by Heather Hawke.
Every profession has a uniform. Mine, as a field biologist, most closely resembles a bag lady’s. I wear it to prevent dehydration. The Bedouins got it right – you’ll lose the least water with your body completely shrouded.
One spot I needed to visit was a mitigation site (a sort of reserve to compensate for turning rare species’ habitats into parking lots) controlled by a development firm. After some arm-twisting, they agreed to let me sample leaves from an endangered grass. However, in a fit of pique, they insisted their lawyer accompany me.
I met the obviously recently launched lawyer out at the central California prairie at the time he had specified – 2 PM, late July. It was already pushing 100 degrees. Left to myself, I would have been there before the sun rose. My chaperone wore a suit. A dark grey, wool, suit. He stripped off the jacket and button-down shirt to stand triumphantly in shirt-sleeves. I suggested he keep the long sleeved shirt to block the sun. Nope. Wouldn’t take sun screen either – he was going on vacation to Hawaii and wanted a tan. Sneering at the floppy hat I tried to push on him, he refused to lug an extra water jug. He assured me, “I’ve been hiking lots of times.”
The lawyer’s polished loafers were the first victims of the cow pies. However, he soon stopped worrying about those as we brushed through the waist-high grass. Each step produced a shower of seeds – also known as stickers. They’re kind of like arrowheads – easy going in, hard to get out. Our progress slowed as he stopped every few feet to pick at his socks with increasing desperation. At first he stood to preserve the suit, but his reservations crumbled until the seat of his expensive slacks got friendly with the ground.
When the lawyer stood up quickly, I remembered when I’d done the same and surprised a rattlesnake. These animals are very shy – they slither away from the vibrations you make as you walk. However, if startled by a sudden looming menace, they will strike. Out of the goodness of my heart, I warned my companion. The rest of the way, he swiveled his head frantically at the breeze ruffled grasses. It didn’t help as the sunburn set in, and then the thirst. I finished my work, but we were a long, long way from the car. I suggested he jump a barbed wire fence and hitchhike on a nearby road. But alas, after collecting a few triangular tears in his pants, the lawyer gave up the attempt.
I’d brought enough water for me and not much more, but I could hardly let the lawyer die. I shared. When we finally got back to my car, we emptied the water jug. As he gulped, the lawyer didn’t care about his flaming red skin, cow pie beslimed suit or stabbed ankles, at least not yet. I can’t be sure what he did on his Hawaiian vacation, but I bet he brought plenty of water.
Heather is a writer of YA SF/fantasy hybrids, evolutionary ecologist, untalented hammered dulcimer player, reluctant debate judge, possessor of far too many chickens and maker of the best fig jam ever to sweeten the universe. Check her out on twitter (@Heather_Hawke) or visit her website.
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