In her spare time, Mom likes to make these things called plans. Plans are like a good luck charm that tell humans in need of reassurance what will happen in the future. Dogs can’t really smell the future coming, but just like a dog whistle can drive you bonkers while your Mom is clueless, the future can get in between a person’s ears and drive her bonkers while her doggo doesn’t smell anything wrong. When a day turns out just like Mom’s good luck plans, she feels happy and safe, but if her good luck plans don’t come true, Mom will worry about it until she makes it right. Maybe that’s why Mom doesn’t like to hit CTL + ALT+ Delete on an adventure, even if it’s the bad kind. Like last year, when she was too chicken to climb a glacier, I had a sneaking suspicion we would be back.
“We’re here! We’re here!” I whistled, looking out the window and trying to figure out where we were. When Mom opened her door and I busted out after her, I held my nose in the air to get my bearings.
“I know where we are!” I announced. “This is that place where you wussed out and had to boot scoot down the mountain like you had a dingleberry!”
“Well I’m hoping that this time the snow will be melted so we won’t lose the trail and risk getting swept away in a landslide,” she said in a foreshadowy voice.
We walked through a valley filled with bright grey flowers and crowned with mountains as spiky as Bart Simpson’s head. As rowdy as the mountains were, the river was even more ferocious. It didn’t just gurgle and bubble on the ground but jumped whitely off of cliffs in giant waterfalls bigger than I’d ever seen up close.
After a couple of miles, the trail made a hard turn and climbed up a wall of mountain where it looked like there was no trail at all. It got steeper and steeper, and rockier and rockier, until the trail turned invisible behind all the steep and rock. Mom climbed slower and slower, until she was using all four of her paws, and then until she was using all four of her paws evenly. Then she was using her front paws more than her back paws, hanging onto rocks with her claws so that her feet wouldn’t push the whole mountain away under her. The flatter mom got, the closer I climbed on her heels, until she was practically standing on top of me. With each step, she had to test the rocks under each of her paws before moving, and usually she didn’t find the the right rock on the first try, or the second, or the third. As she grabbed the rocks and shook them like loose teeth, they came away in her hands and she dropped them by her side, where they landed and then kept tripping and skipping down the mountain. Then it took Mom so long to find her next step that all the rocks she was on started to inch down the mountain, too.
“Oscar! Get the duck out of the way!” she said in the voice that I’ve never heard before. I didn’t know what she meant, since I was behind her, but stepped aside anyway. When she finally moved her next foot uphill, a herd of rocks went racing down the mountain behind her and took the rock I’d just been standing on down with them.
“Are you sure this is the trail?” I asked.
“I thought it was at first, but now I think we’ve been following the path of a rockslide,” Mom panted.
“Why don’t we turn back?” I asked. “This seems like one of your bad ideas, and you’re no fun when you’re grouchy.”
“I would love to turn back, but when was the last time you looked down?” Mom asked.
I looked behind me. From up here, the slope that we had been climbing looked more like a cliff than a hill.
“This is so loose, I don’t know how we’re going to get down,“ Mom said.
“Well then why did you bring us all the way up here?!” I asked.
“I didn’t realize we were off trail until a few minutes ago, and now we’re stuck,” Mom said. “As dangerous as this is I think it’s safer to keep going up then it is to come down. See, we’ve just got a few hundred feet to go.“
I sighed with relief. “Oh, I was scared for a second because I thought you didn’t have a plan. Lead the way!”
Mom told me to stay, and little by little she moved sideways to the edge of the slide where the mountain popped out of it. Then she used the mountain like a ladder, pulling herself up one hand at a time and kicking rocks out behind her while she hung onto the mountain. Whenever she found a solid place big enough to sit, she turned around and called to me and it was my turn to find a way to her. Finally, Mom’s sharp sense of sight picked up the scent of the trail. But it was on the other side of the slippiest part of the slide, and a little bit below us. Again Mom told me to stay while she kept climbing up.
“The trail is below you, silly!” I thought after her.
“Yeah, but if I downclimb I’m going to slip and take half the mountain down on top of me. So the only way to go right is to keep climbing up and to the right until I’m above the trail.” She kept moving slower than the glacier that had made this mess until she had made her way across the slide. Then she called me over and we sat together about 20 feet above, looking down at the trail.
“What now?” I asked.
“Sit behind me and go exactly where I go,” Mom said. Then, we both sat on our butts like a bobsled team and used our legs as brakes as we stopped fighting the mountain and let it carry us down to the trail in a cloud of dust.
Now that Mom was walking tall again, we walked to the top of the mountain where the trail was flat and there were calm lakes that knew nothing of danger.
“Maybe we can walk out to a different exit and hitchhike back to the van,” Mom said.
“Don’t hitchhikers usually get murdered?” I asked.
“Or maybe we can find a longer way around. Any trail has got to be safer than what we just came up!” She pulled out The Witch and started tickling her. She swiped this way and that.
“You’re ten thousand feet in the sky and there’s nothing but wilderness in that direction for a hundred miles,” The Witch scoffed. “What are you going to do, fly home?”
“I don’t see a way out!“ Mom said to me. “And I know it’s early, but we haven’t seen anybody else on the trail all day. As sketchy as that was, I don’t think we can count on anyone else coming up here today. Let’s at least walk around for a little while to calm down before we go back.”
We tried to find a trail The Witch suggested. Even though The Witch insisted the trail should be right here under our paws, we couldn’t find it anywhere on the ground. After a little while Mom started walking wild back to the lake that led to the waterfall, that fell off the cliff, which was the same cliff we had to climb back down. When we found the trail again Mom stopped short.
“Dog doo! I left your food on the ground up there where we stopped for water.“
“That’s OK! It wasn’t that far away,” I said. “All this climbing has really worked up my appetite!”
“But we were lost. We weren’t on a trail, remember?” Mom said. “I don’t think we’re going to find it again. Maybe we shouldn’t stay up here for too long after all. Let’s hope that the trail is easier to find on the way down, and that it’s safe! We’ll take it nice and slow. Inch by inch if we need to.” So we turned back toward the end of the world.
Right before we started our fall off the cliff, we saw a dog and his man coming up the hill toward us.
“Is it dog friendly up there?“ the man asked.
“A hell of a lot more dog friendly than what you just came up!“ Mom said. “Is there a trail that goes all the way down?”
“Yeah, of course there is!” the man said, tilting his head like Mom had said something confusing. “Although it gets a little sketchy down there a ways. How did you come up?”
“You see that scree?” Mom said, pointing her chin at the pile of rocks that definitely did not look like a trail now that I was looking at it from a distance. “I clung onto those rocks and climbed all the way to the top of that moraine before I finally spotted the trail!” She shook the fear out of herself and then looked the man in the face so that he would look closely at her face too. “I am Claire, by the way. Claire from San Francisco. Nobody knows I’m here but you.” Then she looked at his eyes like she’d told him a very important secret he might need to deliver someday.
Mom and the man reminded each other to be safe, and the dog and I reminded each other to have fun, and then they went toward the lake and Mom and I went back to search for the trail. We started downhill, looking around before every step so the trail could not escape us. For a while anyway Mom walked with only two paws on the ground, but then the trail dove under a blanket of white dirt the size of a small car kennel. We looked down the white dirt to where the trail came out on the other side.
“Oh no! How will you get down?” I asked. Because of the silly way that Mom walks, steep white dirt like this is more slippery for her than it is for me. A good life partner thinks about his Mom’s needs and not just his own, which is called empuffy.
Mom studied the hill for a minute, then she climbed up onto the white dirt and sat down.
“Are we having a picnic?” I asked, climbing up next to her. “How are we going to have a picnic if you lost my brunch?”
She didn’t answer, but instead pulled her heels toward her butt and started sliding. She slid faster and faster pushing her feet and hands into the white dirt to slow down.
I started walking after her, but pretty soon I was coming down the same way. “Weeeeeeeeeeeee!” I thought loudly as I landed on the rocks next to Mom, who was shaking the wet out of her shorts.
The next time the trail disappeared under more white dirt I asked Mom, “Do we get to go sledding again?” I jumped onto the white dirt and started sliding down the hill like before.
“NO!” Mom shouted so sharply that I stuck out my paws hard enough to stop short. “If you slide down that way you’re just going to plop in to the river and fall over the waterfall,” Mom warned. Then she grabbed the rocks next to the white dirt and started climbing, hanging from her front paws and balancing on her back legs like she had before. She went up, up, up until she was standing above the head of the white dirt. Then she carefully worked her way on feet, hands and butt back down to the trail before calling for me to follow. I walked across the white dirt like a normal person.
The next time the trail disappeared there was no white dirt. It looked like the trail either went off a cliff, or under a bush. Mom looked around for a long time before she started climbing down the cliff. The cliff got steeper and steeper until Mom had to hug the mountain to as she waved her feet into the abyss looking for a new rock to stand on.
“Wait here,” she told me before disappearing so far off the cliff that I couldn’t see her anymore. I heard a lot of clattering and smashing, and watched a cloud rush down the mountain to the valley so far away that it looked like the set of a different story. When the cloud had finally spent itself, I heard a voice from the abyss call, “Oscar, come here!”
I looked around and around but didn’t see anywhere to land even my front paws, let alone a runaway dog ramp if my brakes failed. “I don’t know how!” I thought at her, hoping she would hear.
“Okay, I don’t know how you get down here either. I am coming up,” The Voice said. “Stay!” A few minutes later Mom climbed out of the cliff, hanging onto bits of the mountain no bigger than a chihuahua’s paw.
We were safely back together again, but we still didn’t know where to go. Mom studied the bush where the trail might have been hiding. She ducked under a branch and looked down at the rocks and white dirt for a very, very long time. Then she told me it was okay to keep going. I found my trail, and Mom found one that was better for her.
“This doesn’t look like the trail either, but at least from here I can see the trail down in the valley,” Mom said. I looked down, down, down and spotted the trail miles below us. “If only we can get to it…” Just then, the mountain under one of her feet started a surprise sprint down into the valley. This one brought even bigger rocks down as it went, making more and more noise and a bigger and bigger cloud, and leaving Mom hanging from the rock by her armpits and elbows. When the commotion was over, Mom took a deep breath and we kept inching down.
Just like we had when we had been coming up the slide, Mom was doing a weird smacking thing with her mouth like someone had tricked her into eating medicine. “What’s up with you?“ I painted.
“I am so scared I have dry mouth,“ Mom said. “I’ve only been this scared a couple times in my life.”
“Isn’t it exciting!” I said.
“Fear is exciting when you’re not really in danger,” Mom said with a voice that wanted to snap. “But if either of us loses our footing, we may not survive this, bud. Easy does it.” I wasn’t sure if she was reminding me or herself. “If we can just get down to where that woman is standing, then we will be safe.”
I looked down between my paws and saw tiny lady looking up at the mountain and turning this way and that like she was confused. Then she turned and walked away from us.
“Do you think I should call and ask her to wait?” Mom said. “If we fall, I want someone to know.”
But strangers and asking for help still must be more scary than one of the scariest experiences of her life, because all Mom did was keep smacking her lips.
Finally, we got to a place where we didn’t have to plan each step, and then we got to a place where Mom could walk on all twos again. And when I smelled the lady on the trail ahead of us, I just couldn’t wait and ran to catch up with her. Mom was right behind me.
“Hi! I’m Oscar and I didn’t fall off the mountain. I’m very brave, so I think you should pet me on my sled,” I said.
“Hi. Mom called out. Do you mind talking to me for a few minutes? I thought I was going to die up there and it would make me feel a lot better to talk to somebody.”
As we walked, Mom and The Lady talked about normal things like driving, and masks, and the best places to hike, and how great dogs are, until Mom remembered that those were the things that she used to think were important before this morning. We learned that the lady had chickened out about climbing the hill when she saw all of the rocks rushing down the mountain that Mom had kicked loose.
“It’s okay. Mom chickened out there last year, too,” I told our Friend so she wouldn’t feel like the wimpiest one in our party.
“You made the right decision,“ Mom said through her teeth. “I wish I hadn’t gone up there. Absolutely nothing is worth risking my dog’s life like that.”
Oscar the Reason Not to Take Stupid Risks