Roo climbed in a tree today. She didn't climb a tree. She climbed into a tree.
You see, Roo frequently loses her mind. Her departures from reality always happen the same way. She thinks she spots a mouse off in the distance. She takes off in pursuit. It could be a real mouse, or it could just be a voice she hears in her head. The siren song of a little mouse, yodeling at her to run through a thousand feet of thorns.
If it's a real mouse, nothing will get Roo to break off the hunt. This time she thought she had someone cornered inside the trunk of an old cottonwood tree that had fallen over on its side. All the signs of Roo having a psychotic break developed. She began clawing at the wood, breaking branches off, tearing the bark away and flinging it aside. She tried to squeeze herself under the tree into cracks a newborn lizard would have skinned his sides getting through. In-between all of this, she ran a mile's worth of circles around the tree.
Then, Roo vanished. An eerie silence came over the forest. Where a moment before there had been rustling, twigs snapping, a mad dog panting and snorting - now there was nothing.
Strangely, the tree itself started making noises. I had never heard anything like it. Muffled cracks came from deep inside. When something this bizarre happens, it can take a few seconds to put it together in your mind. Roo, in a maniacal burst of pure will, had burrowed her way inside the tree trunk. She was climbing up the inside of the fallen tree, trying to tear her way to some poor little rodent who she was sure was hiding from the secret police.
I sighed. “Oh, boy,” I said to the tree. “Roo - get out of there!”
One deep crack sounded from within the tree, and then nothing. I started thinking she could be trapped inside. I began to claw my way through the dense brush to get to the tree to see if I could free her. There was no way. The tree had fallen on gnarly mesquite, compressing the branches and thorns. It would take emergency equipment powered by large generators to hack through. The Fire Department would have to set up spotlights. They would have to work through the night. The Red Cross would serve coffee and donuts to exhausted first responders.
“ROO! You get out of that tree this minute!”
Nothing. This was bad. I climbed on top of the tree, thinking that this could be the way this dog finally killed me. They would find me on top of a fallen tree. If someone got there soon enough, and the wind wasn’t blowing too much, maybe they would detect a faint scratching from inside the tree. It would be the first time anyone used the Jaws of Life on a tree. The instant Roo emerged, she would start running around the tree again, hunting her mouse.
Suddenly, there was the loudest crack yet. It sounded like a distant logging operation, the tearing of wood when timber falls, and Roo’s nose poked through the top of the log. With a colossal exertion, she broke through the surface of the tree and worked her head out. The wood pinned her head all the way over to one side. Her neck was caught in the crack she had broken in the bark. I scrambled to get to her before it strangled her.
Inside the tree she must have found some purchase for her hind legs, because with what looked like the strength of an elephant who had been forced into a contortion, she managed to shove herself up through the bark of the tree in an explosion of wood chips.
As soon as she was clear, Roo looked at me, wondering what I was doing on the tree. That lasted about a second and a half. She was so worked up that if she had been an inmate in a mental hospital, they would have put her in a straitjacket, stuffed her with thorazine and tossed her into a padded room with nothing but a hamster tube for water and instructions to let her cool off for a week or two.
I would have to wait her out and ambush her the next time she scurried around the tree to look for a different approach to her mouse. It took a few minutes before she made the error of coming close enough, but I finally collared her. She thrashed about like a great white shark trying to sink a boat. But the insanity passed. She looked at me and blinked a few times. She took a deep breath. She was covered in splinters and wood dust.
With the leash on her, Roo agreed to give up. I started to walk her out of there back to the path beside the river. It wasn’t far, and when we got there, her brain was still reverberating, and she was hot, so the second she sighted the water, she leaped between the bushes and down a five-foot embankment to dive in.
Oh, she felt great. Life was tremendous. One minute she was deadliest lioness of the Serengeti, the next she was a hippopotamus, wallowing around in the river. It’s good to be the Queen of the Forest. She enjoys it.
“Great, Roo. Thank you.” She was wearing a $40 Flexi lead. If I let the whole thing go, it could get snagged in the brush and she could get caught, in which case I would have to wade in after her. Or I could cut the leash with my pocket knife and free her that way. Later, I could use it to beat myself over the head with.
Roo lay down and splashed her head in the water until she was ready to come out. She looked up the embankment. Now, in the moments when she doesn’t need an exorcism, she’s got good leash sense. She rarely walks the wrong way around trees or bushes. With her brain temperatures backing off the redline, she recognized the predicament. She understood that she had to come up the steep embankment. Fortunately, she still thinks that the leash is inviolable. She tried to jump and claw her way up, but it was too high.
There was a bush sticking out of the embankment. I sat down on the dirt and slid down and lodged a boot in it. I tried my weight. It would hold me. I leaned over the water and held a hand down to her. She extended her nose far enough to verify that there wasn't a piece of duck jerky in it.
“Rooki - come on, Little Bear! Come to Daddy!”
Roo heard something on the far bank. Perhaps it was a rare Greater Spotted Night Mouse, unseen in these parts for decades. She made a big show of demonstrating how much self-discipline it was taking her not to bolt.
I looked up at the sky. It was a pale cloudless blue. I gave up any hope of being struck by a powerful bolt of lightning that would turn me to a little wisp of white smoke that would linger in the still air for about five seconds before it dissipated to nothing.
I looked back at Roo. She was looking at me.
“Okay, Bearface. Now, you listen to me. Jump! Come on, you can do it. Jump up here to your daddy!”
Roo tried hopping up and I grabbed at her. My swipe in her direction made her interrupt her lunge. Nowhere near close enough. I had to get farther down. It would mean getting on my side. If there had been any kids hiding in the bushes getting tanked on 12-packs, this would have been the point when they would have started pelting me with cans.
“Come on, Little Bear, give it another shot!”
Roo got the idea. She hopped up towards me. I tried to grab her collar and missed. But she was jumping at me.
“Almost, Rooki Bear. Do it again! Come on!”
Roo jumped straight at me, hard enough to make the water roar a little. She made it just far enough for me to get a couple of fingers under her collar and use her momentum to haul her up the bank. She clawed the rest of the way up.
I was covered in brown dirt. It was filled with sand spurs and rolling around in it lodged dozens of needles in my jeans. Pins were pricking my legs, my stomach, my back. Roo made sure to get extra close and lined up just right before she shook off luxuriously, coating me with half the waters of the San Pedro River. In no time it would form a layer of mud, which Roo, of course, thinks is one of the best things in the world.
I stayed there for a minute. I needed a few breaths of air. Roo waited politely until I made it to my feet. Then she gave me one of her, ‘Okay, let’s go hunting!’ looks and did one of her rearing turns - designed to convince me that she has come up with a way no one ever thought about before to have a lot of fun. She turned straight back to the tree.
“Uh, excuse me, Rooklo?” I said. “You have got to be joking.”
She knew she was pushing her luck at that point. With a sly smile, she put her head down. It was over. She headed the right way down the path. Her only demand, made by turning her head up to me with a laugh and bucking up and down, was that she get to carry my hat the rest of the way to the car.
Of course, I gave it to her. It makes her happy to carry the hat.
And it makes me happy watching her do it.