You may not know this, but there are humongous mountains not too far from where my Stuck House is. Mom hasn’t taken me there much though because those mountains aren’t a secret, and if we go at the wrong time the Covered Wagon has to wait in a line 200 miles long to get there. But since the trendy mountains are only a few hours’ traffic from The City, they are a perfect place for a weekend adventure. For weeks, Mom has been looking at the maps that show how much white dirt is left on the mountains’ hats and moaning that we’re in the middle of an ice age. This has been the year with 6 months of February, and the skiers are hogging the mountains and keeping the trails hidden under dozens of inches of white dirt. “‘High Sierra?’ More like ‘Icy Era,'” she groaned. But then this week Mom decided that we had waited quite long enough, and that we were going to visit the Icy Era “come hell or high snow.” So after work we waited in a line of cars 100 miles long, and parked like bandits in an illegal camping spot at the bottom of the trail.
A few hours later the sun
banged rudely on the Covered Wagon’s windows, waking us up. Mom had wanted to sleep in to give the sun a chance the bang on the white dirt a little longer, but now we were awake. So we decided to stop parking space sleeping like bandits and hit the trail at 6am. “And don’t y’all let me catch you sleeping illegally again!” the sun said, looking after us like it was much later in the morning.
There is a reason that the Icy Era is so famous, other than the
casinos. Sometimes we climbed through woods where the rocks led us down a trail made of soft dirt and wildflowers, and where the fallen trees relax into fluffy piles of spongey wood chips. Other times we walked through places where all the big view-blocking trees had been knocked over and lay white and smooth on the ground like a bone yard. In the bone yards and we could see the sparkling bright grey lake on one side, and the spiky, crusty mountain waiting for me to climb it on the other.
After a couple of miles I could hear water laughing, and we turned a corner to find that a little river had taken the trail as its own. So while the water ran down the trail, we picked our way up it, sometimes stepping to the side on big rocks to let it pass, and sometimes walking right up the middle. Not long after, we saw our first patch of white dirt. As we walked past, Mom looked at it suspiciously like she thought it might be a mail man that could jump up and attack us at any moment. When we turned the next corner, there it was waiting for us, squatting across the trail like it was looking for a fight. The white dirt let me pass, but it terrorized Mom by turning hard and slippery wherever she put her feet. A little later, she was climbing down off of a mound of white dirt when it pulled her foot out from under her. She fell down on her butt and slid all the way down to the regular dirt. The next time Mom found herself staring down at me from on top of a steep slope of white dirt, she didn’t even try to walk down it on her own feet, but sat down on her booty in surrender and let the mountain pull her down to safety.
The white dirt wasn’t everywhere, though. In the sunny patches, the rocks made a messy set of stairs that wagged up the mountain. After a time, all the trees were gone and we were only battling white dirt and rocks. Above our heads the pointy crown of the mountain stuck straight up toward the sky and all around it in a giant skirt was the biggest pile of loose rocks you can possibly imagine. They were all sizes, from the size of a frisbee to a St. Bernard, and piled a thousand feet high to the top of the mountain. When you stepped on them, the rocks moved and made a sound like the sound the coffee mugs make when Mom does the dishes. The next time the trail hid under a dangerously steep slick of white dirt, Mom looked straight up the mountain. To my surprise, she grabbed an Oscar-sized rock for balance and started climbing in a straight line up the rock skirt toward where the mountain poked up out of the top. I stayed back on the trail and waited for her to notice that I wasn’t with her. It took a very long time.
“Halloooooo! Down here! Yoohoooo!” I said when she finally looked back from high on the pile. “Did you find what you needed?” “The trail’s this way, Oscar!” Mom said. “Look at the cairns.” “Mom, I don’t know if Karen’s the one who’s gone crazy, or if it’s you who’s gone crazy thinking you see piles of rocks that mean something in what is literally a giant pile of rocks.” But I had to admit that she had a point. Every ten feet or so, there was an unlikely snowman of rocks that looked like it was put there by humans and not the mountain. Anyway, Mom looked like she wasn’t coming down, so I slowly found my way up the rock pile to meet her. Whenever I could, I climbed on the white dirt while Mom used all four of her paws to climb the rocks next to it, and that way we made it most of the way to where the mountain was sticking out.
When we were almost to the top of the pile, where there were no more mountain spikes for the rocks to fall from, a very steep section of white dirt crossed Mom’s path. While I panted calmly, I watched Mom look around her. She looked up at the mountain, which was made of a couple hundred feet of rocks exactly like the ones she was standing on. She looked at the lake far, far below us with its crown of mountains all around. The view probably wouldn’t change too much at the top, she realized. Then she looked at the cape of white dirt that covered most of the slope and had hundreds and hundreds of tracks from things sliding down it. Those things that had slid down might have been skis, but they also could have been todoggans and other surprised adventurers. “Good enough!” she announced. “Let’s go down.”
Mom is getting better at hiking, but she’s still not like she used to be. Where she used to stomp casually over things, flopping and wobbling however she needed to keep her stride, now she takes little steps and plants her feet before she shifts her weight. That means that it took us a long time to find our way through the white dirt and over the wobbly rocks back to the trees. Coming in the other direction there were people who ran up the mountain like they had springs in their legs and a string pulling them weightlessly to the sky. It was a thing of beauty to watch another natural athlete, but Mom looked at them with envy. She may miss the days when we used to run down mountains (even if we couldn’t always run up them), but I don’t honestly notice much of a difference. I can explore in the bushes more when I don’t have to spend so much time running down the trail to catch up, and even Mom seems to notice more about her surroundings. Each of the floating people that passed us asked, “Did you make it to the top?” And each time Mom covered her scowl in a smile and told them, “Not quite, but I blame the dog!”
Not everyone on the mountain was springy and weightless. Once we were out of the rock pile, and the white dirt had all melted away, and the river had left the trail, we met two man-hikers who were panting like dogs. “Oscar must be a very fit dog,” one of them said. “That he is,” Mom said. “How much longer do you think it is to the top,” the other one gasped. “Well, I think it’s two and a half or three miles…” Mom said, hesitating. I could see she was trying to decide whether she should say more. “But it’s pretty tough going. There’s the snow, and then there’s the scramble over loose rocks. It gets pretty steep.” “How high did you get?” asked one of the breathless humans. All three humans looked up at the mountain. “You see up there, where the granite spires stick out of the scree?” she said. “We turned around about there. But the trail curls around that spire and you walk along the ridge for about a mile that way.” She pointed to behind more of the mountain’s spikes. “You mean it doesn’t go over there?” asked one of the man-hikers, pointing in the other direction at a much lower bouquet of rocks that was closer to us. “Um, nope. That’s not the one,” Mom said. “But the view is about the same the whole way up, and I bet you guys will do a lot better since you have trekking poles. Adventure is guaranteed! Have fun!”
Not everyone was coming up the mountain. We also met some people who had finished their hikes and were coming down the mountain too. “Can I pet your dog?” one lady asked Mom. “He would love that!” Mom said. I let the lady pat me on the head, and then I kissed her hand and gave her my butt to scratch like a gentleman. “Awwwwwwww! What a good boy!” she said. I hiked ahead of the ladies for awhile so that they could watch my booty waggling sexily back and forth. Every once in awhile I looked over my shoulder and said, “Hey, ladies…” in my sexiest David Hasselhoff look. “Oh my god, he keeps looking back at us!” the other one said. “What a great dog! I love him!” Obviously, these were the kind of ladies who could be trusted, even if they were strangers. So I kept the one in front company while Mom and the other one hiked behind us, talking about how much the lady missed her dog Peetie who was waiting for her in a place called Tampa. “Do you want to come home with me, Oscar?” my hiking partner asked me. “Do you want to come to Florida?” “Sounds great! What are your mountains like? Do you have a lot of white dirt?” I asked. “I don’t think you’d like Florida, Oscar. It’s hot there,” Mom said jealously. “You’d melt.” It seemed to me that a little more melting would have solved all of our problems for the day, but now we were back at the Covered Wagon and Mom had some fancy beef jerky waiting for me inside, so I decided to stay a California dog instead.
Oscar the Mountain Pooch