Byron Brumbaugh

December 5, 2023

What’s left of the homeless camp.


Our prime purpose in this life is to help others and if you can’t help them. At least don’t hurt them.

-Dalai Lama


It’s a bit chilly out today.  The temp is 46℉, with a feel-like temp of 42℉ or less.  The cloud cover is broken, with only an occasional flash of sunshine.  The wind is light, around 7 miles an hour, just enough to make the temperature seem even lower than it is, without being blustering.  The ground is dry, the morning frost is gone.  This is Waldo weather, for sure.  He bounds out into the lead, tail wagging, happy to be out here walking and exploring.  I, in my rainsuit over light jacket, gloves and knit ski cap, fall in behind him.  We’re soon at a good pace and I put my body on autopilot.

We’re not quite ¾ of a mile on our way and I see a woman standing still, staring off the trail into the woods.  At her feet are a number of bags and a pile of what can only be described as “stuff.”  Things like plastic bins holding hammers and screwdrivers, a grocery cart, a bicycle with no back wheel — you know, stuff.  “What are you looking at?” I ask as I approach.

“My husband and I noticed some people camping in the trees,” she answers.  “You can see it from here, now that the leaves are gone.  Some homeless people were living there.  We called the police and now the city is removing what they left behind.”  That seemed rather heartless and entitled, but I let it slide.  As I came up next to her, I turned where she was looking and saw three people carrying more stuff to add to the pile next to us.  In the distance, down a small hill I could see more of the same.  It was far enough away that the camp would have been hidden in the greenery, when there was some.  At my feet, I saw a well-worn path that led in that direction.  I had noticed it before, but assumed it was just a hiking trail that I wasn’t aware of.  That’s not like me.  I’m usually curious enough to pursue an inkling of something unusual.  But in this case, I let it slide and missed an opportunity to learn something interesting.  Not now though.

The woman continued on down the trail and I entered into conversation with one of the three people decamping the site.  These people work for the City of Marlborough Conservancy and were given the job of cleanup.  It turns out, there were two homeless people living down there – I don’t know for how long, but it must have been at least weeks.  The land belongs to the City of Marlborough and the homeless people were told they couldn’t stay there, they had to leave.  The people I talked to didn’t know where they went, but they are gone.  Apparently, there was another couple of people living a little further into the woods.  They were on private property and had to leave as well.

I’ve seen homelessness quite often in the past.  It’s not unusual to see the homeless in the ER when they need medical attention.  They have no money for healthcare, so there’s nowhere else they can go.  One third of the homeless have mental health issues, so we used to see them also when it was deemed they weren’t safe on the street and people, usually the police, didn’t know what else to do with them except send them to the ER.  We would get psychiatry and social work involved and some resolution was arrived at, but it was always just a band-aid and temporary.

I am disgusted and embarrassed that my country can’t deal with this growing problem in an effective and humane way.  We are the richest and most powerful country in the world and still, we have one of the biggest problems with homelessness.  This is true even when compared to more impoverished countries.  We have a homeless population per night of over 500,000 and it’s growing every year.  The overall odds of experiencing homelessness during some part of a year are about 1 in 200.  1 in 200.  Our society is broken.

And that says nothing about people who are housed, but have no hope of ever owning their own home.  Housing has become so expensive that many will never be able to afford to own a home.  35% of us rent, and yet rent in many states, including here, is more than a mortgage!  Is the American dream dead?

I shake my head in bewilderment and continue on down the trail behind Waldo.  At least we have a warm place to sleep and enough to eat.  But still, I wish there was more I could for those who have neither.  I sigh.

I am grateful that Waldo and I are doing okay.


Some of the things left behind by the homeless campers.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

November 28, 2923

Nice fall day on the rail-trail.


Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.

-Robert Browning


It’s getting cold out now, at least for the next few days, with lows in the low 30s and highs in the low 40s.  That’s nothing that will stop Waldo and me from walking, but it does change how I dress.  With temps in the 40s, I can be very comfortable wearing rain pants and rain jacket over a light jacket.  If it gets much colder than that, I need to wear my parka.  Waldo and I wait until the warmest time of day, which is around 1 PM, but we can’t wait too long because the sun sets at 4:30 these days.  Even at its highest point in the sky, the sun is low enough at this latitude, at this time of year, to cast long shadows.  Winter is not far away.

The Emmy birds are now all gone — none answer my calls and I hear none talking amongst themselves.   There are still a few birds around, but not nearly as many as in the summer.  With the leaves in the trees gone, what birds there are can more easily be seen.  I’ve seen blue jays, crows, and a few sparrows, but not much else.  Things have gotten pretty quiet.  Although I’ve found ticks on Waldo, there aren’t any buzzing insects flying around disturbing the peace.   I don’t miss the mosquitoes at all…

The Japanese knotweed is all shriveled and vanishing down to its stalks sticking just a few inches above the ground.  The common burdock with is nasty balls of burrs are all gone and the moss and liverwort, although still present, doesn’t look as thick and fluffy as it did a month ago.  The garlic mustard is still around, as is the autumn olive, and of course, the English ivy tree is as green as ever.  Wild grape vines and poison ivy have chucked it in for the season, along with the orange jewelweed.  The leaves of the oaks and maples that still cling to their branches have all turned brown and the only trees that are still green are the white pines.

The air is chill and still, at least today, and city noises, normally cushioned by all the foliage, can be heard on the rail-trail.  The thrum of gasoline and diesel engines and the rasp of tires on asphalt can be easily heard even when their machines can’t be seen.  What a difference from the Bay Circuit Trail from two days ago!  As Waldo and I walk along, I feel much more a part of the city than I did there.

The view across Fort Meadow Reservoir has lost its color and is beginning to resemble a three days’ growth of gray beard.  The lake edge boasted a riotous display of reds and oranges just a month ago and now is lined by spindly bland spicules of sleeping wood reaching skyward.  The lake itself is calm and still, waiting for the first frost.  No more the home of goose, duck or swan, it lays there like a mirror, unmoved by beast or fish.

The air, brisk and fresh, no longer has the fecund odor of living things.  It’s been replaced by a faint musty smell of plant decay and muddy bogs.  No longer carrying the fragrance of wild flowers, or fresh cut grass, it now hosts a warming whiff of burning wood from some nearby fireplace.

My skin, not so long ago drenched with dripping sweat, making my shirt cling to my armpits and my hair plaster to my brow, now bubbles up with goose bumps and tingles as cold air wafts across whatever is exposed.  Just two months ago, I would be relishing the cooling breath of a light breeze or the dousing coolness of some shade.  Now I subliminally brace myself against the icy stir of air and poise to shiver to gain some warmth.

Late fall is a time of transition.  It’s the interim between the heat of summer and the cold of winter.  It’s the hiatus when Mother Nature is holding her breath, having quelled the raucous furor of summer while preparing for the harsh stillness of winter.  It’s not a bad time of year, but it does have something of the ambience of an old man laying down in his deathbed — not yet dead, but no longer fully alive either.  The difference is, Mother Nature isn’t dying, just going to sleep for a while.  After a time in the purgatory of winter, she will be raised once again in the renaissance of spring.

I pray that man can find some way to keep himself from screwing up this eternal cycle.


Lots of leaves on the ground at the railroad cut.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

November 21, 2023

At the start of our walk.


Pain is temporary.  It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it lasts forever.

-Lance Armstrong


48 hours after our last BCT walk and we’re at it again, starting from where we left off in Sharon.  I only had one day to rest, but Phyllis’s schedule is tight, the weather forecast is good and I can’t pass up the opportunity to put another leg of the trail behind us.  Our next opportunity won’t happen for two weeks, so I really want to go today.  As we start out, my low back is a little sore, but not bad.  My climbing muscles have no soreness at all.  I have high hopes that the walk will be, more or less, pain-free.  We have 11.5 miles to go to Easton.

The temp is about 40℉, with very little breeze.  The sky is overcast, so shadows are vague and ill-defined.  From the car, the path stretches out before us, broad and well-defined.  It looks like it might have once, and may still now, be used by cars.  There are no ruts to suggest that it has recently been used by motorized vehicles, though.  The trail is flat and, here and there in the low places, are muddy patches covered by leaves and pine needles.  In some of those spots, you can see the underlying quagmire and in others, not so much.  I misjudge one footfall and pull my boot out covered in black thick slime up over the top of my toes.  Waldo’s paws look about the same as my foot, but it won’t stick to them.  In an hour, his feet will be white again.  He has self-cleaning paws.  Wish I could say the same for my boots.  In several places, someone has put down wooden planks to avoid the mud.  In other places, we have to seek out the high ground, rocks and branches to avoid the sludge.

As we progress down the trail, we’re surrounded by white pines and no leaf-bearing trees.  In these places, the ground is covered by pine needles.  Then, further down the path, oaks and American beeches dominate and we’re walking on leaves.  In both, a pastel tan hides the almost black earth underneath.  The deciduous trees, while not yet totally naked, are well on their way to hibernation.  I can see farther through the woods than during late spring and summer, when so much is blocked by the greenery, but not all that far.  The trunks of the trees are packed tight enough together that line-of-sight is blocked within a short distance.  Most of the trees are new-growth, although we do see some pines that are about one hundred years old or so.

As we walk along, we pass a few people and dogs.  No bikes, though.  I suppose a mountain bike could go through here, but I see no tracks in the mud to suggest they have.  None of the people we pass are walking the entire BCT, they’re just locals out for a short walk in the woods.  We stop and chat with them and many say that one day, they would like to do the whole thing.  I feel like telling them to do it now – to wait until you’re old hurts.

Waldo is obviously really enjoying himself.  He romps up and down the trail, on occasion exploring the territory off to the sides.  Despite the fact there are thousands of sticks out here, he doesn’t pick up many.  I think he does that to treat anxiety, a sort of a security stick kind of thing.  But he’s too excited and happy to be out here to be anxious enough to need a stick.

Phyllis is an energizer bunny.  She uses walking poles and is cautious about the uneven slick ground.  That slows her down a little.  Otherwise, she just goes and goes and goes.  She has recently kept herself in good shape by doing a lot of bicycling.  It’s only been a week since she returned from a cycling tour in Normandy, France.  I cannot think of a better companion to be out here walking with.  The best part is she enjoys it as much as Waldo and I do.

Halfway through and my low back starts hurting again.  It slowly worsens and I can tell it’s all sore muscles – but not the climbing muscles that hurt last time.  I guess I didn’t spend enough time resting and got back in the saddle a bit too soon.  About three miles from the end and my muscles are in spasm.  They’re so tight that I’m heeling well to starboard and can’t straighten up all the way.  It’s painful, but not overpoweringly so.  I carry on, slowly, and Waldo and Phyllis are patient with me.  They stop and take a rest when I find a convenient rock to sit on and stretch out my back.  Soon enough, we’re back to the car, I’m sitting in the seat and the pain is gone.  That means it’s muscles that hurt and not something else.  I just need to build up my strength by doing more of these walks and going up and down hills more often.

Our next leg is in two weeks, weather permitting.  We’ll be going 11.9 miles from Easton to East Bridgewater.  I have two weeks to prepare.  After that, we’ll only have five more legs to do before the end.  I’m not sure how many of those we’ll be able to finish before the first snow falls, but we’ll do what we can.  After we’re done?  Who knows.  But I’m not ready to hang up my boots yet.

And Waldo certainly isn’t.


I’m listing a bit to starboard toward the end of our walk.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

November 14, 2023

Continued from last week…


There’s a trail here somewhere…


There are two fatal errors that keep great projects from coming to life:

1)Not finishing

2) Not starting

-Buddha Gautema


It is so nice to be able to spend some extended time with Phyllis again.  It would have been better if Christine could have joined us, a reunion of Waldo’s Walkers, but that’s not to be – at least not yet.  As we walk along, Waldo out on point, gleefully searching for the path we want to follow, Phyllis and I are catching up on all kinds of things.  We talk about Buddhism, a common interest, about her readjustment to being single since her husband, Lee, died, about my back pains, the current state of the war in Gaza and Israel, about a course she’s taking on anti-racism – basically anything and everything we can think of.  It’s wonderful to have a friend with whom you can discuss a bottomless pool of topics.  In the process, we leave Waldo to navigate where we need to go.  That, of course, is of questionable wisdom.

Soon, we find ourselves on a patch of ground, covered by dead leaves and pine needles, that doesn’t look much like a trail at all.  There is a group of people who maintain, in some sense, the Bay Circuit Trail and they provide an interactive map on the web that shows the trail and your GPS location.  Of course, that requires that you’re in a place that has adequate cellphone coverage.  I bring up the map and, sure enough, Waldo has taken us off-trail.  Phyllis and I shrug it off – this kind of thing happens almost every time we walk on the BCT.  The trail isn’t that well marked everywhere and we’re not always paying that much attention.  I use the map to get us back to the trail, but it’s not clear which way to go.  Of course, I choose the wrong way and we end up going in a loop.  We set off in the right direction and follow the map to be sure we stay on the trail.

In addition to needing to be in a place where there’s good cellphone coverage for this to work, you also have to have a cellphone battery that doesn’t die.  I have an external battery that I intended to bring for that very reason, but I forgot it.  So, once we’re back established on the trail, I turn off my phone and promise myself I’ll keep an eye out for where we’re going and watch for BCT markers.  Unfortunately, in some places where it looks like the trail branches off, we can’t find any markers.  I then turn on my phone again and follow the map.  This works until, distracted by conversation with Phyllis, I find we’re about to try to wade across a swamp.  I pull out the phone again and, yep, we’re off trail.  We bushwhack to where we need to be and continue on our way.

All in all, it’s a very pleasant fall walk.  The sun is out, the ground is pretty dry and the temperature is cool without being cold.  All the tan and yellow leaves and pine needles on the ground add to the autumn pastel colors, making where we go feel warm and welcoming.  There are places where we have to walk alongside streets and highways for a bit and we even have to stroll through the town of Walpole.  It’s a small town, with a population of 26, 383, and is close to Foxborough, where Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.  A quaint New England town, it’s like many that are out here in the hinterlands (18miles from Boston and 30 miles from Providence, RI).

My energy wanes a bit as the miles roll underfoot, but not so for Waldo.  He’s every bit as energetic as when we started and runs around at the front end of the leash, going this way and that, searching, forever searching, exploring what’s in front of him.  Ah, to be young…  Phyllis seems a bit tired too, but Waldo, he only has two speeds – on and off.

Eventually, we get back to the car – damn, it feels good to sit again.  My back is a little sore, but nothing like what it was before I got the cortisone shots.  It’s 3:35.  I start the car and drive around the building to the gate.  It’s closed and locked.  We look around and there’s no way out.  I call the police, tell them where we are and what’s going on and they say they’ll send someone around from the Water Department to let us out.  When a woman shows up, something like an hour later, she tells us they locked the gate at 3:30.  They didn’t know there was a car on the property and that we shouldn’t be where we parked anyway.  Whoops.  There is an unmarked widening in the driveway just outside the gate where visitors are supposed to park.  Well, damn.  It’s not like there are any signs around.  It all gets folded into the adventure of the day.  It keeps life interesting.

Phyllis, Waldo and I (and Christine if she can make it) plan on doing the next leg in four days.  We’re more than two-thirds of the way done with the BCT.  We probably won’t be able to finish before the first snow, but, unless something happens, we should be done in the spring.  Then we have to decide what trail to do next.

It’s really good to be back.


Waldo and Phyllis contemplating nature.



Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

November 7, 2023

Back on the BCT with Waldo and Phylis.


Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.

-Jonathan Safran Foer


Two years, two weeks and four days ago, Phyllis and I last walked on the Bay Circuit Trail.  Then life intervened and we haven’t been back since.  Until today.

It was always our intention to finish the walk, but Phyllis’s schedule tends to run on the tight side of full and we just didn’t have the opportunity.  A little over a month ago, we committed to a date, but, alas, the weather had other ideas (I don’t particularly like to walk Waldo in the woods, slogging through mud) and we postponed.  Today, though, we finally made it happen.  Events still tried to work against us – I caught a cold and Phyllis had an allergic reaction to an insect bite.  But neither of us were that impaired — just some sniffles and a mild cough for me and some mild itching for Phyllis.  So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and we persevered.

Another obstacle we had to overcome was, because so much time has passed, we weren’t sure where we left off.  We didn’t want to retrace our steps a significant amount and we didn’t want to leave any gaps.  Looking at the map, I got a vague idea of where we wanted to go, but couldn’t pinpoint the exact spot.  Then I went to some old pictures on my phone and the last ones from the BCT were tagged with which forest we were in.  I pulled out the map again, found our stopping place in Medfield, and that would be our starting point for this leg of our trek.  Following along the trail, looking for a place to park about 12 miles further, I found an end point, 11.1 miles from the start, at a water treatment plant in Walpole.

The day started for Waldo and me at 6:30 AM.  We got out of bed, ate some breakfast, then got into the car.  An hour later, we arrived at Walpole’s water treatment plant where we met Phyllis.  We also invited Christine, but she cancelled – she had a hard night last night.  At the end of the driveway, there is a large gate, but it was open.  Behind that was a large building and behind that, some piles of dirt and gravel.  I drove past the gate, around the building and looked around for the BCT trail marker that shows where the trail comes out of the woods.  I found it and decided to park my car close by, in back of the building.  Waldo and I then climbed into Phyllis’s car and we left for the start of today’s walk.  As we passed through the gate, it did occur to me that we could be in trouble if they decided to close the gate before we got back, but we were planning on getting back by about 3 PM and what business closes that early?

Our walk starts in The Noon Hill Reservation – a local patch of conserved forest.  We’re swallowed by dense forest as soon as we leave the parking lot.  The trees are a mix of oak, maple and the other deciduous denizens of New England, plus white pine.  It’s definitely fall now, the temperature hovering around 40℉, and the ground is covered by leaves and a lot of pine needles.  That makes it hard to walk because they hide roots and rocks and walking is treacherous.  In addition, when we go up or down any incline, it gets very slippery.  So, we have to slow down a bit and be mindful of what we’re doing.

Waldo is beside himself.  I took three days off from extensive walking because of my cold and I really wanted rest up and be well enough to do this hike.  We did do our usual walk yesterday, so Waldo was able to burn off some of his pent-up border collie energy then, but exercise for a border collie is a temporary solution to a permanent problem and Waldo is full of energy today.  He runs out ahead of us, sometimes exploring off-trail, and gleefully searches for whatever new things the place might have to offer.

It’s fun to watch Waldo search for the trail.  All those dead leaves and pine needles make it difficult sometimes to tell just what’s trail and what’s just gaps between the trees.  He probes this way and that and I frequently have to call to him, “This way!” to redirect him.  That also means we have to play, “No, not that way!  This way,” when he winds the leash around a tree trunk or a bush in the process.  Over the years, he has learned to back-track around obstacles when that happens and I rarely have to be the one to untangle things so we can continue on our way.  He’s a smart dog when he wants to be.

Damn!  It’s good to be back out here!


It’s so nice to be back in the deep woods.


To be continued…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 31, 2023

We occasionally pass other people and sometimes, we talk…


Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach, and wisdom to share…

-Melanie Moushigian Koulouris


The day is warm enough that I can walk in shirtsleeves.  The sky is mostly blue and there isn’t much of a breeze.  Many of the low-lying weeds have lost their green and shriveled up to a brown brittle stem.  Some, like the common burdock, have spiky balls on the ends of those stems, reaching out to plant themselves in Waldo’s fur and my pants.  The moss, liverwort and grasses are still green and plump, although the Japanese clover has lost its leaves and turned a dull brown.  The tops of the oaks are still green and, here and there, maples have started to turn orange and red.  Yellow and tan birch leaves are beginning to accumulate on the tarmac and there’s even a few oak and maple leaves among them.

Waldo and I haven’t gone a half mile when we come upon a gentleman, I’d guess in his fifties somewhere, wearing a light jacket and blue jeans.  He immediately grabs my attention because he’s staring up into the trees, off to the side of the trail.  When I see something like that, my curiosity is piqued.  In the past, I’ve met people doing similar things who showed me a rare jack-in-the-pulpit, snapping turtles, deer and other interesting things I might not have noticed.  So, “What are you looking at?” I ask.

“I really like those big old trees,” he says, waving a hand toward a stand of trees.

“You mean the black walnuts?” I ask as I look where he’s indicating.

“Yeah.  They only appear over this quarter-mile stretch of the trail.  I’m wondering if they were planted when the railroad was built.”

“I don’t think so,” I say.  “This part of the railroad was completed in 1855.  That’s 168 years ago (I did some quick arithmetic in my head).  These trees grow in diameter at the rate of about 20 inches per century, so none of what we can see is big enough to be that old.  They would have to be about 34 inches (more math) in diameter and, although there are some that are a good 20 inches, I don’t see any that big.”

That started us off on a discussion of the other trees on the trail, which in turn led to talking about the patch of woods about a quarter-mile further down the trail that a development company from Texas wants to decimate to build apartments.  The man told me that he did some legal work for Marlborough’s mayor, who was not in favor of the project.  He assured me that the construction was not going to happen because it would require a rezoning of the area and the mayor would block that, so the apartments could not be built.  That was something I was very pleased to hear.  We exchanged a few more words of appreciation for the ambiance of the trail and then, Waldo tugging at the leash, we each went our own way.

Usually, as Waldo and I plod along, I don’t say much to the people we pass.  When I do, I find folks with interesting things to share.  I met an engineer next to the construction site at the beginning of the trail and learned about how muddy water was being pumped from the site.  Big hoses take it from where they’re digging into two settling tanks (about the size of shipping containers).  From there, the water goes through filters into some fire hoses that run uphill to the next street, about 3/8 of a mile away.  That’s a lot of hose.  I always wondered why they did that because they could have just let it flow downhill into the closest street’s drainage, about 1/8 of a mile away.  It turns out the city doesn’t want that water to go into the aquafer on the downhill side because that’s the source of our drinking water.  Pumping it uphill to the next aquafer gets rid of it.  From there I’m not sure what happens to the water, but it won’t end up in our water faucets.

There are a lot of different kinds of people who use the rail-trail.  There is a selection mechanism at work there – not just anyone chooses to go for that kind of walk.  I’m not sure how that mechanism works, but it does bring out a wide variety of people, most of whom are quite interesting.  Although I usually don’t talk to many of the people Waldo and I pass, we’ve been out here doing this for a long time and over the years I’ve talked to quite a few.  I’ve met professors from law school, Russian immigrants, high school students learning French, Swedes who own a border collie, retirees (some older that I) out for their daily constitutional, and many others.  Most are willing to exchange a word or two and all have something interesting to say.  Waldo likes nearly all of them and is eager to get his allotted pets and pats as he waits us to finish our patter.  It’s not just Mother Nature who is interesting out here.

You never know who you might meet.


There’s plenty to talk about… or simply enjoy.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 24, 2023

A momentary break in the storm.


The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The weather is inclement today, with a high of 54℉ and a forecast of intermittent light showers.  We start our walk at 2:30 PM, so as to catch the most warmth, and, although there is a 20% chance of rain, it’s supposed to be a light drizzle, if it happens at all.  I’m wearing a light jacket (not waterproof) with my wide-brimmed hat and Waldo is in his furry altogether as we start out.  The skies are an overcast gray, allowing for no shadows, and the breeze is slight.  There are a few people, dogs and bikes on the path and no one, including me, seems concerned about the potential for rain.  Waldo, I don’t think he ever thinks about it.  I should know better than to trust the forecast, though.  This is New England and the weather is hard to foretell.

We haven’t gone a mile when a light drizzle starts.  That’s when I first question my decision not to bring along my rain jacket.  I tell myself that it won’t rain that hard and much of the trail is covered by large oak, black walnut, maple and other trees that will provide some cover.  I keep calm and carry on.  By the time we reach the wide-open field next to the Fort Meadow Reservoir, where there is no sheltering leafy canopy, the rain is coming down hard enough to soak my jacket and pants.  I want to look at the weather radar on my phone, but my fingers are wet enough that I can’t make the thing work.  Waldo is shaking himself every few minutes and we are wet.  The moderate rain continues as we pass the athletic fields at the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School and doesn’t stop until we get to the woods just past there.  Once again under Mother Nature’s umbrella, the rain stops and small beams of sunlight pierce the gloom.  Of course.

As I slosh my way along, I can choose to think about the sensation of water squishing between my toes, or the heavy cold wetness spreading on my thighs, or my glasses mottled with water droplets making it harder to see.  But that’s rather pointless.  Waldo and I are stuck here in the wet, soaked, miles away from dry warmth, and dwelling on what is unpleasant isn’t going to make us any dryer.  And it really isn’t that unpleasant.  I’m not on the verge of hypothermia, I’m not going to dissolve and my things will not get ruined.  It will all pass soon enough and, instead, I can choose to look out at the glistening wetness of the tarmac, listen to the babbling brook next to the trail as it carries the runoff seaward and smell the damp vegetation and earth as we walk along.  The world during a rain storm is a different place and taking note of it is worthwhile.

The immediate universe seems smaller and more intimate in the rain.  The world I can see, because of reduced visibility, seems snugger and more reachable.  The presence of all the raindrops muffles nature’s sounds and I can only hear a short distance as well.  The dryness I’m bathed in on a sunny day and serves as a blanket of sorts, is replaced by water penetrating through what I wear as if reminding me that this is what the world feels like.  I don’t have a very strong sense of smell and usually ignore it, but the smell of the ozone in the air and the augmented odor of fecundity demands my notice simply because it is so different.

As we walk along, I’m struck by the lack of the buzzing of insects, the chirping of birds and the chattering of squirrels.  There’s plenty of sound – the splatter of raindrops on leaves overhead and their splashes in puddles at my feet, just not the usual muttering of life that I hear when things are dry.  I hear Waldo shaking his fur dry and my feet go splat on the ground.  When we’re close to the road, I can hear car and truck tires divide the waters as they pass through puddles and their wipers thwapping back and forth.

It may be my imagination, but the moss and liverwort seem thicker, fuzzier and happier in the rain.  The leaves on the trees are greener, plumper and stiffer.  They appear to me to be smiling as drops of water splatter on and run over their surfaces, then sail free in the air to drop to the ground.  Wait!  I am seeing and hearing raindrops in the trees!  More rain has snuck up on me while I was ruminating about the rain.  Waldo and I are going to get wetter before we’re done.

And that isn’t so bad at all.


The storm isn’t done with us yet1

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 17, 2023

A beautiful day in the woods.


Old age is no place for sissies.

-Bette Davis

Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.

-Phillip Roth


When you get old, things you used to take for granted no longer apply — things like strength, endurance, moderate exercise without pain, and improvement with physical training.  At my age, activity without some level of pain, although usually still minimal, does not happen.  The worst part is that you have to watch a slow deterioration of your abilities happen over an ever-shortening period of time.  Your body wears out and there is no going back to the way it was.  The best you can hope for is good enough to keep going.

A friend of mine in college once defined life as a constant battle against degeneration.  This seems obvious when viewed in terms of the second law of thermodynamics which states the amount of disorder in a system must always increase, it can never decrease.  We are, all of us, always, on an inexorable path to dissolution.  But, as I get older, the truth of it is not only undeniable, it’s unignorable.  My spirit is more than willing, sometimes even eager.  But the flesh, it is old and tired after a lifetime of stress and strain, being pushed too hard for too long and having too many unreasonable expectations made of it.  “Go ahead, if you must,” it says.  “But, trust me, it’s gonna hurt…”

A couple of weeks ago, the arthritis in my low back came back to bite me.  It was bad enough that I had to forego the walks that Waldo and I do on the rail-trail.  For five days, I couldn’t tolerate the distance.  Oh, I bit the bullet and we still walked around the apartment complex, but only at the rate of about 2.5 miles a day instead of our usual 7.5 miles.  It was a pity, because the days were dry and cool, without being cold.  Still, we were able to explore the ever-changing microcosm of our tiny corner of the universe and watch the Norway maples turn purple, the flowering boxwoods turn red and a rapidly increasing number of acorns accumulate on the ground.

The problems I have in my low back can be traced to four small facet joints where I somehow developed severe arthritis bilaterally at L4 and L5.  There is no good solution (as is often the case in life), just amelioration.  Through extended use (and who can avoid using their back?), inflammation ensues and that’s what hurts.  Twenty-first century medicine has a therapy for it – cortisone injections.  It dampens down the inflammation and pain for a while (this time six months) and makes walking the rail-trail possible.  So, I called my physiatrist (a specialist in pain management) and arranged for the shots.  While waiting for that to happen, rest eased the pain somewhat, and we got back on the rail-trail, but at a much slower pace.

Waldo adjusted to his relative lack of exercise quite well, as he always does.  He’s just friskier than normal because he hasn’t had the opportunity to burn off all that border collie energy.  After 5 days of rest, we made it back to our usual trek and he was obviously a much better entertained puppy.  His attention was out in front of his nose with the squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, pee-mail and, of course, sticks.  But our pace was still slow, more than 26-minute miles, compared to our usual 22.  I would say Waldo’s happier, but it’s hard to tell.  He’s such a happy dog anyway.  Still, I’m sure we both longed for a return for more or less pain-free walks.

Another aspect of aging is that your immune system’s strength wanes.  Diseases that used to be mostly a nuisance become potentially deadly – diseases like flu, RSV and Covid.  That means I have to make sure that I get all the vaccinations necessary to protect my health.  Those diseases are more active in the fall, so this is the time of year to get poked.  You got it, more shots in addition to the cortisone injections.  In addition, because of my exposure to ticks out in the woods, I joined a Phase III Lyme vaccine trial.  I got the flu and RSV vaccines together, then had to wait two weeks to get the Lyme, then another two weeks for the Covid.  Add to that the cortisone shots that I got two days before the Covid shot and you can see why I now think of fall as being not the season for colorful falling leaves, but for getting sharp pointy things jabbed into my flesh.   Worst of it is, the most common reaction I have to vaccinations is mild muscle/joint pain, which confuses and slows my recovery from the arthritis.  Argh…

While all that was going down, my dermatologist found a small basal cell carcinoma on my left cheek that had to be excised by mohs surgery.  That’s a simple office procedure, but it does require sutures that have to be left in for a week.  More pokes and even some slices.  I had to walk around with a big bandage on my face that must have freaked out the kids we pass as Waldo and I do our constitutionals.

This is what old age has become for me – a battle to keep at bay those forces of nature that are trying to disrupt my lifestyle choices.  Right now, I’m out here in the woods with much less pain, watching Waldo romp and cavort.  I feel the cool breeze ruffle the small hairs on the skin of my arms and cheeks, smell the fall air with just a hint of wood smoke from some neighbor’s fire, hear the rustling of leaves as they dance on tenuous stalks, readying their inevitable fall, and I know I’m not here solely in denial of my age — this is where I should be.

And I’ll do what it takes to get me here.


Waldo agrees.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 10, 2023

Things are mostly still green…


September showed up right on schedule and lasted a whole month.

-Jenny Wingfield


The days have gotten cool again, with lows in the mid 40s and highs in the low 60s.  It’s been a bit rainy on some days, too, but no great downpours.  The temperatures have been low enough that I can wear my rainsuit without sweltering.  Waldo and I are still walking in the mornings, but no more pre-dawn treks.  Even when it’s not raining, I’m wearing a light jacket to stay warm.  It’s amazing how fast the weather changes around here.  The forecast for next week has highs in the low 70s and lows in the mid 50s.  That’s within Waldo walking range, any time of the day.    Today, as we start out at ten AM, the temp is fifty-eight, there’s no rain, the skies are cloudy and there’s a breath of a breeze.  I’m comfy in my jacket and look forward to our walk without drowning in sweat or sloshing in puddles.

Despite the lower temperatures, the leaves are still mostly green – although I can see, off in the distance, rare small patches of red in the tree tops.  There’s been no freezes yet to force the issue.  On the ground are a few dead leaves and branches left there by recent moderate winds.  Hurricane Lee stirred up some good breezes a week or so ago as it brushed by us in a glancing blow, but they’ve gone now.  It won’t be too much longer and the rail-trail will turn into the yellow brick road because of fall, but not yet.  The one thing that does show that autumn is soon upon us are the many shriveled weeds now bearing balls of seeds in burrs, just off the side of the trail.  Common burdock, in particular, drives Waldo nuts when its offspring get tangled in his fur.

I enjoy being out here in the woods this time of year, watching as Mother Nature prepares to sleep for the winter.  The black walnut trees drop their green fruit on the ground, which I like to kick down the tarmac as we walk along.  Soon, the mighty oaks will be throwing their acorns at us in handfuls.  There’s some on the ground now, but in a few weeks, I won’t be able to go outside without hearing a thunk as one smacks a car parked below.  Here are some small dents in the roof of my car from previous years and I can’t think of any other way they might have gotten there.

I like to guess which trees will color-out first.  Maples start the show, of course, and sometime later come the oaks.  But I haven’t yet worked out the sequence for the sumacs, birches, aspens, sassafras, hickory and all the others.  Once the coloration is done, I try to guess who will be dropping their leaves first and last.  I remember, a while back, being puzzled by seeing so many oak leaves on the ground, and yet finding only maples growing nearby.  That puzzle was solved by looking up.  You don’t see many oak leaves close to the ground because their branches reach skyward in inverted cones, producing canopies high off the ground where their leaves are hard to identify.  Maples, on the other hand, have more of a spherical shape, with plenty of leaves down low and in your face.

It’s hard to tell if Waldo notices any of this going on.  He seems to be completely oblivious to the presence of the damn common burdock burrs as he sidles up to what’s left of the bushes, doing his Waldo thing.  I don’t think he’s even drawn a correlation between the plants and the annoying spikey balls that get all wrapped up in his hair.  He just walks along and then stops to turn and bite at the aggravating, unwanted irritation in his side, leg, back, neck, or any other place they congregate.  It’s like they just beamed into existence just to annoy him.

He does have a doggy sense of the passage of time though.  He knows when it’s time to go to bed, to eat and to go out for a walk, for example.  I wonder if he notices the differences in how the world smells as the seasons come and go and how those differences evolve as the year ages on.  I’ll bet he does – he sees the world through his nose, you know.

At the moment, we seem to be in a kind of an uncertain hiatus – a kind of escheresque transition, not summer anymore and not yet fully autumn either.  Not even the weather can decide whether to be warm or cool.

It’s September, out here in the woods.


…although, there is some color here and there.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 03, 2023

Apartment complex construction at the beginning of the rail-trail (on the right).


Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.

-E.O. Wilson


It’s still hot and muggy out.  That’s not such a bad thing, Waldo can tolerate it and I’m forced to get up before dawn.  As I’ve mentioned before, the thinking of doing a thing is often much worse than the actual doing of it and, at 4:30 AM, my body is just not ready to get out of bed.  Once we’re out walking, I’m glad to be out watching the sun come up.  But at that moment when I’m first goaded into regaining consciousness by an aggravatingly loud alarm, I’m so tempted to turn the thing off, roll over and go back to sleep.  I’ve found that the easiest way to overcome the half-conscious negotiation for more sleep, doubts about the worth of any endeavor that requires action of any kind at that early hour and the consideration of just packing it in for a day, is to get myself upright as soon as my eyes open, before all that can start.  Once up, life’s juices are pumping around and I can focus on what I need to do to get out the door.

This morning, even Waldo has to be coached to get out of his crate.  Once up, he goes to the bedroom door, telling me, in his Waldo way, to open the damn thing.  I do, as I’m getting dressed, and he goes out into the living room and lies down again.  His eyes are open as he lays there, cranking his own engine over to get it started, and watches me as I do what I need to do before we leave.  It doesn’t take long and Waldo’s fed and watered, my boots are tied snug and we’re out the door.

At the start of the trail, in the flat early-morning dawn twilight, off to the left behind a hurricane fence, is a 4.5-acre open area of dirt.  On it, sit multiple large earth moving machines.  Just a few weeks ago, there stood old five-story wooden buildings.  I’m not sure what they were used for, one was some kind of factory, but they appeared to have been built over a hundred years ago – certainly during the time the train was still running there.  Now, they’re gone and soon to be replaced by a five story, 276-unit apartment complex, with ground floor retail and commercial space and even a swimming pool.

I don’t miss the old buildings, they were abandoned and something of an eyesore, but the encroachment of development alongside the rail-trail worries me.  If it were an effort to provide affordable homes and do something about the housing crisis in this country, I would feel differently, but what’s driving it is the greed of some company from Atlanta who just sees an opportunity to make a buck.  I’m sure they’ll be charging monthly rents in excess of one-and-a-half times what a mortgage costs.  That seems to be the standard these days.

Soon, all that’s behind us and we’re in the woods.  Waldo’s off sniffing and peeing on the weeds and I’m keeping an eye out, trying to guide him away from the worst of the burr producing plants.   Common burdock has these spiked balls of seeds about the size of a jawbreaker and when they get stuck in his coat, it’s a bear getting them out.  If I’m not vigilant, I’ll look down and see wads of matted fur with four or five of them glued together in a bunch.  Blissfully, they only seem to grown along one stretch of our path and we soon pass it.  The trees tower above us, still fully green with foliage, their leaves doing princess waves in the light breeze.  The birds are chirping, but although I call out, every once in a while, with an, “Emmy!” I get no reply.  The catbirds just may be starting to head south and I might not hear them again until late next spring,

Just past the clearing that abuts the Fort Meadow Reservoir, is a thick patch of woods to the east.  In it, there are a number of new-growth trees, but I can also see some trunks that have been there for over a hundred years.  Red, black and white oaks, maples of various kinds, hickory and even some elms happily grow there.  Unfortunately, some of the larger trees have sun-faded red ribbons tied around them.

I remember watching surveyors tying them on a couple of years ago and fearing the worst.  My fears were well founded – some company from Texas wants to cut all those trees down and build a 300-unit housing complex with a club house and a restaurant.  I’ve seen the plans and they include a wide driveway that cuts right across the trail.  I don’t know if it’s been approved yet, but, you know, money talks…  It would be such a shame to lose all that natural expanse.  I’ve seen deer and foxes pop out of there, saunter down the trail a ways, then bolt back into the safety of the woods.  I may not see them anymore.  At least Waldo and I can enjoy it all now.

Even in the sweltering heat.


Forest (on the right) that would be destroyed in the construction of a proposed apartment complex.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments