Paige and her favorite cousin Madeleine (Maddie for short) were excitedly planning their summer vacation together. This would be a special summer for the eighth graders. Paige lived in Arizona and Maddie lived in Utah and they didn’t see each other very often, although they emailed, skyped and texted back and forth every week, sometimes several times a week. Paige’s mom had finally agreed that it was time to get the two cousins together again, after not seeing each other for three years. Maddie’s mother, sister to Paige’s mom, also thought this was a good plan.
Excitedly, the girls made their plans. They were to meet at Grandpa Jensen’s summer home in Bear Lake, Idaho, the first week of August for a whole week. Grandpa and Grandma would meet Paige at the Salt Lake airport and pick up Maddie at her home and drive them to Idaho. At the end of the week, Uncle Jared, who also lived in Bear Lake, would return them both to the airport. There, Paige would catch her plane and Maddie’s family would meet her. Uncle Jared would then go to a seminar and workshop at the University of Utah on Monday morning. The plans included two days at the lake, one day hiking Paris Peak and surrounding mountains, one day at the famous Minnetonka Cave, and one day picking huckleberries in the nearby mountains. If they were really lucky, the luscious red raspberries, the pride of Grandpa’s garden, would also be ready to pick.
Plans intensified as the summer began. Ideas floated fast and furious about this thing, that thing and everything. There were important decisions to be made about what clothing to take (including coats), what personal hygiene items, and of course, what gift to give each other. Both girls loved jewelry, so that made it easier to pick out the very best gift. Paige selected a nice party ring with a simulated green emerald. Maddie found an attractive wire-wrapped princess-cut transparent quartz crystal pendant.
School finally let out, June and July dragged along. When August arrived, each girl packed and re-packed. Some days they would text each other as many as five times to make sure they didn’t forget anything. They even asked their mothers to help them put some menus together to help Grandma with the cooking. One of their favorites would be huckleberry pie—IF they were successful in finding and picking enough of the small flavorful, but elusive wild purple berries.
Finally, the big day arrived! Paige was transported to nearby airport by her family and goodbye’s and hugs were given. The flight was routine by exciting to Paige as this was her first trip in a plane. After arriving, Grandpa, Grandma, and Maddie found Paige in the baggage terminal. Paige had forgotten to pack her lotion in the checked baggage and it was not allowed in her carry-on. Soon, grandparents and girls were happily on their way north for the three hour road trip to Bear Lake.
Arriving at the older home where their grandparents spent their summers, Paige and Maddie were given choices of rooms: downstairs in a shared room or in the attic. They unanimously chose the attic. The rest of the day was spent in becoming re-acquainted with the farm, outbuildings, garden, and the mountain that arose at the rear of the property.
As the bright sun waned in the West, the traditional presents were made ready to give to each other that first night at Grandma’s home. In order that both grandparents could participate, the girl’s volunteered to help with the meal, do the dishes, bring in the clothes from the outside clothes line and help finish mowing the lawn. A number of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” followed unwrapping of the gifts. The simulated quartz pendant looked so much like a diamond. The green emerald ring was a beauty to behold and it fit Maddie’s hand perfectly. After further conversation, it soon became time to retire to the attic for the night’s rest. Of course, it took an hour or two of conversation to summarize several year’s of events before finally drifting off.
Activities during the balance of the week went better than planned: the lake was warm and the sun bright, but not enough to penetrate the ample sun block. The hike up Paris Peak was a bit grueling but well worth the view from the top. A great time was had by sliding down a remaining drift of snow along with a snowball fight. The cave was beautiful but a little eery. Each evening, happy fatigue finished the day. The huckleberries, though tedious to pick, made a wonderful pie, and the famous red Bear Lake raspberries were just coming on. Helping to pick, the young ladies ate more than those eventually finding their way into the pails.
On Friday, Paige and Maddie asked, “Grandpa, may we sleep overnight in the old cabin on the family property up the canyon?” Situated several miles west of town up the canyon was an 18th century one room log cabin owned by the family. It had withstood well the passage of time with a little help from a great uncle. The sole window in the first floor was broken, but the door still worked. In the loft where the girls chose to sleep, there were no windows, but a smooth particle board floor was in place. Carrying their sleeping bags and air mattresses up the fold-down ladder, they chose places near the center of the room to make their beds. Goodbyes were said to Grandpa as he left and they prepared to spend the night after inflating air mattresses. As the darkness encompassed them about, out came the flashlights. A cool canyon breeze soon encouraged the young ladies to retire to their sleeping bags. Each removed her new jewelry, setting their pieces on the floor beside their bags. An owl hooted in the distance and an unidentifiable howl was heard far away. An occasional bellow from range cattle and calves in the pasture next door punctuated the silence. The gurgling sound of the nearby creek acted almost as a sedative and soon carried them away into dreamland.
The next morning, the sun was shining brightly when Paige and Maddie awoke. Groggily shaking their heads to remember where they were, each girl gradually awoke. Looking up in the rafters, Paige screamed, “Look at that thing.” Calming down a bit after realizing its harmlessness, they determined that it was just a spotted bat. It was clinging to a crack where the two angles of the roof cam together. Then, reaching for her ring, Maddie’s hand groped into emptiness. Now wide-eyed, she looked again. Her ring was nowhere to be seen. Standing up, she shook her bedding and clothes—no ring! Both girls searched frantically and fruitlessly for an hour, even looking in the cracks next to the wall and downstairs—but still, no ring.
Teary-eyed, Maddie cried with frustration. Paige tried to comfort her to no avail. Somberly, they feasted on the sandwiches Grandma had packed for them. Soon, Grandpa arrived and heard the sad story. Together they again searched, finding nothing. Riding together in Grandpa’s old truck, they made their way the several miles down the rough graveled canyon road to the summer house. Arriving, Grandma heard the same story. The phone rang. It was Paige’s mother. After exchanging family news, her mother said, “Oh, by the way, the jewelry store called and said that a terrible mistake had been made, that a ring with a real emerald, probably worth over a thousand dollars, was mistakenly give to you in place of the green cubic zirc ring you purchased for Madeleine!” The phone slipped from Paige’s hand and hit the floor with a thud!
The remainder of the visit passed by in a flash of revisiting the old cabin, fruitless searching, again and again, with plenty of tears added in. Even the delicious raspberry shake Grandma fixed for the girls prior to their departure on Sunday morning seemed somewhat tasteless. Bidding goodby, the girls were soon in Salt Lake. Paige arrived home later the same day and Maddie with her family. Events of the trip were hashed and re-hashed time and again. The jewelry store people threatened to sue for the loss of the emerald, but eventually did not, realizing it was their own fault. Paige and Maddie continued to be good friends over the years, even through college into their marriage lives.
The rest of the story. Ten years passed– a family reunion was again held at Grandma and Grandpa’s Bear Lake cabin celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Twenty one grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and all six of Grandma and Grandpa’s children were present. One night was devoted to showing family pictures and relating family stories. Of course, Paige and Madeleine, now each married and each with young babies, related the story of the emerald ring, still wondering what on earth could ever have happened to it? At the conclusion of their story, Grandpa, now in his 90s, stood up and began to speak slowly.
“I have been waiting some time to tell the rest of the story you have just heard. Many of you remember that old family cabin the girls have been talking about up the canyon on the property that belonged to my father, inherited by my brother. It stood there for well over 100 years. My brother’s children sold the property about two years ago and the cabin was taken down to make way for a more modern summer home. With a degree of sadness in seeing the old landmark go down, I drove up the canyon the day the old log walls and roof were demolished and hauled away to the landfill. After the trucks left, I walked around inside the original rock foundation trying to envision the pioneers and their primitive building tools as they labored to build the cabin with logs hauled by horses from several miles further up the canyon. There was quite a lot of debris, there, including droppings from rockchucks and skunks that had probably passed many a winter under the old cabin, sheltered from the harsh storms. In one corner, there was what appeared to be an ancient stick nest. I kicked the sticks and dry grass and leaves around a bit—a flash of reflected light came from its contents. Looking closer, I saw several pieces of old window glass, a shiny rock or two, a silver dime, several old nails, and other objects that presumably a pack rat had carried there. You all know that pack rats are named for their habit of carrying attractive bright and other strange objects they encounter back to their nests. Stirring around further into the remnants of the old nest, I found more debris, including this:” Grandpa held up his aging, now trembling closed hand. Gradually opening it, he handed Maddie a shiny ring with a large green stone.
About Wood Rats, Also called Pack Rats:
Wood rats belong to the Genus or group called Neotoma (see photo above). Some 12 species or kinds range over much of the U.S., into Canada and Mexico.* Several species are known only from islands of the Gulf of California, off the Pacific coast of northwestern Mexico, Baja California. Wood rats are fairly large somewhat resembling the common house rat. Most are nocturnal in their behavior, but have been seen to be active during the daytime. Fur is brownish above, with white underbellies with bushy tails. Sexes are similar in coloration. Two to four young are born in the spring through the summer. Wood rats feed on seeds, nuts, acorns, fruits, green plants and store food in their nests; they do not hibernate, but remain active during the wintertimes. Wood rats live four to five years in the wild. Nests consist of large stick houses on the ground, in trees, sometimes in abandoned buildings.
*Hall, E. R. 1981. The Mammals of North America. John Wiley & Sons, New York.