Now, if you read this blog somewhat regularly, you'll know that somehow I ended up working as a Naturalist on a boat in Alaska. Which is unfortunate for all involved, because I know next to nothing about wildlife.
Or geology. Or glaciology, botany, ornithology, biology or anything else I'm supposed to be an expert in. The things that I don't know about Alaska could fill a rather extensive collection of field guides.
But I'm an excellent expedition guide. Safe, experienced, always on time, very well liked.
And I'm a pretty good medic- reliable, caring, knowledgeable within my limited but still useful scope of practice.
But I am the world's worst naturalist. How my title job lept from the ideal "Expedition Guide and Boat EMT" to the frustratingly misguided "Naturalist" or worst- "Interpreter"- is something I may never understand.
Anyhow, a couple of times a week I'll end up as the naturalist on a small boat tour, motoring up to glaciers and gliding along the shoreline in search of bears and eagles. When the glaciers calve and the bears are mating on the beach, or, on one grim but fascinating tour- the daddy bear is ripping the head off the baby bear and eating it live- I don't have much talking to do. The passengers are pretty satisfied just to watch the show.
But on the days when nature isn't ponying up, I have about an hour and a half of silence to fill.
Just the other day, I was on an extremely uneventful boat ride. We were supposed to motor up into Ford's Terror, which is like Yosemite only nine times longer, but the tide was flowing and a tidal surge prevented us from getting there. So we had an hour to kill in a pretty but unremarkable bay in Endicott Arm, looking at bits of ice and rock walls.
After exhausting all of my ice material (slush brash growlers bergie bits ice bergs glaciers, in that order) and all of my rock wall trivia (all of this rock is technically "exotic rock," please do not ask me any questions about it," I moved on to boat trivia.
"Did you know," I said to the sixteen guests, standing up in the prow of the boat. "That the word Bosun originates from the word Boatswain."
They appeared interested.
"And Swain means attentive lover. Isn't that interesting? So the Boatswain is the attentive lover of the boats." Our relief Bosun, Adam, had just told me that the day before, over dinner, and I was thrilled to have a new piece trivia for my collection.
My guests nodded, attentive in their own right. I plugged forward.
"It's like the coxswain, for rowing? The coxswain is the attentive lover of the-"
There was a long pause. Somewhere, from the tops of the dark granite Fjiords, an eagle cried out in distress.
"Of the what?" asked an older gentlemen in the stern of the boat.
Ladies and gentlemen, for one thousand dollars, the correct term would have been "cockpit." But, like a possum stuck in the suicidal freeze of headlights, I couldn't think. The only thing running through my head was: Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't do it. Don't say it. Seconds dragged by.
I pulled my parachute.
I said, "The skeleton of a grizzly bear bares an eery resemblance to the skeleton of a human. Isn't that interesting?" Then I sat down.