Every time I tell this story I say it was a walrus and my husband interrupts and says it wasn’t a walrus, because there are no walruses in Wales. He says this fact in a voice that implies that everyone knows there are no walruses in Wales, but I don’t think that everyone knows. He does this all the time, interjecting in my stories - linguists call it co-narrating, but I have another name for it.
So maybe it wasn’t a walrus, but it was something like a walrus — a seal, a manatee — I don’t know. I’m not an animal expert.
“A zoologist,” he says, “you’re not a zoologist.”
We were spending a few days camping along the Welsh coast, our tiny pop-up tent perched on the edge of a green rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. I mean, the landscape was like a painting, like how an artist would imagine the Welsh coast — that was exactly how it was. But wetter. So much wetter.
In the morning we put on our rain gear and found a trail leading from our campsite and followed it along the water in the direction of Fishguard, the nearest town. We walked for a while, and the cliff got shorter and the water grew closer, and that’s when we saw it — the not-walrus — laying on a rocky beach just below where we were hiking. My husband found a route down to the water, and I followed him. We wanted to get a closer look, and to take a picture.
That’s when I slipped in the mud. As I tried to stop myself from tumbling off the low cliff I reached out and grabbed the first thing I could — a clump of tall, red, reeds.
Are you okay? my husband said.
Yeah, I said, just a little muddy. Then I looked at my hand. It was covered in tiny white blisters, and they burned like embers.
Oh, my husband said, that’s not good. Then he used his phone to take a picture of the plant I had grabbed. Just in case, he said.
In case what? I said.
You never know, he said, just being prepared.
That’s his Boy Scout training kicking in.
“Eagle Scout,” he says, “You're a Boy Scout until you're 18, but you're an Eagle Scout for life.”
So the Eagle Scout and I went down to the water where the creature no longer was, and I held my hand in the icy Irish Sea and tried to cool my burning skin. Then we walked a couple more hours, and got to Fishguard by lunchtime, just as the rain was breaking.
Near the main square in a little wood-paneled pub I ordered a pint, extra cold, and held it in my bilstered hand. Then we each ate an order of fish and chips and watched the rain come back. Two pints later I couldn’t feel the blisters anymore, and the Eagle Scout and I walked back to our camp.
"Some day I'll take you real camping," he says, “you’ve never been real camping.”