Forty miles off the coast of Florida
Eyelids struggled to open – the feeling of wetness against a cheek. Blurred vision labored to see into the half-light, while a gentle rocking offered little comfort to a body that could not move, yet conveyed a growing sense of pain. Intermittent consciousness struggled against reality as a set of stairs disappeared through an opening and into blue sky – then there was darkness.
# # #
Coast Guard Station Air Station Miami, Florida
“You got her all checked out, Lieutenant?” the approaching figure called out to a man performing a familiar scene on the tarmac.
Hearing the voice, a lean figure crawled out from beneath the helicopter. He stood, dusting the dirt off the uniform that covered his almost six-foot frame.
Then he pulled a cap from the pocket of his flight suit and covered most of his short, black hair. The gleaming railroad track insignia on the front of his cap signaling his rank as he properly positioned it.
While talking over his shoulder, he continued surveying the aircraft. “Better check the bolts on that right landing skid, chief. I noticed a little movement on them.”
“You certainly spend a lot of time going over your aircraft, Lieutenant Champion. More so than any other pilot in this squadron.”
Turning his head and showing a half-smile, “I like to keep you busy, Chief Petty Officer Johnson. Otherwise, you’d be sitting in a corner reading those superhero comic books you’re so fond of,” he teased.
“This Pelican,” he said, gently patting the skin of the helo, “is beginning to show her age. The Guard started to replace these aircraft with the Jayhawk model late 1990s. It amazes me they allow this one to still be flown. But until the decision to retire her, we need to make sure this special lady stays in tip-top shape.”
“Yes sir,” he agreed, squatting for a look at the skid bolts. “This particular aircraft has been a real work horse for the Coast Guard since the late 1960s. Records show she was one of the first off the assembly line. Considering her maturity, she’s in remarkably good condition.”
Shaking the skid support bar, he continued, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Lieutenant. You’re the only pilot here that is qualified to fly both fixed-wing aircraft and helos. I always meant to ask you why you never take out the C-130 Hercules.”
The officer looked up into the cockpit. “I like the helos best. They get you right to where the action is. And, there is no greater feeling than belly-flopping this rig into the water,” he said tongue-in-cheek.
“I hear you’re getting out of the Coast Guard soon, Lieutenant. What are your plans?”
“My six years in the Coast Guard is up next month and we’re moving to northern California. My wife wants me to go into the wine making business. Her father owns a vineyard there.”
“How’s your wife feel about you leaving the military?”
“I told her when I entered service that I wasn’t planning on making a career of it, but …” His words trailed off as his thoughts went somewhere else.
“Anyway,” he resumed, “she hasn’t said much about it. Although, I sense she’s relieved that I won’t be taking risks every day. Besides, chief, with Sherry pregnant with our second child, I’m sure she’s comforted knowing we will be moving in a new direction.”
Suddenly, an alarm sounded followed by a controlled voice over a loudspeaker. “Lieutenant Champion, report to Ops!”
“Guess that skid is going to have to wait, chief, but make a note of it.”
# # #
“Commander wants to see you, Lieutenant,” said the clerk, pointing to his right.
“Is the old man in good spirits?”
Is it Friday?” came the reply.
Sam knocked on the door and immediately heard a terse, “Come in!”
Upon entering, he removed his cap, proceeded to a desk, and saluted. “Reporting as ordered, sir.”
His superior nonchalantly returned his salute.
“Have a seat, Sam,” invited the man behind the desk while sliding a folder across the desktop. “That’s your dossier.”
Sam’s eyes caught his last name marked on the tab.
“Impressive file, Lieutenant, but there’s only one thing missing.”
“What’s that, sir?”
The commander leaned forward and opened the folder. “Your signature on the re-enlistment contract, son. You’re Coast Guard through and through, so why haven’t you signed it?”
I never planned to make the Guard a career, sir. I only wanted to fly, and the Guard gave me that opportunity. I also have a wife, son, and soon-to-be child that I need to think about. Let’s face it, sir, this isn’t a safe job.”
The commander came from behind his desk and sat on a corner, saying, “There are plenty of families in the Coast Guard, Sam. They all understand the risks the men and women who wear the uniforms take every day. … Have you talked it over with your wife?”
“Yes sir. We’re both ready to try something new. Her parents started a vineyard in northern California when Sherry was born and named it after her. Her mother has been deceased a few years, but she feels her father still struggles with her loss. She wants to move there and help him run the place. And, it will be a great place to raise our children.”
“Sounds pretty boring to me, son. But you have to make your own decision.”
The commander returned to his chair. “I’m not signing your discharge papers until your last day just in case you change your mind, Lieutenant. I know a good military man when I see one, and you’re it. But your ass is mine until you discharge, so I plan to keep you plenty busy. “
“Fine with me, sir,” Sam agreed. “Anything to help keep my mind off things for the next month.”
Another uniformed person entered and mimicked Sam’s introduction. “Ensign Thomas reporting for duty, sir.”
“At ease, Ensign.”
Pointing to Sam, “This is Lieutenant Champion, he’ll be showing you the ropes.”
The two men shook hands.
The commander turned to Sam. “This afternoon, I’m sending you boys out to meet the cutter Ticonderoga. You need to quickly get Ensign Thomas up to speed on deck-landing a helo on a moving vessel. Briefing is in an hour. Show him around and introduce him to your crew. That will be all gentlemen; you’re dismissed.”
“Aye, sir,” they said in unison, saluting as they departed.
# # #
Forty-three miles off the coast of Florida
Consciousness returned. Pain in the back of the head pounding with each attempt to move. At first, fingers flexed, then a push with the hands against a hard, watery surface ensued to reposition the body. Recognition slowly returned to surroundings and awareness of the situation.
The sound of an airplane engine overhead competed for attention over the throbbing headache.
Ever so slowly, the body crawled over a pool of water toward a singular object. A hand finally managing to grip the handle of a flare gun.
Taking unsteady aim toward the blue sky above the stairs, the shooter expended their last bit of strength to pull the trigger. Darkness closed again.
# # #
“There’s the Ticonderoga, sir.”
Sam confirmed the sighting of the ship.
“Alright, Ensign, take the controls and let’s see how well you approach the ship. But don’t try to land on the first go around. It’s always best to first hover over your target and get a feel for the motion of the vessel rocking in the waves.
“Roger, sir. Taking control.”
However, before Ensign Thomas could begin his maneuver, a call came over their earphones.
“Pelican One, this is base, over!”
“Base, this is Pelican One. We copy.”
“Pelican One, abort your training mission. You’re needed for a live SAR mission about forty miles off the coast. Do you copy?”
“Roger, base. Send the coordinates. Is the Ticonderoga going to accompany us?”
“Negative, Pelican One. A civilian aircraft reported spotting a flare fired from a listing ship. There’s a storm getting ready to pass over that area in about twenty minutes, so speed is essential.”
“Good copy, base. Receiving coordinates now,” Sam said, reading his control panel.
“We’re not sure what you’re going to find, but be prepared for anything. Good luck, Pelican One.”
“Roger, base. Out!”
Then Sam spoke again into his mouthpiece. “Alright crew, you heard that. Let’s get a swimmer ready.”
Then turning toward his co-pilot, “Have you ever done a search and rescue before, Ensign?”
“Only training missions, sir. Do you want the controls back?”
“Nope, you’ll be doing this long after I leave military service. There has to be a first time at some point … may as well be today.”
The ensign aimed the helo on an azimuth northwest as indicated by the coordinates they received. A huge bank of storm clouds gathered in the distance ahead of them.
Forty-three miles off the coast of Florida
By the time they reached the initial coordinates, rain pelted Pelican One forcing the aircraft to descend to one-hundred and fifty feet due to low visibility conditions. The crew could see that the waves had swelled to over six feet, but no vessel bobbed anywhere within their view.
“Alright Ensign, this is where the search begins. What is your assessment of the situation?”
“From the action of the waves, sir, I’d say the current is moving due east. Any disabled vessel in this location two hours ago, likely drifted several nautical miles from here going in that direction.”
“So, what type of pattern are you going to fly?”
“Zig-zag, sir. I estimate at this height off the water, our field of vision extends to about a third of a nautical mile. Coupled with the search radar, we should be able to spot any floating material over six feet long.”
“Very good, Ensign. That’s exactly what I would do. Go for it.”
Ensign Thomas rechecked his instrument panel and initiated a search pattern.
After fifteen minutes, the crew chief spotted something out a side portal window and notified the pilot. “Sir, we have floating debris portside.”
“Circle around, Ensign,” said Sam, peering down to the ocean top on his side of the aircraft.
He studied the waves for a moment and then said, “Drop to 50 feet.”
Within a few minutes, the helo hovered over half-submerged fragments consisting of a cooler and several boat deck items.
Then, farther out, Sam spotted a man positioned face-up who appeared to be unconscious. He was wearing an unsecured life vest, as if putting it on was a last-minute decision.
Sam gave the order for the swimmer to prepare to jump, while directing Ensign Thomas to go lower.
At the proper altitude, the side door of the helo opened and a man wearing scuba gear jumped to the water below.
Another crewmember swung out a large basket attached to a hoist and waited for the swimmer’s signal.
Wave swells made it difficult for the diver to reach the injured person. But with a few powerful kicks of his fins, the frogman managed to get close enough to the casualty to grab a loose strap and pulled the man to him. Then he signaled for the basket.
With the man safely strapped inside, he gave thumbs up, and the hoist ascended.
Onboard the helo, the injured person was carefully removed from the carrier and attended to by a third crewmember.
“Sir, he’s dead,” came a report over Sam’s earphones. “Appears to be a couple of bullet wounds in his torso.”
“Cover him up,” the commander instructed. “and let me know when the swimmer gets aboard. We’ve got to find that boat.”
The basket rigging was quickly re-lowered to pick up the diver and he was brought back to the aircraft.
Minutes later, they resumed their search pattern.
After travelling eight nautical miles from their starting point, one of the crew caught sight of a sinking cabin cruiser, and directed their efforts in that direction.
As they drew nearer the craft, they noticed a woman laying on the pitching deck, barely hanging on to a life rope.
“Lieutenant,” spoke the hoist operator into his microphone, “I don’t think we can land the swimmer onto the cruiser. The swells are too large and increase the chance for injury. If you can get closer to the survival craft, he believes he can jump nearby and swim to the ladder toward the back end of the boat.”
“Ensign, take it down to ten feet and hold her steady.”
“But sir, that exceeds safety levels under these conditions.”
“Do it!” he commanded. “She’s still alive, and we don’t know if anyone else is aboard. We don’t have the luxury of following the book on this one, Ensign and, as commander, I take full responsibility.”
“Aye, sir.” He moved closer to the sinking ship.
The swimmer launched himself into the water, this time only wearing snorkel gear and a safety vest.
Almost immediately, he grabbed a rung on the boat’s ladder and precariously climbed his way into the boat.
He reached the woman and secured her to a side rail using the rope from a lifebuoy.
Then, he rechecked his face mask and dove into the submerged interior of the cabin. After what seemed like minutes, he emerged and gave the signal to the craft overhead only one survivor on board.
Sam quickly assessed the best way to safely remove the woman and his crewmember from the craft. He surmised it likely was only minutes from completely sinking under water.
“Chief, do you think we can time lowering the basket into a swell so the swimmer can jump near it with the survivor. He can put her into the basket and connect himself to the rig, then we can pull them up together.”
“I think it will work, Lieutenant. If you can stay within twenty feet of the survival craft, I think we have a chance.”
“Ensign, take it slow,” said Sam. “I’ll tell you when to stop.”
The pilot followed Sam’s verbal and hand signals to the optimal point of the drop.
Upon receiving an A-Okay hand signal from the rescue swimmer to lower the basket, Sam gave the go-ahead for the Chief to lower away.
It wasn’t long before the Chief responded. “Sir, the hoist isn’t working. I’m not getting anything out of the motor.”
“Damn!” came his reply, speaking into his microphone. “There’s only one other option for us then. Ensign, I’m taking over the controls. Everyone, prepare for a water landing. Chief, prepare to receive the survivor and our rescue swimmer.”
Taking control of the giant metal bird, Sam quickly analyzed the wind and sea swell. He made his initial approach on the weather bow, then maneuvered the helo for recovery at the closest point to ensure their first attempt would be successful. As carefully as possible, Sam took the aircraft down into a valley between swells and hit water.
Everyone held their breath as the swirling tail rotor blades came dangerously close to the tops of the wave crests. Hitting one spelled certain disaster for the rescue party.
Fortunately, Sam accurately assessed he could create a small lee on the port side to protect the rescue effort from the wind on the opposite side of the aircraft. However, the movement of the waves and current of air challenged his skills to maintain the correct blade pitch to prevent the helo from tilting.
As the helo struggled to maintain a constant position near the survival craft, the swimmer secured the woman over his shoulder and jumped into the ocean. At the same time, the crew chief immediately threw a lifebuoy out to him, and the swimmer connected with it on his first try.
Within a minute of their water landing, the two-people arrived safe aboard the helo.
“Get us out of here, Lieutenant,” said the crew chief.
Sam supplied additional power to the turboprop and the helo slowly disconnected from the ocean’s grip. Once again airborne, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“What’s the woman’s condition, Chief?” he asked over his headset.
“She’s breathing, sir, but has a bad gash on the back of her skull. I don’t know how she survived.”
“Ensign, call and make arrangements for two ambulances. We should be back on land in thirty minutes.”
At the same time as they prepared to depart the area, the pilots watched as the cabin cruiser upended then sank beneath the waves.
# # #
As the ambulances pulled away, the base commander approached Sam and his crew. “That was a risky decision, Lieutenant. You put yourself, your crew, and this aircraft in danger. I expect a complete Swimmer Deployment Message on my desk first thing in the morning.”
The commander turned to leave, took a few steps, and then turned back toward Sam. “Unofficially, you did a great job of piloting, son. I wouldn’t have expected any less of you. I’m glad that everything turned out okay.”
He gave a salute to Sam, then he got into a sedan and disappeared.
The crew chief moved to his superior. “Your wife isn’t going to be happy when she hears this one, sir.”
“No, she won’t, Chief, and that is mainly the reason why I’m getting out of the Coast Guard.”
# # #
“You could have been killed!” Sherry yelled. “What would I have told our son, Clinton?”
Sam wrapped his arms around his very pregnant wife.
“But I wasn’t,” he said, his eyes looking for understanding. “I made a calculated decision, relied on my training, and prayed for dear life.”
“What about the next time?” she asked.
“Honey, we’re civilians in three short weeks. I don’t think we’ll have another incident like that before then.”
He moved to kiss her, but she turned her cheek in reaction to a news broadcast.
“Turn up the sound,” she asked Sam, breaking free from his grasp.
They listened as the anchor woman introduced the top story of the day: “A Coast Guard helicopter, stationed in Miami, was called into action early this afternoon for a daring rescue of a man and a woman at sea. Our reporter, Ted Knolls, has the latest details. What can you tell us, Ted?”
Other reporter: “I’m standing outside the hospital, where the woman is recovering from her harrowing incident at sea. An undisclosed source informed us that the woman is talking, and that she and her fiancé apparently took his cruiser out to sea where they planned to meet with another boat to conduct illegal drug activities. Her fiancé apparently was shot and dumped overboard by an unknown person or persons, who also attempted to sink their vessel. His body was recovered by the Coast Guard before they located and recovered the woman from the sinking cruiser. Authorities, have yet to release their names pending notification of next of kin.”
Anchor: “Do you have any information on the condition of the woman?”
Other reporter: “We’ve been able to learn that she sustained a severe blow to the back of her head, but that her condition is stable. We hope to learn more as the authorities’ piece together what happened. Unfortunately, much of any evidence may have been lost to the sea. We asked Coast Guard Public Affairs for a statement, but they are remaining silent at this point in time.”
A young boy ran into the room, and bear-hugged Sam’s leg.
Sherry turned to her husband, and the three of them embraced.
“At least this one turned out to be a man-made tragedy,” she said. “But promise me you won’t take any more chances.”
He rubbed her protruding stomach. “I promise, honey. I have too much at stake to risk my life for the short time I have left in the Guard.”
San Sebastian, Humboldt County, California
Turning off the main thoroughfare onto a secondary roadway, Sam and Sherry couldn’t help but notice the sign at the corner. A large signboard, dangling from the cross-arm of a thick post, fluttered in the hilltop breeze as though waving hello. Cut mostly rectangular-shaped, its top had been crafted into a semi-circle and the wood surface painted maroon. White lettering, within a thin white border that traced the edges of the sign read: Sherry’s Vineyard, Established 1976, 399 Trellis Road, 1 Mile.
A newer banner hanging below the sign read: New Wine Tasting Room.
“My dad told me he planned to open a tasting room,” said Sherry, as they continued toward the vineyard “but I didn’t think it would be this soon.”
“What’s a tasting room, Mom?” asked Clinton from the back seat.
“It’s a place where people sample a drink, and if they like it, they buy it.”
“You mean like at the grocery store?”
“Yes, sweetie, something like that.” She chuckled, as their son returned his attention to his DVD player.
The main entrance to the vineyard consisted of a weather-worn post and beam structure that supported an ornate, wrought iron logo marking the entrance to Sherry’s Vineyard. An eighteen-inch high stone foundation wall, with wood support posts and rabbit fencing on top, stretched fifty feet in each direction of the entryway. Vines of Chilean jasmine weaved through the fencing displaying snowy-white flowers that gave off a gardenia-like fragrance. Opened gates, made of old barn wood and wire fencing gave further invitation to the property.
Beyond the entrance, rolling hills proudly paraded rows of trellised grapevines looking like lines of a vast military honorguard.
Their automobile left the hard-top road a short distance after passing through the gate, and now snaked it’s away along one of a number of gravel service roads.
“How large is this estate?” asked Sam, navigating a bend in the road.
“My parents initially purchased twenty acres, but only seven of those acres were suitable for growing grapes. They planted Pinot Noir grapes that thrived on these slopes. After my mother died, my father purchased an additional five acres beyond that section of trees,” she said, pointing to her right. He experimented with Merlot in that section, but after three years determined the soil wasn’t suited to grow them. He switched to Chardonnay and they have done well there. Last year, he picked up another five acres from Mr. Stiller, his neighbor who owns an adjacent vineyard, but I’m not sure what variety is planted there.”
“I have a lot to learn about grapes,” commented Sam, pulling into a parking space near the front of a newer-looking building.
“Don’t worry, dear, my dad will teach you everything you need to know.”
She got out of the vehicle along with her son and they joined her husband. Clasping hands, the trio went inside.
“Excuse me folks,” said a wiry looking old man from behind a bar to his patrons, “that’s my daughter who just came in.”
He moved toward the door and flung out his arms. “How about a big hug?” her father solicited.
Sherry wrapped herself into him, and after a few seconds said, “That’s a new look, dad.”
“You mean the beard?” he commented. “Yes, thought I’d try something new. People tell me I look like Ernest Hemingway.”
She stood back to get a better look at him. “I see the resemblance, especially with the gray color being more dominant. But you’re a little thinner than Mr. Hemingway.”
“And you’re a little bigger,” he said, as his sparkling brown eyes fell to her mid-section. “That my granddaughter you have there? Looks like a girl to me.”
“Not sure, dad,” she said, rubbing her eight-month growth. “We want to be surprised. But boy or girl, I’m ready to hold them here,” she said, indicating her arms, “rather than here,” and pointed to her stomach.
Her father chuckled, then turned to focus on the little boy. “My goodness, Clinton, you’ve grown a lot since I last saw you. How old are you now?” he said, scratching his chin? Thirty?”
The boy grabbed his father’s leg. “No, I’m six.”
“Well come here and give your Grandpa a hug.” He stooped over.
Sam casually pushed his son in the direction of his father-in-law.
“Sam, it’s good to see you again too.” They shook hands.
“I hate to do this to you,” said her father, “but we have time to catch up later. How about you come into the tasting room, and help me pour some wine. We’ve been getting busy the last hour and I could use the help. The boy can sit at a corner table, I have some puzzles here somewhere.”
“Alright, dad,” Sherry answered, looking to her husband for agreement.
“Sure, Ben. But I won’t be much help describing what they’re drinking.”
“Don’t worry about that, son. These people know more about wines than I do. They’ll be telling you about them.” He slapped Sam on the back and ushered him toward the bar.
# # #
When the last guest departed, Ben closed the front door, lifted two bottles of wine and three glasses from the bar, and joined his family at the table Clinton sat at.
“White or red?” he offered.
“I don’t know, Dad,” Sherry said, patting her belly. “I haven’t been drinking since I learned of my pregnancy.”
“Come on, honey,” he pleaded, “a sip won’t hurt you, and we have a lot to celebrate.”
“Alright, but only half a glass. I’ll try the white.”
“Good girl,” he said, pouring. “And you, Sam?”
“I’ll do the red, thank you.”
Ben nestled himself between his daughter and grandson. “You really do look wonderful, Sherry. You remind me so much of your mother when she was pregnant with you.”
He dug into his back pocket and pulled a photo from his wallet, then showed it to Sam. “Looks like her mother too, don’t you think? Strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes holding a fire that can’t be put out, and a smile that melts your heart.”
Sam nodded agreement and took a sip of wine.
Clinton looked over his grandfather’s arm at the photo the old man held in his hand.
“So, when did you build this facility, Dad. You never said anything about it,” she said, taking in her surroundings. “It looks great.”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” he said, gazing around the room. “It’s not very large, but I left room to expand later.”
“And, how about the wine?” she asked inquisitively. “You only grow three types of grapes, right?”
Her father reached across the table and poured Pinot Noir into Sam’s empty glass.
“That’s right, honey. The Chardonnay you drank, Sam’s red, and Sauvignon from that new acreage. You know I always reserved some of my grapes and made small batches of wine for me and friends, but they convinced me it was time to take it up a notch. I still contract out the bulk of the crop to winemakers, but now I’m keeping more for myself.”
He sipped from his glass.
“That explains your grapes, but what about the Zinfandel we were serving?”
He offered her another pour, but she put a hand over the top of her glass.
“The Zinfandel is from the estate of the neighbor that sold me the land. We decided to swap some of our grapes. I think they refer to it as synergy.” His eyes sparkled.
The old man then changed the subject by engaging his son-in-law. “Well, Sam, how does it feel to be a civilian again?”
“I don’t know, Ben. I’ve only been wearing civvies three days. I feel like I’m on a leave of absence right now. Give it a few weeks … then we’ll see how I feel.”
“That was one helluva rescue last month, son. It would be a shame to let your flying skills go to waste.”
Sam looked at his wife and saw the uneasiness on her face. “Right now, Ben, I’m anxious to learn everything I can about the vineyard and its operation. My knowledge of grapes and wine comes strictly from the grocery store. But Sherry tells me you’re the one to learn from.”
He raised his glass in a salute.
“Aren’t vineyards starting to compete for the same land as the marijuana growers,” asked Sherry.
“You mean here in the so-called Emerald Triangle?” said her father.
Sam chimed in. “What’s the Emerald Triangle, Ben?”
“The hippies started moving up here in the 1960’s and 1970’s and have been cultivating cannabis primarily in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. It seems to grow well in northern California, and state law allows each family to grow up to ninety plants for their own consumption. So far, there has been limited impact around this area. It’s caused some problems in the other counties though, mostly thefts from the families that grow the stuff. Even been a few killings over it the last couple of years.”
“What’s a hippy?” asked Clinton, laying a corner piece into the puzzle.
Ignoring the boy’s question, “What are the authorities doing about it?” Sam quizzed. “I conducted drug interdiction missions off the coast of Florida, so I know how difficult it is to control.”
“The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local officials try and keep a lid on it, but they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of growers. More recently, marijuana farming is being done illegally on federal and state property where no one really pays any attention. Those growers are real sneaky about their operations and go to great lengths to protect them. DEA efforts also come up against conflicting state, federal, and county laws. At least for the time being, I don’t envision cannabis farming becoming too much of a problem here or the communities closest to Eureka.”
Unexpectedly, Sherry grunted.
“Are you alright, honey?” asked Sam.
“I’m fine, I think I was on my feet too much this afternoon.”
“Why don’t you both take the boy and ride over to the house,” indicated her dad. “Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll lock up here, and join the three of you shortly.”
One month later
“Ben, there’s a bug on this leaf. Is it anything to be concerned about?” asked Sam, as Clinton examined the spot indicated by his father.
“Let me see it,” he said. “That’s a moth, but not one to be concerned about. It’s good you spotted it though. Grape growers are faced with a lot of challenges like pests and diseases, but fortunately the vineyards on the north coast don’t have many of the problems they see in the central and southern parts of the state. Nonetheless, we have to be vigilant.”
“I guess I need to start studying about these things,” said Sam.
“Me too, Dad. I like bugs.”
Ben laughed. “I have a binder with pictures I put together on the insects that are a potential problem for us. Some of them are ones that could eventually migrate up this way. I’ll locate the file for you when we get home.”
“How do you control the insect pests?”
“Right now, I’ve been controlling them with herbicides. But I try not to use chemicals unless I have a strong need to. I usually can treat just the infected area and that seems to take care of the problem. There are a few bird species that are natural enemies of the flying insects, which helps as well. One grower, on the other side of that hill,” Ben indicated with his head, “is experimenting with bats.”
“Bats! Cool!” said the boy.
Smiling at the boy’s excitement, “Yeah, that’s cool, Clint,” he affirmed, “but I don’t know how well bats are going to perform at these higher elevations. We’ll need to wait and see how successful the program is before we consider anything like that.”
“There’s so much more to growing grapes than I ever realized,” Sam admitted. “I thought you simply stuck a seed in the ground and, before you know it, a vine gave birth to luscious grapes.”
The boy interrupted again. “That’s not what they teach us in school about birth, Dad.”
The men looked at each other, then Ben changed the subject. “You miss the Coast Guard?”
Sam adjusted his hat. “Not really, although I miss some of the friends I made. The military sort of brings you into a family of its own. Unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult to describe.”
“What about flying?” Ben asked.
“Now that’s another story. I do yearn to have a stick in my hand, and soar over the landscape. Maybe one of these days I’ll fly again. Right now, I need to take care of Sherry … she has her heart set on raising the children on the vineyard.”
Ben looked at his watch and then his grandson. Rubbing the top of his head, said, “We better be getting home. I have a feeling your mom is about ready to pop my next grandchild, and I don’t want to be too far away from her.”
“Roger that,” agreed Sam. “She started to have movement this morning she hadn’t felt before. I told her to take it easy today.”
“Taking it easy, isn’t something my daughter knows how to do.”
Sam whole heartedly agreed with his father-in-law as the trio headed to the pick-up truck parked at the end of the row.