, Kyle and Pepper Pete worked out a smoke-filled-room compromise, the smoke coming from their tempers. Chernovich would hire Marty Hauptmann, and Kyle would accept the hiring of the Math teacher/B-ball coach. Chernovich’s wily long-time secretary listened to their argument through the door, next to which years ago she had moved her desk. When red-faced Kyle came out, she gave him a big wink and two thumbs up. Both young men proved fine hires, if you ignored the fact that the boys basketball team now hovered just above .500 instead of just below.

It turned out that Marty Hauptmann was single. If he dated, it was not in town. The only personal details he revealed was that his father had died a few years ago and that his mother lived in Rochester. Marty made just enough social contact with his colleagues to stay ignored. He attended faculty parties and did not leave too early or too late. No one noticed he did not drink alcohol. He ate his lunch two or three times a week in the faculty room, making only the minimum number of comments, asking a question every now and again, and never changing the subject.

Like all rookie teachers, Marty spent his first year with his head just above water teaching grade eight science and biology. He did prove his street cred on discipline and grade standards. That next summer he roamed through the forest and across the back roads in his 1990 heavy-duty four-wheel drive diesel full-cab GMC pickup, with which he had moved to town. The faculty men did wonder why a man who did not fish, hunt, or snowmobile had such a powerful truck. Mostly they envied him the big toy. Marty made friends with a few U.S. and state forest rangers and with a game warden. He wheedled his way into tours of a taconite plant and a sawmill. His third year he started on a master’s degree on ecology, which he completed over two school years and two summers. His thesis was a study of the effects of street run-off on two small bogs and a creek in the town. When his forester and game warden friends heard about the thesis, they used it as one of the levers to prevent the destruction of a swamp on the edge of the town.

And then, one night at a school board meeting it all happened, the swamp muck hit the fan. When a board member mentioned Marty’s thesis being used to preserve the swamp, it was the first Chernovich had heard of it. Pepper Pete just blew his smoke stack right there in public, cursing out Kyle and Marty both, raving on about the loss of tax base and possible increased enrollment when that housing development fell through. Marty could have taken heat from the town, but Pepper Pete distracted the town’s attention to himself. When he let it be known around town that he was all set to remarry his second wife, his convenient friend in Duluth made herself inconvenient. She made it clear to the second wife just how long she had been convenient. The second wife let the whole town know. The remarriage fell through. Now you can’t be fired for such thing these days, but Pepper Pete’s reins of power went slack and he knew it. He announced it was time for him to move onto a better job at a bigger district. He ended up as superintendent and K-12 principal at a tiny district in northern Cheese Head country.

The faculty and town gave Marty credit for running Chernovich out of town. He told his landlord that he was perhaps the catalyst, but Chernovich did it to himself. After the Chernovich flap settled back down, the town began to wonder about this quiet man who had moved all the way up here from down by Iowa. “Seems it can’t even be the same state, all that way down there,” one of the old residents told Marty while he was filling the diesel tank on that big GMC. This young man—he had outgrown the title “kid”—could teach, the parents said. Kids liked him; test scores went up. But what was his story, still renting the cramped basement apartment beneath a dentist’s office? That new math teacher—he could teach, too, though they were not all that pleased with his coaching—came with a wife and child, and they soon had a second one. Marty never seemed to date. Some were sure his interest was in men. The dentist’s receptionist said no women or men were ever seen around Marty’s apartment. She knew because she had to drive by the dentist’s office on nights and weekends to shop and to go to church, if she just swung a couple blocks out of her way, which was nothing. She had to sort out Hauptmann’s mail. He did receive once a week as regular as clockwork a letter from K. Wisemann. That K could only be written by a woman. The return address was Rochester. It wasn’t from the Mayo Clinic or anything liked that. About then the dentist put in an Internet router, to which he gave Hauptmann access, which scotched the letters since Marty and K. Wisemann must have gone to email. A quiet long-term renter was worth a perk or two to keep.

One Friday morning Marty told the receptionist that a guest was coming in the middle of the afternoon. He was leaving the door unlocked. He didn’t want anyone upstairs worried when the guest went into his apartment. All day everyone upstairs kept an eye peeled, but somehow they missed the guest, who was gone Monday morning. Marty went to Mass sometimes, but, sorry to say, not that Sunday.

Not that the a few single young women in town weren’t interested in Marty for themselves. Take that young music teacher hired the same year he was. She made her interest clear to everyone else in town, if not to Marty. Then she gave up and married someone from her home town. She moved south, which was too bad, because she was a good teacher, too. Hauptmann, he wasn’t around the town much, even after he wrote his thesis that drove Chernovich out of town. His pickup was usually gone over the weekend and looked dusty in the faculty parking lot on Mondays. Well, dustier. He didn’t hunt or fish, it was said, but then he was biology teacher and enjoyed all that nature stuff. He was gone for days at a time in the summers, driving off alone with camping gear, just a tent and basic things like that they could see in the back of that GMC. He kept right on camping weekends late into the fall. In Marty’s second year in town Pepper Pete had tried to pressure him into coaching cross-country, Hauptmann being subject to pressure, not having tenure yet. Hauptmann stood firm. “What does it take to coach kids running around the country?” Chernovich ranted at his secretary. She had no answer, not one that she was willing to share.

Right before Chernovich left town, the DNR built that swamp park out there next to Abe’s house. You could see Marty’s GMC parked out there sometimes. About that time Marty moved his mother up into the nursing home in town, into the memory care part of the place. She was lost from the day she moved in, could never figure out where she was. She knew her son most days he visited, which was most week days and a Sunday or two. Some evenings he would come sit with her out in that porch they have in that home, correcting papers and tests. One of the aids said how sad it was to watch them.

More and more often Marty walked the boardwalk in the swamp before visiting his mother. He wasn’t trying to escape prying eyes; he didn’t know eyes were prying. Abe watched him and felt sorry for him, what with his mother and all. She worried about her own memory a bit, so she had to feel sorry for Marty and his mother. He would walk past pretty little LaurenLee doing yoga in her tight leotard on the boardwalk and hardly even look. Abe didn’t even tell her cousin Suzanne about most of his visits, even the ones in the wintertime. Maybe she should try to match up Tish with him. No, a decade was too far apart for a couple to marry. Abe was nosy, but she let it pass and granted him his peace.

The rest of the town, well, where there’s gaps in a story they’ll plug them in. Gay was the preferred rumor. Or jilted by a lover back down there near Iowa and still hurting. Or impotent; after all he didn’t go in the bars. Or had a girlfriend somewhere nearby on a dusty road whom he kept secret. Or waiting for his mother to die to inherit the money. That business manager from the home, who tended some bar on the side, wasn’t supposed to tell this, but his mother had no money. Or K. Wiseman was his sister, but then she never came to visit the mother. Or K. Wiseman with the florid K was a boyfriend. The aid said sometimes he sat close to his mother and read to her from a piece of paper printed off a computer, it looked like, anyway. The mother usually stared off in space when he read; sometimes she smiled at him and nodded. Thing was, he read too quietly for anyone to hear. Some people just aren’t very trusting. Not that this town was different from other towns. Any town was going to fill in the holes in a person’s life. Maybe some towns like the holes as much as any dirt. The non-sociable are the most subject to hole-filling.

The old-timers saw him as a sad change in the region. He just wasn’t like them and their ancestors. He needed to be buying land and putting down roots. One woman who worked in the courthouse over in the county seat checked with the register of deeds. He had purchased no land.

Then one March day Marty’s mother up and died, just like that, a stroke or a heart attack, nobody was concerned about which. If Marty had held a funeral, lots of people would have shown up. Some would have come in support. Most would have come, well, you can guess the reason. She was cremated, so everyone figured out she wasn’t Catholic like him. He did talk to the Lutheran pastor, but those things are secret.

After missing only one day, Marty accepted everyone’s condolences at school. The superintendent’s secretary, who ran the staff flower fund, asked where to send the flowers or donation. He said that wasn’t necessary. She offered to give him forty bucks to go invite everyone for a drink down at the VFW hall. He thought for a moment, like he usually did before answering. “I don’t drink alcohol. It makes me sick.”

Upsets you or makes you ill?” she asked.

He thought a bit longer, no doubt figuring out her question. “One drink and I have a headache. Next I become light-headed.”

My stars, to think we have someone around here who can’t hold his liquor!”

After a moment he smiled to indicate he knew it was a tease. In a grandmotherly way, she kissed him on the cheek. She expected him to blush. He didn’t. He said, “Thank you for the kindness.” He left without the forty bucks.

Part II

And So He Treads Not on Tracks

2006, March

Abe saw him almost every day after that out on her boardwalk, which by then she had claimed as her own out of a proprietorial interest in her frequent guests on the board walk. In late March Marty was still walking on ice and snow. Then the boardwalk pretty much melted clean. Then fell six inches of snow followed by sleet followed by a full week of melt followed by four inches of snow, which hung on the boardwalk for close to two weeks. Spring in the Arrowhead is a mean old witch. Adele was often out there, too, reading on her hidden bench. One day she just stared into the middle two inches of the four-inch snowfall.

At first Abe thought Marty was walking off his grief. But, no, he studied patches of open water, or watched birds, or checked for early buds. He probably did his grieving, she decided, while watching his mother’s mind fade. Abe hoped she herself died quick, not that she was ready to go yet. Adele and Marty paid each other no attention, which was good, what with Adele married and not much older than Marty, still carrying some burden out there to her bench.

Early on the first Saturday after the four inches of snow, Marty pulled his big diesel pickup into the swamp parking lot next to a ten-year-old Dodge Caravan. He followed a pair of footprints out to the boardwalk. On the left were a woman’s boots, the left heel dipping deeper into the snow then the right heel. On the right were the tennis shoe tracks of a pigeon-toed man. Marty analyzed the prints before looking up or walking on. The woman was perhaps leaning on the man. He used the binoculars to find them on the far end of the loop. They were young, very young, holding hands, facing down into the ice, talking, looking happy to be together on this bright cold day. Marty studied the two of them in the same way he studied birds and mammals. He did not know these two kids dated, but that’s what the tracks told him. Shane Mortelli was in his first hour biology class. Reese Knudsen was in his fourth hour biology class. He studied them some more. Yes, she was leaning on Shane. If Abe had been watching, she might have drawn a conclusion or two. She was in town shopping.

Shane, Marty remembered as he kept his binoculars on them, was a good athlete and a straight A student. A dark Italian face; a good-looking kid but short. Reese was taller than Shane. Thin. Long blond lashes over glowing blue eyes. Small Danish nose and pale complexion like many in Marty’s hometown. Despite her routine A’s in his biology class, he believed she was floating along, putting in little effort. Marty debated whether to walk onto the loop or leave them in their happiness. To think, two of his students were out here this early on a Saturday morning! Reese waved at him. Marty lowered his binoculars. She and Shane now waved both of their arms above their heads. He walked on towards them, avoiding as much as he could stepping in their tracks.

Now you need to know about Mr. Hauptmann’s little sign on the bulletin board close to his classroom door, a computer printout on pale green paper six inches square.

SCIENCE FAIR

Do You Want to Enter?

You must be willing to work hard

and put in many hours.

Talk to Mr. Hauptmann

Over the years a few students had talked to him. Under his challenging questioning, all but one proved a lack of dedication. The one exception was the kind of student Marty hoped would step forward. Very intelligent. Deep curiosity. The boy did not want to do a biology project, which was fine with Marty. When the boy had his project well started, his engineer father took a job in Texas. Marty helped the boy transfer his project to the new school. A year later the boy mailed him a card from the International Science and Engineering Fair where he was competing. Marty was pleased for the boy. He told no one.

As Marty approached the two of them standing in their same place on the board walk, Reese spoke. “We didn’t notice the birds until we saw you looking through those.” She pointed at his binoculars.

With no embarrassment he answered, “I was looking at the two of you. I am doubly surprised. First, to see you out here at all but to see you on an early Saturday morning. That is interesting. Second, are you two together, like boyfriend and girlfriend?”

She answered for them. “We’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend since eighth grade when you sat us beside each other. Why didn’t you want to step on our tracks?”

He looked at their boots as he prepared his answer. To fill the silence, Reese said, “I was watching the way you walked.”

Marty thought his students were used to his habit of pausing before answering. He looked at her face. She was excited about something. “You are a part of the nature, too.” Reese could tell it was not the whole answer. He had some other reason. Mr. Hauptmann, she decided, was a poor liar. He continued, “Studying behavior is a part of being a biologist, even human behavior. We are all three being biologists.”

Biology is the best class we have ever had,” Shane said.

You are both good students. Not a great deal of biology to look at out here right now. Just the busy little birds like chickadees, nuthatches, and pine siskins. Buds are not yet starting to develop. Beneath the thin layer of ice the swamp is starting to wake up. But we will have to be patient.”

We were trying to see through the ice,” Shane explained. “We did not think we should break it. My uncle who’s a banker blames you that this is still swamp.”

Marty gave a crooked smile. “I played only a small role. But I am not sorry that I did. We all see the world in different ways—bankers, teachers, hunters, foresters, students . . .”

With her eyes eager and her cheeks glowing red, Reese said, “Tell us what’s going on under the ice.”

Marty thought. Then he said, “You don’t actually want a lecture on Saturday morning, Reese. You do not pay all that much attention to my brief classroom lectures.”

She was not embarrassed. “I’m listening more than you think. You say things that make me wonder about other things.”

He waited before asking, “About what do you wonder?”

How everything works—like life, nature, people, God, creation. . .”

Marry looked past her, deep in thought or memories or both. With his stone face, who could tell.

Shane spoke. “Mr Hauptmann, we’re wondering if we can do a science project, like for the science fair.”

Marty still stared between them. They waited, still holding hands. Shifting his gaze directly into Shane’s eyes, he asked, “Why?”

To find out about things, how life happens,” Shane answered. “This biome here, for one thing, how it all works in this swamp.”

Marty turned his eyes to Reese. She said, “I want to do more, not just know stuff. I want to find out things on my own, for one reason to find out how to find things out on my own.”

Marty looked down at the ice. They waited. He said nothing.

Reese broke the silence. “Aren’t you going to ask if we will work hard?”

Not looking up Marty said, “In the plants and in the mud below us the increased light of the sun and the longer days are triggering chemical messengers. Plant and animal life is waiting for the one right moment to trigger the miracles. Is that not just amazing? I wish biology class could be more about the miracles. I was a B student in high school biology. All we did was draw and memorize. It was more like an art class or a history class or a vocabulary lesson.” He looked at Reese for a moment before shifting his eyes onto Shane. “What about you, Shane. Will you work hard?”

I work hard for my A’s. She’s the smart one. I work hard in sports, too. Could we do something over the summer?”

Do either of you two work hard at home?”

They both shook they heads no. Reese added, “It’s better for Shane to be out of his house.”

Marty looked down at the ice to think before asking, “What about you, Reese. Are you avoiding home, too?”

No. My parents are great. Shane hangs out at our house and studies there a lot. Playing sports gets him out of the house, too.”

Marty did not ask why. He stared into the ice as if beneath it was to be found the answer. After a minute had passed, Reese and Shane looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. They waited longer.

Marty looked at them, switching from face to face. “What science would you do? They offer many categories.”

Reese answered, “There are! We couldn’t believe them all when we looked it up. But biology for both of us.”

He waited to ask, “Do you want to be biologists?”

Shane shrugged his shoulders. Reese took the dare. “I don’t think so. Maybe. It’s that I want to know how to learn and discover things on my own. Maybe to learn if I will work hard. Won’t what I learn apply to lots of things in my life?”

Shane joined her earnest appeal. “I want to to do something like you did to save the swamp. Some day I hope I do something like that. I mean could we study something like you did for your master’s degree? I bet we could if you coached us.”

Marty laughed. They were puzzled. After his silent thought, he explained, “To think I am about to become a coach.”

Although they were still puzzled, Reese glowed with her response. “That sure sounds like a yes.”

He answered quickly, “It is, then.” He thought before asking, “Do you want to study in this swamp?”

That’s why we came out here,” Reese replied. “Because, you know, we know you come out here. We wanted to ask you out here in your swamp.”

How do you know that I come out here a lot?”

Everyone knows that. From what you taught us, swamps sound interesting. I like getting to the roots of things, like you taught us. Well, you didn’t say it that way, but that’s what I think. The stuff going on under the water is part of the roots of life. Isn’t it? Doesn’t life spread out from here?”

He turned to look off towards Abe’s house to think. Over his shoulder he asked, “One project for the both of you?”

Shane answered, “Could we each do a project about the swamp, not the same one but, you know, connected?”

After a pause, Marty turned back to face them. ”Do you own good rubber boots. I mean very good rubber boots?”

Shane answered, “We can buy them, if you coach us about what to buy.”

Marty did not let himself smile at the word coach. “First, you will need to cover the basics. On Monday I will give you some books and a few websites. Tell me, do you know if the water flows through this swamp or is it stagnant?”

Shane answered, “It flows. I grew up playing around here. I know where the creek flows in and out.”

Reese asked, “If water didn’t flow through here, then it’d be a bog, right?”

As he told himself they would be worth coaching, Marty smiled at their eager young faces. Yes, they would be worth it, succeed or fail. “It would need to be a summer project, at least to begin with. My summers are free now. So Monday you can read up about bogs, fens, swamps, and marshes.”

I am sorry your mother died,” Shane said.

Reese linked her arm in Shane’s and said, “We mean, we guess that’s what you meant about your summers being free now.”

They did not flinch when he stared back at them while forming his answer. “It was, in fact . . . not that I will not be doing other things this summer.” A long pause in which he stared past them. “I have an idea to suggest to you next week. I am afraid my idea will require a chaperon. It is not wise for a teacher to take two students into the woods without another adult present.”

Reese stood up on her tip toes in excitement, “We will go study in the woods, too, some other swamp, too?”

Do you know an adult, at least over thirty, with free time to be with us a few days over the summer? Think about it and tell me Monday.”

Shane asked, “Do you know my aunt? She comes out here, too.”

Marty thought before asking, “The Yoga woman? She’s too young.”

I don’t think she does yoga. She says she comes out here to read.”

Marty paused again in thought. “Maybe. I don’t notice people out here, there are not many who come. I watch birds, bugs, plants, amphibians, algae.”

As Reese pointed at her watch for Shane to see, she explained, “Shane and I are going shopping in Duluth with my parents. Thank you, Mr. Hauptmann.” She clapped her mittened hands.

Marty watched them scurry to complete the loop back to the van. He had forgotten that they came in a van. He had to think about that van as teenage behavior. It must belong to one of their families. Drive a van. Up early on Saturday. Tracked him down. Want to ask questions and want to learn how to ask questions. And, yes, two attractive, energetic, bright, curious students.

He stood many minutes before moving, again being careful not to step in their paired tracks.

Abe came home after the students drove away. Standing still for a long time at her kitchen window with her binoculars, she watched Marty—standing still, looking, it seemed, at nothing. When he balanced himself along the edge of the boardwalk almost tripping off the edge, she decided he was peculiar, That’s all there was to it. The man was plain peculiar and peculiar people were more fun to watch. It was sad about his mother dying.

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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