What you need to know about white dirt is that it takes away your choice in where and how you want to drive. When we picked our sleeping spot at the trailhead, Mom used what we had learned about getting stuck to put the Covered Wagon in the best spot for escape once all the white dirt was out of the sky and on the ground. That meant earning tons of points while she turned to aim the Wagon’s nose at the road, on what she hoped was a flat spot. The trouble was that each time we stopped and then tried to go uphill, the Wagon did a swaying little dance, and often went backward when it was supposed to go forward. Mom growled and groaned, coaxed and cajoled just like she does when she wants to take a photo during my union-protected break time. “Did you try giving it treats?” I suggested.
With difficulty and time, Mom convinced the Wagon to sit about 10 yards back from the road, where the ground was mostly flat. As she arranged all the blankets over us she said, “I sure hope the plows come through in the morning to clear all that snow off the road so we’re not trying to drive 50 miles in this crap.” I didn’t know what a plow was, but I was too tired for one of Mom’s vocabulary lessons.
In the middle of the night I woke up with a sour feeling in my tummy and my throat doing jumping jacks. “Mom, I don’t feel so good,” I shivered.
“Oh no! Not in the van!” Mom said, jumping over me with doglike agility to open the door.
I jumped out into the dark without so much as a curious sniff, and barfed in the white dirt. Then I ate it. Then I stood in the cold for a long time waiting to feel better. When I got back into bed, my throat was still doing jumping jacks. No matter how many times Mom said she loved me, I still didn’t feel any better so I asked to go out one more time.
“I sure hope that this is just because you haven’t been drinking enough water and ate too much dry kibble,” Mom said, but not like I was in trouble. I’m a serious athlete and I believe in health, but I just don’t like to drink water. Sometimes I forget to drink for so long that my poops turn into plugs and fill me up from the back to the front until I’m like a peanut butter stuffed bone. Then the snacks run out of room inside me, and my dinner overflows out my mouth. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes.
Eventually my throat stopped jumping, and we fell back asleep. When we woke up, none of the doors on the Wagon would open. The Wagon had grown a crust of ice, and we’d been frozen inside like the mosquito in Jurassic park. Mom leaned hard against the door until finally I heard a little crunch, and it popped open. “If you’re not feeling well, we’ll just go somewhere warmer so that you can rest,” Mom said, tucking me in to keep warm while she opened the doors to make her poop juice. While she was waiting for the water to boil, she looked at the highway in front of the Wagon. It was covered in the same fresh white dirt as the not-road we were parked on. “Or we’ll just hang out here for awhile,” she sighed.
I threw off the blankets and jumped out of the Wagon and sniffed the white dirt for a moment. “Mom! We get to hike in this?!” I said. I had never seen so much fresh white dirt that no one had stepped on or peed in yet. I ran around in circles trying to leave my tracks on all of it, but there was just too much of it!
“I guess that means we’re hiking then!” Mom said. “But if I see the slightest sign that you aren’t feeling well, we’ll turn right around.”
“Gee wiz! Look what happens when I pee in it!” I squealed.
We found the trailhead and dove down into the lumpy nature hidden under white dirt as deep as my knees. The white dirt was light and fluffy, and we moved easily, even though we couldn’t really see what we were walking on. It might have been hard to find the trail under all that fresh white dirt, but something magical had happened. A set of fresh tracks that looked like half-sized Oscar prints ran through the blank white dirt, following the trail exactly. We followed the magical elf-Oscar for a mile, and didn’t get lost even once.
After about a mile, we found a sign in the middle of the droopy bushes, and Mom turned away from elf-Oscar’s tracks and started walking up the rock. The rock was slippery under the white dirt, but Mom and I have four-paw drive and so we didn’t slide around as much as the Covered Wagon had. At the top, we found a group of tiny little elf houses under a plume of rock. “Is this where elf-Oscar lives? Where is he?” I asked, peeking in the window to see if he was home.
“The ancient people who used to live here built them…” Mom explained.
“But they must have been itty bitty; even smaller than you!” I said, looking at the house that was smaller than a smartcar and shorter than a kitchen table. “They must have been Oscar-sized!”
“That’s the thing about tiny homes, they force you to spend more time outside,” Mom said. “They probably didn’t do much more than sleep in them. Think about how little space we need in the Covered Wagon, and how much less we would need if we didn’t carry so much stuff with us.” Then she patted the rock next to where she was crouching. I came and sat next to her on the line between the sheltered rock and the white dirt and looked back at the house. “Do you see it?”
I looked up, and the flame-grey stripes in the rock looked like they were racing out of the top of the tiny home in a frenzy, like a stampede of ghosts. It reminded me of something, but I couldn’t remember what. “Mom! It looks like the roof is on fire!” I realized.
“Isn’t it amazing? Imagine how beautiful it would be if you were sitting in this spot cooking your dinner and the sun hit your house right at sunset. It must have been magical for people who worshiped the land.”
I had never understood why humans collect things just for looking at, but as I looked at the tiny home wearing a hat of rampaging flame, I thought I understood how a building tells the story of the person inside. It’s a little bit like how the desert and mountains tell their story through cliffs, canyons, rocks and rivers both by what is missing and what is left behind. A human’s house tells their story with the things that they have too much of and the things they run out of. But more than mountains, a human’s house can also tell you who they are by the things that they keep only for looking at. The ancient elf-man hadn’t needed a big stuck-house to hold lots of things because the whole canyon was his closet. Living in these canyons, he must have lived through danger every day, so he knew that one dog’s danger is another dog’s protection. So he made the steep canyon walls his safety and shelter. Likewise, he used the same fire that could destroy a whole forest to cook his food. He didn’t have wifi, so he learned to read the land and sky for information like Mom reads The Witch. When he wasn’t feeling well from eating too much dry kibble, he still had to go out for his daily run, and so he knew that he was not weak. Every time he solved a problem, got out of a sticky situation, or got through his daily run despite an upset tummy, he must have felt like the danger was inside him instead of outside him. And his house told the world that where others perished, he slept. I wished he had been home so I could have met him, because I think that we had a lot in common.
After we left the Tinyhome on Fire, we wanted to keep walking up the canyon to look for more tiny homes hidden in the canyon walls, but the rock was too slippery to climb on. We climbed back down next to the river until we found the trail again, but without the magical elf-Oscar to lead the way, we soon lost the trail. “We should come back in the spring when the snow melts,” Mom promised.
When we got back to the Covered Wagon, Mom walked up to the road and sagged like a white-dirt-covered bush. “Dog doo! The plows haven’t come through yet! I don’t know how the heck we’re going to get out of here.” I still didn’t know what a plow was. When Mom had finished making her lunch, she filled the pot back up with white dirt and cooked it until it steamed just like food. I couldn’t figure out what she was doing, and got even more confused when she walked in front of the Wagon with the pot, just like she had with the mud balls the day before. I stood next to her watched her pour the pot out under the Wagon’s tires, 1/2 a pot on each side.
“For heaven’s sake, what are you doing now?” I asked.
“I’m trying to melt the snow,” she said.
“You’re going to need a much bigger pot,” I said, looking around at the whiteness that covered everything.
Just when Mom was getting back into the Wagon, I heard a roar louder than any car. It sounded like a jet engine, but it was coming from the ground. My anticipation grew as the rumbling got louder. Suddenly, 2 of the biggest trucks I had ever seen roared into view. They were as big as a house and had a magic horn on their noses, that threw the white dirt off the road like a surfer’s wave. “The plows!” Mom burst out. “We’re saved!”
Mom’s boiled offering to the Covered Wagon didn’t work as great as she’d promised, but after some singing and dancing, The Wagon finally climbed onto the road that was now mostly black from the giant rhinoceros trucks, and we rolled slowly downhill to where the white dirt would hopefully leave us alone. We weren’t done for the day yet.
In the valley 2000 feet below was an enchanted place that I had visited before: Monument Valley, where the people worship mittens. We hadn’t planned to visit the gods on this trip, but when Mom recognized where we were, we held a quick front seat council and decided that since we were 2 days ahead and all, that we should definitely make a detour. So that’s what we did. Only we took the long way round to avoid a dirt road that curled thousands of feet straight down the cliff face. “I’ve had enough of sketchy driving,” Mom said.
“I’ve had enough of sketchy driving,” Mom repeated when we pulled off of the highway and onto the dirt road that curled through the monuments.
“What does that sign say? The one in front of the enormous puddle?” I asked.
“It says, ROAD IMPASSIBLE WHEN WET,” she read.
“Is it impossible for feet too? Or just wagons?”
“We can definitely run on it. We just won’t see the whole thing. This road is 17 miles in one direction.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “We’ll see some of the gods up close, and other ones from far away, which is the way you’re supposed to look at them.” So we found some good solid dirt for the Covered Wagon to park on and started running. We saw plenty of other people on the Valley road, but none of their cars were independent like the Covered Wagon. Whenever these poor people got out of their cars to explore, they had to stay close to their cars and couldn’t leave them alone for more than a minute or two. It must be very frustrating to have a car that’s afraid of the wilder-ness and won’t let you go explore without it.
Meanwhile, Mom and I ran down the road seeing the valley the way that the people who discovered the gods inside the rocks did. Modern people don’t understand rocks in the same way. They break them into pieces and rearrange them in predictable shapes that fit together well but do nothing for the imagination.
While the mud may have been scary if we’d crossed it with the Covered Wagon, it was an adventure to stomp through it with our paws. When the mud got thick, it squelched up between my toes and turned my socks the same burnt grey as everything around me. The mud splattered up and speckled my belly, and it clumped in the claws of Mom’s shoes and stuck to them as if it were trying to become a part of her too. I was sure that we were the only ones on the road that day that the land was inviting to become a part of it.
We visited about 4 gods before we got too thirsty to keep running. I stopped and took a long drink out of a milky, muddy puddle on the way back, but Mom insisted on waiting for the water from the bottles that we had in the Wagon.
When we got back to the Covered Wagon, Mom took her first van shower of the trip. A van shower is when you swipe your armpits with deodorant, and swipe your face and crotch with a wet paper towel before putting on clean underwear.
Oscar the Pooch