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White Hills

…And that’s how we wound up in South Dakota a day early.

“Mom, what’s South Dakota like?” I asked as The Witch welcomed us across the border. “I really don’t know. All I know about it is that in the late 90s it was the only state with a declining population, and that most of it is badlands.” I didn’t like the sound of that. I wasn’t positive, but I was pretty sure I was the kind of dog who preferred goodlands. “And I’m not even sure either of those are true,” she added. “What’s badlands?” I asked “Beats me,” Mom shrugged.

As we got closer to the trail, the ground suddenly rose up into steep, sharp rocks covered in toupees of forest, with desperate trees hanging on for their lives. “Mom! It looks like a painted teapot!” I said, looking up, up, up out the windows. “Are we in China?!” “No, these are the Black Hills. I didn’t expect them to be so… rugged.” I double checked. “They’re not black, they’re white.” I corrected her. The hills wore impressive hats of white dirt that only highlighted how steep and cliff-y their bare sides were.

We left The Wagon about a quarter mile from the trailhead, and walked along the edge of the highway. Next to us was a wall of white dirt almost as high as Mom was tall. I kept trying to drop a shoulder to roll in it, as a dog must do when he first arrives in a new pile of white dirt, but I had Mom on the leash and she was pulling. “No, dude. Not here. There’s plenty more where that came from!” Mom said. “But I… just…” I felt slack and tipped exploringly again. “No! That’s not even nice snow. It’s all dark with road dirt and chunky with ice.” I didn’t know how she could know that without rolling in it, but I followed her anyway.

Mom tried to stay on leash when we reached the trail, but when she fell through the white dirt half way up her leg, she set herself free for balance. I ran through the white dirt, sniffing and rolling, rolling and sniffing. “What’s this! What’s this! There’s magic in the air!” I barked, like I’d never seen anything so wonderful in my life. “You saw snow THREE DAYS ago,” Mom laughed. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” “…There’s magic in the air!” I pranced. “I can’t believe my nose, wake up Oscar this isn’t fair! What’s this!”

Even though the ground was covered in white dirt an Oscar thick, lots of paws before us had stomped a hard path so we wouldn’t get lost. The path followed a stream, and its tinkling burbles and jingling pee-wee waterfalls made great accompaniment to my happy dance. “Slow down, Oscar!” Mom said after we’d gone about a quarter mile. She had danger in her voice. “Take it easy!” “What?” Mom looked at the river flowing under the white dirt that we were about to walk on. “Just be careful,” she said. “It’s melting season, and we don’t know if it can hold our weight.” “Good thing I’m not big and fat like you,” I said. “And I sensibly spread my weight over my four paws. You’re like a drill!”

The next time the trail crossed the river, there was no bridge. “Mom, what do we do?” I asked. “We cross,” Mom announced, jumping onto the rocks sticking out of the water. I watched her go, and when the rocks didn’t reach all the way to the other side, I watched her stomp purposefully into the water. I followed like I was walking on a very fragile snow bridge.

The trail crossed back and forth over the stream. Sometimes the white dirt stretched a bridge for us, other times we jumped on rocks and got our feet wet in the cold, cold water. “Be careful, Mom,” I warned her as she walked across another snowbridge where the river had carved a wide tunnel for itself underneath. “Or what?” “Or the snow might collapse, and you’ll be swept away by the river and die,” I reminded her. “The river is at most 4 inches deep and our feet are already wet,” Mom pointed out. “The biggest danger we’re facing is being annoyed.” “Oh, okay!” I said, returning to my frolic now that I knew that Mom had only made up the danger to be a party pooper. I wondered how often humans confused danger with annoyance, and made a mental note to look into it.

The trail was only a little more than half a mile long, so I thought that there was no way that two determined hikers like us wouldn’t find a way to finish. But as we got close to the end, the stream pinched tighter and ran deeper and faster. At the same time, the path we were following got harder to find on the rocks and fallen snowbridges, and Mom and I lost many legs trying to make our own path through the fresh white dirt. “What’s at the end?” I asked. “I don’t really know. It’s called Devil’s Bathtub, so maybe some kind of pool?” “What makes it devilish?” “I don’t know. Rapids? A waterfall? The Loch Ness Monster? Who knows.” I’m not big on water that moves on its own, so I was suddenly less curious about what kinds of bath toys the devil had in his tub. “Let’s go back,” I said like I was afraid of danger, even though I really didn’t want to be bothered. “Don’t worry, I have another trail…” Mom announced.

Oscar the Pooch



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