One of those dumb things that humans do is plan ahead. Mom may say that I’m wasting my time doing dog things like chewing on a rubber log for hours, or sniffing for the bathroom rather than peeing in any old place, but none of my dog things compare to the colossal amount of time and energy she wastes planning ahead. When Mom looked at the weather for our hike, the sun and clouds were blotted out with big, fluffy curls that meant wind faster than a schoolbus. Mom hates wind because it feels like depression, and so she thought about canceling our hike today. What’s the point of planning ahead if it keeps you from doing something that you really want to do?! Luckily, after burning up a lot of energy that could have been used for joy, she put on some warm clothes and a hat that wouldn’t get blown off her head, and we stepped out into the mountain air.
It may have been windy somewhere, but as Mom and I started climbing the trail on the sunny side of the valley, the wind was busy doing something else. I panted and Mom stank as we walked toward the mountains that stuck out of the ground so suddenly and rockily that they made all Mom’s Stuck House worries seem teeny as a speck.
As I climbed the steep slope and jumped up on rock steps, I felt like Mom had forgotten to charge my battery overnight. I looked back at her, and saw her energy flickering too. She wobbled like something standing on a black street on a hot day. “What’s happening to my superpowers?” I asked.
“We’re above 8000 feet,” Mom explained. “You know about altitude and how it feels.”
“But we spent almost a month in high mountains and deserts, so we should be experts at altitude now,” I explained in my coach voice. “That’s how training works.”
“But that was two months ago,” Mom said. “Your body is always renewing itself, and if you want it to keep the pieces that are good at altitude, or running, or any other skill, then you have to keep doing it. Your body doesn’t know what your mind thinks is important, it only knows what you do every day, and what we’ve done every day is sit at home and run at sea level.”
I looked down at my paws. They sure looked like the same paws I’d always had. Maybe the parts that had been replaced in the last few months where the ones I couldn’t see, like the wimpy muscles in my booty and my limp, unwaggy tail.
After we’d been staggering heroically for awhile, I saw two things on the rock that I couldn’t see from below. One was a waterfall that fell thousands of feet off the rock like it couldn’t help itself. It flailed its spray desperately trying to grab onto the steep, smooth rock. But the mountain didn’t care what it was putting the river through any more than it cared about draining my battery, and so the cliff gave the river nothing to hang on to on its long fall down to the valley, where it kerpleweyed into an explosion of froth and guts. On the other side of the crack between the mountains was a long ladder that climbed straight up the rock. The trail crossed right through the middle of the ladder, and when I looked up, it made me think of the scene at the end of Annie (the old one, where Annie had poodle hair) where Annie is climbing a ladder as tall as a skyscraper to get away from the bad guy, and they climb and climb until their back legs are kicking in the air, and they’re only hanging on by their front paws. “We don’t have to climb it, do we?” I asked. My front paws aren’t so good at hanging on as Annie’s.
“No, we just cross it,” Mom said. “And it’s not a ladder, it’s tram tracks.”
“What’s a traim?”
“It’s a train that goes up and down mountains.”
I looked up, up, up the ladder-tracks and imagined a traim falling down it like the waterfall. “But how do they keep the traim from splatting at the bottom?”
“I think that’s what those rollers are for,” Mom said, pointing to the metal logs that decorated every few rungs. “I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything this steep except maybe on a rollercoaster. But I’m pretty sure that’s how they slow down the rollercoasters at Disneyland.” I was glad that Disneyland was closed because of the boogeyvirus. Traims looked like some scary stuff.
We zigged and zagged up the trail until we reached the top of the tracks, and to my surprise I found some buildings up there, and the laundry racks that they use to hold the sky wires high when they have a lot of them. There was also a line of giant white hunny pots standing shoulder to shoulder like a doggie gate guarding the lake that sat right at the edge of the drop. “What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a dam,” Mom said. I knew all about dams. I’d visited a lot of them, like the Glen Canyon Dam that we couldn’t get too close to because Mom was scared, and the Hoover Dam that we couldn’t get too close to because dogs aren’t allowed. But this dam was just a baby, not even tall enough for Mom to be scared of it.
We kept climbing the side of the mountain until we came to the top of another wall of rock and found an even bigger lake held back by another set of hunny pots. All around us were mountains so huge and rocky that it seemed like the kind of place where no human things belonged. I still couldn’t quite believe that the humans had gotten all their toys up there, even though I’d seen it myself. Then, the biggest ground squirrel you’ve ever seen ran across the trail. “Look, Mom!” I said, wagging my tail and whining. “It’s a squirrel the size of a raccoon!”
“That’s not a squirrel, it’s a beaver,” Mom said.
Well that explained everything. Everyone knows that beavers make dams. “Wow! Something that small made those great, big dams?” I said. “They must have superpowers for lifting trees, and rocks and stuff.”
“It might have been a woodchuck. I’m not so good at animals,” Mom mused.
“How did the beavers get the hunny pots all the way up here? And what do you suppose they want with all those sky wires?”
“Those dams weren’t made by beavers, dummy. They were made by people. I think maybe for electricity.”
I looked again at all the things piled up on that mountain. There were the sky strings that the spider people had spun. And more bee people must have gone out to gather the pollen to make the honey to put in the pots. The beaver people must have turned the hunny pots into a dam. And then there were the monkey people who had climbed the steep rock to build the traim tracks. There must also be rhino people who ram the traim to get it moving over the edge of the hill, and penguin people who liked to slide down the tracks. I don’t even know what kind of animal would catch the slippery penguin traim at the bottom. There would even have to be people who gathered all the blood and guts splattered at the bottom and put them back together again like Humpty Dumpty. Not even something like a river that was powerful enough to tear a hole in the world the size of the Grand Canyon could pull off the magic that this pack of people had pulled off. An animal clever enough to combine the smarts of a beaver, a bee, a spider, a rhino, a penguin, a monkey, a bird, and probably so many other things too could figure out anything, and yet most of them sit at home all day wondering if their butts are too fat. A critter powerful enough to dominate a mountain too big to give a dam could do anything. Maybe the secret is that humans’ powers only get super when they combine them. Otherwise they’d sit at home all day wondering why they were so compelled to make honey if they couldn’t think of anything to do with it when they were finished, so they would have to plan ahead to get rid of all their honey by themselves.
And of course beasts that smart could beat some dumb little virus. But then I remembered that the people couldn’t work together anymore, because they were all locked in their houses, wondering what to do with all these sky wires, or hunny pots, or dams, or ladders they’d built and couldn’t find a single use for. Thank goodness all the people were starting to come out of hibernation. They’ll find each other soon, and then they’ll start fixing this mountain of problems that’s happened while they were away. You’ll see…
Oscar the Optimist