Happy birthday, everyone! If you don’t know what Birthday is, it’s the holiday in March where you’re supposed to say, “Happy birthday!” a lot and eat a traditional hot dog dinner. It’s sort of like Valentines Day, where even though you love someone every day, it’s still nice to make a special day to do special stuff and celebrate. Mom and I like to celebrate things Utah, so that’s where we went.
We’ve wanted to go to a place called Duckskin Gulch for many years, ever since Mom discovered it on the internet. I think it’s called Duckskin Gulch after all the times you have to yell “For duck’s sake!” while trying to find it. The first time we tried to go there was during our first road trip in the car-house. Because the car-house was allergic to dirt and Mom hadn’t learned how to trail drive yet, we never even found the trailhead. The next year we found the trailhead, but Mom didn’t know it was a swimming trail. So we followed the Wrong Trail until we were standing on a rim hundreds of feet above the Right Trail. The third time we came back at Christmastime, and Mom promised it would be cold enough to walk on the water. But Mom was wrong, and when the water cracked and our paws fell in, Mom’s paws couldn’t take the cold and we gave up after only a few minutes. Since this was our fourth attempt, I thought maybe it would be luckier if we stopped hiking for duck’s sake and called the trail by a different name.
“Hey, Mom! You know how my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day, and four leaf clovers bring good luck… and how this is our fourth attempt at finding Duckskin Gulch?” I wagged, winding up to a very clever punchline. “How about we call this post Fourskin Gulch? For good luck!”
“How about we just call it Happy Birthday?” Mom suggested, like she wasn’t saying everything she was thinking.
“You have no sense of poetry,” I told her in my most authorly voice.
We camped along the highway where the sky has internet, and Mom cuddled The Witch in our den of blankets. “Hey look,” she said. “Here’s a trail where we don’t have to hike 7 miles in a river to get to Buckskin Gulch. I thought I’d read somewhere that there were only 2 ways in, and the other you had to walk all the way from Arizona.”
“Hooray!” I said. Not because I’m a wimp, but because Mom can’t hike as far as she used to now that I’m seven.
“Let’s get an early start before it’s hot and crowded,” Mom said. Then she asked The Witch, “What time is sunrise?”
“Sunrise is at 6:30am!” The Witch said.
“And what time is it now?” Mom asked, looking at her watch.
“It’s 9:30pm!” The Witch announced.
“Good,” Mom said.
“Doesn’t your watch tell time?” I asked. “It’s supposed to be smart. Not just a smart allec like The Witch.”
“Yeah, but we’re so close to the Arizona border, and it’s an hour earlier there. I just want to make sure it’s telling me the time of sunrise in Utah, and not Arizona.”
“You mean they schedule the sunrise at different times in different places?” I said in that way that you do when you know someone is lying. “I know that time was confusing, but now you’re just pulling my leg.”
“Rise and shine, losers!” The Witch shouted in the middle of the night.
While Mom made her poop juice, I walked into the dark to go potty and look at all the extra stars that we don’t have at home. “It sure is dark in the morning in Utah,” I said.
“The sun will be up soon,” Mom said confidently. “It happens suddenly up here because there’s less atmosphere at altitude.”
“You just made that up, didn’t you?” I said.
“I did, but it sounds like the sort of thing that might be true, doesn’t it? Anyway. I know the sun will be up soon because we checked last night, remember?”
We drove into the blackness until we arrived at the car kennel. The sun still hadn’t come to my birthday party. “What time is sunrise?” Mom asked again.
“Sunrise is at 6:30 this morning,” The Witch repeated.
“And what time is it now?” Mom asked.
“It’s 7:05 AM,” The Witch announced.
“But it’s still dark out!” Mom accused.
“Ohhhh! Did you mean what time is sunrise here? I thought you meant that town we went through 30 miles back. You remember, that one in Arizona?”
Mom shoved The Witch into her pocket in disgust. Then she changed into hiking clothes, and filled the packpack, and used the potty, and only when she was back to fighting with The Witch about giving money to the internet about parking did the sun finally join the party. It flashed under the clouds, but Mom missed it because she was too busy arguing with The Witch. “Ugh! If they’re going to stop taking cash they need to have a mobile friendly site and good cell service,” she said, waving The Witch above her head like a sword and completely missing the background of bright clouds. Finally Mom banished The Witch back to her pocket. “Forget it. I hope I get a ticket so I can write them a letter about all the problems with their damned website. Putting stupid nav bars over required fields and signing you out every time you follow a link…” I didn’t know what she meant, but winning a ticket to something sounded like fun. I was glad that dogs don’t have internet because it seems like a stressful thing to have to manage when you’re supposed to be celebrating your life partner’s birthday.
I followed Mom as she stomped into the desert. She wasn’t in a party mood anymore, but it’s hard to carry annoyances all the way from your Stuck House into a fantasyland like Utah. By the time we found the slot canyon a couple miles later, Mom was almost herself again and my chin and tail were held high.
Then we turned a corner and Mom said, “For duck’s sake!” for the thousandth time that morning.
“What?” I said. “Are we here?!”
“Yeah, we’re here. But there’s a ladder.” We both sighed as Mom took out my climbing hammock. Then she grunted and lowered herself down the ladder as I supervised, hovering in mid-air behind her.
Luckily, all the ducks stayed behind at the top of the ladder, and I led Mom through the hallways of the canyon, which twisted for miles through the intestines of the earth. “Look over here!” I said. “Rocks!”
“Go on! What’s around the next bend?” Mom said, holding The Witch out in front of her and watching the canyon through The Witch’s eyes rather than her own. Then she tripped on a rock and they both spilled onto the sandy floor.
Soon it got hard to concentrate because I could hear echoes following us up the canyon. When Mom told me to “sit” for a picture and I saw people come around the bend behind her, I ditched my pose and ran past her to greet them. “Hi! I’m Oscar!” I grinned. “I’m so glad you came to my party! Have you seen these cool rocks? Some of them have been peed on!”
For the next mile I lead my expedition party through the canyons, showing them how my big voice got even bigger as it bow-wow-awooo-ed down the canyon walls. When I wasn’t giving speeches, I impressed them with my most gymnastic rolling. Mom bored them to death with questions about where they were going, and where they were from, and what they did for work in Leadville.
“I’ve heard of Leadville,” I said. “I know about it because all runners know Leadville and I’m a runner, but not a fast one because I have to wait for Mom. But I’m real good at mountains. Do you have mountains in Leadville? If not, I can tell you all about them. I’m kind of an expert.”
We were only a mile into the canyon when the red line the mapp had drawn for us ended. But where the red line stopped the canyon kept going, and so did we. We walked for miles until the canyon relaxed enough to let the sun reach the bottom and the wind to blow warm air into the crack. “We could walk all the way to Arizona in this canyon,” Mom sighed. “But I think this has been party enough, don’t you?”
I wanted to keep exploring and adding friends to my Birthday expedition party, but we hadn’t met anyone except for our Friends from Colorado, who had already seen my greatest hits. So I wished them a happy birthday, and then Mom and I turned around to search for the surprise party that I was sure was following us up the canyon.
Turning around was the right thing to do. Around every bend we met more guests who had come to celebrate my birthday with me. “Thanks for coming!” I said. “Yes, this is all for me!” “I’m so glad you could make it!” “Happy Birthday!” “I would be delighted if you gave me birthday scratchies. Here’s my butt!”
And in return they said, “What a good boy!” And “Good dog!” And “What a good hiking buddy.”
We met big people and small people, old people and people puppies, and even a lot of dogs. Every time a dog came to my party Mom asked, “How did you manage the ladder?” I think she was trying to learn how to hover like me.
“Oh we carried him!” everyone said. “It was awkward,” one dad said. “I put his arms around my neck and carried him like a baby,” another mom said. As the lady cupped her arms by her waist to show what she meant, I checked for a second set of ladder-holding arms, but I only saw the two regular ones.
When we reached the ladder again, Mom put my legs through the hammock and held the straps as we watched dozens of people climb up and down the ladder and waited our turn. Mom didn’t want people to be watching how wimpy she was, struggling up the ladder while I floated behind her, but when it was our turn everyone stopped and to stare at the flying birthday dog. Right before we reached the top, I left my party with a gift. Right at the top of the ladder I let out a gas station hot dog fart like I was throwing a buttload of confetti. My party favor was so sticky that it is probably still sitting at the top of that ladder right now, climbing into people’s noses and shouting “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” as they reach their legs into empty air searching for the first rung.
Oscar the Flying Birthday Boy