Before the vet ties Mom’s knee back together I decided to take Mom on one final adventure. I hoped we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to the desert which is very far away, but unfortunately Mom is the Weather Jinx. It was going to rain all over California this weekend, even Death Valley. Finally we found a place where it was going to stop raining on Sunday: almost all the way in Nevada, in the Moon-javi desert.
We did everything before lunch time on Saturday that Mom won’t be able to do when she is four legged, and then spent the rest of the day driving to the desert. We camped the Covered Wagon in the sand next to a lonely desert road where the wind blew so hard that Mom couldn’t heat her soup, and the rain beat on the roof of the Covered Wagon like it wanted us to come out and fight. But some dark hours later when I got out of the Wagon to take my morning potty break, I could see more stars in the sky than I had ever seen in my life. The more I looked at the sky, the deeper it got and the more stars sprinkled into my eyes. Then, out of nowhere a star came out of the dark, sprinted across the sky, and disappeared like a bunny. Mom said that was a shooting star and that I should make a wish. I’m not supposed to tell you what I wished for because then it won’t come true, but my wish had long ears and a fluffy tail.
The trail we found wasn’t very adventureful. Instead of walking over the mountain, it walked around the outside of it. I wasn’t bored for long though, because suddenly I saw something in the corner of my eye. It moved fast, and appeared and disappeared, just like the star I’d seen earlier in the morning. Yippee-kai-yo-kai-yay! This desert was hopping with jackrabbits! I spent the next hour sprinting 40 or 50 miles chasing one bunny after another while Mom watched the trail to make sure it stayed where it was supposed to be. I came back every now and then to have her pick the cactus spikes out of my butt and paws, or to let her take my picture. Sometimes when I found her she was spinning around holding out The Witch in front of her to divine which sandy spot between the bushes was the trail, and which was just a sandy spot between some bushes. The difference matters more to humans than it does to dog runners and bunny runners.
Under the skeleton of a tree that had been barely bigger than a bush, I found something sort of football-y with pointy parts, and holes in it. It smelled like the frozen beef bones Mom gives me as a treat when it’s hot out, only not as smelly. If this was my wish coming true, then I was confused. It had long ears, but where was the fluffy tail. “What is it?” I sniffed.
“It’s a cow skull. Or maybe a bull? Do cows have horns?”
“What happened to its beefy bits?”
“Well, it’s dead. This is what happens when something’s been dead for awhile.”
“How did it die all the way out here?!” I asked, alarmed.
“Ummmm… I don’t know. Maybe it was watching cowboy movies on Netflix and got so absorbed it forgot to get up and have a bowl of water.”
“Oh no! Do you think it died before the last season of Breaking Bad?”
“I don’t think it’s been here for that long.”
We continued walking through rivers of sand and fluffy cacti to the other side of the mountain. I was having fun chasing bunnies and discovering dead cows, but I was afraid that this wouldn’t be enough adventure for Mom’s last expedition. We had hiked almost 5 miles and she hadn’t had to figure anything out yet, and I hadn’t had to be brave and use my gorgeous and brawny muscles to get me out of danger.
At this part of the trail I could see that the mountain wasn’t shaped exactly like a big 0, but more like an 8 with a smaller mountain attached to it. As we got closer I realized that we weren’t headed around the top of the 8 but right for its waist. The rock columns around the collar of the mountain looked like a bunch of guards standing shoulder to shoulder. The closer we got, the more they closed in on us and seemed to be leaning over us menacingly. When Mom talked, the rocks talked back to her so that they would have the last word. The rocks had big holes in them where giant woodpeckers had tried to peck their way out. By now I knew when I was in a dangerous place. In places like this I had gotten wedged in the rocks like Winnie the Pooh in Rabbit’s door, I’d learned to fly, and at least one time I’d thought I’d be stranded there forever. I could smell adventure and I couldn’t wait to see what kind of a fix Mom had gotten us into this time.
Finally the rocks crowded in so close on each side that they touched and closed ranks in front of us. In the place where they met was a rounded slide that was curved like a taco shell, and someone had pierced a line of giant earrings into the inside of the taco. “How the heck are we going to get up this?” I asked.
“Don’t worry! I have a plan!” Mom said, reaching into her packpack. She pulled out my ugly safety harness and my Kona leash. “See? It’s rock climbing equipment. We’ll use the harness like a sling and I can help hoist you up!” Mom said. “That’s called belaying. ”
“Wait,” I said. “Did you know this was here?”
“Yeah. Sorta. I mean, I saw a picture. But I didn’t know if there would be another way around.”
Mom used her front paws to hold the rings, and her back paws used the studs as stairs, and that way she got to the top of the Oscarfall, taking her end of my leash with her. When she got to the top, she threaded my leash through one of the rings and pulled on it until I had no choice but to climb up the pile of rocks at the bottom of the Oscarfall and then stand up tall on my hind paws like a human, using my front paws against the wall for balance. But she kept pulling. “I can’t!” I whined like a tough guy. “I can only fly down, not up!”
“Come on! Jump!” Mom encouraged me, tapping the top of the rock, which was several Oscars above my head. I tried jumping to show her that it was too tall, but I must have jumped like Chuck Norris because I felt myself lifted by a magic force and jumped higher than I’ve ever jumped before, and managed to get my front paws over the edge, and then my back legs ran up the wall with such force and speed that once I was back on level ground I kept going like a bowling ball, barreling right past Mom and continuing through the canyon with my leash dragging on the ground behind me.
Before long, we reached another set of giant earrings. This one was taller because it didn’t have as big a pile of rocks at the bottom. Mom climbed the earrings like she had before, but this time my leash wasn’t long enough to get all the way to the top earring. Instead of pulling down on the leash to pick me up, she had to was pull up. I had had enough of this nonsense and when the irresistible force tried to make me jump like Chuck Norris again I turtled my head into my shoulders until I had backed out of the harness and Mom dropped the empty leash back to the ground. “Well you’ve got to figure out some way up,” she called down to me. “I don’t know how you think you’ll get down that last set of rings if you turn back…”
We looked at the empty harness and leash lying on the sand. Then I smiled up at Mom because I knew that this meant that she had to come back down and help me figure out another way. I couldn’t wait to see what she came up with because we really seemed to be in a pickle now.
She climbed down the rings and explored the rock next to the Oscarfall. To one side there was a set of ledges and woodpecker holes that Mom and I could climb. Mom went ahead of me, and patted all the places where I should jump. But then she got to a spot way above my head. “How do I get up there?” I grinned.
“You come up here where I’m standing, and then I give you a boost.”
“You’re in my way.”
She climbed out and I jumped up to where she was, then she patted the rock where she wanted me to go. “It’s around the corner,” I said.
“Um, okay I’ll carry you.”
“No way, José,” I said, backing into the hole. She reached for me and the rock under her wobbled.
“Aw, come on. You can make that jump,” she said, patting the rock that was now above her head. “Then you can just walk up to the top. It’ll be so easy.”
Instead, I jumped back down to the bottom. “Nope, let’s try something else.”
Mom studied the Oscarfall where the rings were again. “Alright, fine,” she said finally. “I’ll give you a boost.” She scooped me up using both arms like a shovel, and stepped onto the lowest and most stable rock at the bottom of the Oscarfall. I was so close to the side of the taco shell that my nose was touching the rock. Then Mom started poking me in the ribs with the beak of her hat. I waited patiently for her to turn so that I’d be facing the correct wall. Seeing the problem she said, “Well I can’t turn. I’d lose my balance and then we’d both go tumbling down.” I waited and stared at the rock at the end of my elegant snout while she pecked me some more and her persuasive voice got squeakier and squeakier. “Okay, fine,” she grunted finally. She dug her knuckles into the rock next to my butt so that her arm would be more stable and shifted me over onto one arm. Then she used her free arm to grab an earring and step up on a higher rock. “Okay, now use my arm like a step and climb up the wall. I’ll grab your butt and give you a boost,” she gasped.
I stayed sitting on her arm like pirate’s parrot. “Mom,” I explained patiently, “I’m a dog. I can’t pull with my front paws. I can only push. How am I supposed to pull myself up? That’s your job: to bully me.”
“Okay, fine,” she growled, panting like a handsome pooch on a hot day. She adjusted her feet, pulled her knuckles out of the wall to grab my butt, and squatted down underneath me. Now I was standing on her shoulder with her paw under my butt like she was a waiter holding a tray made out of dog butt. Then she leaned forward so that I had to put my paws on the wall for balance. My paws were just under the top of the Oscarfall, but not quite there yet.
“Now you’ve done it,” I said. “I can never get back onto your shoulder like a gargoyle, and if I fall I’m going to take your legs out on the way down.”
“Well you’ll just have to use me like a step stool then,” Mom said, pushing on my butt without lifting me even a whisker closer to the top. “That way” (grunt) “you can” (gasp) “use those strong back legs of yours.” Gingerly, I put my hind paw on the highest part of Mom, which just so happened to be her face. Then I put my other hind paw on the second highest part of her, which was her neck. Then, with one powerful push of my legs, I jumped off of Mom’s head, and she pushed on my butt, and I managed to get my front paws on flat enough ground that I could push myself up and scramble my back legs over the top with a little more pushing from Mom.
When Mom climbed up out of the hole, she looked like she had squeezed all of the stress out of herself like a sponge and now she was floppy with tiredness and relaxation. I was already doing my happy dance, sprinting back and forth in the little sandy area at the top of the Oscarfall. “Did you see that, Mom?” I squealed. “That was called rock climbing, what I did. And what you did was bullying. That’s what rock climbers do. They help each other and bully each other. We did it as a team!” Then I bounded to the place where the sky spread the rocks apart again.
When we were back in the sun we sat on a rock looking into the hole in the rock that we had just climbed out of. “See?” Mom said. “Aren’t you glad that we didn’t take the easy way around?”
“There was an easy way?!”
“Oh sure. I learn from my mistakes, you know. This time I made sure that there was an alternative route, and I brought your rock climbing equipment. See? We’re getting better at this.”
After we climbed out of the Uh-Oh, we were back in the regular desert where strange but not scary things happen. Here there were big, dead sand worms slithering out of the ground everywhere. “Mom, how did the sand worms die?” I asked. “Did a hero come through here and kill them all?”
“I think they used to be Joshua Trees. Maybe this is what it looks like when a Joshua Tree burns down?” Mom sees a sand worm turned to stone and she decides that even though it’s cool and there is no smoke or soot that a fire is the most likely explanation. Humans have active imaginations, but their explanations are often so improbable. The desert is strange, but the most obvious explanation is usually the right one. Clearly a hero-dog had an epic battle here with ferocious, fire-breathing sand worms. Just when all hope seemed to be lost, he found a way to turn all the sand worms to stone. The desert is filled with magic and monsters.
This was the end of our desert adventures for this year. By the time Mom is walking on two legs again, it will be too hot in the desert and we will be back to white dirt hunting season in mountains.
Oscar the Rock Climber