I hadn’t been to the desert since last year, and the desert missed me. It takes a lot of driving to get from My Hometown to the desert, but luckily every once in awhile all the humans decide to stop working for a day or two, and it gives us extra time to drive to far-off places. “We can spend Thanksgiving in the most wholesome city in America,” Mom said.
“Where’s that? Lawrence, Kansas?”
“No, let’s go to Las Vegas!”
We drove past the tall buildings at the beginning of Las Vegas, and continued on to the taller mountains behind it. We had almost gotten to the Christmas-tree-shaped and candy-cane-striped mountains when The Covered Wagon stopped next to a little tardis, and the woman inside reached her paw out to attack us. “BACK OFF, WITCH! I WILL MESS YOU UP!” I warned her.
“Hi, Happy Thanksgiving,” Mom said, handing the lady her money so that the woman wouldn’t murder us. After thinking for a moment, the lady handed back Mom’s money card and also a Milkbone. I sure scared her good! Not only did she not stick us up for all of our monies, but she also bribed me not to kill her. I told her not to try any funnybusiness like that again, and took my bone to the back of the Wagon to enjoy it before it was time to start hiking.
“The BLM really is so much better than the Park Service,” Mom said as we pulled away. “They are hospitable and they let you do whatever you want. The National Parks don’t even want you to touch anything. They make you feel like an intruder.”
“If you’re a dog, you are an intruder,” I reminded her.
When Mom let me out of the Covered Wagon and I sniffed the air, I could smell a very faint trace of Past Oscar. “Mom, have we been here before?” I asked.
“Yeah, remember that time when we climbed down that rock and you couldn’t climb back up, so we had to go all the way around the mountain to get back? You couldn’t climb some of the rocks, remember? And you wouldn’t let me help you? I thought we were going to be stranded forever.”
I remembered. We were so tired after that adventure that we went home early. “Are you sure that we should be doing something this dangerous?” I asked her. When we were here last time, Mom didn’t have the bum in her knee yet. The bum in Mom’s knee is contagious too, and sometimes I feel a bum in my same knee, so neither of us were as good at jumping down Oscarfalls as we used to be.
“It’s a different trail, I think,” Mom said, like she didn’t really believe it herself. “And anyway, if it’s the same trail then it’ll be new to us since we got lost last time and didn’t see it. We weren’t so good at following maps back then either, remember?” I wasn’t so sure we were good at following mapps now either. For experts, we still get lost an awful lot.
We turned off the main trail, and started walking up the dry river was filled with sand and boulders. At first the rocks were smooth and swishy, like something imaginary. Mom and I walked up the cracks in the rock that reminded me of the cracks in humans’ butts because the big rocks swelled up roundly on both sides, and the bottom of crack was barely wide enough for us to walk in. Whenever I came to a tall rock, I got a running start and bounced from one ledge to another, launching off each one the moment before I would have fallen down, until the rock stood less uply and with one final sprint I could burst over the top like a rocket ship. I had never noticed that I could fly before.
Mom couldn’t fly, but she could climb the rocks with all 4 of her legs like a squirrel, so she carefully twisted and tottered behind me. When we came to a wall of rock that was taller than Mom by a lot, she stopped and studied it. “You do it like this,” I said. Then I reared up, took a running leap, and kept running until I was standing on top of the wall, looking down at her.
“Well crap,” Mom said. “I was going to turn around. There’s no way in hell you’re getting back down the way you went up, but I guess we’re committed now.” She turned around and studied the rocks to the side of the big wall.
“Hang on, I’ll come help you,” I said, looking over the edge for a way down.
“Don’t you dare!” she said, holding up the finger that means to wait. “Stay!”
She climbed up some side rocks that weren’t nearly as exciting as the ones I’d climbed, and I joined her in the thorn bush she got stuck in at the top.
The higher we got, the less sand and more boulders there were. We climbed until we we were out of the old river, and standing on the stripes of rock the color of old spaghetti sauce and the shape of pancakes. Now that we could see the sky, it wasn’t the same color as it had been when we first walked into the crack of the mountain. “We’re not far from the top,” Mom said. “It’s probably less than half a mile, but it could take an hour or more of scrambling before we get back here. And it’s going to start raining any minute. I don’t want to be climbing down some of those rocks when they’re wet.”
“Aw, Mom. Don’t be a sissy. Look, this is the fun part!”
“You remember what happened last time?”
“Yeah. We had a great adventure, made some Friends, and saw bull-sheep. It was grand. Come on, we’re almost there”
“We need to respect the desert,” she said. She had already turned around and started walking away from me when she called, “About-face!” which meant I had to follow, or be left alone on the mountain.
The rain that Mom was scared of was no more than dots on the rocks as we climbed and carefully fell back down the boulders. Mom’s a big baby who’s scared of everything, and the big falls weren’t as scary on the way down as she had thought. Once we had climbed out of the biggest jumps, the dots left the ground and moved up into the sky. “Mom, what’s wrong with the rain?” I asked.
“It’s snowing,” she explained.
“It can’t be snowing. There’s no white dirt on the ground.”
“I don’t think it’s cold enough to stick yet, but it will be.” Then she pulled something out of the packpack.
“What’s that?” I asked, suspiciously.
“It’s your rain coat.”
“I don’t wanna.” I look very handsome in my rain coat, but it makes an embarrassing swishy noise and covers the part of my butt that’s best for scratching.
“You don’t want to be soaked through in this cold weather,” Mom said, yanking my leg through the holes and closing the coat over my chest. She’s such a know-it-all sometimes, telling me what I do and don’t want, but what I really didn’t want was to be wearing a raincoat.
“No means no!” I told her. But I still couldn’t get it off without her help, so I stood like a statue and waited for her to change her mind and give me back my dog-tonomy. Instead, she pulled the hood over my ears. Then she just walked away. I stood still and waited. Surely she would change her mind when she saw how upset I was, but she didn’t even turn and look for me for almost a minute, and when she did, all she did was laugh.
“Come here,” she giggled, like I was the one being silly. She didn’t even bother to come back and get me. Eventually I gave up and followed her, hanging my head in shame.
When we got back to the swishy butt crack rocks, there was a problem. This morning there had been little puddles at the bottom of the crack, but now the puddles filled the bowls in the rock like pools. The first pool wasn’t too bad; it was more of a moat, really. But the moat was at the bottom of a steep dog-slide, and the safest way down landed right in the moat. I thought about jumping from the highest point to have the best chance of clearing the moat, but Mom was blocking my way, standing with her eyeballs at the height of my toes and telling me she’d catch me. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to catch a dog (Mom obviously hadn’t), but even agile flying dogs like me jump with flailing, pointy paws first, and the part that’s easy to grab onto doesn’t come until later, when you’re both lying bloody on the sand. So I went down the safe way and just as I was about to fall in the moat, I pushed off the wall like a rocket and knocked Mom out of the way like a bowling pin. I may have taken Mom’s leg out on my way, but I had jumped clear over the moat and was safe.
But the next time we came to a puddle, it was much, much worse. The walls of the rock had no dog-holds at all, and the pool at the bottom was deep enough to swim. Mom thought she could get across by reaching a leg to each wall, but that wouldn’t work for adventurers who didn’t have big old paddle-feet, and freakish sausage fingers that grab things. Mom looked at the rock for a long, long time and then sighed. “All right, here it goes,” she said. Then she lowered herself into the puddle, shoes, socks, jeans and all. The water came almost as high as her butt but not quite, which is good because she had things in her pockets like The Witch, and headphones, and the Wagon keys — all things that like water even less than I do.
“What the heck are you doing?!” I asked, looking down at her from my dryish spot on the edge.
“Come here, hurry!” she said, grabbing my front legs.
“Stop! I can’t stand like that!” I squirmed bravely. But she pulled my front legs off the rock, threw them over her shoulder and then grabbed under my belly with her other arm. I held absolutely still until I could see a dry place to land, and jumped for my life, leaving Mom to climb out of the puddle herself, the kook.
The third time it happened, I didn’t even wait for Mom to jump into the water. I just got a running start and leaped. I sort of tripped and scrambled off of a piece of wall and almost fell, but I found my paws just in time and landed in a spot where I only got my socks wet, which was more than I could say for Mom.
Now that Mom’s pants were soaked, she walked faster than usual out of the wilder-ness and into the car kennel. That was okay, though, because now it was rain-snowing so hard that we couldn’t see anything anyway. The desert must hate getting wet even more than I do, because it was making a kind of hissing noise as all the trillions of snowdrops splashed into the rock. Mom and I spent the rest of our Thanksgiving remembering all the things that we were grateful for, like warm, dry sweatpants, a Covered Wagon with an enthusiastic heater that kept out the rain and was filled with blankets, and gas stations that sold delicious Thanksgiving dinners like Purina Puppy Chow and pretzels so that Mom wouldn’t have to stand out in the rain to use the stove. We even found a place to spend the night that had a pit toilet so that Mom wouldn’t need to go potty in the dog bathroom, which made us feel very wealthy indeed.
Oscar the Pooch