Recently I decided to take my son to a homeschooling program called Nature Adventures. Basically a group of kids go on a guided hike together with parents in tow and then at the end of the time they come back to the "Nature Center," to do various activities like make a habitat for a lizard or what-have-you. Anyway, it seemed like the kind of thing my son would be into so we went...and I met the tour guide.
Now if I were to invent this woman as a character for one of my books the professional critics would criticize me for playing on an unbelievable stereotype (not that I concern myself too much with the professional critics anymore). But here she was, this gritty, big-boned, slightly older no-nonsense woman who you just know lives out in the woods somewhere hunting for her dinner. She's the woman in the scary movies who allows the hero to stay in her hut for the night as long as he doesn't mind her "cussin'" and an honest day's hard work.
So off we go up the trail as she looks for things to point out to the kids. We didn't get very far before she literally lit up with excitement. There, on the side of the trail was a baby rattlesnake. "Now look at this handsome specimen!" she exclaimed as all the kids gathered around...all the kids except for my kid who actually has spent some time studying snakes. "Excuse me," my son said, "but baby rattlesnakes are actually more venomous than adult rattlesnakes."
"You better believe it, young man," the tour guide said with a smile. "I know because I was bitten by one once. Put me in the hospital for two weeks straight."
At this point I'm thinking, Huh, maybe we shouldn't have a whole bunch of 5-10 year-olds gathering around it then...not to be overprotective or anything.
But it gets better. After fondly recalling her brush with death she explained that rattlesnakes will often hang out on trails trying to soak up the rays only to be run over by a fast-moving mountain bike. "So," she said, "if you see a rattle snake on the path take a stick and herd it off to the side so it doesn't get itself killed."
Okay, so now I'm thinking Did she really just tell a bunch of rowdy kids that if they see a rattlesnake they should prod it with a stick? Did that just happen? I figured I'd give her three full minutes to correct herself before I spoke up and caused a fight with the "teacher." Fortunately for me she realized her mistake in two. "Now that I'm thinking about it," she said reluctantly, "you kids probably best be leaving the rattlesnakes alone. Let your parents herd it off the path. That's a grown-up job."
I'm telling you right now, if I see a rattlesnake anywhere this particular grown-up will not be messing with it no matter where it is. If the snake gets run over by a mountain bike that will be sad but I'll live with the guilt.
After the rattlesnake managed to slide off into the bush and escape the curious eyes of several young potential victims (otherwise known as our children) we went back down to the nature center where she talked to the kids about various animals and then had them write a letter to our troops overseas so they could learn about the rattlesnake too. That was fine, she's apparently from a military family and I'm sure our soldiers would like to here from kids back home. Things didn't get really interesting again until the very end of the class when my son asked her how you could tell a girl snake from a boy snake. It really seemed like a rather benign question. As it turns out, not so much. See, Miss Save-The-Snakes has a thing for breeding reptiles. She has several at home and used my child's question to launch into a whole lecture on the subject. "For a snake you gotta stick a probe up it's slit to find out its sex but you gotta be real gentle about it...pay a professional to do it for you, don't want to probe it the wrong way and hurt it. Now Iguanas have ahemipenis which means they basically have two penises and they gotta get them both in. I'm trying to breed my iguanas now but my male can't quite figure it out and you can tell my girl iguana just wants him to get on with it already. She's trying to help him out but my boy just doesn't know how to use the equipment God gave him."
As she continued parents started trickling out of the room with their children and rushing to their cars. But the lecture went on.
"See, carnivores are real gentle with each other during sex, loving even. They rub up against each other and snuggle. But the herbivores, boy, those guys like it rough--"
At this point the only moms in the room are me and the mom of the Autistic kid who I think is only staying because she wanted to continue a conversation she and I had begun earlier. I of course can't leave because I HAVE to know how far this tour-guide is going to take this. I've already forgiven her for the rattlesnake incident. After all, her little breeding speech was easily one of the most entertaining things I have ever heard in my life. I absolutely love her.
She continued to go on for a while to tell us about the S&M-like tendencies of turtles and the romantic nature of crocodiles. I could tell that she would happily discuss the subject all day but sadly I had stuff to do so eventually I politely excused myself and promised her that we'd be coming back. And I will come back because the one thing about having a child with a mild anxiety disorder is that I don't have to worry about my boy getting up close with a poisonous snake no matter who tells him to do it. Plus I am truly interested in what's going to come out of the tour-guide's mouth next time.
The class is called Nature Adventures and it absolutely lived up to its name. It's women like that tour guide who make me happy that I'm a writer, professional critics be damned. Of course I'll never be able to look at an iguana the same way again but it's a small price to pay for the golden material my new-favorite-nature-guide is providing me with.
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