It’s been a ruff couple of dog years for Mom and me. I needed a new knee because my old knee had a bum in it, and Mom’s feelings got hurt in that way that leaves scars you can’t see. We’ve been staying in the Stuck House waiting to heal all summer and fall, but not enough fresh air will turn a Mom serious, and a dog into a couch-potato-beast. Returning to the desert over Thanksgiving made my heart feel full and strong, like our pet plants when Mom feeds them after a long trip. Mom stood taller and leafier in the desert air too, so I was excited to take her back for a longer adventure during Christmas.
The truck stopped in an empty part of the California desert that we’d driven through dozens of times, but I never knew had anything a dog might want to sniff. When I tumbled out of the truck without waiting for Mom to roll out my stairs, I was surprised to see the hills burst open to show their insides. The mountain’s ribs stuck out like the ruffles in a curtain, and they were decorated with stripes of brick-grey and bone-grey under the boring-colored shell that was the desert’s skin. Here and there, tiny towers of rocks grew out of the ground like giant mushrooms, or tiny castles. Mom took The Witch out right away and started directing me to pose for portraits. “It’s amazing to think that there are patterns like this stuck inside the earth, and we only get to see it in the broken places,” Mom said as we climbed down from an interesting rock back onto the trail, where we could take in the mountains from a distance. I’d never thought of that. “Can we hike to the center of the earth soon?” I asked, wondering if that would be a summer or a winter trip. “You can’t hike inside of rocks, bud,” Mom said, with a disappointment in her voice that was a little like inspiration. “The only way to see what’s hidden inside the earth is to break it open.” “How do you break the earth?” I asked, a little worried about what might happen if a dog happened to be posing for a picture where it happened. “Sometimes enormous slabs of earth get crushed or snapped. The crushing makes mountains, and the snapping makes the kinds of cliffs you see at high elevations. Sometimes water or wind eats away at rocks, and moves it from here to there in tiny grains. That’s what made these drippy-looking formations, but it can also happen on a huge scale like the grand canyon. And sometimes it’s just time that causes it to wear down and crack. After millions and millions of years of wind, and water, and seasons the rock wears away or falls off so you can see what’s underneath.” “Oh no!” I said. “What if the earth breaks again while we’re standing here?” “It won’t,” Mom said. “These events are so big and take so long that they might as well happen in a parallel universe. Something that happens suddenly in geological time would still take several lifetimes for you and me.”
The trail was very short, so Mom and I made it longer by exploring every nook and cranny of this alien world. We followed sandy washes until they ended in pocket-like canyons or rocks broken so jaggedly that the earth must have stung when it opened there. There were almost no plants among the lumpy sand and splattery rocks, but Mom found a flower bush that she said matched the colors on my pineapple bandana almost exactly. “C’mere, bub,” she said, making her hand dance where she wanted me to sit. I sat in front of her hand, but she wasn’t satisfied and made her hand dance into the branches. “A little closer. I want the flowers to be all around you, not just behind you.” “But it’s pokey in there,” I said. “And anyway, it stinks.” Mom took her hand out of the bush and used it to wipe the drips out of her nose. “Eew, you’re right,” she said.
As we walked back to the car, I wondered what the world must look like to Mom, who lived through her eyes instead of her nose. People spend half their lives trying to camoflauge how they look to signal who they want to be on the inside. They wash off their smells and rub themselves in soaps and potions to show that they are stronger than nature. Then they cover their bodies in clothes to make them look like everyone else, and hide their shape and all the other details that make them one-of-a-kind. Sometimes they even paint their faces, or dangle sparkly things to distract from what their bodies are really saying. Other people may be convinced by those distractions, but no dog would fall for it. I know a friend or a bad guy when I meet one!
I know that Mom sees things that I don’t though, like how the markings on a bandana mean a pineapple, and something about that pineapple is like a stinky flower bush. I wondered what other things Mom saw in people’s camouflage that were as invisible to me as the depth and texture of smells are invisible to her. The more I thought about it, though, the more I noticed how often people get fooled by what someone looks like on the outside. People with rotten souls who always smell like soap and nothing is out of place in their bodies and outfits can go a long time without anyone noticing how ugly they are. And people may never notice that someone with sloppy a body and clothes who smells like themself is stunning on the inside. Just like in nature, it’s the broken places that make people most interesting, but those are exactly the things people try to hide. The more someone hides their jagged bits behind spiffy clothes and fake scents, the harder it is to see what is best and most interesting about them. If only people could see souls rather than faces and clothes, they would feel silly about hiding their most interesting parts. They would probably have more time to spend with their dogs too, with all the time they’d save not showering or changing their clothes three times a day.
Oscar the Pooch