I pulled on my hiking pants, my second favorite snow-shoe race shirt, and the front baby carrier. Kris grabbed the gorp and slid Zach’s legs through the holes in the carrier. We set off down a paved path that promised some of the best hiking in Kansas. We hoped to see a tree.
Summer had given way to fall in name only and Zach kept his face close to my shirt, rubbing both his sweat and cold remnants against me. The Air Force is moving us in nine months and Kris and I talked about our next assignment. ‘It’s probably either Las Vegas, Virginia, or Alaska,’ I said. Zach breathed loudly and calmly through his nose. He was asleep.
‘The hiking might be better in Alaska,’ she said as we turned off the paved road onto a trail cut into brown, knee-high grass. ‘And it might get below 80 in the fall.’ The trail narrowed and she began to walk in front of Zach and me.
I grabbed onto her backpack and gave it a little yank. I trotted in front of her to lead the expedition.
Jake, Jean, and I ran out of the van and toward the mountains, which were giant rocks. Each of us wanted to be the leader, to choose which rock we’d climb next, to be the first to sit atop a rock in a comfortable position and ask, ‘What took so long?’ as Jake and dad stumbled up. Dad shut the van door and came behind us.
Chatsworth Park in ’84 was perfect for nine-year-olds’ adventures: The gravel raised train tracks vibrated minutes before the gravel carrying trains came, the ‘Beware of Snakes’ signs were new and scary and un-graffitied, and the rocks had natural ledges for steps on the back side, and big drop-offs on the front which made for great pictures and stories for mom when we got home.
Jean and I ran to the first rock. I yelled over my shoulder, ‘Last one up is D’mugly.’
‘D’mugly’ was my new nickname for Jake. I looked for toe-holds and hard to climb angles and Jean followed. The rock was over four-and-a-half feet high, but we clambered up.
D’mugly only made it after dad came and helped him up. Dad snapped a couple of pictures. By some unspoken code, Jean and I agreed that it was her turn to lead us to the next rock. She ran down and I followed.
She picked our favorite rock: an almost square-shaped boulder that dad had told us a story about one night at bedtime.
The rock had two giant holes in it. The mammoths would come down whenever they needed to sharpen their tusks. They’d stick their tusks in the holes and file their tusks until they were sharp enough to stab the saber-toothed tigers that attacked them.
One day, a giant mammoth stuck his tusks in the holes, but when he went to sharpen them, he couldn’t move. His tusks were too big. The mammoth roared. All the other mammoths came from miles around to see the stuck mammoth in Chatsworth Park. The mammoths grabbed the stuck mammoth by the tail and pulled as hard as they could, but the big mammoth remained stuck. One day, a saber-toothed tiger came up to see the stuck mammoth. He growled and hissed at first, but when he saw the mammoth was stuck, he began to feel bad for him. When he saw all the other mammoths pulling on his tail, the tiger decided to help out.
All together, the mammoths and the tiger pulled and pulled. They tried pulling five times (the amount of years Jacob had been alive). Just when they were going to give up, they tried one more time. The mammoths and the tiger heaved and there was a loud pop! as the giant mammoth finally came loose. All the mammoths looked at the giant mammoth that had rolled backwards four times after coming loose. And all the mammoths laughed.
The giant mammoth had left its tusks in the rock.
When the tiger heard the mammoths laughing, he, too, looked at the giant mammoth. But the tiger did not laugh. The tiger felt a little bad for the mammoth because he had no tusks, but only a little bad. So the tiger called all his friends so they could eat the mammoth with no tusks. The end.
Jean and I put our feet in the mammoth tusk holes as we climbed the rock. Jake was D’mugly again.
Jake thought it was his turn to pick the next rock so he ran to an easy one that he could get up. Jean and I ran to beat him to it. I grabbed his shirt just as he was about to start climbing and pulled him behind me.
I started to go up when I felt being pulled from behind. Dad said, ‘Not so fast, D’mugly’ and set Jake in front of me.
I went up as soon as he let go, but Jake was already up there sitting. Dad said, ‘Say “Cheese”‘ and snapped a picture.
Kris and I jockeyed for position to lead the Kansas hike. Zach awoke and we found a giant log to sit on to feed him. Kris pulled the bottle out of the bag and Zachman out of the front pack. The log had an intricate web, but no spider. It also had two big holes in it.
‘Do you want to hear a story?’ I asked Zach.