Book Length: 225 pages
Publisher: North Star Press
This sequel to “Eye of the Wolf” finds Melora St. James working to restore an endangered shorebird to the coast of Lake Superior. Melora’s peace and her focus on the piping plover are interrupted when Drew Tamsen, the boyfriend she thought she lost to another woman and another way of life eleven years ago, shows up on her office doorstep. He wants her back. They have a few things to work out first: Drew chose life as a werewolf over being with Melora, and after a painful divorce, Melora is in no hurry to trust or give her heart to another man -- even if he’s one she never quite got over.
Their story is interwoven with that of the plovers, who are threatened by foxes, loggers and the Federal Aviation Administration. Then there’s Demetri, a mysterious boy Melora and Drew find lost on the beach. In helping Demetri discover who he is and make his first real friends, Melora and Drew learn secrets about themselves, building community, and coming to terms with the past.
Goodreads link to book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20458423-plover-landing
On the drive home, Melora stopped and bought some wine for the evening. When they got to her house, Spencer barked, greeting them enthusiastically; any trace of his former coolness toward Drew was gone.
Drew and Melora sat on the couch, drinking wine and watching the evening shadows lengthen over the harbor. Lightning played across the thickening clouds in the distance over Wisconsin, creating quiet snakes of brilliance.
“How do you think Demetri knew I was a wolf man?” Drew swirled his wine and took a sniff.
“I have no idea,” Melora said. “He knew stuff no four-year-old should, if you ask me. Kinda spooky. And then there was that thing he said about the plovers, that they would come to nest.”
“I feel sorry for his mom,” Drew said. “That kid’s going to give her a run for her money. I suspect it won’t get any easier for her.”
“Still, he’s a neat kid. I wouldn’t mind having a child like that, even if he made me prematurely gray.” Melora took a sip of her wine.
Her hand was next to Drew’s on the couch and he took it in his own. “Want to get started on that? The children part I mean, not the gray part . . . I could help.”
“Drew!” Melora broke his hold and playfully punched him in the thigh. She knew what was about to happen between them was as inevitable as the approaching storm. It couldn’t NOT happen. That would be an insult to the cosmos. But she couldn’t let him get away with such flippancy.
“Sorry,” he said. “My seduction skills are a little primitive.”
Drew’s face turned serious as he put down his wine on the side table. This time, he took Melora’s hand in both of his, rubbing it as he looked into her eyes. With his voice soft and strained, he began. “Melora, even though we saved the wolves, even though I was finally part of something – the pack – staying with them wasn’t worth it without you. I realized that much too late.”
Tears sprang into Melora’s eyes and she looked down.
“I didn’t choose Lana over you. She just came along with the wolves . . . there’s been so much wasted time, so many excuses.” Drew paused. “That stops now. I apologize for hurting you. I want to be with you, whatever it takes, however long it takes. I won’t waste any more time without you.”
Melora looked back up at him, her eyes brimming. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said. A tear escaped and slid down her cheek. Drew reached up and wiped it with his thumb, his hand cupping her face. Melora put her wine glass on the coffee table. She leaned forward and their lips met.
Their kiss felt like coming home on Christmas morning. Like hot chocolate on a snowy evening. Like tulips in spring. Like jumping into a pile of fall leaves. It began soft and slow, becoming harder and more urgent.
Drew’s hands moved from her face down her body, hugging her to him. Melora responded in kind. He felt so good, so fit and solid -- all man.
After a while, they broke to breathe. Spencer whined from his post next to the couch.
“It’s okay, Spencer,” Melora breathed. “Lay down.”
“Good idea.” Drew leaned over her. Melora laughed and scooched her legs underneath him. They lay on the couch, Melora on her back, Drew on his side, his back against the back of the couch.
“Sorry, Spencer’s not used to people coming here and accosting me,” Melora said.
“Oh no, not accost.” Drew stroked her cheek again. “Just love.”
And they kissed again. Drew’s hand moved from her face to her neck, to the tops of her breasts. “Oh my god, you are soft,” he said.
Melora arched her back in pleasure and then rolled onto her side, facing him, so that her free hand could roam his body. It rested on his butt, kneading the muscles there, roamed up his back, and then was drawn back to his butt. She lifted her leg and laid it atop his, bringing him closer to her.
Dimly, she noticed the sound of thunder. The room darkened as the storm drew near.
Sample Chapter (2)
Monday, June 19
Melora parked her car in the lot by the Sky Harbor Airport and started along the beach to the plover site. It was evening. A mist had hung in the air for most of the day, but it burned off in the late afternoon, and the sky was a clear turquoise blue. The warm, still air caressed her as she strolled alone through the sand.
The plover chicks were a few days old. This was Melora’s first opportunity to visit since their hatching. Normally, she would be walking fast in anticipation, but she was tired. It had been a long work day and she missed Drew. They had talked on the phone again last night. Although there was no change in the stalemate questions, there were some new developments with Lana and Drew’s boys.
Lana had announced to Drew that she was moving to Australia with her boyfriend. She said that Drew could have the boys, but she intended to visit them or bring them to visit her several times a year. Drew got the impression that Lana’s boyfriend wasn’t into children, and that the boys disliked him. Lana was working on documents giving Drew full custody. So the boys would be his to take where he pleased.
This was a great relief. Although Melora suspected the lure of Australia was just more exciting than Michigan to Lana, part of her hoped the woman had seen how torn Drew was over the situation and that she decided to give him a break for once.
Lana wasn’t moving for a few weeks, so she could take the boys if Drew wanted to make another trip to Minnesota. And he did, although Melora protested that it was her turn. But Drew knew how important the plover project was to her, and how worried she was that something else unexpected would happen to the birds, so he wouldn’t hear of her leaving Duluth now. Melora was grateful for his understanding.
Melora could see the boundary log coming up. She knew the plovers could be ranging outside the site with their chicks, so to avoid them, she started traveling inland toward the dunes. But before she left the water’s edge, she turned to the lake and let her gaze settle on the flat horizon. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Spontaneously, she raised her arms to shoulder height, as if to hug the lake. Energy seeped back into her. A sense of freedom and well-being surrounded her. It was so peaceful. Melora lowered her arms and opened her eyes, becoming self-conscious. She looked around, but did not see anyone pointing and laughing at her.
She chuckled and turned inland. The sand was still warm from the afternoon sun. It sifted soft and gritty between her toes in her sandals. Melora kept to the low spots between the dunes, the grasses whispering her passage. She tried not to step on the thin strands of greenery since she knew the grasses were rare and easily disturbed.
Seth had spoken with her earlier that day. He had contacts in the Twin Cities who knew FAA Bob and had shed some light on the man’s motivations, or lack thereof. Seth said that Bob used to date an environmentalist. The woman had worked for one of the nonprofit groups active in Minneapolis. Their relationship ended on a bad note, so to exact a strange sort of revenge, Bob had it out for any projects that carried the faintest whiff of environmental preservation.
That must be why his eyes were so flat during my descriptions of the plover project, Melora mused, and why my peace radar was buzzing an alarm. She felt sorry for him, but really, a failed love affair was no reason for Bob to interfere with projects his former girlfriend wasn’t attached to. Or any projects she was attached to, for that matter. It would have been like Melora hating all wolves after Drew had decided to live with them. And, of course, she didn’t. Men. Some men. It was too bad.
During the past few weeks, Melora had watched Trevor and Samantha grow closer. Samantha often stopped by the office to visit, and she had seen them at musical events or sailing the Pilgrim Soul, sometimes with Demetri, sometimes not. Melora was happy for them, and perhaps a bit jealous, too. She wished she and Drew could see each other as often.
Melora sighed and paused at the water’s edge, scanning for signs of the plovers. Seeing a blur of orange legs, she took up her binoculars. The tan and white plumage of a plover filled her view. She watched a few moments. Then, wanting to be closer, she walked through the dunes. From her research and the reports of the monitors, she knew they weren’t as skittish now that they weren’t nesting. The chicks could run almost as fast as the adults, and she guessed that made the parents less wary.
When she was about twenty-five feet away from the water, Melora stopped. She watched for a while without the binoculars, not wanting to have the artificial device between her and the birds. She marveled at the three chicks. They zoomed around the adults like brown-spotted cotton balls on little stick legs. She felt a grin of delight cross her face. She couldn’t believe how small and fast they were. The monitors had removed the exclosure. Now that the chicks were off the nest, the plovers didn’t need its protection. Soon, the monitors would catch the chicks and band them – putting light-weight colorful strips of aluminum around their legs. Once the chicks grew and migrated, the bands would help plover monitors in other parts of the country identify them.
Seeing the chicks reminded Melora of Demetri. She supposed it was because he was a little chick of a human. And it was partially thanks to him that this small family had survived. One recent evening after work, Melora had been mingling with the tourists at the ship canal. She had seen Demetri waving with Samantha from the stern of the Pilgrim Soul as Trevor piloted it under the lift bridge and between the piers, out into Lake Superior. Demetri seemed to be thriving.
Such a burden he carried -- the burden of the entire planet. Since the sweat lodge ceremony, Melora had been researching climate change – what was known about it, what was being done. She was puzzled that her own organization, The Nature Conservancy, wasn’t doing anything about it yet. She’d have to see if she could change that. Only international organizations like the United Nations seemed to be tackling it. Yes, the problem was global, but there were things that could be done in the U.S. to affect it. Perhaps car manufacturers could produce cars that got better gas mileage. Maybe changes could be made to fossil fuels to minimize carbon emissions. More trees could be planted – something, anything. Although Melora couldn’t quite grasp what climate change would mean for her hometown of Duluth, she knew it was a vital issue, now more than ever since Demetri’s purpose had come to light.
The plover chicks still scooted here and there on the sand. Melora moved closer, almost without realizing it. What would climate change mean to birds like this? Would it make it harder for them to migrate because there would be more storms? Would the beaches they needed for nesting be wiped out by wave action and higher lake levels? Would the bugs they ate become scarcer as temperatures changed?
She wished she knew. It comforted her that Demetri was here. It meant that God, the Great Spirit, the Supreme Being – whoever -- was aware of the problem and was going to set it right, despite the ignorance of most humans. The one thing she knew for sure is that she would help that little boy however she could.
One of the plover parents called to the other, “Peep-lo, peep-lo.” Its song was so melodious and light, Melora’s thinking jumped to past changes that had occurred on the Earth. That birds might once have been dinosaurs was a concept as challenging to grasp as climate change. How could the plover’s song have evolved from a heavy, roaring, dinosaur?
But maybe paleontologists and movie producers had it wrong. Perhaps dinosaurs didn’t roar. Maybe their voices were light and sweet all along and their bodies just grew into shapes that better matched their songs. She liked the idea of flesh conforming to sound. What adaptations might birds develop to cope with climate disruption – if they could adapt fast enough? She knew that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were rising faster than ever before. How could anything adapt to that?
And what if birds couldn’t adapt fast enough and became extinct? What difference would that make? Melora remembered the Hawaiian Shirt Man who had criticized the plover project. It had been hard enough to come up with a response to his criticism about protecting shorebirds. What if someday they needed to justify protecting all sorts of birds? Melora mused for a while about why birds mattered. She supposed arguments could range from the amount of revenue bird watching brought into communities, to maintaining the web of life, to their beauty, to what they could teach us about flight, to pest control, to dispersing seeds, to things humans couldn’t even imagine yet.
It bothered her to even have to think about justifying a species’ existence. It smacked of hubris. Birds mattered because they were here. If they were here, they were important.
Melora walked nearer to the plovers until she was out of the dunes and onto the broad expanse of sand. She watched as both parents worked together to feed the chicks and look for predators. Demetri had said the plovers named their babies. She wondered what the chicks’ names were.
Her approach didn’t seem to bother the birds, perhaps because her movements had been so gradual. Waves gently lapped the shore. Sometimes the plovers got their feet wet, other times they didn’t. She couldn’t see any rhyme or reason to it.
She stifled a laugh as both the male and female brought a bug to one of the chicks at the same time. The chick just stood there as both parents tried to feed it. Finally, the female realized the technique wasn’t going to work. But instead of going to find the other chick, she waited until the beleaguered chick had eaten the bug offered by the male, and then she fed it.
The scene caused a pang in Melora’s heart. One parent was not flitting away, doing its own thing. Both were engaged in taking care of the chicks. There was no question about their commitment to the chicks and to each other. There could be no other way, it seemed. Melora wasn’t sure she would have noticed these things before her experiences of the past few weeks – with Drew coming back into her life and making her think about commitment, with meeting Demetri and Samantha, and from hearing the revelations by Slow Turtle. If she didn’t know better, she’d say she had grown. She had started to care about things beyond herself -- to learn to call another’s name more than her own. And the plover project was her way of giving back to the community as well as giving back through supporting her friends.
It seemed like everything was coming together -- like she’d been part of a great circle that was missing a large section. Now that section was sliding into place, smoothly and quietly but with purpose. If her head and heart were not linked yet, they were well on their way.
The sun was beginning to set over the Duluth hills, the sky changing from periwinkle blue to a pinky-red, and the underside of scattered clouds glowing. The plovers made their way closer to her until they came within a few feet. She could make out the individual speckles on the chicks’ backs – see their shiny dark eyes. She stood motionless, almost afraid to breathe. Now the parents approached, treating her as if she were nothing more than a rock or a log on the sand. One caught a fly and fed it to a chick. Such a never-ending job, this caring for the young; would it be like that for her if she ever had a baby?
If it was, she sure hoped she would have help. Drew seemed like the type to stick around. He already knew what taking care of children was about. She remembered their first night together after so many years apart. Hadn’t he been the one to bring up the idea of having children? He had been half-joking, but she could tell from his eyes that there was seriousness to his statement, too. Would she be able to handle having a family? What if the demands became too overwhelming and she bolted – handed Drew the baby and said, “I’m outta here?”
Deep down, she knew she would never do that. Her innate sense of responsibility would not let her. But she would have to stay with Drew if they were to raise a family – stay with him for a long time. No flitting away. Could she handle that? And there were Jason and Tony to consider. She would have a ready-made family if she and Drew continued their relationship. She hoped to meet the boys someday soon, and see how it felt to be with them.
Melora looked up from the sand and saw the sun’s rays shining over the crest of the hill, spreading across the sky in multi-color beams, tracking patterns in the water. The birds continued to mill about her feet as if she were a rock, or better yet, one of them. The brightness seemed to enter her eyes and go directly to her heart where it spiraled and spread through her ribs, to her shoulders and down her arms. She wanted to lift her arms again like she had before at the water’s edge. She hesitated, not wanting to scare the birds. But the feeling seemed to demand it of her.
Slowly, she raised her arms to shoulder height, unbending. She didn’t want to take her eyes off the light. She let it infuse her. Sensing that the birds were not skittish, she continued to raise her arms over her head. She held them there, half expecting light to shoot out through the tips of her fingers as if she were a conduit. If she opened her mouth, the light would shoot out from it, too, like she was some supernatural character in a novel.
Melora stood, arms straight up, for several minutes. Then she closed her eyes and lowered her arms. She looked down at the birds and they were standing around her in a half-circle, facing her, watching her. She dared not breathe, much less speak. A wisp of a breeze broke the spell and the plovers scurried away on bird business, as if nothing unusual had happened.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marie Zhuikov has had a long interest in environmental issues and helped with efforts to restore piping plovers to Wisconsin Point on Lake Superior. A nonfiction writer for a water research program, Zhuikov is also a poet and is active in the writing community of Duluth, Minn., which she calls home.