The other day Mom finished talking to her laptop, closed it, and started wandering around the Stuck House. Mom gets up lots of times during the day, but before she walks away either her laptop or her brain dings with a notification and she sits back down again. When she starts wandering around the Stuck House looking for a chore to do, that’s when I know the day is over.
“But the sun only just went away,” I said, looking up curiously from my Mom-watching chair. “Don’t you still have a few more hours of work to do?”
“I just got fired,” Mom said, blinking.
“Oh no! Where! I’ll pant it out,” I said, coming closer to sniff for smoke.
“No, I mean I got let go…”
I didn’t know what she meant. “Like being off leash?” I asked.
“Yeah, sorta. I don’t need to do my job anymore.”
“I thought we needed to work because that’s how money happens, and money is how everything else happens. Are we going to die like The Witch when you can’t feed her?”
“Nah, we’ll be okay. I knew this was coming, so luckily I had the holidays to process it and remember that sometimes the pain of staying is worse than the pain of leaving.”
“Wait, you knew about this?”
“Yeah. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon. But look on the bright side, now we can travel more! I’ve always wanted to try the nomad lifestyle.”
It was still desert-cold when the Mighty Truck stopped in a bunch of trees. We climbed into the Butt House to get ready, and Mom changed into a lot less clothing than usual.
“Aren’t you going to be cold? You know how The Witch ignores you when you try to talk to her with dead fingers…” I reminded her. Mom needs to dress like a St. Bernard on cold hikes or else her lips turn a kind of blue-grey and her white paws can’t tie her shoes.
“Just because we’re traveling doesn’t mean we can’t train,” Mom said. “We’re supposed to run eight miles today.”
“So how far will we really run?”
“Probably around 10,” Mom shrugged. No matter how much better Mom’s navigation gets, something unexpected always makes our adventures longer than The Witch thinks they should be. Those extra miles are usually where the adventure happens.
We ran down the closed road with The Witch whining that we were off course already. She didn’t shut up until we found the trail about a mile later. Once we were back on dirt, I sprinted through the trees, showing Mom that I was a better navigator than she was, and had a much better attitude than The Witch. The trail rolled up and down like the ocean, following the edge between the trees and a big hole in the ground. We’d hardly run a mile when suddenly Mom stopped short in front of an entire forest lying flat across the trail.
“Run, Mom,” I coached. “Remember, we’re training so you have to run.”
“There must be 4 or 5 trees in this blow-down. How do you expect me to run through this?”
I wasn’t sure, which is why I’d stopped to watch how she was going to do it. “So does that mean we have to give up now? Are we not training anymore?”
“You can’t freak out and give up every time something unexpected blocks your path. Most obstacles just slow you down for a minute, until you find a way through,” Mom said, stomping into the mess of branches and needles to find a route to the first trunk. She jumped off the log into the mess of even more branches and needles on the other side and made an ugly noise. “But don’t forget to look before you leap!” she added.
Once both we and the trail were on the other side of the lazy trees, we started running again. Even when the trees weren’t in the way, it was still hard to find the trail under all the lost branches and old needles.
“This trail is a mess,” I said.
“Well it is the offseason,” Mom said. “No one’s at their best all the time.”
“Oh! I just realized, trails are a lot like life! I should write a story about that!” I said, thinking about what it would be like to brag about winning best in show in the Pulitzer writing competition.
“Um, I think that one’s been done before,” Mom said.
“Really?” I’d thought it was pretty clever, and it surprised me that somedog was smart enough to think of it first. I wanted to ask Mom what clever dog had stolen my idea, but she was stopped again staring at another log blocking the trail like a gate.
“Aw, this is nothing!” I said. It was just one log, and didn’t have any branches or bark or anything to get in the way. I jumped on it to show her how to overcome obstaples in life, but when I landed on the log all four of my legs flew in a different direction. I followed the leg that was headed for the trail on the far side. When I was sure I’d landed paws-down I announced, “I meant to do that!”
When I looked back, Mom was still on the far side of the log, looking like she was carefully reading instructions. She put one foot on the log, and then put it back on the ground next to the other one. “Sometimes you need to consider your next move carefully,” she said, finding a broken branch to use as a step, and then using her butt as a foot to balance on the log while her real foot dangled over the other side. “If you’re too hasty and go with the first thing that comes along, you might regret it.”
We had been running beside the big hole in the earth for miles, and when the hole closed, that’s when Mom called an about-face. I was starting to think this hole might mean something. The sides had rings like it had been dug out of the inside of a tree. Inside the hole all kinds of things grew out of the sandy ground, like stumps with octopus feet, yard chairs, a cooking pot, and big boxes that looked like those parking spots for boats… except these were on land. A puddle had collected in the bottom of the hole like the ponds that appear in car kennels after a storm.
“What’s with the hole?” I finally asked.
“It’s what’s left of the lake,” Mom said. “The water level has been so low for the past couple of summers, but I thought it would be higher in the middle of winter. This lake is going to be totally gone in a couple of years.”
“What?! No! How can a part of the land disappear?” I said.
“I know. It’s sad, isn’t it? But think about it this way. If we weren’t in a severe drought this trail would probably be covered in snow.”
“Nooooo! I’m missing white dirt?!” I howled.
“But look at those cool stumps with the roots exposed and stuff. Talk about a single image that tells a story,” Mom said. “We would never see them if the lake were full.”
“But where did the lake go?” I asked.
“Into the sky as clouds.”
“Do all lakes go to heaven?” I asked.
“Not all of them, I hope. But the lakes that don’t have enough rain coming in won’t survive.” Mom looked at a boat driveway that was a long way from the tiny puddle at the bottom of the hole. “It’s scary and sad to think about all the people who are losing their way of life.”
“I didn’t think that anything worse than the boogeyvirus could happen!” I gulped.
“The virus has been the disaster that will define our lifetime, and this will be the disaster that defines the next lifetime” Mom said. “But you’re right. Some really horrible, tragic, painful things have happened in the past couple of years. We’ve lost things that can’t be replaced. But do you remember how it felt at the very beginning? It seemed impossible that businesses were forced to close and people all around the world would be locked up in their homes, even the famous people on TV. But then we adapted and somehow life went on. Even though we were at home, we got to see inside people’s houses and inside their lives in a way we never did before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a drag and things will never be the same again…”
I thought I could smell where Mom was going. “…But if you take a second to look around, like you do when climbing over a big log, then you might notice some good stuff too,” I said to show her that I was the life coach here.
“Yeah. Remember how before all this started I was looking for a job and the most important thing was that you could work with me? Now it’s almost two years later and we’ve hardly gone to the office at all. This time it will be no problem to find a job we can do from anywhere, and I probably won’t even have to take less money to do it. It took something unimaginable to show us that things we thought were impossible aren’t all that hard after all.”
Just then the trail spread out into picnic tables and car kennels again, and we stopped running while Mom asked The Witch which way to go. When she looked up from the blue dot on the screen and into the trees she barked, “Hey look! Blazes!”
“Where? I’ll pant them out!” I said again.
“No, not like fire. Trail markers that show you which way to go.” I looked into the trees and noticed a thing nailed to some of the trunks. We chased them into the woods.
“Hey Mom, you know how blazes show you the way when you’re lost?” I asked.
“Yeah, didn’t I just say that?”
“Well did you also notice how getting fired is showing you the way when you were lost too?”
“I suppose you’re right…” she said. “I might not have had the guts to quit on my own… although I was pretty close.”
She was always interrupting to make things about her. I hadn’t finished making my point. “Did you see what I did there?” I interrupted. “Blazes? Fired? Get it?!”
“Pretty punny…” Mom sighed.
“Yup, I’m on fire today!” I said, and sprinted down the trail like I’d seen a bunny before she could ruin my joke.
Oscar the Coach