I didn’t tell you guys… After I earned a bum in my knee (but before I got better), I slept over at a friend’s house for a bunch of days while Mom took The Covered Wagon on an unsupervised adventure. I was afraid of what Mom would do without me to keep her out of trouble, and she must have really done it this time, because she came home in this great big pickup truck. “Where’s The Wagon?!” I asked in alarm as I tried to figure out how I would get inside with the door a thousand feet in the air like that. “Don’t ask,” Mom said. “We have this truck now.”
I don’t like the truck. Mom has to help me inside of it, and she gets mad at me when I jump out by myself. Then I have to sit on the uncomfy human seat because there’s no couch in the back for me. Sometimes the truck’s growling gives me the heebie jeebies and I tremble bravely while Mom pets more fur than usual off my neck. We haven’t been in it much since we haven’t gone on any adventures, but my seat is already Oscar-colored from all the stress fur I’ve left behind.
Then one day Mom picked up the special bag she only uses on long drives to keep her drinks cold, and brought me to where the truck was lurking. I probably left a trail of fur on the sidewalk as I worried about how long we would be in the truck with all those drinks. “Isn’t this great?!” Mom sighed when we got on the freeway. “Having a working charger again feels like such a luxury after making due with those battery packs for the past year or so.” I glared at The Witch and dropped a couple more hairs on the seat. “And the headlights aren’t so dim that I’m blinded any time there’s a car ahead or behind us! And look, the clock shows the right time!” Mom said. “…And all the doors work. Or, they do now that I ran to the mechanic this morning to oil the tailgate latch.” “What’s a tail gate?” I asked, wondering if it was the right kind for my nubbin tail. “It’s the door to the back. Didn’t you notice all our stuff back there?” I looked over my shoulder and was startled to see that there was a bed and the usual pile of bags on the other side of the window. “There’s even enough room back there for me to stretch out my legs in bed without having to rest them on the spare tire.” “We’re going to sleep outside?!” I squealed. “Of course not! Didn’t you see the camper shell?” I didn’t know what a camper’s shell looked like, but I knew that the turtle people with the big backpacks were called campers, so I looked around for a turtle shell. “I don’t see a shell…” I finally announced when I was sure I’d sniffed everywhere. “I think we should go home.” “That’s what you call a roof on the back of a truck,” Mom said. “We have a tall one, so I don’t have to change my pants sitting down!” I’d never worn pants, but they seemed to create nothing but problems. People are supposed to wear them all the time, so they spend half their lives close to a bathroom in case they need to take them off.
We finally stopped for the night in a dirt patch that smelled like desert and sounded like ocean every time distant lights passed on the freeway. Mom told me to wait, and then dismounted and came around to my side of the truck. I was surprised that she opened my door like a chauffer and then blocked it with a big contraption I’d never seen before. Mom never used to open the other front door in The Covered Wagon because then all the bottles and cans would fall out of the recycle bin that was also the floor under the drink-and-trash seat. “We’ll figure out a better way to handle recyclables later,” Mom said, picking up the cans that fell in the sand when she opened the door. Do you need to go potty?” She tapped The Thing like she does when she wants me to up-up on the couch. “Yeah! But that thing is in the way.” Mom’s face looked proud. “They’re…” “Never mind! I figured it out!” I said, pushing her out of the way and jumping onto the desert. Mom’s face fell into annoyed. “…stairs,” she finished. After we’d both gone potty in the dirt, she brought me to the tail of the truck and balanced The Thing against the truck’s butt. “Up-up!” she said. I walked back and forth behind the truck, scoping my best line. At least the truck’s butt was wide, so even with the thing in the way, there were still plenty of places to jump up. The problem was, it was too high. Mom told me to up-up again. “I’m trying!” I said. “Give me a sec, you’re stressing me out.” Mom did that thing she does where she uses all four of her ropey legs to climb into the back of the truck. Then she sat on its tail and taunted me. “C’mon bud. Up-up. You can do it!” “It’s too high!” I whined. “I can’t jump that high!” Then I heard a crinkle and smelled cheese. “OMG! Give me some!” I squeaked. “C’mon. Up-up!” Mom said again, dangling the cheese over The Thing. I put my front feet on its first lobe. “Good boy!” Mom squealed and let loose the cheese. She only gave me a bite, so I knew there was more. “Gimme the rest!” I jigged. “Try up-uping again,” Mom urged. I circled a couple more times behind the truck. There must be a trick somewhere. “I give up. Give me a hint.” Mom dangled another piece of cheese over The Thing. When I put my feet on it this time, she pulled the cheese a little higher. I stretched and strained, but she kept pulling it out of reach right when I was about to get my mouth on it. “Stop doing that!” I said, putting my back legs on the bottom lobe so I could put my front legs on a higher lobe to reach the retreating cheese. Mom squealed again, and gave me the cheese, but this time I could smell she already had another piece in her hand. “Give it!” I said, taking another step. Then, suddenly Mom was cheering and giving me the whole cheese stick, and I was standing in the butt hole of the truck. I wonder how that happened, I thought as I chewed. I hope I can make it happen again.
There was enough room in the back of the truck so I didn’t have to sleep on the water bottles, and I woke up feeling a little better about letting the truck come on our adventure. “This thing has high clearance and four wheel drive!” Mom gushed as I started to recognize Las Vegas. “We’re never going to have to turn back from a trailhead again!” A few minutes later, she turned toward the gate at Red Rocks and groaned. “Hey! There’s a man in the road and he’s coming toward us!” I barked. Mom rolled down the window. “We don’t have a reservation,” she said. “What can I do?” “We’re all full up with the holiday and all,” the man said with a smile. “But we have four wheel drive and high clearance!” I screamed helpfully into Mom’s ear. I was surprised other people had thought of going outside on Thanksgiving. Weren’t they supposed to stay home and eat? “When did you guys start requiring reservations?” Mom asked. “In October…” the man said, and I saw Mom relax a bit. It makes her nervous when she doesn’t know things. “…of last year,” he finished, and she tensed up again. They hadn’t cleared this with Mom. Normally we’re supportive of keeping everyone off our trails, but that wasn’t supposed to include us too. “I guess I haven’t been here in longer than I thought,” Mom sighed. “Do you want some other hiking suggestions for the area?” the man said helpfully. It was hard to stay mad at such a nice guy, even if he did mess up the VIP list. “Nah,” Mom said, already starting to roll up the window. “We have backup trails. Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving!”
“Maybe he didn’t know about the four wheel drive,” I told her comfortingly. “Mind if I take a pee before we drive home?” But she was poking at The Witch and didn’t hear me. “Look, there’s a place called Muffin Ridge less than a mile from here,” Mom announced. “That’s a pretty great name. Let’s go there.” So we drove all four of our wheels back onto the road, and then used the truck’s long legs to park on the rocks outside a packed car kennel.
This was the first time I’d taken my new knee on an adventure hike, and it felt good to stretch my legs again after only taking short walks around town. Suddenly, the wind brought me the poopy stink of great news. “There are horses here!” I barked, following my nose to the biggest kennel of horses in the whole wide world. There must have been a hundred million of them, and I mouth-breathed excitedly while Mom stopped me for my first picture.
Before long, the trail turned up the cliffs and we followed it. As we climbed higher, the far-away rocks rose up out of the valley like fangs. Across the velley I recognized the blood grey rocks of Red Rock Canyon looking like a wound scratched by angry claws through the heart of the mountains.
At the top of the muffin, I sniffed around the cacti and joshua trees looking for Thanksgiving treats. The muffin man must have had the day off for Thanksgiving though, because I didn’t find any. It was still nice to be exploring the desert again, though. Mom seemed to be coming alive for the first time in months, too. “I was afraid the ridge might be shaped like a muffin top,” Mom said. “Like there might be an overhanging cliff, like how your fat belly hangs out over your pants.” Again with the pants! “That doesn’t sound very comfortable,” I said. “Why wouldn’t you wear pants that fit all the way around your body.” “Well, I suppose it’s because people want their bodies to look different,” Mom said.
I wanted to ask Mom more about pants that could turn people into muffins, but then I saw a group of ladies sitting in a spot where Mom would have made me pose for a picture if they had been home cooking turkey. “OMG! People!” I panted, running over to them. “Are you friendly? Can you pet me?” I asked the cutest one. I grinned up at her while she scratched my butt and banged on the drumming place. “What a chunk you are. I bet you’re ready for turkey!” “Turkey makes me fart,” I told her. “Mom said that’s why dogs eat chicken for Thanksgiving.” In fact, there was some post-hike chicken waiting for me in the blankets because traveling means dinner in bed.
We finally reached a place where the mountain ended in a balcony and we could look over sparkly Las Vegas in the distance. I like being a city dog, but a city looks much nicer when all you see is its glitter and you’re too far away to smell it. After being stuck in My Hometown since the summer, I think Mom is better when she can escape the city, too. Her thoughts hadn’t been so sparkly in months. “What’s a chunk?” I asked, thinking about the compliment the woman had given me. “It’s something meaty and satisfying,” Mom said. “I am a chunk!” I said proudly. “It’s okay, you haven’t been able to exercise. I chunked up a bit too after my knee surgery.” “You say that like being a chunk is a bad thing,” I said. “No, you’re perfect,” Mom said. “I know,” I said, wondering why she was changing the subject. Now that I thought about it, Mom had baked a bit of a muffin top when she had the bum sewn in her knee. I didn’t really notice because I see her every day and there’s nothing wrong with her body other than that it’s a human one. “I thought that’s what Thanksgiving was all about. You eat all the delicious things and appreciate how lucky you humans are to eat whatever you want whenever you want. Dogs aren’t so lucky, you know.” “True, people enjoy food almost as much as dogs,” Mom agreed. “It’s just that we’re always trying to change our bodies. So we eat things we don’t want to eat, and spend time doing things that aren’t fun just to fit into smaller pants.” “But people’s bodies can do the most amazing things!” I said. “You can reach important things that rolled under the couch. You can climb rocks and trucks with those weird grabby front feet and dangly legs, and you can open chicken cans and the food fortress with those funny claw-toes you have. You can drive cars, and go inside gas stations, and use money to buy as many cheese sticks and hot dogs your heart desires.” “I guess people forget about all the things they have and can do. When you see someone who has something you don’t, or can do something you can’t, it feels like there’s something wrong with you.” “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard!” I said. “That’s like a corgie being jealous of a husky because he’s better at pulling sleds. Or a husky being jealous of a corgie because he’s good at poking in holes. Corgies don’t pull sleds, and huskies don’t hunt in holes. You would never say no to petting a husky just because his butt didn’t look like a corgie’s.” “Of course not. Every dog is perfect. But it’s different for people because there are so many things we know how to change. You can change your clothes and your hair style. You can even paint your face with makeup, spray on a tan, or draw permanent pictures all over your skin if you want to. So we get frustrated when there are things we can’t change. People with muffin tops don’t want to wear more comfortable pants. They want to look the same in jeans as the people without muffin tops do because that’s what they see in the advertisements.” “What’s an advertisement?” I asked. “It’s a short story that tells us what our lives are missing and how to buy it.” “So it’s like a fable!” I said so she would know I understood before making my point. “I’m an expert in humans because I’ve met so many, and I can tell you for a fact that what someone looks like has nothing to do with the love in their heart. If a chunky person wishes away their muffin top, are they also wishing away all the joy they got from the food that made it? It makes no more sense for a chunkster to wish away their muffin top than it does for a husky to wish his tail were shorter or a corgie to wish his tail were longer just because my nubbin looks so great.”
We came to a place where the trail made the boundary between hill and cliff, and Mom followed me over the rocks at the edge of the muffin top. “This looks pretty cool,” Mom said, pulling The Witch out of her pocket. Sometimes when we’re near the edge of really big canyons or tall mountain cliffs, Mom shuffles in slow motion, barely taking her paws off the ground. But she’s gotten a lot better with practice, and she walked along the edge of the muffin almost normally, watching through The Witch’s screen as my butt led the way. Suddenly, I heard a rustle and Mom shout something about ducks. I turned around to see her scowling at a big bubble of blood dribbling down her paw like the stripes on the mountains across the valley. “What happened?” I asked. “I bumped into a cactus,” Mom grumbled, wiping her paw on her pants. “I guess we’re a little out of practice.” “Okay,” I said. “We can keep the truck a little longer. For practice.”
Oscar the Chunk