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What to do about scary things

When an explorer has discovered a spectacular place, it’s hard to decide whether to return to that place or leave it behind to explore new mountains. An explorer only has so many weekends after all. This weekend I decided to return to a mountain I’d climbed before that I remember as one of the best looking mountains that had ever stood under me in a portrait. What Mom remembered about that mountain was fighting our way through the branches of burly, hulking flower bushes that had taken over the trail and hidden it under their bulging branches. What we both forgot about was how steep it was.

“This is relentless,” Mom huffed, as she took giant steps up that only made tiny steps forward. “I know! Isn’t it terrific?!” I barked, sprinting past hundreds of chewing throwing sticks to see what was up ahead, and back down to where Mom had hardly moved at all, and then exploding back up the hill again. “We’ve got five thousand feet to climb,” I reminded her. “You’ll never get to the top at that rate!” Mom just howled that whoop-sigh that people make when they’re impressed.

We drilled straight up, up, up through the forest until we reached the place where the aggressive flower bushes blocked the trail. I ducked under the low branches and waited for Mom on the other side, where a stripe of bright grey green-smelling grass poured down the mountain like a waterfall, and for the first time all morning we could look right off the side of the mountain to the lake stuck in the folds of much rounder and girlier mountains than the manly one we were climbing. After that, my macho mountain got so steep that almost no trees could hang on to the steep, sandy side anymore. From there it was like a different mountain. In front of us, we could barely see the trail that zigzagged up the steep sand because with every pawstep, sand slid down the slope and smudged out the places where we were supposed to walk. With the lake to our tails we walked toward a savage and pointy mountain range that warned us in a deep growl, “The better to eat you with!”

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When we got to the top, Mom took out my most flamboyant hats for lots of pictures. If you don’t the word “flamboyant,” it’s what you get when you put together the word “boy” for manly, and “flame” for hott and it means “bringing sexy back.” I stood flamboyantly on top of the mountain, wearing my sparkly unicorn hat and my exuberant feather head dress. “Mom, why am I wearing two of my most manly hats today?” I asked while she pulled a giant feather out of the packpack zipper and tried to stick it back on the hat. “The feathers are because there is so much ugliness in the world right now, I want to remember that there is softness and beauty too,” Mom said. “And the unicorn is a symbol for strangers showing love and support through the internet, remember?” “Oh yeah!” I said as I up-uped onto the rock that Mom was tapping and looked hard for the camera as the sun came out from behind a grey cloud to highlight my muscles that were swoll from climbing.

On the way back down the hill, the wind blew through Mom’s sweat until her front paws were frozen stumps. Maybe that’s why The Witch wouldn’t stop talking when Mom poked her, and so Mom was distracted and left me alone to deal with the giant creature crashing through the brush near the Great Wall of Flowers. “COME OUT WITH YOUR PAWS UP!!!!” I screamed in the ferociously voice-cracking bow-wow-wow I save for real danger, like if the mailman opens the gate or something. “Oscar! Come here!” Mom shouted, clapping her frozen stumps together and using her dragon voice. I paused just long enough for her to catch up, but never took my eyes off the woods where the creature lurked. “I think it might be a bear,” I whispered, before bow-wow-wowing again so loud that the whole mountain shook. “Don’t you dare take off!” Mom said, hooking her frozen claws around my collar. Just below us down the hill I could see the flower bushes waving as the horrible giant clamored through it. Now that Mom was here, I planned to push her down the hill and let the bear eat her while I ran back to the top of the mountain for safety.

Then, the flowers opened up and out walked a couple of scrawny humans who looked like they might be software engineers or PhD students. “Was he barking at you like that?” Mom said in disbelief as my hackles puffed up to twice my size. “Jesus, he never barks at people like that. I thought you were a bear.” “Well I’m glad he did,” said the lady-bear. “We had lost the trail and almost went in the other direction until we heard him.” “You shouldn’t go around scaring people like that!” I barked at them. “I wasn’t scared, but Mom had to use her dragon voice, and I bet she probably sprayed her anal gland.”

“Dude, what the hell is the matter with you?” Mom said when she finally let go of my collar with a scowl and gave me the sporty butt pat that meant I should hurry down the trail. “I thought that they were something big and dangerous,” I said. “Gol-ly, if you hadn’t been around for me to use as a shield, I don’t know what I would have done.” “It’s okay to get scared,” Mom said. “We all think that there’s danger sometimes when it’s all in our imagination. But you really can’t let yourself get so worked up that you might hurt someone. What would have happened if you’d bitten one of those nice people?” “Wouldn’t it be okay if I did it by accident?” I asked. “You could just explain that, ‘oopsie-daisies! They looked like something dangerous.’ And then everyone would laugh and wipe up the blood and then keep hiking.” “That’s not how it works, Oscar. Accidents happen, but if someone isn’t in control of their behavior when they are scared, they’re still responsible for what they do. And if they have big, sharp teeth, then there are consequences, even if it’s an accident,” she said. “Have you ever heard of Oscar Pistorius?” “Another Oscar?! Is he a runner, like me?” “Yeah, a really good one. Or, he used to be anyway. Now he’s in jail because he shot his girlfriend. He said he thought she was a burglar, but a lot of people didn’t believe him.” “Man, I bet she was real mad when they brought her back to life because it was an accident. But I bet when he explained that he thought she was a mailman, everyone understood and had a good laugh about it.” “You can’t take back murder,” Mom explained. “That’s why he went to jail. Because whether or not he was lying about it being an accident, the result is the same and an innocent person is gone forever. The point is, even accidents have consequences. You don’t want to wind up like Oscar Pistorius, do you?”

As she crashed out of the flower bushes and we began our controlled fall through the trees, Mom went on, “It goes both ways, you know. Did you know that there are a lot of people who are scared of you.” “Me? But I’m a snuggle butt. What’s not to like? Look at my lovable smile,” I said, bearing my long, shiny teeth. “Some people don’t have a lot of experience with dogs. When they see a big, muscular dog running toward them, they can’t see the smile on your face or the wag in your tail. They just see your sharp teeth, and your big muscles and think you’re dangerous. I live in fear every day of what might happen if you scare someone, because if an accident happens then I can’t protect you. That’s why you have to be extra good and I get so upset when you greet strangers like a bowling ball.” “Well if someone can’t tell a good dog that is just looking for butt scratchies from a bad dog, then obviously they are dangerous and belong in jail like The Bad Oscar. I’m a prince.” “People who are scared of dogs don’t usually go to jail,” Mom said. “No matter how wrong they were.” “How can that be?” I was shocked. “Aren’t all lives important?” “Yes, of course they are. But there are some cowards whose fear and hate is so big that they don’t see things clearly. They are so focused on how much their own life matters that they completely forget about the life of the mailman who has dreams, and people who care about him too. Sometimes the justice system loses focus along with them and dangerously aggressive humans get to stay on the street where they might hurt more people. Worse, it sends the message to other scaredy-cats that it’s okay to hurt people when you’re scared.” “That’s terrible! Someone has to change their minds! You can’t let people get away with something that even a dog can learn not to do.” “We’re trying, bud. We’re really, really trying…”

Oscar the Pooch



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