Trail hiking is different from city walking. When we walk, the whole City is squished down to the width of a sidewalk and the length of a leash. You can’t look around much while walking in The City because you need to be vigilant of what’s going on in your private bubble so that you don’t step on human doo or anything sharp, or walk in front of a car. You need to watch for delicious snacks on the ground that someone has dropped or barfed for you, but still make sure that the guy watering the sidewalk doesn’t spray you with his hose. There are also a lot of people and dogs in The City that have to enter your strip of private space, and you need to watch them for signs of danger. You also have to make sure not to be accidentally dangerous too by coming into their personal space in a way that’s rude, and you can’t stay there too long or else they may snarl at you. Even if you had time to look around you on a walk, there would be buildings in the way of the views and you might trip on a curb or walk into a parking meter.
If the Covered Wagon had its own blog, you would read all about its escape from its tiny strip of driving space in The City, and then its heroic climb in the dark over the Icy Era to the solitude on the far side of the mountains. On the far side of the Icy Era, the mountains to one side of the road are grey and pointy like a crown, and across the street the desert climbs up the mountains. Not many trees make over the highest mountains to the eastern side, so you can see the cap of each mountain that the Covered Wagon passes like a menu of adventures. But cars can’t talk, so you’ll have to use your imagination and start the story where the Covered Wagon’s story ends, and Your Handsome Hero (that’s me) and his bumbling sidekick climbed out.
Space is different on the trail. On the trail there is almost never any broken glass, or needles, or human doo, or sleeping humans on the ground for you to step on. And there is enough space for everyone to spread out, so you can turn off your forcefield of personal space and let down your guard. When you find an obstaple, you have time stop to think about how to solve it before you walk over, or through, or around it without someone near you getting impatient and growling at you. Communication is slower on the trail too, since you don’t need the leash to do synchronized walking with your hiking partner. Since the trail expands into the trees and rocks beside it, and extends for miles and miles ahead of you and behind you, there is space for everybody. So when you see a stranger, you can move away without being rude if you don’t want to talk. Because you can always get away, that means that if someone hikes near you, then it is a sign that they are friendly and can talk to them if you are lonely and looking for a Friend.
The trail that Your Handsome Hero hiked with his bumbling sidekick was a multicultural trail that knew the customs of the city because it had orderly places for the cars to park on the dirt, and even a people bathroom. The mountain that the trail climbed dreamed of being a beach, and it covered its rocky hardness with deep, soft sand so that a less worldly dog might think he was going to turn a corner and find the ocean at any moment. Other than the big, whitish boulders that stuck through the sand, it was also made of dainty grey wildflowers, and lakes held together by a river, and the kind of Christmas trees that twist up on themselves and look like there is something magical about them waiting for the right spell to come alive. This trail was less secret than many of the places we hiked, so we had to share it with lots of other hikers. Mom, who always avoids barking at people in The City, barked hello to everyone she saw, and they shared their favorite parts of the trail with each other. “Beautiful day,” a Friend would say.
“Incredible views!” Mom would respond.
“That cool breeze coming down off the mountain feels so nice.”
And then they would smile, wish a good day for each other, and hike on. In The City you aren’t supposed to wish anyone a good day, and instead you’re supposed to judge their life and find all the ways that it’s worse than yours. I like meeting strangers on the trail a lot more.
We started high, and climbed higher over the 5 miles to the lake at the top of the trail. The air wasn’t working right for Mom’s legs this high in the sky, and she hiked stiff and wobbly like when she was learning to walk on two legs again. We were also in the desert, and even though I could see the white dirt on the mountain caps not far above my head, it was hot and sunny on the trail and my legs sometimes melted. When they did, I tipped over and rolled around in the shady sand, kicking my jelly legs in the air until they turned solid again.
After a few hours of smiling at strangers and making friends, I saw a Friend a little further up the hill, and cut across the zigzags and straight up the mountain to say hi to him. “Hi! I’m Oscar and I’m a very interesting and fun dog!” I barked at him. Then I ran up with my tail waggling in a blur and my nose tucked in in that way that makes my neck look like a swan so that he could see that I was telling the truth about being a swell friend.
“I am Husky Dog*,” he said, politely standing still and making a swan neck so that we could sniff each other properly. “Be careful,” he whispered in my ear before I moved to smell his butt. “My humans are leash aggressive.”
“Well then why don’t you let them off leash so they can relax?” I asked. But by then the leash aggressive humans had spotted Mom and were already barking down the hill at her.
“Husky Dog is friendly, but you never know what other dogs are going to be on the trail…” said the aggressive human, like she was telling us about the dangers of rebelliousness.
“But it’s an off-leash trail,” Mom pointed out. “If you’re walking with your dog on leash, you have to expect to meet some dogs off leash. If that makes your dog nervous, then don’t bring him to off leash trails… or leave the leash at home.” Then Mom signaled for me to come protect her from the rude humans. So I ran eagerly to her and sat with my back to the aggressive lady while Mom fed me snacks to demonstrate to them that sourpusses don’t get treats.
“Well you shouldn’t let your dog off leash if you can’t keep him under control,” the aggressive lady said.
“Does this dog look like he’s out of control?” Mom said, pointing to me so that the woman could see the half of my handsome butt that wasn’t stuck to the sand. “He barks. There are lots of reasons that dogs bark, it’s not always a sign of aggression. Your dog seems to recognize that, even if you don’t.” Then Mom put her ear kibble back in her ear to show the lady that the conversation was over, and we both walked straight uphill and across the switchbacks so that we wouldn’t have walk on the part of the trail that was in the lady’s personal space, and also to show her that we knew how to make our own path to avoid danger.
When we were alone again I asked Mom, “What was wrong with that lady? Why was she acting like she was in The City all the way out here? Doesn’t she know the rules about smiling and telling me how cute I am?”
“Some people learn rules, but never understand why those rules are the way they are. They see that sometimes the rules aren’t enforced but they don’t understand what’s different, so they think that the world is a dangerous place where rule breakers are out to hurt innocent people like them. Humans are a lot like dogs, when they’re scared they bark a lot. They think it protects them to be bossy.”
“Oh, I get it. So that woman was a dumb person and I can ignore her.”
“She may or may not be dumb, but you should never ignore a person who’s afraid because you never know if they’re going to attack.”
“But you weren’t very nice to her, Mom. Weren’t you afraid she was going to attack you?”
“She made me a little nervous, so I was asserting my dominance,” Mom explained. “Just like they tell you to wave your arms an look as big as possible, I was trying to make that woman see that I was the bigger beast and I wasn’t scared of her.”
“Well then she was definitely a dumb person if she fell for that, because you’re like the smallest full grown human I’ve ever seen.”
When we had finished hiking we took the Covered Wagon to the town that was just a few minutes away. We left the Covered Wagon in the car kennel where it was the only one covered in road dust, and walked to a place where all the humans had showered, and the smells of different foods came out of each doorway. The only time that Mom ever takes me to restaurants is when we’re going there with Friends, so when I saw Mom looking for something I looked for Friends too.
Suddenly I spotted a lady and a man who were looking at me and getting excited. I hadn’t even introduced myself yet, and I could tell that they already wanted to be my friends. So I started running, until I remembered that we were back under City Rules and I was wearing a leash. “Come on, Mom! Come on! Come on! Let’s go!” I whined, pulling her behind me. “There’s somebody who wants to scratch my butt!”
“Where? Who do you see?”
“They’re Friends, don’t you see them?!” Even though I didn’t know it yet, it was my friend Melissa and her husband, a human named Kurt.
After introducing myself and making Melissa’s dreams come true by letting her scratch her sparkly nails in my dusty butt, we sat outside the Starbucks and I demonstrated to Melissa and Kurt how to be brave outside a Starbucks. When Mom went in to get coffee, I let Melissa hold my leash so she wouldn’t feel alone. “Now I know it’s scary,” I told her as we watched Mom disappear inside. “You can’t see her, but you have to be brave and have faith she’ll come back out.”
Melissa was a natural. Even though it was her very first time waiting for Mom outside a Starbucks she didn’t seem very scared at all. At first I thought that she didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, but then she told me not to be nervous, which is a dead giveaway that she must have been a nervous wreck on the inside. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I was nervous the first time I waited outside a Starbucks too. I was so scared that I barked like I was trying to scare away a mountain lion until Mom came out to save me.”
When Mom came back, I pulled to the very end of my leash to make her come back faster. “You see, Melissa!” I said, dancing a jig and wagging my tail so that she would know that I was proud of her for being very brave. “Mom is back just like she promised! Didn’t I tell you it was going to be okay?!” Then I stopped dancing and sat on Melissa’s feet so that she could celebrate more by petting me, “You’re a good girl,” I told her, and then I licked her legs so she would know it was true.
Oscar the Bicultural Pooch
*Human letters can’t spell his real name, so I’ve changed it.