I like to kid my brother that his grandson would rather do anything else than go hiking with him.
"Sorry, grandpa, but I have calculus to do."
"But you won't have calculus until you get to high school."
"I don't want to wait until the last minute."
Before hiking trails and playgrounds were taped off like crime scenes, my granddaughter had a great idea: "Let's have a picnic on the mountain," she said.
She was talking about a hiking trail where I've taken her before.
"That's a GREAT idea," I told her. I like how all the female hikers fuss over her.
"She's so pretty," they'll say, and I'll modestly agree.
So we packed up our Chick-fil-A nuggets and headed for the great outdoors, only it was kind of breezy in the great outdoors. Inside the city wasn't bad, but we were no longer inside the city.
"Are there any snakes?" she asked, as we started up the trail.
"No," I assured her, but kept my eye on the trail. I remembered how a snake once made my brother-in-law glad he wore brown shorts when a group of us went hiking.
"Don't worry," I assured him. "It was a baby snake."
"How do you know?"
"I heard its rattle."
"How about hyenas?" my granddaughter asked, going through her list of Disney animal villains.
"There's no hyenas either," I told her. "I would never take you someplace dangerous."
But she wasn't so sure.
"The animals won't try to get our food when we're eating?" she asked.
You know, that was a pretty good question.
"Sweetie," I assured her, "the animals are afraid of YOU. They'll stay away. You don't have to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid," she said in her little girl voice.
The breeze was more like a wind now. The sun's rays were warm, but the wind was cold—maybe the devil is only beating his mistress when that happens*—so I handed my granddaughter the light jacket my beautiful wife insisted I bring for her.
"We don't need it," I had argued.
"Take it," she insisted.
So I took it.
How do mommies know? Anyway...
My granddaughter didn't care for the cold wind.
"You shouldn't have brought me," she told me.
"It was YOUR idea," I told her back.
"It wasn't a good idea," she said.
"It was a GREAT idea," I said back, trying to sound chipper.
Well, to make a long story short, we found some big rocks that blocked the wind and had a nice picnic.
On the hike back down, she asked me, "What's THAT?"
She was referring to the long sticks some hikers were using as walking staffs.
"They're called Desert Spoons," I said, pointing them out to her. She didn't buy my explanation.
"They don't LOOK like spoons," she told me. She was right, but I went on with my explanation anyway.
"The trunk growing out of the middle is what they're using," I said.
"Can I have one?" she asked.
"Sure," I told her, meaning we'd pick up a discarded one somewhere along the trail. I'm not one to vandalize some poor desert plant if I don't have to.
She immediately began walking into the desert to get her own.
I stopped her.
"Don't EVER go off the trail," I warned her. "NEVER."
"Are you mad at me?" she wanted to know.
"No," I assured her, "but don't ever leave the trail."
I was going to add, "You could get lost," but I didn't want to scare her. She has enough issues with Bambi's mom and Simba's dad.
I found one further down the trail. It was about five feet into the desert. I let go of her hand.
"Wait here," I told her.
As I took one step into the desert, she pulled me back.
"Grandpa," she chastised, "don't EVER go off the trail."
"You're right," I told her, but how was I going to get it for her if I didn't? So I said, "Don't let go of my hand," and I stepped into the desert.
"Don't fall into the lava," she warned me.
What is it with kids and lava?
I picked up an older, uglier stick and used it to drag over the one I wanted. I then used a sharp rock to shave off the jagged parts that could give her a splinter. I wanted her walking stick to be smooth. She picked up a rock and started to help me. When we were done, I handed it to her.
"Here," I said, and she took it.
"Thanks, grandpa," she said, admiring her new walking stick.
A boy ran past us. Seconds after, a girl did, too.
"Don't run, you fools," I said, under my breath. I explained to her that if you run down a mountain gravity takes over and you can't stop.
"And you'll get hurt?" she asked me, her eyes wide with concern.
"Hurt bad," I said.
She looked down toward the two disappearing figures and yelled, "DON'T RUN, YOU FOOLS!"
When we made it back to my truck, I put her new walking stick in the back and told her, "Next week we'll go to a DIFFERENT hiking trail. We'll stop at Chubb's and get some of the best barbecue for another picnic. At the top of the mountain there's a big cave. We can eat there."
She thought about the cave.
"Do wild animals live there?" she said.
I assured her it was safe.
"I don't like wild animals," she said. "They can eat you."
My little girl had a point.
We got on the road and she slept all the way home.
Sadly, we never made it to Chubb's.
The world stopped turning before we could, and, shortly thereafter, they went out of business.
*Read "Moonheads" in the April 2020 edition of Desert Exposure.