“Wake up, sleepyhead, we’re here.” A young wolfess turned off the engine of her run-down old Jeep, and gently stroked her son’s hair to wake him up. He looks so peaceful and sweet, I hate to wake him up, she thought to herself, but we have a long evening ahead.
The little fox kit, Kisuna, stirred in his car seat, not wanting to get up after the long car ride. He slowly opened his eyes, looking up at his mommy’s smile. “We’re here?”, he asked with a yawn, and he looked around the roof-less, door-less truck. All around him, all he could see were trees, and the dirt path that led them there. He’d never been this far away from civilization before, and he was amazed, as well as worried. “Wow, what is this place? Are we lost?”
Natasha giggled at her cub as she climbed out of the truck. “Of course not, sweetie, I used to come here all the time when I was just a pup.” She unbuckled the car seat, and lifted her cub out of the Jeep, holding him against her shoulder. “It’s very easy to get lost out here, though, so be careful and make sure you can always see me.” With a quick kiss on the cheek, she carefully set him down on the ground, then strapped on her backpack, keeping a close eye on the curious fox kit.
Kisuna wandered around the small clearing they’d parked in, curious about this wild place. He’d seen the mountains on the horizon from their house, but he never ventured close enough to see them like this. The ground was on a steep slope, but aside from that, he didn’t see much that looked like a mountain. Maybe they weren’t there yet? “Mommy, this doesn’t look like a mountain, it’s just a bunch of trees.” He looked back at Natasha for an explanation.
“It’s because we’re so close, like how a skyscraper just looks like a building when you’re right next to it.” After getting the last of her gear together, and untying her trusty hiking staff from the truck, Natasha walked over to Kisuna and wrapped her arm around him. “Okay honey, it’s time for an adventure! We’re going to hike for awhile now, and you’ll really get to see how much of a mountain this is. Make sure to stay close to me.”
The little fox grinned excitedly and wagged his tail, eagerly trotting along as his mommy led the way. He’d never had a real adventure before! He felt like an explorer, trudging through exotic wilderness, looking for strange new places. He even had a little toy compass with him, a prize from the local arcade, and he held it out in front of him, pretending it was their guiding instrument through the woods.
As the two hiked the narrow trail, Kisuna noticed that many of the trees had faded paint marks on them. They didn’t look like the funny paint marks and weird drawings he occasionally saw on light poles in town, these just looked random. “Mommy, what are all those blue marks on the trees?”
“Those are called trail blazes, and they show us where the trail is. Each trail has a different blaze, like road signs.”
“Oh, how’d they know where to put them the first time?”
“Well, over a hundred years ago, explorers here made very good maps of these trails, and marked them with small pieces of metal nailed to the trees. Some of these trails were built since then, others date back to the ancient natives, but these blazes have only been maintained for the last 80 years or so.” Natasha handed Kisuna a bottle of water while giving a history lesson, making sure he stayed well-hydrated.
As the hike dragged on, Kisuna became more and more fatigued. Being an explorer is hard work! He felt like they’d been walking uphill for miles, and he needed a break. “Mommy, I’m tired, can we stop?”, he said with an exhausted tone, his ears and tail drooping weakly.
Natasha smiled warmly and held out her paw for Kisuna to hold. “Of course we can, I’m tired too. There’s a nice place to sit down up here.” Her little kit smiled a bit and took her paw, and she led him to a large rock where they could sit down. Fortunately, they were nearing the end of their hike, but she wanted him to be well-rested for the end of the trip. She handed Kisuna his water bottle, and pulled a small bag of trail mix from her backpack for him. “Here you go sweetie, it’s snack time.”
Food was the last thing on Kisuna’s mind when they sat down, but he did love trail mix, so he eagerly nibbled from the baggy Natasha gave him. She started gently stroking his headfur while he ate, something he always loved, and he happily wagged his tail, leaning toward his mommy. “How much farther do we have to go?”, he asked, not sure if he could keep going.
“Don’t worry, we’re almost there”, Natasha replied cheerfully, still petting Kisuna’s headfur, “and it’ll be worth the trip, trust me. We should get moving soon, though, are you ready to go on?”
“Yeah!” Kisuna hopped to his feet and started up the trail, excited to see the surprise at the end. But, before he could get too far, something colourful caught his eye. It wasn’t like anything he’d seen before, like some sort of fuzzy worm crawling across a fallen tree. He curiously reached out his paw to touch it. “What’s this, mommy?”
Natasha quickly wrapped her arm around her cub to pull him back, kneeling beside him and holding him in a gentle embrace. “That’s a caterpillar,” she explained, “and the bright colours mean it’s poisonous, so don’t touch it, it’ll make you very sick.”
Kisuna pulled back his paw and tightly held onto his mommy’s arm, a bit worried about getting near the strange creature. “Is it like a worm?”
“Not exactly, since it has legs, see?” She pointed out the little nubs under the caterpillar’s belly. “When it’s old enough, it’ll wrap itself in a cocoon and turn into a beautiful butterfly.”
The little cub stared in wide-eyed fascination, he simply couldn’t believe that it could really transform like that. “Is there really a whole butterfly in there? It must be a small one.”
Natasha smiled and kissed her cub’s forehead, trying not to laugh at the question. “No sweetie, it grows into one, like how little fox pups grow up.” With an amused giggle, Kisuna cuddled up against his mommy, still holding her paw and arm, captivated by watching the caterpillar crawl along. After letting him watch for awhile, Natasha gently turned Kisuna toward the trail and nudged him to keep going. “Come on, sweetie, we need to get moving now.”
The trail led the two around a final bend at the top of the mountain, ending at a steep pile of rocks to climb. This was never Natasha’s favourite part of the trip, but little Kisuna was thrilled. “It’s like a playground, but better!”, he exclaimed as he eagerly hopped and climbed across the rocky trail.
“Just watch your step, it’s a long way back to the car.” Natasha was certainly pleased to see her cub enjoying himself, but it always made her nervous to see him doing such dangerous things.
As the two neared the top of the peak, Natasha caught up to Kisuna and gently stopped him from going any further. “Hang on there sweetie. We’re almost to the top, but it’s dangerous up there, and it’s getting dark, so I need to make sure you won’t hurt yourself.” She slid her backpack down her shoulder, and rummaged through it, pulling out a child-sized climbing harness. With a few quick buckles around Kisuna’s shoulders, legs, and chest, she had him comfortably wrapped in the nylon straps. “This is to make sure you don’t fall off the mountain”, she explained as she stepped into a small hip harness herself. Lastly, she clipped a six-foot length of climbing rope to the back of Kisuna’s harness, connecting it to hers to make sure he wouldn’t fall, or get too close to the edge. “Ok, now we’re ready. Let’s go see the surprise!” Natasha gave her cub a gentle pat on the back to guide him toward the last section of trail.
Kisuna was so excited to keep going that he didn’t pay much attention to being on a “leash”, he just wanted to see the surprise. The last section of trail was difficult for his little legs and paws, and he really had to pull himself up to make it to the top of the rocks, but at long last, he seemed to be at the top. Oh wow, this is it, I wonder what’s up here, he wondered, his heart racing with anticipation. He stepped onto the top of the mountain, which seemed to be a giant rock as big as their house, and at first, he felt a little disappointed. This isn’t a surprise, it’s just a big rock, he thought, until he looked out from the nearest edge. And, all of a sudden, his normally turbulent 4-year-old mind became filled with only one thought: Wow. It looked like he was on top of the world! All he could see were the forests below, and dozens of other mountains stretching for miles and miles into the distance, with the very beginning of a clear sunset adding lots of unique colours to the mix. The little fox was so awestruck, he didn’t know what to say, all he could do was stare at the amazing sight.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Natasha grinned and crouched next to her cub, watching the wonder in Kisuna’s eyes as he saw the mountain view for the first time. “This is the highest peak in the area, taller than all the other mountains.” She took his paw in hers, and gave a kiss on his cheek.
“It’s so much better than in pictures!”, he exclaimed, staring wide-eyed at the amazing sight, “I didn’t know any place like this existed.”
Natasha led Kisuna by the paw to a higher area on the peak, “Come on, there’s a better view over here.” Holding tightly to the rope on his harness, she guided him to the edge of the peak, a sheer cliff almost 200 feet down, with a perfect panoramic view of the mountains below in every direction. She kneeled next to him and pointed toward a small pocket of buildings in the closest valley, many miles away. “See that little bit of civilization way over there? That’s where we live.”
“Wow, really? It looks so small. Could we see our house from here?”
“Maybe if we had a telescope, but those are really heavy”, she replied with a giggle, lovingly petting her cub’s hair. She sat down next to the edge of the cliff, and pulled her baby into her lap, her arm wrapped protectively around his waist.
Kisuna happily curled up in his mommy’s lap, hugging her arm as if it were a stuffed animal. He always loved their snuggle times, and being on top of the world made it seem much more special. Feeling extra warm and secure, he cuddled up against her chest, instinctively closing his eyes. “I love you, mommy.”
Natasha nearly shed a tear, very touched by the moment. She gave her little kit an extra squeeze, and lovingly kissed his cheek. “I love you very much, sweetheart.” With a contented yawn, Natasha gently held her baby, the two of them watching the sunset over the endless mountains.