It seems like it never fails. You’re fully prepared for your program for the day, having gone over all the talking points, looked up any answers to questions you couldn’t answer the previous round; hat’s on straight, boots are clean [mostly], and you’ve remembered the radio this time. As you wait, you grow more and more nervous. You’ve announced the program in the Visitor Center a couple times and it’s printing in the park guide, yet no one has gathered around. Looking desperately at the couple of families that pass by, you want to force them along even if they declined or enter a goose egg in the daily stats sheet, marking the program as a ‘no show’. You’ve resigned to spending the 45 minutes or so in the Visitor Center and then it happens: ONE VISITOR SHOWS UP.
This has never gone well for me–not once! It’s not that it’s not fun to get so much alone time with a visitor and learn about their background more than you would get to with a large group, but it’s physically dangerous for the visitor apparently…
The first incident wasn’t one person technically, but a couple. I’ll count them as one though since only the wife spoke. I was dressed in my lovely, campfire-infused conquistador outfit looking like Little Ms Muffet gone awry, setting up the living history camp on a lovely Florida winter morning. An early bird couple entered the camp, looking around as we busily set up the forge and put out the weapons. I was carrying a barrel full of bludgeoning weapons to set on the bench and greeted the couple good morning. They asked if the crossbow was real, and I affirmed it was, offering to demonstrate the usually accurate weapon for them. As an aside, this weapon was banned to use against other Christians by the Pope of the time. There is a lovely part on this weapon called a goat’s foot. It holds the line until you pull the trigger and it’s definitely worth while to check all screws to make sure they are properly inside the goat’s foot–that was my nearly fatal mistake! I lined up the crossbow with the target, my eye–and head, right behind the bow. As I pulled the trigger, the goat’s foot didn’t fully rotate, catching the line and causing it to flip the bolt [arrow on a crossbow] towards my face! Of course, this was all too fast for my eyes to catch and instead I was looking for the bolt in the target where it wasn’t and wondering why it felt like something flew through my hair. I sat there for what felt like a minute trying to figure it all out when the wife asked “Is that how they trick the indians?”…Luckily the bolt missed my head entirely…I won’t describe here what kind of mess it would have made. I am MOST thankful that it also missed the couple. Needless to say the weapon was quarantined until fixed [testing it was a scary and awkward process!].
Something as innocent as a walk through the prairie, aptly named a Prairie Walk, doesn’t sound like a bad thing. I had a funny feeling, though, as the only member of the audience approached to begin the walk, that I needed a few bandaids in my backpack. I checked my radio’s batteries, too. We usually took groups through the often dry creek bed, reminding them to watch their feet as they walk since there were nasty little pebbles, prickly pear, and rattlesnakes that abound in the Badlands. The most meager sounding of those threats was the one that got my poor visitor. She and I had a nice talk, I showed her some neat things in the prairie and she related things that were similar in her state. Near the turn around point, the creek bed widened and there was a slight slope. My boots dealt with it well…her shoes did not and down she went…I’m not sure who was more embarrassed. I feel bad leading sandal-clad visitors on easier routes for fear of missing something trip-highlight worthy, but I now am a firm believer of checking the shoes of all visitors and pointing out any obstacle that gravity might take advantage of. Happily she was unharmed for the most part, but perhaps a little sore. The next bout I had with the creek bed didn’t go so well.
Standing outside the Visitor Center waiting for any future Junior Rangers. My program was on the wildlife of the park and included a walk through the dry creek bed. I saw a family headed my way, so I perked up and adjusted my backpack. Here we go, I thought, they look eager–but wearing sandals….shoot! Somehow in a strange turn of events, I had a kid by my side, from Israel nonetheless, but no parents. Usually I am okay when there is a large group with parents leaving a child since there are other adults around, but when it’s just one child…oh boy! As we walked along the creek bed, we found a toad and it scared him! Apparently he was familiar with poisonous versions and it took some convincing that this one wasn’t. I was keeping my eye out for snakes at this point since that might be more frightening than a toad when it happened–I heard the rocks slide and grind and a little body hit the ground, his exposed knee scraped and raw and a few tears in his eyes. He was a trooper, trying to be brave as I fumbled through my backpack looking for something that would help [mentally if nothing else]. I found no bandaids that were large enough, but he picked one anyway. I didn’t have any disinfecting wipes but I did have some iodine ones [eeps!]. After repairing his knee and brushing him off, we headed back. We were about 10 minutes late and as his mother approached, her face went from relief to shock as she looked at his iodine-covered knee. “It looks much worse than it is, I promise, but I do need to fill out some paperwork.” Those are NOT assuring words to any mother….
Luckily, for all involved, it’s not often that you only get one visitor in a group. I think the next time, I will inform the doomed visitor of my past record and see if they still want to tag along!