Mountain taxonomy

Today is a very special day in our family because today is (what our friends Tanner and Michelle call) Mom’s “Gotcha Day.” Four years ago today (the day before Mother’s Day) Mom went into the pet store where I was The Talent at an adoption fair. I was an irresistible ladies man who knew how to work it even then. To hear Mom tell it, she “accidentally” adopted a puppy, but I knew that I was going to take her home as soon as I saw her. So to celebrate, Mom got me a very fancy breakfast of Starbucks ham, egg and cheese food pucks and we went to an off-leash trail for a long hike-run up a mountain.

Before Mom and I started exploring, I didn’t know that there were so many different kinds of mountains in the country, but now I know that I need to be more specific when I tell you we climbed a mountain. This mountain was the pointy, rocky kind where you can see a lot of things. Some mountains are loners like me and Mom, but this mountain was of the social variety that likes to have other mountains close by that dress the same. Every direction that we looked in there were more spikey mountains wearing white. It was also the kind of mountain that grows out of a river. I have never seen a river like this one before. It is enormous and frothy and loud, a little bit like a temper tantrum, and not good for swimming at all. You wouldn’t believe how much water flows by. It seems awfully selfish for Washington to have all this water even in the dry parts of the state, when there are rivers in California that have only had water one year out of the last decade. But apparently just like smarts and beauty, water isn’t evenly distributed in this world.

Some “hard” trails aren’t all that challenging when you get there, but Mom had chosen well for our special day This trail was very steep, with lots of things to climb over and step on to keep the brains in our feet and legs interested… not like there was any risk of getting bored. The higher we climbed, the better this trail got! At the bottom there were more wildflowers and shade and trees, but as we ran higher the wildflowers gave way to bushes that sometimes had birds’ nests for me to rouse in them, and the trees turned into bone-trees. And by the time we were up on the ridge, almost 4,000 feet above where we’d started, even the bone-trees and bushes had almost given up and it was just white dirt and regular dirt and rocks with chipmunks underneath them for me to chase up and down the mountain. Mom really took care of every detail so that I would have a great Gotcha Day!

There wasn’t as much of it as we have seen on other mountains, but this white dirt was hungrier than the stuff we’ve seen in the past. Rather than only swallowing half of Mom’s leg, it kept taking giant bites of her all the way up to the waist. The other white dirt didn’t eat handsome dogs, either. Sometimes it took a bite of me, but then it always spit me back out. But this white dirt would take a bite and start chewing –– every time I stepped out , it would suck me back in.

Finally Mom had had it. The trail was under a long stretch of white dirt, and we were practically within view of the top. “This trail may be covered in snow, but there is plenty of open ground if we make our own path,” Mom said. “Let’s see how high up we can get if we go straight up.” I was proud of Mom. I always explore the mountain outside the trail on our adventures, but she’s usually less curious. The West is a land with a history of explorers who had to break their own trail. It seems a shame to explore the whole of The West always going where someone else has gone before us… So we climbed another couple hundred feet, Mom taking more roundabout routes to stay away from the white dirt, and me chasing chipmunks all over the mountainside, and then catching up to her when she stopped to rest. Finally we got to a place where Mom couldn’t or wouldn’t go any further. We were still a couple of hundred feet below the summit, but I don’t think that either of us really minded.

There is such a thing as too much scenery. I know because Mom was suffering from it. I could smell a little bit of anxiety and a little bit of sadness coming off of her, along with the other stinks of dirt and sweat and homelessness. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“There is just so much out there to see, we could never see it all from all the angles. Even if we hiked and ran every day for the rest of our lives, we would still miss stuff. It seems like such a waste to spend 5 out of every 7 days working. Worse still, it seems like a real shame to commit to being in one place when there are so many things to see that you can’t drive to.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. We’ve got plenty of time, and we’ve got the covered wagon now. It hasn’t even broken down yet.We’ll figure out a way to see it all…”
“Even if we could see it all, hiking and trail running are only one way to experience The West. There’s also road biking, and mountain biking, not to mention backpacking and through hiking. And did you see all those climbers heading into the woods with crash pads on their backs?”
I had indeed seen lots of people with mattresses on backpacks and arms bigger than their legs going into the forest.
“…those people were climbers. They were going to climb the mountains in a totally different way: up close and with their hands, like lizards. There are women all over town with arms like GI Joes. They must climb every day…”
“But Mom, you’re afraid of heights. Even little ones. You would make a terrible climber.”
“Okay, then what about the kayakers and rafters?”
“You hate being cold and wet.”
“Good point. So I’ll get a mountain bike. Anyway, the point is, I feel like I’m wasting my life. I don’t want to go back to a place where everyone is talking about two million dollar two-bedroom homes, and whose startup is valued at what, and I’m the only woman I know over the age of 25 that hasn’t had plastic surgery. That’s not how I want to get old. I want to let my hair go grey and let my wrinkles happen without botox, and I want to drive an old, beat-up car that doesn’t cost much and I can get banged up and dirty.”
“Why can’t you do all those things?” I asked her.
“Because if you let yourself get sunburns and tan lines, and let your hair go grey, and drive a beat-up ugly old minivan people think something’s wrong with you. The people with the money and the nice cars and the botox don’t think you’re worth as much as they are, and they don’t consider you for the good opportunities.”
“You got all that from looking at some mountains?”
“I do have a tendency to overthink things… But yeah, I feel like I need to choose between the mountains and security.”

I thought about my Gotcha Day, and how my life could have been different if the wrong family took me home. When we came home, Mom would be going to a kind of adoption fair. And she isn’t nearly as handsome as me, and she’s certainly not a cute puppy. Not every life coach is adopted by his soulmate…
“But Mom, what if after a few months of camping and wandering you got sick of it?” I asked. “Why don’t you find a job where you can live in a house and travel?”
“Because you have to give up A LOT for those jobs, Oscar. What if the sacrifice isn’t worth it?”

I was beginning to understand why Mom wanted to run off into the mountains and not come out again. Humans need to plan things to survive, and a lot of times your plan has nothing to do with the possibilities that actually happen. Mom wants to run into the woods so that she can be more like a dog. Dogs can just sit in the back seat and nap, then they pop out at one adventure after another and follow wherever the trail or a chipmunk leads them and it’s always fun in the end. They don’t have to worry about 401Ks and health insurance and mortgages. Obviously this problem was going to take more than one run to fix…

-Oscar the Coach

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