The other night was one of those nights where the things that go bump in the night needed lots of barking. When I heard a bump or a thud I needed to launch myself out of bed and sprint around the house screaming to make sure everything was safe. Each time I got back to bed, Mom was whispering my name in an angry hiss. “Don’t worry, Mom,” I told her. “I think it was a false alarm. You go back to sleep and I’ll sit up for a minute growling and twitching in case there are any more noises.” About an hour after the last time I cleared the perimeter, Mom woke me up to tell me that there was no way to fall back asleep after the third time being woken up like that, and we were going to drive down the coast to watch the sunrise instead.
“But Mom, it’s not even 3 in the morning yet. The sun won’t be up for a few hours.”
“Whose fault is that?” Mom grumbled. But it was her fault. I’d been sleeping peacefully until she woke me up!
We parked in the parking lot that is always too full to be of any use on weekends, and Mom used my spotlight to light our path in the dark. We climbed until we were in a cloud, and the spotlight lit up tiny specks of water that were floating in the air, and they shined the spotlight back in our eyes. A mile or two after that, we climbed up out of the top of the cloud and we could see the stars, and between the stars were the black humps of the mountain all around us. When we got to the top, it was still too dark to take pictures (the one here is of another day) but we could see the red glow of the sun coming up behind the far-off mountains that mark the other four points of the bay. When we turned around and ran back down, Mom looked like she was less grouchy, and we sailed back down toward the ocean ready to have a good day.
But when we got back to the parking lot, Mom got gloomy again. “What the duck!” she muttered, as she picked up a letter off the front of the car. “They don’t have anything better to do than drive 5 miles outside of town to give a parking ticket at 5 in the morning?” Then she took a closer look. “Ninety-six dollars?! Letting your meter run out is only thirty-five! That’s ridiculous!”
“Which is bigger, 96 or 35?” I asked.
“Our 96 is much bigger,” Mom growled.
“Oh goody! We won!”
You need to know all that before I tell you about what happened on Saturday. The Covered Wagon is still in the hospital getting its door put back on, so our only place to sleep is in our Stuck House, and for the second time that week we got out of bed in the middle of the night and into the car. Mom still had the letter from winning the car kennel sitting next to the driving chair as we drove through the blackness toward the mountains. When we pulled off the highway, it was still dark and Mom was giving her face vigorous pats to not fall asleep. I thought we would have the whole mountain to ourselves, but when we got to the car kennel it was already so jammed with cars that it was hard to find a place to rest our own, small as it is.
I thought Mom and I had invented sleeping in cars, I had no idea that so many other people did it too. But most of the cars in the kennel were midget cars like ours, and I couldn’t figure out how humans, long as they are, would sleep in them. I planned to investigate as soon as Mom opened the door for me. Instead, Mom demonstrated how you sleep in a little car by leaning the driving chair all the way back until her head was in the back with me. I tried to kiss her face, but she pulled up her hood and while I was still staring down at her she started snoring. I watched the sun rise over the car kennel and did the best I could to peek into the other cars to see how the people were sleeping, but couldn’t spot a single person. If they weren’t sleeping in their cars, where the heck were they at this time of night?
Once the sun was up, Mom woke up again too. Before we left the car kennel, Mom had to look for signs from the parking gods to see if they agreed with where the car was sitting. First, she prayed solemnly in front of a big red sign and read every word about if the gods weren’t pleased, they would steal your car and demand a huge offering to get it back. Then, she looked on the ground to see if our place was blessed. At first I didn’t see anything. “What are you looking for?” I asked.
“Do you see how there are old lines in the pavement?”
“No,” I said. But then I looked a little closer, and once my eyes adjusted I could sort of see a white line on the black stone. “Oh yeah! Is this an archaeology site?” I asked.
“They’re not quite that old, but you’ve got to make sure that your car is inside the lines or they could take your car away.”
“Oh, I see. It’s a sign from the gods!” I said. I checked around our car to see if we were in one of the sacred spots. “Mom, Mom! There’s a line on this side, but no line on the other. What does that mean? Are we blessed?”
“It means we hope they round up, because there’s nowhere else to park! I really want to follow the rules, but they have to make it possible to follow them.”
The trail started at big grey lake with mountains on either side that showed their rocks. A big sign at the trailhead said, Wilder-ness Permit Required. That meant that Mom had to find the homework desk and write a little note about who we were and why we’d come, and then put a luggage tag on her packpack to show we were obedient. If we weren’t obedient, they could put it on our permanent record. We looked all around the sign for the luggage tags and homework desk, but the little box that sometimes hold the blank tags was empty, and we didn’t see a mailbox for dropping our homework. “Maybe it’s at the wilderness boundary?” Mom said. There had been times when we’d had to hike a little ways to find the homework desk, so this wasn’t Mom’s dumbest suggestion. So we walked on.
We hiked for miles along the side of the lake, looking for the wilder-ness boundary. We were climbing on bare rock, and the trail was made of loose rocks the size of chew toys so Mom’s walk was wobbly and unpredictable. I couldn’t wait to be wild, because Mom had made me wear a leash and I wanted her to stop jerking me around and so I could concentrate on exploring the trail. “There’s no one out here,” I complained when Mom had yanked me away from sniffing something interesting for the third time in a minute. “Can’t you set me free?”
Mom pointed to the house that was sitting between the trail and the lake, “Not as long as there are houses. I will when we get to the wilderness boundary.” But we hiked almost 3 miles before the lake ended and we started climbing up the mountain on the other side. When we finally reached the boundary sign, there was no homework desk.
“Now can I go?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, Oscar. I don’t know where we’re supposed to get a permit, but without one I’m not quite sure what the dog rules are here. Maybe if we get caught, then having you on leash will show that we tried to follow the rules.”
“But we’ve hiked dozens of trails all over The West, and we’ve only ever seen one ranger,” I said. “And he was cool with me being off leash.”
“You saw that parking lot. If there is a ranger anywhere in the Desolation Wilderness, then it’s going to be here.” So I had to stay close to Mom to show that she was supervised, even if she was hiking where she wasn’t supposed to be. At least one of us would be legal…
We saw almost no one on the trail for miles and miles. There wasn’t much to climb and soon we were walking through woods, and I could smell lakes just around every bend. Finally we came out on a giant lake that spread out hugely in front of us, and behind it were mountains that didn’t look like they had a single tree on them anywhere. It looked like the lake must be only a couple of inches deep because here and there rocks poked their heads out of the water, but when I climbed out on a big rock and looked down I could see deep into the lake where the rocks went down into the bottomless grey. “Do you recognize where we are?” Mom asked.
I looked around, but I had definitely never been here before. I would have remembered.
Mom pointed to the tallest of the mountains on the other side of the lake. “We were up there a few weeks ago, remember? That was where we had to climb the giant pile of boulders.” I looked where Mom was pointing, but all I saw was a mountain made of solid rock. If there was a pile of anything up there, then it must be a pile of tiny grains of sand because I couldn’t see any parking-spot-sized boulders at all.
At the lake was also where we found all of the missing people. They had all gotten so lost the night before that they’d slept next to the lake, leaving their cars alone in the kennel overnight. Every time we stepped off the trail to explore the rocks that stuck out into the lake, we found another pile of humans and their stuff. I worried Mom would be upset by all the humans in our peaceful place, but she said, “It’s okay. Camping people are courteous trail users. And since they took up all the parking spaces, that means that the clueless day hikers who wear perfume, and play their music without headphones, and block the trail when they take breaks won’t be able to get here.
Soon we passed a couple of the lost humans with their homes packed on their backs like turtles. Mom wanted to keep walking, but I could tell they were the kind of ladies who would love me, so I kept looking back at them to make sure that they were noticing my cute butt. When they saw me seeing them, I gave them a smile and they said, “Awwwww…”
“Mom,” I said, pulling on the leash as I twisted my head around to wink at them again. “I think those ladies want to scratch my butt.”
“Yes, Oscar. I know they’re flirting with you.”
“Can’t I go say hi?” I said. “I know it would make their day.”
“Fine,” Mom said. And even though she hates other humans, she walked over with me to meet my fans. They squealed like Justin Bieber fans and told me what a good looking boy I am. Once they’d had their fill of butt scratches, I started rolling around in the grass to impress them. It didn’t work so great, because I was still tied to the packpack with the leash, but they were super impressed even though I got the leash all tied up in my legs when I kicked them elaborately in the air. They asked Mom all about me, and even though she had to talk to strangers to tell them my life story, it didn’t seem to hurt her too bad. But not all the strangers were so easy on Mom.
As we walked back, we met all the people who had started hiking after us. First we met the people who stopped to take a picture and blocked the trail. I saw a chance to make a new fan and started to do a jig for them, but that was just the moment that Mom started stepped off the trail, and we pulled on each other. Since Mom was already off balance, my jig pulled her off the one leg she was standing on and she kicked the packpack of the lady crouched down to take a picture, and shouted a bad word, and then told the lady it was my fault that she’d ruined their picture.
Next we saw the guy stinking up the mountain with his cologne, and then the guys hiking in nothing but shorts and skin while their ladies carried their packpacks. Mom thought that was a little bit “dickish” of them, but I knew she was lying again because I’m a handsome and muscly hunk and she always carries my packpack. Female humans are bred to be pack animals for their strong, dark and handsome life partners, everyone knows that.
Then we met the people with gym muscles hiking in indoor shoes. And behind them the people who didn’t have headphones and blasted the tiny voices an tinny beats of dance music into the mountain. And behind them, we finally found the “good sports” and mass-o-kisseds who were breathing like Darth Vader and wearing faces like Grumpy Cat, even when I smiled hello at them. When I saw the mass-o-kisseds, I knew it was time to get Mom back to a quiet place as soon as possible. Luckily, our car had been blessed, and when we got back we saw how all the other people had left their cars in unsacred spaces, but the gods had smiled on us and our car was still in the kennel waiting for us with no more notes on its face.
Oscar the Pooch