I promised.


Because we were heading due north yesterday, we started with the sun blasting Roo from the east on the passenger side and then me as it transited over the top and descended on mine. When the road is radiating as much heat as it was, no amount of air conditioning can keep a cold-blooded hothead like Roo cool, and between her misery and my own, by the end of the day I was making wild promises to give her something to look forward to.

“Look at poor, poor little Chiggi — the most miserable bear in the world,” I said. And she was, panting and unable to find a comfortable position. Every time I urged her to get in the shade in the back seat, it made her harrumph with annoyance. Didn’t I know the first thing about road dogs? Did she look like the kind of unprincipled dog who would abandon the traditional shotgun position just like that? All she was willing to try to improve things was to crawl around into different positions, but that only added frustration to getting broiled. 

“Tell you what, Bearface,” I said. “Pretty soon we’re going to find a tadmouse pond, and when we do you can hunt them for as long as you like. I won’t drag you out of there. I won’t say a word.”

Roo gave me a look I had seen before. It said, “Blah-blah-blah. Sure.” 

”I don’t blame you, Chig. But you’ll see.” 

Winding up in a south Iowa cracker camp didn’t do much to dispel her mistrust in me. By the time we went for a walk, it was almost dark and the hot air was dense with humidity. Mosquitos and deer flies were buzzing around like chainsaws with wings. And when Roo finally spotted a small tongue of a lake I wouldn’t even let her go in. The water was soup-green with algae that for all I knew could have poisoned her and in that humidity she would never have dried out and then the pitiable air conditioner in the camper would have been no match for how clammy it would have become as the fungal water slowly leached from her. Plus, it would be too dark outside for her to stand still to be hosed off and dried — she would be too frightened by then and we would both be chewed to the consistency of wet toilet paper by the bugs. Even in a quiet place Roo doesn’t trust the night and keeps lobbying to be let into the camper. With a pack of drunk crackers crushing their Bud Light cans and throwing them against the steel fire ring, with their screaming kids and barking dogs all making a racket, she would be especially anxious to get inside.

When you only plan on overnighting someplace in a camper, you don’t unhook it from the truck or unpack anything but the essentials. We were positioned to get moving quickly in the morning. Still, worrying about a few things kept me up until 3:30, and when I got up at 8, every muscle in my body was so sore that I began to wonder if it was possible that one of the dozen ticks I had pulled off myself could have been to blame. The idea of another long drive was murder. Still, we were going to have to do it, mostly because this is a cash or check-only campground and I wrote my last check to it last night because I didn’t have $15 in cash. It was slow going, though, and I wasn’t ready until 9, when a couple of Aleve and Tylenols washed down with strong coffee began to take the edge off.

I took Roo for a walk in the direction of a boat ramp we passed on the way in last night. It was a long walk, most of it downhill, which meant the longer it went on the worse the uphill return would be. I was never so glad for a $10 purchase as I was for the hardware store straw hat I bought in Oklahoma.

When we made it to the boat ramp around 10, lo and behold if there weren’t some damn tadmouses in the water, which in this part of the lake was clear and clean.

“Well, well, well, Rooklo,” I said. “What did I tell you? Tadmouses!”

That perked her up. I sicced her on ‘em. 

The best thing about this boat ramp is that there’s a bench right here under a shade tree. It’s a good thing, because as I type this on the phone, it’s 1:43 PM and without that bench to sit on I don’t know that I would have been up to keeping the tadmouse promise to Roo.

If I have enough laundry quarters left over to pay another night’s rent, Roo will get another shot or two at the tadmouses. She’s too hard a dog to credit me with those as additional promises, but I’m still willing. If I don’t have them we’ll have to move on or risk some kind of trouble with the authorities.

At least I kept the promise of the day before. And with at least another 500 miles to go to try to get out of the worst of this heat, and probably more like 1200 (because it may turn out that the only hope for getting out of the heat will be another trek into the higher Rockies of Montana or Idaho  — and I won’t pretend I don’t dread that idea more than being hung outright — where we can camp for free at altitudes high enough to cool down without the air conditioning that needs the electricity you have to pay for at any campground), which will mean heading west across the Dakotas and then the desert of east Montana, tomorrow she won’t be allowed to hunt the in-any-event uncatchable tadmouse for more than a few minutes.

But at least today she’s got three solid hours of tadmouse hunting under her belt. Maybe she’ll think a little more highly of me for that, if nothing else.