"What shall we do now that all of our problems are behind us?" I asked as the car-house pulled back onto the coast highway and put-putted north.
"We'll find a trail along the way," Mom promised.
We floated down the coastal highway, bobbing over the hills like a bottle searching for a beach to wash up on. But the world is vast, and there isn't always a current that flows straight toward what you want, or a sign to let you know when you've found it.
After we'd driven around what must have been the whole world without stopping I announced, "I found the problem. There's nothing but ocean on your side of the car-house. That's why you haven't found anywhere to stop; there aren't any trails in the ocean. Look over here on my side." Mom kept her eyes on the road, so I described what I saw, "There's nothing but hills and forests that way. I bet there's somewhere to play in there."
"I guess..." Mom's eyes stayed on the endless line between land and water, but she pulled a lever and the car-house click-clacked its plans to turn.
Before long, we were surrounded by Christmas trees. We searched the hills for miles for somewhere to stop, but the forests blocked my view of the landscape around us. Only when we reached the top of a hill could I see all the way to the horizon, and clones of the same firry hill ruffling all the land in between.
Mom kept her eyes in the trees, checking each gap in between for signs of a trail. But every time the car-house hesitated or swerved to check out a lead, Mom decided to move on before we even reached a full stop.
When I couldn't take the bored-citement any longer I said, "Look at all those forests begging for someone to explore them. Why not us?"
"How are there no trailheads in this whole darned forest," Mom snarled in the voice she uses when she wants to talk to a manager. "Every time I think I see one there's a sign by the road that says No Stopping."
"Signs can't boss you around like that!" I said confidently. "What are they going to do? Chase us?"
"It's not us we need to worry about. What do you think would happen if the van got towed?"
I looked around the car-house, which was a bit toe-shaped now that Mom mentioned it. "It would have to be a pretty big foot," I decided. "Is that it? We would get eaten by Bigfoot?"
"Not toe, tow..."
"He was the bravest dog in all of Oz, but even he had to dismount his basket to hike on the Hello Brick Road," I waffled, still trying to puzzle out Mom's riddle.
"For heaven's sake," Mom said to end the guessing game. "Getting towed means that a big truck comes and drags our car away on a leash. And what do you think would happen then?"
"We would have a party to celebrate the car-house getting adopted?"
"Not adopted, impounded. With all of our stuff inside. And how would we get out of here?"
"I'd rather stay out here in the woods than follow the car-house to the pound."
Each bend in the road wound Mom a little tighter until she was curled around the driving wheel and hissing threats about what she'd do if the road didn't cut it out and show her a trail already. When ocean returned to the air and the forest broke up into something like a town, I thought that all was lost.
Instead, Mom saw something that released her like a spring. The force of it bounced her against the back of the chair and threw her hands from the driving wheel into hallelujah position. I followed her eyes to a sign standing among the trees.
"Finally!" Mom praised when she'd settled into her normal driving position again. "If we turn left we can run along the waterfront and right goes to the forest. What do you think?"
"Forest, please!" I voted.
The forest was tucked away far behind the town, past the neighborhood where the cows and horses live. The car-house bumped over a resentful road that took out its neglect on us with vicious potholes and belly-scraping bumps before finally dumping us in a miniature car kennel.
"Dogs must be on leash or under voice control," Mom read from a sign beside the trailhead.
"What's voice control?" I asked. "Is that like when I want to bark but I growl instead?"
"It means that you have to come when I call, no matter what. Can you handle that kind of responsibility?"
"Deal," I promised.
When responsibility is my leash, I can stop to smell something interesting all the way to the end, drink from a puddle, and run in the bushes instead of the trail, all without Mom huffing and pulling impatiently beside me. Mom likes responsibility too, because she can keep moving in straight lines as fast as she can and miss all the good stuff as she likes to do.
Mom opened a baggie with a flourish. The fresh smell of brunch wafted into my nose as she poured kibble into it right in front of me. "Whatcha got there?" I asked.
"You want some of this?" Mom waved it temptingly under my nose before pinching off the top of the baggie to trap the deliciousness inside.
"Yes, please!" I drooled.
"Good. You'll get some every time you check on me," she announced, putting the baggie in her pocket where it bulged and rustled irresistibly as we walked across the car kennel.
"Now? Can I have some now?" I begged, zigzagging in front of her so she couldn't get away.
When we reached the end of the car kennel, she leaned over and reached for my mouth with an empty paw. I kept my eyes stuck to the bulge in her pocket to remind her that she'd forgotten something. She reached past my mouth and unclipped the leash.
"Okay, go on!" Mom encouraged.
I stuck my butt to the ground without moving my eyes off the kibbulge.
"Fine." She pulled the baggie out of her pocket and started walking.
I trotted to her side and pulled my ears forward in a question mark. "Where are you going with my brunch?"
"Good boy!" She stuffed a generous pawful of kibble into my mouth.
I ran ahead as I chewed, mixing the taste of grain-free chicken with the smell of forest floor. When my mouth was empty again, I ran back to see if I could trick Mom into giving me some more.
"Good boy!" Mom cheered as soon as she saw me. Then she gave me another mouthful.
This was too good to be true! I stayed nearby in case it happened again.
Lo and behold, all I had to do was look at Mom and she would give me a mouthful of kibble with a good boy for dessert. Responsibility is a delicious thing.
I always thought that a leash was how humans express love. The leash turned Mom and me into a single beast with two bodies, connected by a language that only we could hear. Mom gives me a kiss between the eyes every time she clicks the leash to my collar as if to say, "With this leash, I thee walk. To pet and to hold, to love and to cherish, as long as we both may run."
I thought the leash was annoying when I was a puppy. Back then I thought it meant I couldn't have an adventure more than a few feet from Mom and her boring, straight path. She used it to yank me away from a delicious pile of poo or pull me back before I caught an interesting critter.
As I became a man-dog, I realized that that the leash was much, much more. Even if Mom was behind me, the pressure on the leash told me when she was slowing or turning.
With the leash connecting us, Mom doesn't need to say my name like I'm in trouble if she wants my attention. All she needs to do is tap on the leash and I know to tune in. But a leash is just a training tool for true love.
A queasy, unsteady feeling came over me if I ran too far from Mom. Like a badly thrown frisbee, the wobbling eventually stole my momentum.
I settled to a stop in the middle of the trail to wait for her to catch up. When I turned, Mom was right where I expected her to be. I accepted my mouthful of kibble, spun, and hauled sass into the bushes until the wobbles set in again.
The leash may have been gone, but the bond we'd built over so many thousands of miles could never be unhitched. When Mom let me off the leash, I could still feel where she was and what she was doing as if by extra scent-sory paw-ception. After a few practice runs, I figured out where the wobbly feeling was coming from. It happened every time I lost track of the sound of Mom's footsteps.
The thump, crunch, or scritch of Mom's steps told me what she was going to do before she did it, and her breath told me how she felt about it. Heavier steps meant she was about to walk, and the briefest pause between steps meant she was about to run again.
Luckily, Mom was out of shape so her feet hit the ground like an elephant's paws, giving my telepaphone long-distance service. She was huffing and puffing so loud that I could probably run all the way to Utah without losing track of her.
I learned another terrific thing about responsibility around the next bend, where two ladies appeared on the trail in front of me. I checked over my shoulder for permission to say hi, but Mom was still chugging out-of-sight around the corner. I ran toward the ladies with no leash or howling Mom-voice to hold me back.
"Look at all my responsibility!" I bragged. "Look! Look! No leash!" I turned a full circle in front of them to show it was true, and then danced a little jig.
"That is one happy dog," one of the ladies told Mom when she finally lumbered around the corner. As if Mom couldn't already tell by the matching smile on her own face.
"Do you ever think we're the same person?" I asked Mom a few mouthfuls later as we trotted side-by-side down the trail.
Mom didn't answer, but I knew the answer...
…it was NO, duh!
Humans don’t have the exciting inner life that dogs do. It's obvious by the way they always walk in straight lines. If humans had souls, they would play with their toys rather than just putting them on shelves to look at every once in awhile.
That’s why they need dogs to show them that it’s okay to be marooned on a desert beach... or to scrap the plan and let adventure find you on the highways... or fly the flag of an outlaw, ignore the rules, and invade a trail where you’re not supposed to be.
We ran until Mom's watch beeped for the third time. I heard Mom's turn-around step and shot back into the lead before the abouuuuuuuuuuut-face! finished its crescendo.
"This sure is fun, isn't it?" I thought at Mom as I bounded through the ferns beside her.
"I thought we would... I don't know... see more stuff," her thoughts said.
"But we have seen stuff," I reminded her. "We saw the car kennel, a rusty old tractor, several banana slugs, and more trees than you can shake a stick at."
"I'm starting to think that wandering isn't the right strategy for finding adventure."
"Adventure is where you look for it," I reminded her again. "Did you remember to look?"