Mom and I have been getting most of our news on the road from conversations that we overhear in gas stations. I like it that way, because we hear what we need to know without any of the extra scary stuff that you can’t do anything about. A long time ago in Nowhere, Utah, Mom went into the gas station to buy me a Lunchable. While I was waiting, I sat in the driving chair listening to the people in the next car talk about a woman from Colorado that was stuck in Utah because she couldn’t go home. In the Ho Foods in Arizona, Mom heard a man tell his phone that Colorado was “on lockdown.” And when she had the guts to check, The Witch told Mom that Denver and the ski towns were “very bad.” The problem was that Colorado was standing between us and the last states of our trip: Wyoming and South Dakota (which, The Witch assured us, were in the top 3 best places to be to avoid the boogeyvirus). We knew we had to cross Colorado, so we planned to dash across as fast as we could.
The top of New Mexico, all of Colorado, and most of Wyoming were too far to cross in one day, so Mom found a trail half way through Colorado that she thought wouldn’t be too risky. “Loveland, Colorado… That sounds like a small town, doesn’t it?” Mom said.
“Yeah, definitely. That’s the kind of name you give your town when all the official-sounding ones are taken and you let your people puppy pick its name,” I said.
Mom tried to plot a driving route to avoid Denver where, according to smug people in country gas stations, there was some kind of zombiepocalypse happening. But the problem with big cities is that they are like giant whirlpools that suck all the roads through them, and by the time you realize that you’ve been pulled in to their current, you’re already circling the drain. We got sucked through the center of Denver, and escaped to the other side to find that we were almost in Loveland.
“Oh no! It’s a suburb!” I howled.
“Oh no! It’s a tourist town!” Mom joined in.
“We’re gonna die!!!” we said together.
Because the town was too big for campgrounds or public lands, Mom got a room in a fancy hotel where other not-quite-homeless people like us stay for as long or as short as we need to. All night, The Witch blared sirens letting us know that Colorado would shut down for real in the morning. We fell asleep, and woke up, and fell asleep, and woke up to the TV in the next room shouting that we were all going to die. Not knowing if the park would be open or closed, The Witch woke us early so that we could be on and off the trail before there was anyone there to be upset about our visiting.
It’s funny how humans think they know everything just because they talk to each other, but a lot of times if you go see a thing for yourself, you find out that the gossip was all wrong. When we arrived at the trail, there were signs on every post saying, “NATURE IS OPEN!” and reminding us how to be safe, and also to pick up our poo. We were afraid that anyone we saw would point an accusing finger at us from 6 feet away and yell for us to STAY HOME, but all the people that we saw smiled at us and wished us well. Even the rangers seemed as surprised and relieved that they’d shown up to work that morning, and were as happy to see us as we were to see them.
Even though the world is coming to an end, the sun still rose and we raced to the top of the first little hill to meet it at the top. Once we reached the top, the sun shone on me like footlights, and behind me stood a chorus line of rocks kicking jaggedly out of the ground.
“It’s called the Devil’s Backbone,” Mom said. “Do you see it?”
“Where?!” I asked. “Is he staying 6 feet away?!”
“No, the rocks. They’re supposed to look like a spine,” she explained, pointing her arm toward the fin of rocks that studded the length of the hill like a line of scrabble tiles.
“The devil needs to do more lat pulldowns and drink more Muscle Milk,” I said.
We ran along the devil’s left lat, and when my eyes reached the end of his spine, they continued over the other beautiful things to look at. The hills were rounded and furry with wiry grass that was excellent for rolling in, and here and there in the distance sprouted tiny farm houses. There was a 1% cloud in the air, and the sun lit it up and gave everything a glow the color of gold like a scene from a 99¢ Christmas card. Behind all that, in the far distance stood the beer can mountains, and behind those were humongous mountains so vast and glowing white that they looked like another sun rising in the west. It was the kind of scene where each thing looked most beautiful as a tiny detail in the bigger picture around it.
Mom kept stopping me to pose for pictures, and then screwing up her face and standing back up again. “Pooh. No good,” she would say.
“How can they not be good?!” I asked. “I’m so handsome today. Colorado looks great reflected in my fur.”
“But the thing that I wanted to show behind you is too small in the picture,” Mom explained.
“Well why don’t you tell The Witch to make it bigger then?” I asked.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Mom explained. “When we look at something, our focus works like a magnifying glass for the most important thing, and our brains move everything else out of the way to act as decoration. But the camera doesn’t know what I’m looking at, so it shows all the things exactly as they are. That means that things that are far away look teeny tiny, and things that are too close drown out what you were looking at.”
I always knew The Witch didn’t know how to recognize greatness. “So if The Witch doesn’t see anything as special, then how do you get the love into my picture?” I asked. “And also the scenery and stuff?”
“You have to arrange things yourself so that they tell the story you see in your head,” Mom said. “You have to position your subject…”
“You’re not the boss of me!” I said.
“True. Fine. So I have to stand in such a way that the world outside my head looks the way I want to see it.”
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “So like if there’s something scary, like a big ol’ devil’s skeleton coming up out of the earth, you can stand so that it takes up the whole world around me, or it can be just a tiny detail in the background.”
“Exactly,” Mom said.
“Or like how Colorado looks really scary when we’re too far away for details, but when we came close enough to see people one at a time, they all have smiles and friendly words.”
“Yeah, I guess. The point is that you see what you want to see, and if you capture it right then other people will see it too.”
Mom may have been talking about pictures, but it seemed like one of those things that was true about other stuff as well.
As we ran back to the car kennel, we met another dog and his lady hiking in the other direction. Mom pulled me 6 feet off the trail to let them pass. “That poop bag up ahead is mine,” the lady said as she approached our infection zone.
“See, Mom?” I thought. “She pooped on the trail and picked it up in a bag. Humans do it too.”
“She’s talking about the dog, you numbskull,” Mom thought.
“I’m going to pick it up on the way back. I just don’t want to carry it for 4 miles.”
“No judgement here,” said Mom, who hadcarried my poop for 4 miles before and knew what it was like.
A minute later we found the poop bag. “I’ll just pick it up for her, since we’re almost to the parking lot,” Mom said, reaching down for it. Then her hand froze and she stood back up, leaving the poop bag on the ground.
“Mom! Don’t be a jerk, do a good deed!” I encouraged her.
“Ugh! I really want to, but there could be germs on that bag. Since we’ve got to travel at least 1000 miles to get home, the more responsible thing to do is to leave the poo.” She looked disgusted with frustration. “I hate what this virus is doing to us.”
Oscar the 💩ch