Once upon a time… (all the best stories start this way, don’t they?) I was doing field work on an island 80km off the coast of Queensland, Australia. I was staying at a biological field station with a group of students. Every day, we would take a little yellow boat out to the fringing reef, where the ocean first hits the coral, and we would collect data on the behavioural ecology of the fishes there.
One of our instructors was…how do I put this politely? A pompous and arrogant person. He simply believed he was the coolest person on earth (hey, maybe he was, who am I to judge?).
These days, I reflect with a frown on an interaction he and I had. You see, I am a morning person, and while on the island, I was always up before dawn to run on the beaches barefoot. He learned this and invited me one morning to go out on a boat with him. He said there was an island where you could watch all of the birds take off at dawn. While I was watching the birds, he would go windsurfing.
I agreed, naturally, excited to see the birds. We headed out in the boat before sunrise and stopped on a remote beach on the other side of the island. When we pulled up to shore, I got my foot caught as I was trying to get out of the boat and plunged into the cold waters. I came up laughing and sputtering and stumbled onto shore. “Where are the birds?” I asked immediately, peering about. He pointed to a remote speck on the horizon. With my binoculars, I could barely make out black specks of birds swirling around the rocks.
When I lowered my binoculars, I saw that he had already left me to go wind surfing, leaving me completely alone on this remote piece of beach, which was blocked in on both sides by impenetrable mangrove swamps, soaked to the bone, with nothing to do but stare at some specks on the horizon. Glancing to make sure he was far out in the ocean, I stripped off my clothes to let them dry and explored my limited beach.
By the time he came in, two hours later, I was dressed and more than ready to head back to the biological station, but all he wanted was to talk about how awesome his wind surfing was. “Did you see that flip? Did you see how much air I got on that jump? That one wave was gnarly!” A bit flabbergasted, I pretended that I had been watching the whole time (as if!) and nodded in agreement to his awesomeness. Eventually, I pleaded with him to take me back to the station so that I would not be late for field work. Slightly peeved, he agreed.
It was only several months later, when I was living on a different island, that I learned that his nickname among the locals was “Dr. Love” for his penchant for drawing young female students into illicit affairs. I still don’t know why he dragged me out that morning, except to inflate his ego, but it just goes to show how completely oblivious I can be.
And how easily tempted by birds.