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Journey toward the center of the earth

Furword

I haven’t been keeping you guys in the snoop for the past dog-decade or so. A lot has happened, not all of us have survived, and those of us who have may never be the same again.

Last year when I only had 3 legs, I had a long sleepover at my Friend’s house while Mom tried an adventure without me. She came home with lonely pictures and a list of places that were missing an Oscar. So I promised that when summer came back, I’d come with her to the Wy-daho border to see The Big Boobies flash.

I wasn’t the only member of our pack that didn’t make it through that trip… When Mom came home with her pictures and her stories, she didn’t come home with the Covered Wagon. Just like I had kept her company over millions of miles of trails (some of them dangerous and not at all fun), The Covered Wagon had carried us over tens of thousands of miles of freeways and car trails throughout every corner of The West. It may have been old, ugly, and soccerMom-ish, but it had the heart of a Jeep and never complained about the kicks to its belly, or that it only had two driving wheels.

Looking back, everything started with my busted knee, The Covered Wagon’s tragic passing, and Mom’s trying to face the world alone.

The Journey

“Are you sure that my internet Friends won’t be upset to see me with boobies like that?” I asked. “I don’t think you’re allowed to show your Tetons on the internet.” “They’re not really boobs,” Mom said. “Some French trappers just thought they looked like boobs 200 years ago. They must not have seen boobs in a really long time, because they’re rather…” she searched for the word. “Flat?” I suggested, guessing the word that best described Mom’s boobs. “I was going to say pointy,” she said. “And there are too many of them.” Mom is always pointing out what’s wrong with things so that other people can be impressed with how smart she is, so I made a point to remember about the pointiness and too-many-ness of the Great Boobies in case I wanted to sound smart to a boobies expert someday. “Its official name is the Grand Tetons,” Mom said to impress me. “But Grand Tetons is just how you say big boobs in French. Still, you should probably call them the Tetons while you’re there. Just in case.” “Say no more,” I winked, planning to save what I’d learned only for when I wanted to make a good impression. 

We took our time getting to second base (which is what you call it when you finally get to see The Tetons after fantasizing about them for a year). First we went to Oregon, this time without getting stranded and spending 2 weeks in a junk yard.  “Mom, should we explain about the last time we were here?” I asked as we crossed the Oregon border, and this time kept going without calling a car-ambulance or living at a car-hospital while we waited for a transplant.  “It’s too much to explain,” Mom said. “I’m not ready. Maybe someday.”

After Oregon, we continued on to Washington, where Mom got better at being a working stray.  “Mom, should we explain about how you can do work while we’re traveling now?” I asked.  “Then we’d have to explain The Albatross. I’m not ready yet,” Mom said. “Maybe someday.” 

Then we were on vacation, and we continued on through a slice of Idaho into Montana. That’s when I started to see glimmers of the Mom that I thought had died with the Covered Wagon.  “Mom, should we explain why you haven’t been yourself lately?” I asked.  “Then I’d have to explain What Happened,” Mom said. “I’m not ready. Maybe someday.”  I wanted to say I’d explain it for her like I usually do, but this story was about things that I couldn’t explain, like humans not behaving like Friends on purpose. I didn’t think that even Mom understood them, which was a scary thought indeed. 

Then we crossed into Wyoming and I got my first glimpse of the Grand Boobies.  “Look how many there are!” I panted when they exposed themselves in the front window for the first time. “Those aren’t people boobies, they’re titties! Like on a dog!”  “You mean teats?” Mom corrected impressively. “Don’t be vulgar!” 

We spent almost a week trying to get to second base. It turned out that the Titties were inside the National Park, so off limits to gentleman-dogs’ paws. Instead, we lurked around Idaho and Wyoming sneaking peeks from outside Park boundaries. We peeped from a place called Sheep Mountain, where Mom thought she’d been before but hadn’t. We snuck peeks from a place called Jackson Peak, where Mom had been before, but hadn’t seen anything because of the clouds. Then, on the way down Jackson Peak we met the first people we’d seen on a trail since Idaho. 

The Challenge

We caught up to a dog named George, who was walking two ladies and sniffing all the bushes.  “Hi. I’m Oscar and I’m a really fun guy. Do you know how to say boobies in Wyominglish? I do, and I’ll tell you if you’ll be my friend. You look like you need to lighten up, so you should follow me and I’ll show you… No? Okay, I’ll play tag. Okay, I’ll be It. Hey, what’s with that bell around your neck?” I said, carrying the conversation for the both of us. “Did you hear something?” panted George over the ding-aling from his collar.  Maybe George was deaf. That would explain why he didn’t mind the bell. It would also explain why he was ignoring my exciting barks, including the ones I delivered directly into his ear. “What’s the bell for?” I whispered to Mom.   “It’s a bear bell, so he won’t get eaten like Goldilocks,” Mom said.  “Should I have a bear bell?” I asked. I thought it would be real fun to bark at a bear and eat porridge with him, but I didn’t want to get eaten like Goldilocks.  “That’s why I haven’t used headphones since we left Washington,” Mom said wiggling The Witch in my face. “I figure that if we’ve always got a book or music playing on the speaker, that will be better than a bell and less annoying than walking around calling hey bear all the time.” The Witch had been whining nonstop for days but shut up at the first distant –aling from George’s bell, but I never shut up so easily when Mom asks. I thought I would make a better bear alert than The Witch.

Luckily, George’s ladies were better socialized than he was, so they answered Mom’s questions without making her shout. That’s how we found out that they and George lived nearby.  “What’s your favorite trail around here?” Mom asked. I thought it was just one of those things she says to be polite, but she had The Witch remember everything they said so The Witch would tell us about each trail when we got back to town.

When we got back to town, The Witch ruined everything. “Sheesh, all these trails are twenty miles or more!” Mom said.   “Is twenty a lot?” I asked.  “Probably for you, boo-boo,” Mom said. I had gotten my fitness back after the bum in my knee was fixed, but the sun seems to have gotten hotter over the years and I’m more tired after our hikes these days. Maybe Mom’s not the only one who’s changed.  “Look. This one’s a 20-mile point-to-point route that goes into the Park, but the first seven miles are dog friendly.” “Is it a cool trail?” I asked.  “Very cool. We’ll go up something called the Devil’s Staircase, and then to the summit of something called Meek’s Mountain…” “Meek? That doesn’t sound very hard core.”  “Yeah, but the valley it overlooks is called Death Canyon. That’s pretty badass, right?” “But we don’t have to go into Death Canyon, do we?” I asked, not liking the sound of it. “Right,” Mom said. “…not if we don’t want to…” 

At the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase we met more Friends. In this pack it took two dogs named Hunter and Max to walk just one man. I studied the man to see what about him needed 2 dogs to walk him. He was big, like he’d never stopped growing in the 70 or 80 years he’d been alive, and walked with a sleeve around his knee that he kept stopping to adjust as we climbed.  “Hey, lads. Do you know what a teton is?” I winked at the guys. “What’s your favorite hike around here?” Mom asked the man while I tried to teach Hunter the rules of tag. The man pointed his eyes across the valley at to two mountains and followed with his arm. He said the name of a trail that had exciting words like “Roaring” and “Hurricane.” When we got back to town, The Witch would laugh at us again when she told us that the Roaring Hurricane trail was longer than 20 miles, too.  “Or…” the man said, “Once you get to the top of Meek’s, go left down what’s called the Sheep Steps and into Alaska Basin.” That was one of the places that George’s ladies had said we should visit, too.  “Does it add much distance?” Mom asked, excited.  “Not much…” he said.  “Like less than a mile or two?” Mom asked.  The man didn’t talk. Then he did. “I don’t want to guess a distance and be wrong…” he said. Then he said a lot of numbers in a row, with places in between like punctuation.  “What does that mean?” I whispered to Mom, who speaks math.  “I’m not sure, but from what he just said I think it adds anywhere from 4-7 miles. We’re already going 14, which you know probably means more than 16. So I’d guess it’s anywhere from 19 to 25 miles.” Then to the man Mom told the man, “Shucks. We’ll have to get to Alaska Basin on a different day. I don’t think Oscar can make it.”  The man looked at me. “Don’t look at me,” I panted from the sliver of shade I’d found beneath a blade of grass. So he turned the look that said wimp on Mom instead. “It’s not that far…” he said. “And there’s lots of water.”  “Nice! I’ll see how he’s doing at the fork and decide then,” she said, careful not to promise. 

When Hunter and Max had taken the man home for lunch and Mom and I were alone on the long balcony between mountain and cliff, we met another man. This one didn’t have a dog to escort him, but besides that he was just like the other people we’d met on the trails: old.  “Where are you going?” the loner asked. When Mom told him, he hardly paused for breath before saying, “When you get to Meek’s you should go left. There’s a loop that takes you back down to Alaska Basin.”  “You don’t say. You’re the third person to recommend that route,” Mom said. “I’m just not sure my dog can handle more than 15 miles.”  The man looked at me, and then looked at Mom with the same wimpy look. “It doesn’t add that much distance,” he said, like it was only 4 to 7 extra miles. 

When we finally reached the sign that said that dogs could go no farther, Mom started a long staring contest with the trail sign. I flopped down under the sign like a sack of potatoes while I waited for Mom to blink first.  “Copy that,” Mom said with a nod, like the sign had just whispered top secret instructions. “I don’t think my phone or my watch could make it that long… and I’d like to eat more than almonds and raisins before dinner.” “But Mom, what about your FOMO?” I asked, in a service dog kind of way. “Rocks last for a really long time,” she said. “We’ll come back another day.”   Mom led an about-face and was surprised to find another hiker blocking the trail. This hiker was young, which might be why she looked so tired. She hung from her walking stick like an empty coat with her skin leaking and her hair looking like it had been tucked under her hat just so it wouldn’t blow away until she found something better to do with it. “Do you know the way to Alaska Basin? Someone said there’s a loop…” she asked with the voice of someone who’s already given up. “Yeah!” Mom said with the spritely energy of someone much older. “You go left here, and then you’ll go down something called Sheep’s Steps, and that will bring you to Alaska Basin. From there you can get back to the trailhead.” “How much further?” the hiker gasped. “Your guess is as good as mine,” Mom said. “But that’s the way that at least 3 locals have told me to go, and I’ve been staring at maps all morning, so I know it’s there. I hope it’s awesome, but not too awesome because we’re going back this way.” And with that she left the hiker to crumble to dust at the fork while we set off on the most direct route back to the Mighty Truck.

Dark Night of the Soul

We had to drive all the way back to town before The Witch would tell us whether there were any trails shorter than 20 miles long for our final day among the boobies. “Look, this one goes to a cave…” Mom said.  “Eeek! Caves are scary!” I said, bravely.  “It’s a really big cave, not the claustrophobic, scary kind,” Mom said. She didn’t say anything about darkness. “And look at this waterfall!”  “Waterfall! That’s like a bath, a river and a rainstorm rolled into one!” I squeaked.  “Yeah, but the trail is only 6 miles long. We need to leave town tomorrow, so we can’t be hiking until the late afternoon like we have all week,” she sighed.

The next morning Mom woke us up early to see the only shady piece of Wyoming before the sun ruined it. Even though we started hiking long before The Witch had booked the sunrise, I could see the sun hiding behind the flamingo-grey sky trying to catch me through the branches. “Hurry, hurry!” Mom said when she thought I took too long doing my business.  “Be right there!” I said. My poo sprint launched me to Mom’s side in a jiffy, but once I caught her I still had to trot to keep up. “What’s the hurry?” “That sunrise is going to drop at any minute and these trees can’t go on forever. Maybe if we hurry we’ll get to a clearing when it happens.” “Mom! You’re doing it wrong!” I said. “You’re supposed to stay under the trees when the sun comes out.”

By the time we’d climbed out of the forest where the bears and moose pee, the sky was back to being sky-colored. I stood on the edge of the cliff and snorted in the scent of the layered rock and green that had been my background all week. “What’s with the itty bitty tittie committee?” I asked, pointing my nose at the nipples poking out of the flateau. “Those mountains are about as high as some of the tallest mountains in the Sierras,” Mom said. “Do you know what makes a mountain spectacular?” I knew, but it came out as a guess. “Because they’re high?” “A mountain doesn’t have to be high to stand out against the sky. And this flat plane that we’re standing on is higher than the highest mountain in many states.” I looked at the flatness that blocked my view below the nip. It didn’t look like anything special. “It’s the contrast that makes mountains so spectacular; like rock against sky, hills dropping suddenly into flat ocean, or a plateau so tall that it’s almost as high as the mountains next to it.” I’d never noticed what a mess this place was until Mom pointed it out. “What kind of bozo would put their flatlands up high like this, and keep their planes right next to the mountains?” I asked. “I bet there’s a wild story behind how it got this way.” “Geology is one big, epic story, isn’t it?” Mom said with a twitterpated sigh. “Sea floors rising into the sky, cuts in the earth so deep they make mountains, and forces so relentless that they grind mountains to dust. It’s the stuff of legend, don’t you think?” I rolled my eyes so she would know that I wasn’t the sucker she thought I was. “Nothing this big happens slowly,” I told her. “Look at that rock down there. How do you think it got there?” I looked over the cliff at a rock the size of a house balancing pointy-side down, and didn’t give her time to be a know-it-all. “It flew. Obviously,” I told her. I knew from experience that things didn’t need to be alive to fly. At home tools flew around the Stuck House all the time. Mom would try to use them for awhile, and then suddenly she would scream and let go, and the tools would go flying into a corner where they would sit quietly to calm down for a year or so until Mom finally brought them home to the tool box. Obviously, God had been trying to repair something and that’s how the rock had gotten there.  “Look!” Mom said, pointing her eyes toward the top of the canyon where the cliff had cracked and was drooling water into the ravine. “That’s where we’re headed!”  I looked all around the slobbering hole for something fun to climb, but couldn’t spot what she was looking at. That’s okay. I’d know soon enough… 

We climbed the cliff in gulping steps until the sound of the waterfall drowned out The Witch’s bear repellant. Water dribbled out of the yawning hole in the earth, drooled off a ledge and crashed hard into the pool far below where we were standing. “Let’s get a picture, bud!” Mom said, telling me to up-up behind the waterfall. I looked where her paw was stirring the air above where she wanted my butt to go. It was half-cave, half-bath, and all bad. “No! It’s wet!” I said, tucking my tail under me and plunking my butt on the dry dirt as close to the back wall as possible. “You’re such a baby!” Mom said. “Come on… here.”

I crept to the place where she was waving and sulked until Mom stopped waving The Witch around and told me I was all done. Then I ran to the nearest dry place to shake the slimy mist off my back before sprinting the rest of the way back to the trail. When I turned to check for Mom, she was gone. In the quajillion years it took my eyes to get back to the waterfall, I realized that the only thing that could have possibly happend was that the earth had slurped her up while my tail was turned. But then I saw her balancing on rocks to keep her socks dry while she crossed to the far side of the drool-pool. “C’mere, bud,” she shouted, like it hadn’t even occurred to her that the earth could have slurped me up while she wasn’t paying attention. “It’s sunny on the other side.” I didn’t want to, but I knew how much better sparkling water looks when the sun is shining on my lustrous fur, so with a huff I left the trail again. As I crossed the drool-pool on the balance beam of logs and rocks to keep my own socks dry, I noticed packs of dead butterflies gathered among the pine needles and other floaters in the edges of the puddle.

When Mom had finally finished with the waterfall and followed me back to the trail, I thought for sure we’d escaped. But instead of walking back down to the valley, Mom turned uphill. That didn’t seem so bad, since I doubted that the earth’s tongue could grab us from the forehead of the cliff’s face, but when we got to the most dangerous spot right at the corner of the mouth, she stopped.

The cave was even more dreadful from up close. Water got tangled in the stubble of scuzzy moss as it ran down the chin and spilled in sheets to the drool pool below. “C’mere, Oscar. Up-up!” Mom said, pointing her eyes at a flat rock in a sunny spot mid-drool.  “I’ll sit here,” I said, carefully putting my butt on some dry rocks close to the water, but not too close.  “Oh come on,” Mom said. You can do it. It’s just a couple of flat steps through that puddle. The rock is hardly even wet.” I looked at the rock. It wasn’t just wet, it had a whisker’s depth of river flowing over it.  “How about I go back up to the trail?” I said, not checking with her before I left. That’s a trick I learned as a busy-ness dog: as long as you act like you know what you’re doing, most people will follow without even asking questions. But Mom asked, “Hey, where are you going? I said up-up.” “It’s called a bias toward action, Mom. It’s what all the bravest dogs do…”   When I planted my paws to puff out my chest, a rock the size of a cereal box came loose under my paw and bounced down the hill. Straight toward Mom. We both froze to watch it fall in slow motion.

The rock bounced far to one side, and I watched Mom lean the other way without taking her eyes off of it. The rock must have been watching her back, because the next time it bounced it aimed for where she was leaning. Mom didn’t move, but her eyes stayed stuck on the rock with as much intensity as if it were a freshly peeled cheese stick as it flipped through the air headed right for her. I was sure it was going to hit her nose, then I knew that it would definitely hit her knee. Only when the rock had launched itself on its final Mom-squashing bounce did she finally decide which way to jump. She scooched to the side just as the rock landed where her paws had been a moment before. Once it landed, Mom and I stared at the rock until time went back to its normal speed. Once she was sure that we were back in a world where rocks stay still and people move Mom said, “Dog doo, Oscar! That could have broken my leg!” She scowled at the rock one more time before aiming her scowl back at me. “Let’s get this stupid picture before one of us gets killed.” The hardness in her voice said that if I was the one that got killed, it wouldn’t be an accident.  So I crept into the drool, but not all the way to Mom’s sunny rock. She took the picture anyway, because being in love means that sometimes you say “good boy” when you really mean “good enough.”

I waited on the trail until Mom had tottered and wobbled over the loose rocks to join me, and then I blasted off back the way we’d come. “Hurry, Mom! There’s still time to get back to The Truck before it gets hot!” I wagged.  “Not so fast, silly!” she said. “The trail keeps going this way!” I looked at the ground under where her arm was pointing, and followed it up to the rip in the cliff where all the nastiness was coming from. Sure enough, when I turned my nose in that direction I noticed a gajillion old scent prints in the air. I smelled the air for blood and panic, but couldn’t detect any. There was only one explanation: the earth had eaten up anyone who had gone in side like Goldilocks, and not a single one had come back out to tell the tale.  

Mom started up the trail without even checking over her shoulder to make sure I was following. Well she could march confidently toward certain doom, but I knew that trick and wasn’t going to fall for it this time. I dropped my butt to the dirt, planning to stay in the safety of this unadventurous blank slice of Wyoming until she came back. But when the roar of the waterfall gobbled up the sound of her steps and I thought about how long I’d be waiting there after the earth gobbled her up, I decided that it would be better to be eaten with Mom than sit in suspense for all of eternity next to that nasty, roaring, mutant shower spout. I huffed loud enough that I hoped she’d hear it over the roar, and followed her with paws and head dragging.

The cave opened its jaws as wide as a spaghetti monster, so at first it felt just like outside and wasn’t spooky at all. But that’s the trick that leads you into the trap… As I followed Mom deeper into the throat of the world, the light got smaller, the sound of the rocks got bigger, and the air crowded in close like wanted safety in numbers. When the sound from the rocks under our paws filled the air all around me and it was so dark that I was seeing by smell, The Witch finally joined the adventure and opened her spotlight. A waft of air blew from the darkness beyond where the light reached, carrying the smell of cold, bat doo, and an eeriness like the death of things that had never lived. After a million, billion years, the floor, the walls and the ceiling finally came together in a dead end that blocked every direction but out. “Okay. That was fun. Time to go!” I think-whispered, too creeped out to turn around without making sure that Mom was with me.  “Do you feel that wind? Where’s it coming from?” Mom asked the wall.

It was true. Those gusts colder than The Witch’s heart were blowing out of solid rock. The Witch swirled her spotlight around the wall until it landed on a hole in the rock no taller than a dog door. Mom leaned over to peek inside. I couldn’t help but notice that even though she was crouching down to see better, she was leaning away from the thing she was trying to see.  “Oscar, c’mere. Sit in front of it. I want to see if I can get a picture.”  “Black dogs look best in sunshine,” I reminded her. “How about we go back outside and take a picture?” “Quit being such a baby!” she said, trying to sneak behind me to put me between her and the wall. “Pictures are for things you can see,” I reminded her, wondering if maybe it was better not to know what else was out there in the dark. “Aw come on! It’ll only take a second and I’ll use the flash. Here, stand over here with your back to me so it looks like you’re curiously checking out what’s in that secret passageway?” The Witch’s spotlight waved at a spot closer to the Hobbit Hole of Death than Mom had been brave enough to go. 

Usually when Mom’s annoying like this I pretend like I don’t understand Peoplish, but if I stalled now we would only be in this spooky cave for longer. So with a sigh I tiptoed around to the spotlight side and stood in front of the cave. The Witch had to shut her light as she gathered her strength for the massive effort it would take to get a picture of a black dog in a black hole. In the second when everything was blackness and Mom couldn’t see me, I turned my nose away from the crypt and made my most pathetic puppydog eyes back at her. “You’re suck a party pooper,” Mom said. But she turned The Witch back to spotlight mode and about-faced anyway. The moment The Witch’s eye fell off the wall and turned to the rocks behind us, I shot past Mom into the spotlight and trotted back toward life as fast as the spotlight could guide me. Once I saw the sun again, I ran for it, leaving Mom to risk getting slurped back into the void alone.

I didn’t slow down when we finally left the ghastly cave, nor when the nasty waterfall was behind us. I didn’t stop to wait for Mom until I was back on the kind of land where the earth didn’t leak, stone was solid, and rocks didn’t breathe. “If we hurry we can make it to that shady part before it gets really hot!” I told Mom when she caught up. Then I led the way without checking to make sure she was following.  When I didn’t hear Mom’s plonking steps behind me, I turned back. Mom was still where I’d left her, making the kissy faces at The Witch, which is a sign that The Witch is putting bad ideas into her head. “It says there’s another cave less than a mile this way!” Mom said, pointing her chin away from the car kennel. “C’mon. We may never come back here again. Let’s go check it out!” “There was nothing to see in the last cave!” I said. Surely Mom, who’s always proving herself right with her law-gic, would agree that there was no sense in seeing something whose whole schtick was that at its best there was nothing to see at all.  “It’s called the Ice Cave,” she said. “Doesn’t that sound cool? Maybe we’ll meet The Penguin.”  “The last cave was cold. Been there, done that!” I said.  “That one was called the Wind Cave, which sure was accurate. Maybe this cave sparkles like ice or something. Wouldn’t that be cool?”  “How can something sparkle if you can’t see it?”  “Fine. Then maybe it’s unbelievably cold in there and we’ll freeze to death. Haven’t you been complaining all week about how hot you are? Come on!” It was an order, and once she’d given it she marched away up the canyon. 


The world closed in on us again as we walked, but this time it was the grass and trees that ate the trail. Every time we hit a dead end I hoped the trail was gone for good so we could go home already. But that two-timing Witch kept giving Mom hints until Mom imagined enough of a trail to go on. Once we had walked half way back to Montana, Mom stopped and looked up. She looked at The Witch. She looked up. “If we’re lost, we can just go back and sit in The Truck’s wind cave,” I suggested. “The map says it’s right up there,” Mom said, staring at the cliff wall and pointing her arm in the direction of her eyes.

I was afraid of what I’d see on the wall, but when I let my eyes leave Mom’s arm and look where her eyes were pointing, I was relieved to see solid rock without holes, gaps, or cracks. A skirt of teency weency boulders no bigger than a French bulldog blocked our way to the wall.  “Aw darn,” I said. “It’s another one of those ghost trails that don’t exist. Guess it’s time to head back to the Mighty Truck before all the shade disappears.” “Do you suppose that indentation could have a cave in it somewhere?” Mom said, looking at a dent that I hadn’t noticed before. “The way that big rock blocks the view, I can’t quite see.” She leaned in for a better look and put her paw on the first chihuahua-sized rock. She moved her weight around until she found the right way to step on it, then she reached her other leg around and found a dachshund-sized rock a little higher up for her other paw.

After a million years that passed before I knew it, we had climbed the distance of a crosswalk closer to the cliff and were trying to balance on rocks the size of chipmunks. We were close enough to the cliff now that even someone with an arm as puny as Mom’s could have thrown one of the rocks we were standing on and hit it. Still, Mom couldn’t make her neck long enough to see around that big rock to check for caves. She sighed and sat down. She looked back down at the maybe-trail between her knees, and she looked up at the probably-just-rock wall not too far above us. Then she looked at her long-suffering life partner, who had his best puppydog eyes ready for her. “Even if we found another cave, I’m never going to convince you to go inside, am I?” she said. I did the eyes. “If we’re this close and we still can’t see it, it’s not gonna be big enough for us to just walk in without crouching or squeezing, is it?” she asked. I did the eyes. “Fine. You’re right,” she said, and scooted her boot the first step back toward The Truck.

“Hey! Have you looked at these rocks?” Mom said, picking up the tennis-ball-sized rock that had been holding her hand for the last boot scoot. “There are fossils in them!”  “Like dinosaurs?” I sniffed, forgetting how bored I was for a second.  “Not dinosaur fossils. Sea creatures. But isn’t it cool to find sea creatures that have turned to stone here a mile and a half above sea level and 1000 miles from the nearest ocean?”  “You mean there are sharks and giant squids and stuff around here?” I asked. Maybe I’d underestimated how interesting Wyoming could be. “No… This one looks like the plastic seaweed they put in fish tanks. But I saw a rock with little shells up there.”  “Oh,” I said. I didn’t like to think about that seaweed turning to stone and being lifted a mile into the sky while it waited for its fish-life-partner to come back from the cave that gobbled it up. “Are you ready to go back to The Truck now?” “You used to be excited about exploring new things,” Mom said.  “And you used to never turn back, even if something was scary or dangerous,” I said. “I’ve seen things, Mom. There aren’t that many new things left to see.”  “Fair enough. There’s a lot out there that you haven’t seen, but with the price of gas these days… Have you thought about how sometimes the fun of adventuring is seeing something old in a new way?”  “You’re not the same either,” I told her as we finally scooted our paws back onto the grass where we could walk without sitting between steps. “You used to use my eyes to see the world. You stopped using my eyes, and then you stopped seeing. You’ve been a real bummer ever since.”  “It’s been a rough couple of years. It’s been hard to see the good things… Crap! Where did the trail go?” “I guess some things haven’t changed,” I said, sitting in her shadow while she and The Witch fought about whether there was a trail hidden under the grass somewhere.  “Eh, forget it,” Mom said, giving up on seeing the world through The Witch’s eyes and putting her grouch-colored glasses back on. “If we hurry we can get to Salt Lake in time for an early dinner.” Then she stomped stubbornly through the grass until the earth bent to her will and the trail finally showed itself in front of us.

We finally made it back to the car kennel without turning to stone or being eaten by it. I chilled in bed panting while Mom filled the butt-house with heat from her poop juice, and then I stayed in bed panting when she jumped out of the butt house and called for me to follow her. “What? I can’t hear you! I might be deaf. Have you ever heard of cave deafness? It’s a thing.” It felt nice to lie down, and I wasn’t ready to copilot to Salt Lake City, wherever that was from here. I kept listening like I imagined a deaf dog would as Mom slammed doors and prepared the Mighty Truck for departure.   I was still listening when a voice behind The Truck said, “I know you!” I tried to look deaf as I got out of bed and peeked out the butt hole. Mom’s shoulders dropped from the pinched posture they do when a stranger talks to her to the wide open look her body gets when she sees me. “Fancy meeting you here!” Mom gushed like someone who liked people and wanted them to like her back. “We hiked some of the trails you recommended!”  “It’s Pattie!!!” I barked, coming to the butt hole and threatening to jump down if Mom didn’t hurry rolling out my stairs.  “Hi Oscar!” said Peggy. “And this is my husband George.” She flipped her hand over on the side where a man was standing. He didn’t look like George at all. He only had two legs, wasn’t nearly hairy enough, and instead of a shiny black coat, the fur on his face was white with sunscreen.  “George like the dog!” Mom said. “And your name was… I’m sorry. I only remember dog names.”  “It’s okay, I’ve forgotten yours too,” said Perry. 

Finally my stairs were ready and I rolled into the car kennel like the world’s most excited bowling ball. “Kerry! You and the real George would be so proud! We did the Devil’s Stairs like you said. And we were going to go to Alaska Basin, but Mom chickened out even though I wanted to keep going. And then we came here today and Mom was so scared of the waterfall. She made me get close to it, but she was too much of a baby and stayed next to the wall where it was dry. Then she wouldn’t go in the river to take a picture even though I’m brave and showed her it was safe almost half way to the middle. But she was afraid she’d break her leg or something and wouldn’t do it. Isn’t she lame? I finally convinced her to go into the cave, even though she was afraid of the dark. She needed The Witch to go all the way in, and I wanted to explore inside the hobbit door to see why it was so cold, but Mom wouldn’t get near it so we left. Then I wanted to see another cave, but Mom was too dumb to find it and got so lost. She’s such a sissy, isn’t she? Then she found fossils from a prehistoric fish tank, and now we’re here!” As Mom translated, I couldn’t help but notice that she changed some details about the story to make herself look better.

I sat in the shade while Mom, Terry and impostor-George talked about caves, compared sunburns and shook their fists at how annoying Sherry and not-George’s houseguests from California were. Then they said they hoped we ran into each other again the next time we came back from California to Wyoming. Then Sharon and not-George moseyed on down the trail, and Mom and I mounted The Truck and moseyed back toward California.

Oscar the Tittie Expert

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