Early in my stint volunteering at the crane migration last month, I thought four other guides, all women, disliked me.  For a day, I was unsettled, not certain what was going on, whether it was my issue, theirs, or no issue at all.

I perceived that some were taking control over the tours; since two people lead a tour to the viewing blinds, it’s incumbent upon them to be clear what each person will do, and this wasn’t happening.  To my blame, I wasn’t doing my part, either.  I trained when there was a lead guide and an assistant guide, and there isn’t a distinction any more.  I think there probably should be.  About four or five years ago, I was lead guide when we had to come out of a blind, in a blizzard, cranes in the field behind us, through which we had to walk, but which we didn’t want to disturb, with several very cold clients, and the hour was late.  My assistant was a woman who wasn’t afraid to voice anything with anybody.  I looked at her and asked for her thoughts.

“You’re the lead guide,” she told me straight up, “you decide.”

I decided to take our chance with not disturbing the cranes, and we left the blind, and got everybody to the vehicles, much colder, but now safer.  It was a nasty night out there.  Somebody needed to decide, and I was that person.

What I was seeing this year were guides who were stopping and giving talks, either before going to the blinds or coming back.  I don’t have a problem with this, so long as the clients are getting enough time to see the cranes and we aren’t disturbing the birds.  But I was cut out of the loop.  I was not talking, not being asked whether there is anything I should add, and I had been guiding many more years and times than three of the four women.

I wasn’t comfortable with the situation, and as I analyzed my thoughts, I realized the women weren’t abusing power; they just weren’t talking to me. They might have seen me as trying to assert power and they didn’t like it. They might have thought I didn’t want to talk, I don’t know.  I also didn’t know what these women did outside of their volunteer service, how their health had been, and how they perceived me. Stated bluntly, I was flying blind.

I told myself I had two choices: to stew over this or to learn something about who the women were, as difficult as this is for me, and if I were on a tour with one, make sure the tour ran as smoothly has possible, regardless of whether or not I spoke, and regardless of whether or not the clients perceived me only as a helper.  My job was to make the tour experience good, and I set out to do that.

In the gift shop, I approached one of the women and asked her about her job, which I knew had been with the State Department.  I learned a whole lot more.  She had had an interesting government career, working at the CIA, on The Hill, and finally at the South Asia desk at the State Department.  She went to work each day wondering whether two of the nuclear countries in her purview were going to go to war.  That’s stress.  She loved her job, going each day knowing she was making a huge difference in the world, for her desk covered a quarter of the Earth’s people and half the trouble spots, as she put it. I never guided with her, but I felt less tension working around her when we weren’t guiding, and I approached her with a lot more respect.  With her friend from DC, I didn’t have much contact, but approached her the same way.  The third woman was also from the East Coast and took over the guiding talks before we went into the blinds. One blind was reserved for people who had disabilities, so when we were both assigned to that blind, I offered to drive the golf cart to take the disabled clients there.  I arrived in the blind a few minutes after everybody else after most of the conversation had taken place.  I still had plenty of questions from clients, and the guide even asked me one, which after a little research, I was able to answer.  At the end of the evening, I drove the golf cart back and again missed the conversation the woman had with the clients at the conclusion.  I had helped, I did things that were necessary and stayed out of the way when it was wise that I needed to be out of the way.

I no longer have any great desire to be lead guide, but I do want to take people to the viewing blinds, because I get to view the cranes.  When I began guiding, 7 years ago, I wanted to be lead guide all the time.  I now have nothing to prove, I am willing to mentor, help, stay out of the way if necessary, but always be present if needed.  This third guide was never friendly towards me, but she was never unfriendly, either.  She seemed pre-occupied with personal matters, and I tried to be pleasant without prying. A wise male friend of mine once told me that when you have an interaction with another, you often have no idea what kind of day or life they are having.  It’s worth remembering.  I didn’t go out of my way to talk this woman, but I stopped feeling uncomfortable around her, too.

The last was a local who had more experience than I, who also liked to give talks to the clients.  I found that by taking care of other issues in the blinds, closing certain windows to keep the wind out, fixing one of the windows, making sure the spotting scope was set up, and doing little chores that needed to be done, that I was helpful and a resource during the tour.  By the end of my stay, she and I were having reasonable conversations.  We won’t ever be good friends, but we get along.  That is a big step above being uncomfortable or sullen.  I am a good guide, and I know it. I am working with other good guides, too. My job is to do whatever necessary to ensure the people have a safe, pleasant viewing experience, and I did that.  I do think there needs to be a lead guide, however, and I recommended it.

I’ll be happy to work under the woman who might have stopped a nuclear war in South Asia.  She will know what to do with a sedge of cranes or an unhappy client.


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