Azure was riding slightly ahead of them by a long and circuitous route, pointing out the beauty of the place she'd put together, a little at a time. Just now, all eyes were raised to the high bulge of the massive formation she'd named The Waterpot, rising thousands of feet above them and had managed to get it named so on the area maps...for very good reasons. US Fish and Game had said first, it had never been named and second they had agreed that was exactly what it looked like, a giant water jar with cascades of water tumbling down cracks in it. The lushness had shocked them both, given the sheer number of the responses they'd been part of in previous years to what had been a very dry, arid region. John was pretty stunned, since there were very few things that could have increased the annual rainfall enough to do this, without turning it into something that caused dangerous landslides year around. She rode her favorite buckskin stud, had mounted Roy on a nice, gentle Vanner gelding and John had picked one of the better trail horses from the Morgans
It was a round, pot-bellied thing that looked like a short, squat, fat stone pot used to hold water, wine or oil, and a well-used, stone-aged one which was riddled with cracks from which various small waterfalls, trickles and streams poured. One long shelf of rock slightly to the left of the center acted almost as a spout, sending a long, thin and constant stream out into empty air, letting the odd waterfall drop water hundreds of feet until it finally splashed against earth once more by hitting part of the huge cliff where it jutted outward a bit, just beginning the long journey downhill toward some river, somewhere, that would eventually take it to the Pacific Ocean.
They'd already been on the land above it, that bulge was the lower end of a massive reservoir of freshwater, the stone acting as a gigantic stone pot, ancient and riddled with damage, allowing a constant, although limited amount of water to fill the mountain lake below it. From there, it had dozens of natural spillways downhill in many directions...all of which had beaver living in them.
For Gage, the sight of a healthy population of that animal, was explanation enough: The return of beaver to the area was the cause of the return of a healthy water-table and the reason for the increased rain...just as Waterpot Reservoir was the source of the water, ultimately, and above it she had placed even more beaver...the water feeding into the reservoir was now much more evenly matched to the amount coming out from the cracks in the pot.
She explained that the property was a patchwork of a place, a few acres purchased here and there over time, which had gradually grown into a little more than ten thousand acres...so she was days in showing them the place and everywhere they looked both the wilderness and the ranch-land was well-watered and green due to the endless water of the Waterpot and it's regulation by that one particular critter.
His smile was broad and happy once he realized that the reason for this wasn't artificial irrigation which could fail, but rather the beaver, whose network of dams controlled the rivers and streams. Beaver ponds littered the landscape, bringing water control to a land that had been flooded during Spring melt, storm season during which torrential rain caused a lot of landslides or slips, but which was far too dry and parched the rest of the time, alternating the flood season with a truly vicious fire season.
The addition of beaver, in mated pairs which were put into place and simply left alone to do what beavers had evolved to do, had brought green to a desert and control to a floodplain...and it made both men smile when they realized just why it had been so long it had been since they'd been called to this area for either fire or flood caused problems: There hadn't been any once the beaver population had stabilized in decent numbers and in terms of distribution over the area in question.
"There's a very good reason that beaver are considered a keystone species, after all." John said softly, smiling at the loud tail-slap that a passing fox caused, the predator alert warning as loud as any gunshot. He had noted the presence of muskrat, also brought in with the beaver whose ponds they had evolved to share...and the likely target of that hungry red fox.
She was correct, he loved this. The plentiful water supply both kept the fire and flood dangers way down and brought in all sorts of wildlife. "This is wonderful, it's got a healthy water-table now and the plant roots hold the land...and absorb excess moisture: At least what isn't gathered into the ponds.
"Floods are going to be quite brief and very limited in scope, to the length of time it takes the animals to repair their dams." He told Roy.
"So, I did good?"
"Oh yeah, baby girl. You did real good." John confirmed, his eyes both delighted and peaceful as he looked out over the views in all directions. "We need to bring the shift up here...not now, but soon."
"So, this does count as a good excuse to get the shift up here for an official fire assessment inspection for the coming year? And to bring their fishing gear since Fish and Game stocked most of the ponds six years ago and have been making sure any new ones get fry every year... and I know which ones have fish big enough to eat...or did I forget to mention that?"
"Yeah, it will, actually." Roy grinned at John's laughter. "We've been bracing ourselves for years. Every summer that passed without a fire up here just made us more nervous."
"I can't control everything, but I thought I could at least lower the danger of fire and flood up here...and it's not like I didn't get a good working knowledge of the problem areas growing up in the station." She said quietly. "I'm pretty sure there's things I missed and Hank can help me sort those, right? Of course, the increase in lost tourists is also my doing. Or at least, a direct result of the rest of it."
"Of course, personally, I'll take the trade off." Roy stated decisively.
"Am I evil for not telling Uncle Mike that he and the others are going to have stone paved access roads...and that I had it scraped down to the bedrock cuz I don't want to have to repave later?"
"Yeah." Roy laughed. "Given what they'll think they'll be driving on to reach these areas...definitely evil."
"And not mentioning the hydrants I had installed in wilderness areas...all professionally set up, installed and pulling from the Pot?"
"Yeah, that...that's going to shock them, I think." John chuckled. "Which I suppose was your whole point by not saying anything."
"And the other stuff."
"What a thing to call those...also pulling from the privately owned reservoir."
"Oh yeah, sure, Rabbit's still my favorite target, but there's no reason to pass up nailing Hank and Mike when I can, is there? How often can I mess with your captain and get away with it?"
The pair just snorted in amusement as she headed Wuffles off down a new trail, giggling. "Come on, you gotta see the mustang lands."
Then she explained her mustang preserve for 'services', which had Gage raising an eyebrow at her and finally grinning at the explanation. A good sized area of the place (about 4000 acres) had been fenced off and offered to the Bureau of Land Management (better known as the BLM) to use as an unusually fertile mustang range, which they had accepted, given she was using it as a wildlife friendly area anyway...the many beaver ponds ensured a high concentration of life...and the soil moisture ensured plenty of forage.
It could support several herds, easily...and she'd provided corrals, feed barns, feed, utilities and stabling for their roundups. John especially liked that she traded that service with BLM for the physical presence of several U.S. Fish and Game agents in the wilderness areas she'd put in...just to do the normal things that department did as part of their remit: manage the land and it's creatures.
She had asked that it be allowed to function as an area where species drift was encouraged, but the beaver were not to be disturbed by humans, that was the only hard and fast rule...they were doing what God had designed them to do and the land benefited from it immensely...as did the freshwater recreation areas downstream. The BLM quite firmly agreed with her assessment of that, actually and were rather grateful that she'd asked the former local office to install a healthy number of the creatures. She'd also offered office space at the stud farm for the agents and wardens coming in to manage the section reserved for them...which was just as well since that was the only place on the property which actually had a real road, until she'd had fire access roads cut and paved...as a favor to the department. Not that HQ was aware of that, but if there ever was a forest fire on that well watered section, it wasn't going to be for any lack of an attempt at prevention on her part.
The place she'd built for herself as a home was not the place she'd been when they'd found her again, that was the business office which provided living quarters for the employees and where she also had a temporary bedroom. Her house was up here, amid the ponds, wilderness areas and breath-taking views.
Johnny adored it and Roy loved the solid practicality. The front, the porch and the living room, were oak, the rest had been professionally hewn from a relatively low granite cliff. It was rather large, modeled after Antelope Canyon in some ways, though it lacked the magical nature of the red sandstone of that place, in that it wandered about and opened here and there into larger living areas or had areas of pond, tiled swimming pools. One small area was made from solid, crystallized quartz, prisms that caught the sun and shot rainbows everywhere.
She'd furnished it comfortably, it had everything a home needed and a lot of luxuries...and it's rooms were littered in memories. Walls and surfaces bore pictures of the shift and the girl when she was younger, pictures taken during vacations or events held by the department, snapshots taken in the station or at Johnny's house, old horses, pets, friends...and it saddened both men when they noticed dried tear-stains on the glass covers of many of those which were of them, especially if they were cuddling or holding her.. This had been all she'd had for company for a very, very long time.
They looked at each other for a moment and then Roy just reached one arm out and gathered her in. He just held her tightly for several minutes, feeling her trembling against him. "Poor darling." He murmured softly. "Well, we've got you now, okay? It's alright."
After several moments when it became clear she wasn't calming down, they heard a small sob and realized she was fighting for control...and losing.
"Hey, let that out." Roy told her softly. "Don't hold that in, there's no need to." His voice was soft and his hands gentle as he led her to one of the soft, overstuffed couches in the big living room, sat down and drew her onto his lap, straddling him and her head coming to rest on one strong shoulder. He held her firmly but tenderly and just let her cry.
"It might take a while to let all that out, maybe a few weeks and that's okay." John had sat next to them and was rubbing her back. "It will take as long as it takes. But we aren't losing you a second time, so you take whatever time you need to heal, okay?"
She sniffled a little, tucking herself a little tighter against Roy and let him hold her. She finally whispered something so softly that only DeSoto could actually hear it.
"You can, I think of you as a daughter anyway, so why not?"
"Really?" She sat up a little so she could see his face and read his eyes.
"Yeah, really." Roy nodded, kissed her forehead and smiled.
"My pleasure. I need another daughter, love."
"Even if I don't need another uncle and have 'other designs' on John?"
John's surprised chuckle was matched by Roy's knowing laughter. "Even then." He confirmed.
"Permanent designs, so if you don't want to go there, now's the time to say so." She looked at Gage seriously.
"Be very sure, Johnny. She's not your usual bit of tail you chase trying to get laid." Roy warned him. "She trusts you."
"Well, we can certainly try and see what happens." He finally answered after a long silence.
"Do or do not do, there is no try." She told him flatly, poker-faced and completely deadpan, making both of them roar.
A little later, once Roy had insisted that she lay down on her good shoulder for a while and doze, he watched John watch Azure and realized Johnny was 'toast'.
"She loves you, you know." He told Gage. "And Azure needs you. She told me she wished I'd been her dad instead, so either way, she'd have known you...and very likely fallen for you. But now, so many years of isolation means she needs relationships that won't bottom out. If you decide to 'try' as you put it, do not drop her, because the people we love most can hurt us the deepest and she doesn't deserve that. She also would not, I think, ever recover from it. She can't take that from you. Not you. Not with our history. She's done everything she can to show her commitment to us."
"I know. John answered softly. "I still can't believe she had a series of stations built in this area, it's never had any. True now that her lawyers have turned the stations, the hydrants and stuff of that nature over to the department as a donation, maintenance is the county's problem now...and so is personnel, but...it was paid for by the stud. And mostly so we'd be safer."
"Yeah. I know. I've scheduled the inspection...the official one for this week...the whole shift is on it because of the sheer acreage involved. It's going to take weeks to complete. Just as well, we can all use the downtime and getting paid for it is just icing.
"Oh man, Hank's gonna flip."
"The department had been wanting to do what she'd done, but didn't have the funds for it. Putting in stations in remote areas is expensive."
"But HQ wants it done and she won't let anyone else do it...told them so, too. Reminded them it was still private property." Roy snorted. "She had an evil smile on her face at the time. She just told them that there were new 'appropriate' command centers installed in good locations. Said they were on the small side, but that's better than nothing, right? And they agreed, of course." Roy was laughing at the high command now.
"Which is true, as far as it goes, but...those are rather large and roomy for stations."
"Well, she knows what the department needs. Did you put in for a transfer to the one closest to the house or the stud?"
"House. Not losing her again."
"Exactly. Which is why capt said the whole station is moving up here...we'll stay 51 and the old place will go back to being 127th" Roy told his gaping partner.