“Hey, guess what?!” I nudged Mom when I saw her finally starting to stir in the morning. Then I jumped up to point my nose out the Wagon window! “We’re in the mountains!” I announced. “I thought maybe that’s what I was smelling last night, but the sun just came up and I was right! I can’t wait to explore them!”
“Grumblegrumblegrumble,” grumbled Mom as she pulled a hat over the fur standing straight out from her head and got out to make the poop juice.
As it turned out, these weren’t new mountains but ones that I had visited before. They liked having me so much that they had called Mom back for another visit. This trail had all our favorite mountain things in just the right amounts. It climbed to the top of the pass, but wasn’t so steep that our legs would burn off or the trail couldn’t hold on to Mom’s shoes. It started in the shady trees, crossed some lovely streams for me to drink from, and traveled along some lovely lakes that reflected the mountains and sky. Then we would climb up to the place where the whole world was made of rocks and sky. There was soft grass and bright smelling wildflowers to roll in, white dirt to wallow in, squirrels chirping in the trees and chipmunks to chase through the boulderfields. Most exciting of all, there was a mystery, but I’ll tell you about that in a minute…
I hadn’t been hiking for too long when I smelled some delicious potato chips hiking up the trail ahead of me. Mom was carrying a big bag of brunch, but it was still early so I’d only had a few mouthfuls of kibble, and potato chips sounded like a perfect breakfast. But when I found the potato chips, they were in the paw of a giant turtle-person. “Drop those potato chips and no one gets yelled at!” I barked.
“Hi, buddy!” The chip bandit turned around, and I discovered that even though it had the back of a turtle, it had the front of a woman. It held out its free paw for me to smell.
“What are you, some kind of centaur?!” I shouted. “Unhand the chips, you brute!”
“Well maybe if you weren’t so rude she’d give you a chip!” Mom said, coming up behind me.
The mutant taunted me for a moment with a chip before finally dropping it on the ground. I saved the chip and barked one last warning at the monster before running back to Mom. “I think it’s more scared of us than we are of it,” I whispered. “If you startle it, it’ll drop chips.”
When we hiked this trail last year there were a lot more people to greet, but this year there were many fewer fans on the trail for me to impress. When we did find someone, Mom told me to up-up onto a rock and she would stuff me full of brunch until the people had passed. They usually want to talk to me about my rock-sitting talents, and I want to tell them all about it, but it’s so hard to give a talk when you have a mouth full of kibble. “Is that dog in commercials?” one of my new Fans asked, stopping his hike to admire how I chewed with my mouth open.
“People like to look at pictures of me because I’m so handsome,” I started to explain, but Mom cut me off.
“This dog sits on a lot of rocks. Basically all we do on weekends is find rocks for him to sit on. Then I take his picture…”
“Did you see my bandana?” I asked him. “It’s got bananas on it. It’s a banana bandana!” I wanted to keep telling him interesting things, but Mom said we were ‘All done!’ and made me leave my new Friend behind.
By the time we reached the rocky parapet right below the top of the mountain, all the Oscar fans were long gone. We were all alone in the silence and rocky smells of the sky. Suddenly Mom gasp-screamed and jumped back, almost knocking me down the hill behind her. “Holy dog doo,” she panted. She’d finally seen what I’d smelled coming for several minutes. A deer was lying so close to the side of the trail that its antlers could trip a two-legged hiker. Well, at least it had been a deer, back when it had eyeballs and all of its parts were still attached. Now it lay on the rocks with his wife next to him, his baby a few feet behind him and lots of other legs, and bones, and heads, and skulls spread out on the rocks all around him.
“Mom, the deer graveyard was in the exact same spot last year, don’t you remember?” I said. “Why do you think I’m standing on THIS side of the trail?”
“Last year all I saw were spines and legs. I thought poachers had left them here. What would be big enough to drag a full grown buck over these rocks? We’re hundreds of feet above the valley, and at least another couple hundred feet below the ridge.” Mom shuddered, looking around for a lair.
“A mystery!” I exclaimed. I was careful to walk around Mom on the far side as we passed. That way if the deer came back from the dead they would have to go through Mom first.
We climbed to the top of the mountain to where the only thing not made of rock or sky was the sign that said that we were almost 12,000 feet closer to outer space, and that dogs were allowed no further. We walked past the sign to look out at the forbidden mountains spiking the sky over the National Park, and then climbed the short slope on the other side to look down at the valley we’d come from. “Let’s take a picture looking over the edge,” said Mom, who wouldn’t have been so brave if the slope hadn’t been arranged so that falling would have pushed us away from the cliff.
I peeked over her shoulder. “Why are there trees and stuff down there, but nothing living up here?” I asked.
“Because this is covered in snow and ice so much of the year,” Mom said. “I bet this trail has only been out from under the snow for a week or two. Nothing can live up here with all that snow.”
“Except maybe a yeti,” I pointed out, thinking about the boneyard somewhere below Mom’s dangling feet.
Once we had climbed back down, far below the deer graveyard, I discovered a man and a woman sitting on a rock eating some potato chips. I ran right up to the lady-one and gave her a kiss on the face so she would pay me back with a chip in my face. “Hi! I’m Oscar! I love potato chips!” I said.
“Oh, now you like me,” she said.
“Yes, you seem like a very nice lady. Nothing like the LAST freak I saw carrying potato chips…” I shuddered, but then changed the subject because I didn’t want to frighten her. “Have you seen how handsome I am in my new bandana? It’s got bananas on it. It’s a banana bandana!”
“You’re not nearly as scary as the deer graveyard that’s up there…” Mom said, waving her arm at the mountain. Oh great! Now my friend might be too scared to give away potato chips. “I thought it was poachers, but could it be some monster that throws deer off a cliff before eating them?”
“Sasquatch!” my Friend said.
“Batsquatch,” her com-man-ion corrected her.
“Is Batsquatch like the 2020 version of Sasquatch?” Mom asked. “Like something scary, but way worse than you imagined?”
“Yeah, he got COVID,” my Friend explained.
By the last few miles I was too tired to chase ground squirrels or bark at monsters, so I loafed in Mom’s shadow while she poked at The Witch and listened to the stories in her ears. Suddenly, a runner came rumbling down the trail behind us. “Excuse me,” he breathed, just loud enough for Mom to hear over the ear kibbles.
“Waaahhh!” Mom screamed, almost throwing The Witch into the air and jumping off the trail. This was the second time that Mom had screamed today. What a wuss!
“Mom, that wasn’t Batsquatch,” I reassured her. “He was just a runner. See? Here come 2 more!” As Mom cowered in the trees so she wouldn’t get run over, I stood in the middle of the singletrack and grinned at them as they bore down me like a couple of speeding trains. “Hi, I’m Oscar. I’m a runner too. Maybe you’ve heard of me?” I grinned, as they split and one ran on each side of me. I ran after them, “Hey, do you want to hear about my banana bandana?”
“So if it wasn’t Batsquatch that killed all those deer, what happened to them?” I asked Mom. “Was it the boogeyviurs? All the way up here?”
“I googled it,” Mom said, “and it turns out that someone actually reported it a few years ago and they did an investigation.”
“There are detectives for deer?!” I said. I was surprised, but I was also glad. Deer lives matter.
“Sort of. The Fish and Wildlife service investigates people who murder animals illegally. Anyway, the deer migration comes through this area, and in snowy years some deer slip and fall. California Fish and Wildlife ruled it an accident.”
If that dreadful story is the kind of thing The Witch tells Mom about, no wonder Mom’s been so upset every time she reads on The Witch lately. I thought about sitting in the sky at the top of the mountain with Mom’s feet hanging off, and then I imagined what it had been like for the deer hiking in the white dirt a few weeks before, without a Mom to check the weather report for them or tell them when they should turn back. I didn’t like thinking about that, so I said, “Hey Mom, did you notice there are bananas on my bandana?”
Oscar the Sleuth