Hi, Friends! How have you been? I’ve missed you. Mom hasn’t let me write because she said that lately playing outside is something that people fight over, so you’re only allowed to talk to people if a screen is between you. I’m a lover not a fighter, but it’s sure been lonely without my own screen to bark at people with.
Meanwhile, we’ve been going outside in private, running in My Hometown, and enjoying having the place to ourselves. At least once a week we go to the Haunted Highway, where we run up into nature with The City and My Hometown to our backs. At the bottom of the hill we run through the forest, where the trees peel like toilet paper after a cat’s gotten to it. After exactly one mile, the trail opens up like a balcony and I can look down over My Hometown one last time before I turn my back on it and run toward the hills where all you can see are lumps of land and the sky. If it weren’t for the sky strings and electricity trees, you might think that no human had ever been there before. But the best part is after exactly 2.5 miles, when I reach the top of the hill and discover the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below me. From there I can turn back home, or run straight down toward the ocean which is emptier than the closed off car kennels downtown, and stretches on and on to eternity.
I’ve discovered the Pacific Ocean at least once a week since Mom and I got home from our travels. Even though we run late enough in the morning that even the sun is awake, often the only other living things we see are the bunnies running across the trail like they missed the WALK light. But this morning was different. This morning Mom stopped the car in our usual spot, and there were a couple of dogs with a couple of people blocking our way. “HEY!” I shouted through the window. “DIDN’T YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED OUT OF YOUR HOUSE?!”
Mom shushed me, and then she barked, “Hi. Good morning. It’s good to see you.”
“Mom, that family can’t follow instructions. The lady was leaning on a sign telling her to go home. Didn’t they see the sign coming into town that says to go away?” I asked.
“I hate that sign,” Mom said. “There’s no need to be rude. And for my part, I’m happy to see people again. We’ll just keep our distance the same as we always do. There’s plenty of room for everyone.”
As we ran, one bicycle and then another came up the hill behind us. Usually we can’t even go to this trail on the weekend because there’s no time to run between all the jumping into the poison oak whenever a bike rides by. But this year Mom has only gotten poison oak one time. As we came back down the hill, I was very surprised to come around a corner and see a bike lying alone in the poison oak. “Oh no, Mom!” I said, running in as wide a circle as I could in case it had the boogeyvirus. “Do you think it’s hurt?”
“Maybe someone’s going to the bathroom?” Mom said. We know this trail like we know our own house, and we both knew that there were no nearby holes in the poison oak for a bike jockey to use the dog bathroom.
When we came around the next bend the mystery was solved. A man was standing at the side of the trail waving the biggest knife you’ve ever seen, making himself a salad. “I’m cutting back the bushes,” he explained, as he swung his knife-arm in a wide arc into the bushes.
“Thank you,” Mom said, and I could see her mind looking at the poison oak on her leg that was just beginning to heal after all the careful licking treatments I’d given it over the past few weeks.
“Mom, do you think we should report him for murdering the mountain?” I asked when she’d let go of my collar. “I bet he thought there would be no witnesses because of quarantine.”
“No, Oscar. That man is a hero. Without people walking on them, the land is starting to swallow up all the trails and all the places that people love are starting to disappear. That man is a sign that the people want to come out to find each other again. We’ve all been so afraid of each other, some of us because we don’t want to hurt someone else, others because we don’t want someone else to hurt us, that we’ve forgotten that most people just want to help each other and do the right thing.”
“Talking through screens make people forget that?” I asked.
“Sure. You can’t sit in companionable silence through a screen. When there’s a screen in the way, it’s much easier to make someone talk to you when you disagree with them. So people have just been talking about the things that upset them. Pretty soon it gets to feel like everyone is against you.”
“I get it,” I said. “It’s like when I can’t sniff someone’s butt, so I have to yell at them just to let them know that they can’t push me around. Should we tell people that they need to sniff more butts?”
“Erm, no. I still don’t think it’s a good idea to be sticking your nose on other people and inhaling.”
“Well if you don’t sniff their butt, how will you know what to disagree with them about?” I asked.
“Now that people are coming out of their holes, maybe we’ll remember that we don’t have to disagree about everything. It’s easy to forget that there are real people behind the screens, people who may be warm, and kind, and funny, and interesting even if they voted for someone else. People who are just trying to do what they think is right, remember? Whether they don’t want people to get sick or they don’t want people to lose their food and homes, they’re all trying to help. As the world comes alive again it’ll be easier for those people to help each other through it.”
“Mom, I don’t think I understand,” I said. “It sounds like you’re saying that other people make life better, not worse.”
“Yeah, well remind me I said that in a few months when we’re stuck in a traffic jam and I have murder in my heart…” Mom said.
Oscar the Pooch