Byron Brumbaugh

January 31, 2023

It’s a rainy day, no snow, in January!

 

We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.

-Barack Obama

 

From slabs of ice and temps in the negative regions, we go, in December, mind you, to temps in the mid-fifties with rain.    And now we’re in January and the temp is 34℉ and it’s raining again.  Rain.  December is supposed to be the month when Massachusetts gets most of its snow.  This year, what did we get?  Rain.  And more rain.  Gaia must be sicker than most of us realize.

It’s not raining hard today – really more of a drizzle.  Waldo and I, although wet, are not soaked.  There’s water running down the drainage trenches next to the trail, but it’s not spilling over onto the tarmac, like it does when it’s really pouring.  Waldo doesn’t seem to even notice, except, on rare occasion, when he shakes the rain off his sable coat.  Other life stirs in the damp mild temps.  Some grasses seem to have shaken off their hibernation as there are definitely dark green blades tucked in amongst the usual yellow-brown of winter sleep.  The garlic mustard is easier to find and the mosses are thick and fuzzy.  It’s wet and warm enough that the wooden fence posts and rails are green with algal growth too.  I wonder if these rousing living things are confused by the weather, or maybe they’re just taking advantage of what’s offered as they can.

Waldo and I don’t mind the rain.  We’ve been in worse and I have been in much worse.  And warmer rain too.   I remember once, when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, I was riding in a bus and it started raining.  The water was as warm as what you have in your shower.  I didn’t know that was possible, but Gaia will smash your preconceptions, given the chance.  Today, the rain is definitely not warm, but at least we’re not growing sheets of ice on us like we have in the past.  I’ll never forget watching icicles growing down from my hood as we walked along this same stretch of trail a couple of years ago.

We need this water, there was quite a drought this summer.  The problem is, when it comes down as rain, the water drains off into the ocean and is gone.  As snow, it sticks around for several months, only slowly releasing its moisture and slowly enough so the water can soak into the ground.  Fortunately, there is snow up in the hills, so maybe we’ll be okay this year.  And winter isn’t over yet.  These disturbed weather patterns certainly give strong immediate evidence for climate change.

I don’t understand how the deniers can continue to try to refute the facts of global warming.  But I guess, for thousands of years, there have been people denying what science tells us.  I’m reminded of Aristophanes’s, The Clouds:

 

Strepsiades: By the Earth! Is our father, Zeus, the Olympian, not a god?

Socrates: Zeus! what Zeus!  Are you mad?  There is no Zeus.

Strepsiades:  What are you saying now?  Who causes the rain to fall?  Answer me that!

Socrates: Why, these [the clouds], and I will prove it.  Have you ever seen it raining without clouds?  Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence!

Strepsiades: By Apollo!  That is powerfully argued!  For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve…

[Source: Thomas West, translator, Four texts on Socrates, Cornell University Press]

 

There are, it would seem, even today, way too many Strepsiadeses walking around.  They may not think rain is Zeus-piss, but they still turn a deaf ear to what science has to say about our climate with an equally ridiculous prejudicial ignorance.

Waldo’s not worried about climate change.  Of course, he’s not significantly contributing to it either.  I wonder if he even notices the warming trend we’re experiencing.  His focus seems to be on finding the perfect stick (I recently decided to give him an Amerind name: Čháŋ WaktéktekA [Lakota], which roughly translates to “Stick Stalker”).  However, he, for sure, doesn’t do well when the temps get into the 80s, 90s and above in the summer.  He doesn’t have much choice; he just suffers along as best he can with whatever the day has to offer – as does the rest of nature.  We human beings can do something about it, though, and we’d better start doing it fast.

Well, Čháŋ WaktéktekA and I will be back here tomorrow, spending a few hours walking and stalking without significantly contributing to our carbon footprint.

Whatever the weather.

 

Running water where it is usually dry, no snow and no ice.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 24, 2023

The long shadows of winter — even at midday.

 

Ice has a social life.  Its changeability shapes the culture, language and stories of those who live near it.

-Robert Macfarlane

 

The bomb cyclone hit the US, followed by the frigid temps of a polar vortex heading south.  Though western Mass got quite a bit of snow, all we got was rain, then the vortex brought with it temperatures down into the negative numbers.  I can dress for that, but Waldo can’t and I was worried about taking him for long walks.  In the past, when it’s been that cold, he’s had trouble with ice growing between his pads.  But there is no snow on the ground and that didn’t happen.  Just the same, I decided not to go for the rail-trail when it was that cold.  I needn’t have worried.  Waldo spent the entire day out on his throne, the balcony, keeping watch on his dogdom.

Today, it’s warmed up to around ten degrees and I decide to go for it.  My cheeks and forehead are a bit numb, but the rest of me, except my hands, are toasty.  My hands, I can easily deal with by alternating the leash with a warm pocket, except when I have to deglove to pick up what Waldo leaves behind.  Then they get very cold.  I keep an eye on Waldo, but he’s out prancing, sniffing whatever it is he can smell, and searching for stick upgrades.  I know he’s comfortable, not only by his eagerness to keep going, but also because, every once in a while, he drops back to where I am and pokes me with a stick.  He seems to think that’s strong temptation to get me to play with him.  I try to comply, but I’m not at all sure of the rules.  I do know it involves keep-away, then tug-of-war if I can grab the stick, followed by, if I win, a stick toss to somewhere within leash-length.  He’s having a good time.

We haven’t gone far and the path is blocked by a very thick chunk of ice.  It’s about ten or fifteen feet wide, too wide to step over, and it’s a good three inches thick.  It continues off-trail, so I have to cross the ice — very gingerly, but uneventfully.  Waldo didn’t try to avoid it and the cold didn’t seem to bother his feet, but he did slip and slide a little; his four-paw drive kept him upright, though.  The trail before and after the ice is clean and dry.  I know it wasn’t formed from the freezing of standing water because it’s in the middle of the path and stands up above the level of the tarmac.  It appears layered, as if a slowly moving shallow pool of water flowed out onto an already frozen sheet of ice, got stuck there, and then froze.  Something like that must have happened four or more times because there are that many layers.  As we walk along, we come across half a dozen similar glacial flows, so whatever caused them is not unique to one place.

I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m intrigued – I can’t help but wonder how they were formed.  During the rain, the temps were in the mid-fifties with strong winds.  Within twelve hours, the rain stopped and temps dropped to the negative single digits.  I know the freeze happened after the precipitation stopped, because there is absolutely no accumulation of snow.  So, somehow, the rain stopped, the temperature dropped and whatever standing water there was must have frozen.  Then flowing liquid water (which doesn’t freeze so easily), perhaps wind driven, must have accumulated on top of the ice where it stopped and froze.  Then the process repeated at least four times — sort of like how stalagmites and stalactites are formed.  Fascinating.

Waldo and I are intrepid walkers, for sure.  But we are not alone.  Despite the low temps, we pass several joggers and a few other walkers who aren’t inhibited by cold or ice.  There are no bikes or other dogs, though.  As we pass by, we say hello (Waldo usually has a hard time resisting a short greeting with wagging tail and gentle nuzzle) and everyone comments on what a nice day it is.  It’s a bit nippy, a bit blustery, but that only makes it different from the days before, not any less of a good day.  And we share amazement at the thick blocks of ice.

I pay close attention to the English ivy-covered tree as we pass.  I half-expected it to be withered and drained of green, but it’s not.  The leaves are just as plump and green as they were when the temperature was in the fifties.  The garlic mustard is still green too, although some of their leaves have curled up on themselves.  Some blades of grass and all of the moss is still green as ever, clearly ignoring the frigid cold. We didn’t see any squirrels, though, and what birds are left must have decided to spend the day at home.  But there are a few members of nature, including some humans and at least one dog, who are happy being outside, communing with Gaia, regardless of the weather.

And you never know what you’ll find along the way.

 

It’s colder than it looks…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 17, 2023

English ivy adorned oak tree, mid-winter.

 

The Earth created magic to protect the magic that is the Earth.

-Sarah Warden

 

Today, I communed briefly with Gaia, and listened carefully to what she had to say, but she had no dramatic news to report, so it didn’t last long.  Winters are like that, for me anyway.  Nature slows to a crawl – what’s vibrant with life during the rest of the year is quietly slumbering during the frigid months.  Even the noonday sun only barely raises itself from the horizon, casting cold long shadows even when at its zenith.  One day seems so much like the last, and the next, that the season seems to last forever.  But one year is not like another.  Some years, I’m trying to walk with Waldo in a foot or more of snow.  This year, the ground is still snow-free, and the temperatures are in the low forties, yet it’s already the winter solstice.

I’ve noticed some surprising things because of the lack of snow.  One day, I’m walking along the rail-trail and I notice there are still a few small autumn olives sporting green leaves, then a hard freeze comes along, with temps in the high teens, and they seem to disappear.  The same thing with the small bunches of garlic mustard.  The temperature rises, a rain comes along, and low and behold, a few autumn olives with drooping leaves reappear and the garlic mustard pokes its leaves through overlying dead leaves.  Maybe it’s just that I haven’t noticed they were there because their numbers have decreased.  Except for the garlic mustard.  Just the other day, I didn’t see any, now there are places where it’s easy to find, not in great abundance, but it’s there.

This spring-like resurgence of leafy green has made me more observant.  Today, I notice a few fronds of intermediate wood fern poking out from beneath tawny fallen oak leaves.  Ferns in the last days of December.  Who’da thunk?  With all the rain we’ve gotten recently, and the warmer temperatures, the gametophytes of the mosses alongside the tarmac have grown tall (for them), giving them a thickened fluffy appearance.  Noticing all this heightens my curiosity and awareness.

Now what is this?  In the periphery of my vision, I spot a large mass of dark green.  It stands tall and is definitely not a conifer.  I move closer and stare in wonder.  Healthy dark green leaves of English ivy densely cover the bole and branches of a tall dead oak. The vine winds its way around the trunk and limbs of the tree like tinsel garlands surrounding a decorated Christmas tree.  Everything else around (except for the white pines) is beige and boney.  Yet here’s this vine, in the cold winter temperatures, sporting verdure the like of which I’ve only seen in the warmer months.  It boldly stands there in stark contrast to its surroundings and I’m in awe that I haven’t noticed it before.  Maybe all the rain we’ve had recently has infused it with new life, causing it to burst forth with plump foliage.

Waldo and I have been walking nearly daily on this trail for almost four years and yet this is the first time I’ve noticed anything like this.  It forces me to wonder just how observant I am.  Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also breeds ignorance – when I’m familiar with something, I tend to ignore it.  And yet, I know, from prior experience, each day out here, in any season, bears something new and different if I just look for it.

Waldo, of course, knows this well.  He is constantly trotting along with his nose less than an inch from the tarmac, seeking and, no doubt, finding new and interesting things to sniff.  And when he finds them, he spends long moments carefully smelling them out, and their surroundings, in order to discover all the nuance they have to offer.  I can tell he is truly fully engaged in the search.  Oh, he misses stuff too, not because he’s not paying attention, but because he’s so focused on what’s new right before his nose.  I don’t know, but I’d bet he’s sad about the lack of snow, though – he’s so enamored with rolling around in it and making snow doggies.

So, maybe my feelings about winter being merely a time when the natural world waits for spring is simply wrong.  I think it more likely that I’m suffering from seasonal complacency disorder and just miss a lot that’s happening.  There is a lot going on, it’s just not conspicuous, especially when much of it is buried under a thick blanket of snow.  Today, there’s no snow out here, so I can see it, I just have to look.  One thing for sure; I’m keeping my eye out for that dead tree and its English ivy tomorrow.

You know, Gaia is talking to me even when I’m not paying attention…

 

Garlic mustard, mid-winter.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 10, 2023

There are green trees, but they’re mostly white pine.

 

If you wish to know the divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.

-Buddha

 

Again, today, I’m going to make the effort to listen to what Gaia has to say.  She talks all the time, but I’m usually too busy ruminating over this or that to really pay attention.  Today, though, I vow I will.

Waldo and I are out on the rail-trail; it’s cold with temps in the high twenties, colder when the wind blows.  The skies are blue, nary a cloud in sight, which ensures little heat will remain down near the ground where we are.  It’s cold enough that the skin on my face gets a little numb.  I wear gloves, but they aren’t thick enough to keep my fingers warm for very long.  I leave one hand in the pocket of the parka I’m wearing and the other I use to hold Waldo’s leash handle.  When the unpocketed hand starts to ache from the cold, I switch them out, coiling the frozen one in a ball.  This lasts for fifteen minutes or so, then I have to exchange them again.  Everything else stays quite toasty, buried as it is under down and cloth.

Waldo is prancing around, seemingly undisturbed by the chill.  In fact, he seems to like this temperature.  When it gets below 10, he’s prone to get ice between his toes, forcing him to stop and bite at his feet.  I’ve never seen him shiver, but I do watch for that and other signs that he might be uncomfortable, like lying down and not wanting to continue.  Today, he seems to be in his element, happily sniffing, picking up sticks, and roaming around, looking for God knows what.

Around us, the tawny, spindly landscape remains deathly still, except for the few dead, shriveled leaves that still tenaciously hang onto their branches as they shudder in the breeze.  Even the autumn olive has given up the ghost – the only green left is from the white pines that are intermingled with the rest of life and are now clearly visible through the naked remains of the other plants.  The tarmac is covered with the remnants of a skiff of snow from the last storm.  Originally just deep enough to leave footprints, the subsequent thawing and freezing has produced an uneven patchwork of snow and ice that, in places, is difficult to navigate.  There are, as well, spots where the tarmac is dry and some that are slippery with black ice.  In the deep woods are places where fallen leaves peek through their white icy coverlet, giving the ground a mottled look.  In the distance, through stands of tree trunks and denuded brush, I can see patches of wind-blown beige fields not yet blanketed with deep drifts.

That’s the milieu.  I open up my perception to receive all this and whatever Gaia has to say.  I relax my mind, defocusing to the point where I don’t label, I don’t define, I don’t evaluate.  I’m simply here, taking it all in.  I don’t try to resist the cold, I don’t wonder how far we have yet to go, I don’t intellectualize what’s happening.  I just let be whatever is in my mind.  I just “listen.”

I can’t hold this mental posture for long, it fades in and out.  Most of my cognitive brain, I can shut off for short periods, but the labeling, defining and evaluating are so engrained in the way I habitually live and think, that I can only avoid them for seconds at a time.  But I can maintain a mental posture where I never go completely back to how I usually experience the world.  I do my best to just tread water in the middle of Gaia’s ocean, letting the waves of her discourse bob me around as she wills.

As a result, I not only experience what is happening at the moment, I also reexperience what’s happened in the past.  These aren’t memories; I don’t remember what happened, I experience it as if it were happening now.  It’s like what I’m experiencing is a spaciotemporal whole.  I’ve been cold like this before — skiing in the Uintah Mountains, or hiking at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, or walking to grammar school in the middle of winter.  One experience flows into another and into now as if it were all one.  I’m sensing the continuity of my experience of nature as it flows from past to future, beyond what I can conceptualize, without slicing it up into then and now.

All this produces a kind of precognitive, unemotional sense of the universe that is bigger than me, but of which I am a part.  There is a message there, but to try to put it into language would destroy its content.  What Gaia says, she says in subtle suggestions that are not chopped up into words, objectified into things, or conceptualized into discrete thoughts.  Her message is continuous, flowing and experiential.  I reach out and touch Gaia’s heart and she responds with a playful, tender, loving whisper that shimmers through my being.

I have to believe that Waldo communes more regularly than I with Gaia.  With his x-ray nose and his intense interest in everything that’s around him, how could he not?  And, although he does understand some language, I’ll bet his mind is not filled with a distracting, constant stream of language-based thought, leaving him more open to experience nature as it happens.  It makes me wonder what Gaia is telling him…

I have no doubt that there indeed does exist emergent properties of nature.  I also know, from personal experience, that nature does speak to us, if we would only listen.

And what she says is full of awesome, magical beauty.

 

Most of the forest are bones.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 03, 2023

The rain has just started, more is coming.

 

Forever — is composed of Nows –

-Emily Dickinson

 

It’s wet and rainy today.  Not the kind of rain that comes down in sheets, soaks through my boots and clouds my glasses with wind-driven beads of water that run down the lenses, but more of a light drizzle that, over the two plus hours it takes us to do our trek, gets my rainsuit thoroughly wet, but I stay relatively dry.  Waldo’s hair is soaked to the skin, but he only shakes it off every half hour or so.  Visibility is just slightly impaired and the temperature is in the low fifties, so it’s not cold at all.  Except for the rare jogger, dog walker or dedicated exerciser out for their daily constitutional, we are alone.  Tuning out the spatter of raindrops on my clothes and ignoring the sight of the constantly falling misty rain, everything is remarkably still.  Insects have packed it in for the season, rabbits and squirrels are holed up somewhere dry and birds have either gone south or decided this isn’t the day to venture out for a flight.  I put my gait on automatic pilot and leave Waldo to do his Waldo thing at the end of the leash.  With nothing else to do, I can’t help it, my mind wanders and I’m soon thinking more about emergence.

I’m struck by an entertaining thought.  If human consciousness is the emergent property of lots of interacting neurons adapting to their milieu, what would the emergent property be, let’s call it the Uber mind, of lots of people interacting with one another?  I don’t think you could call this Uber a super-consciousness because that would suppose there would be significant overlap between what we experience as consciousness and what Uber experiences.  I would think it would be as difficult for us to imagine what Uber’s experience is like as it would be for a neuron to guess what our awareness is like.

The emergent quality of nature, let’s call her Gaia, might have qualities that are at least as difficult for us to understand.  In the movie, Avatar, the writers invented a guiding force of life, on the planet Pandora, they called Eywa.  The natives, the Na’vi, could speak directly to Eywa through the Tree of Souls – a tree that they could use to get “hardwired into” Eywa.  Here on Earth, we are all part of nature and we interact with all other parts of nature.  Maybe if we thought of Mother Nature as Gaia, something similar to Eywa (I’m sure that was intended by the writers), the paradigm shift would be insightful.  Maybe Gaia doesn’t have a human personality, or maybe she doesn’t have intelligence, the way we think of intelligence, but she does “speak” to us and we don’t need a Tree of Souls to “hear” her.  All we have to do is pay attention.

I open my awareness to the world around me; today, the slanting rays of a winter sun ooze diffusely through clouds, mist and the bare branches of trees, to shine weakly on dead leaves that cover the ground.  Looking at all this in an unfocused sort of way, I can get a sense of something bigger, Gaia in her entirety, rather than my usual narrow perception of nature being merely a collection of trees, bushes and so on.  Gaia “speaks” to me as obliquely and indirectly as the winter sun shines on the ground.  If I’m willing to still my constantly running mind and my never-ending internal dialog, and just listen, look, feel, taste, and smell what’s happening in the moment, I can sense how she affects me.  I feel a cold breeze chill and numb my face, see the tan and beige sleeping forest and fields with their skeletal dormant remains, listen to the droplets of drizzle hit my rainsuit, smell the musty, rotting dead leaves at my feet and I react to it all.  My reactions are more feelings than thoughts, something precognitive, yet profoundly moving.  The texture of what I experience is constantly shifting, flowing, like a river.  It’s nuanced and subtle, yet prolific and deep.  If I dwell there, in the world of how I feel being emersed in Gaia, rather than run away to somewhere more intellectual, I learn something important from what she “tells” me.  Something that cannot be expressed in language because it is precognitive, yet has a profound impact on my experience.

Waldo breaks my reverie with a gentle tug on the leash.  We’re almost back to the car.  I turn to him and report, “Well done, Waldo.  Another day, another six miles.”  He wags his tail and makes for the car and home.  Uber or no, Gaia or no, we are here on the rail-trail.

Being aware of that is what’s most important.

 

At first, it’s more of a mist than a drizzle.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 27, 2022

A piece of our little bit of nature.

 

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

-William Shakespeare

 

Waldo and I are finally back to our almost daily routine of walking 7.5 miles (six on the rail-trail and 1.5 for poop and pee).  Once again, we’re going down the rail-trail, rain or shine, hot or cold.  We missed those days where Waldo came home full of burs from the weeds he insists on burying his face in, we missed hearing the black walnut fruits falling to the ground with audible thuds and we missed watching the Japanese knotweed wither and die in long hedgerows a short distance off the path.  But now, we see daily the entirety of our piece of New England forest as it snuggles into the last throes of its winter hibernation.  Except for the autumn olives, that seem to have noticed a change, but are still in denial of it, nature looks very much like winter has come and firmly ensconced itself on the landscape, even though it’s still a few days before the winter solstice.  All that’s missing is the snow — the forecast says that’s coming next week.

I look out over the trees, what’s left of the bushes, the grasses and mosses and all of life out here and I’m struck by how it all fits together so tightly.  In places where grass doesn’t grow, moss does. Even lichens grow on rocks where nothing else will.  Where trees don’t rob the ground beneath them its share of sunshine, bushes and weeds flourish.  Ferns and mushrooms have their place, as do the mammals, birds and insects.  All of nature fits together almost seamlessly — like those stone Incan walls in the Andes where huge rocks have been fit together so well that a piece of paper can’t be forced into the cracks between them.  And yet no one is designing or directing the final form that nature takes.  It is truly a case of emergence, an example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

Emergence, which occurs when an entity develops properties its composite parts don’t have, has many examples in nature.  Ants building their tunnels do so without direction, yet the final design, a well-organized colony, results from the communal effort.  Starlings fly in huge shifting clouds whose shapes undulate and pulse as if an integrated unit, yet no single bird is in control of what they do.  Economies grow, thrive and take on a life of their own, yet no one is in control and none can truly understand them.  Even human consciousness can be seen as an emergent property of the brain’s neurons.

The human brain has around 86 billion neurons.  Each neuron has several axons that connect it to other neurons.  These neurons are not exactly the same and they interact through their axons.  Through these interactions, the states of the neurons adapt and change, allowing for human consciousness, an emergent property.  No neuron can be conscious, it simply doesn’t have the complexity to allow for consciousness.  Yet, somehow, these same neurons, through all of their interactions, produce self-awareness, intelligence, creativity and all the aspects of the human condition we call “thinking.”

Mother Nature is another system, more complex than the human brain, because, after all, she includes all of our brains.  As I walk down the trail, I am acutely aware of nature’s trees and grasses, mosses and bushes and rabbits and squirrels.  I don’t see them all, individually, but I know they’re there.  I know it because I see the results of their presence – a harmonious chorus of life that would not be able to sing the same tune if any one of them were missing.  Yet, there is no conductor.  Nature has so many more parts, and so much more diversity than a human brain, all interconnected and interacting, each able to adapt to its environment, that I can’t help but wonder at the emergent properties she may have that we just haven’t yet figured out.

Waldo and I are connected.  There are only two of us, not much diversity there, but we interact and adapt to each other.  If I were to guess as to the emergent property of our little bubble of existence, I would call it a sense of family.  A sense that there is something between us that is greater than the sum of Waldo and me.  A feeling that there is Waldo, there is me and there is us.  There is a difference between the two of us as a unit and each of us individually.  At the very least, that comes with feelings of belonging, caring, compassion and love that is not there, one without the other.

In the same way, we are all part of nature.  To a much greater depth and extent than the case of a human brain, there is complexity to life on Earth and it has emergent properties, some, we are not aware of.  But some, we are.  We should never lose that feeling of belonging to nature, respecting it, loving it, being awed by it and caring about it.  After all, like the moss and the grass, the trees and the bushes, the rabbits and the squirrels, the birds and the insects, we all have our place.

We all belong to each other.

 

Covid garden in winter, without snow.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 20, 2022

Can’t see the forest floor for the leaves.

 

We are the representatives of the cosmos; we are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of evolution.

-Carl Sagan

 

The forest floor is thick with the orange and tan of fallen leaves. They gave up the sugars and nutrients they manufactured during the warm months, to be stored in tree roots for the coming winter, and are now shed.  On the ground, they lay to slowly decay and add whatever organic material that’s left to the general milieu of the soil where it will be reused in coming seasons.  There are a few verdant plants still left – pines and cedars, mostly.  But there are also some leafy plants with their greenery still attached – autumn olives, wintercreeper euonymus, garlic mustard, greenstem forsythia, callery pear, Siberian elm, morrow’s honeysuckle, Alleghany blackberry, and even a Norway maple or two.  These are mostly rare and you have to keep an eye out for them — except for the autumn olives.  I never realized there were so many, until all the other foliage fell to the ground, revealing the now easily noticed olives shining their life through all the dead remnants of life.  I’m amazed any leaves have survived the cold temperatures we’ve recently had, yet, there they are.

I’m reminded of how homo sapiens sapiens was nearly wiped out some 70,000 years ago.  Mitochondrial DNA analysis shows there was a genetic bottleneck that occurred back then, with only around 1,000 pairs left on the entire Earth.  But humans are nothing if not tenacious and adaptable and here we are today.  Whatever the cause of the near extinction event was, disease, meteors, climate change, or something more exotic, our species passed the test and eventually became dominant.  How different the world would be today if all people died out back then.  It makes me wonder…

Suppose all the hominids were wiped out millions of years ago.  What species would take our place today?  If there were no bipedal apes with opposable thumbs to evolve large brains, would another species have done it?  Hands are not a requirement for massive amounts of gray matter, look at dolphins – some have bigger brains than humans.  Yet dolphins have not become a dominant species, even when you look only at marine life.  Maybe they are smart enough to know better?

Crows can use tools, although rudimentary ones, and they have very dexterous feet.  And parrots can speak and communicate with human language quite well.  Could they have evolved in place of humans?  What would the world be like if intelligent birds evolved instead of us?  Would they need roads since they fly almost everywhere they go?  How would their buildings be different?  Roofless?

Maybe “intelligence,” meaning the kind of “superior” thinking humans do, was not so much a niche that would be eventually filled by some species, but rather a fluke caused by a rare combination of environmental pressure to evolve with a coincidentally malleable available genetic substrate.  It’s possible that if hominids weren’t around to evolve, no species would eventually develop what we think of as intelligence.  After all, small-brained dinosaurs were dominant on the planet for hundreds of millions of years.  Is “intelligent” life inevitable or merely a freak accident?

I look over at Waldo.  He’s sniffing the berm and looking for a stick.  Could dogs have evolved to be in our place?  They’re smart and I see no reason why they couldn’t evolve to be smarter.  Waldo uses mostly his mouth to pick things up, but when he’s playing ball, he grabs it with his fore legs, curls his paws around it, almost like hands, and his claws grip the rubber almost like fingers.  And although they don’t particularly like to, dogs can balance upright on their hind legs.  Why couldn’t they evolve hands with opposable thumbs and walk on two legs instead of four?  Think of it, instead of movie theaters, maybe they’d have large sniff-o-ramas with a perfusion of odors instead of projected images.  Maybe they’d have street vendors selling a vast variety of sticks in addition to meaty treats.  I’m sure it would be, for us, a strange and interesting place.

But, nevertheless, here we are.  I am what I am, Waldo is what he is and the world is what it is, with its cyclical seasons, dead leaves and all.  I feed Waldo, provide and care for him and walk with him in Mother Nature as she has become.  I play with Waldo, enjoy his companionship and observe and appreciate the world around me.

I kinda like the way things turned out.

 

Not the best camouflage…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 13, 2022

The first snow of the season!

 

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.  Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow.  Let reality be reality.  Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

-Lao Tzu

 

As I write this, the first snow of the season is falling.  It’s ten o’clock at night and Waldo and I are out on our last poop and pee walk for the night.  It’s 33℉, so the flakes are large and fluffy.  There’s almost no wind and they float gently down like puffs of goose down.  It’s only been snowing for the past half hour or so, so the accumulation is, so far, only about a half inch.  That’s just enough to cover the ground with a mottled, lumpy, white quilt — each patch bordered by scant green blades of grass and bits of brown fallen leaves poking through the whiteness.  The forecast has the snow changing to sleet, then rain, in the wee hours, so not much, if any, of it will survive until dawn.  But, for now, it covers the quiet end-of-day stillness in a soft blanket, swaddling all as if tucking it in for the night.

Waldo is prancing around, pulling at the end of the leash, trying to get the last bit of romp out of what’s left of the day.  He nuzzles the snow, no doubt looking for the right stick to carry, then charges out front and does a four-pawed slide just before slamming into the end of the leash.  After lifting a leg on a convenient nearby bush, he glares through the dim ambient light at a lump of something that just might be a rabbit.  He stares intently at it, without moving a hair in his sable coat, then approaches slowly, stalking his prey in a crouch.  Once close enough to see what is what, he straightens and moves off at a trot, realizing it’s nothing but a rock.  I could have told him the rabbits are all snuggled in their warrens, waiting for the weather to turn, but he wouldn’t listen.  Where’s the fun in that?

Although there are a few cars passing by on the streets, we meet no one else out in the snow.  The other dog “owners” have, no doubt, already done their last doggy-duty of the day, finishing before the storm hit.  Waldo and I don’t mind the cold, though, and like to be out in the falling snow.  I like it because it seems so peaceful and calming, but it’s come too early and I’m not yet prepared for it.  I feel cheated.  Because of my pinched nerve, I lost two months on the rail-trail – in late summer and early fall.  Sure, I witnessed those seasons on the apartment grounds, and it was quite beautiful here, but being back on the trail and witnessing how so much has changed (the temperature, the leaves in the trees and on the ground, the dying back of the undergrowth and now, the snow), I feel left behind — like Mother Nature moved on without me.  I was in absentia for far too long.

You know, no matter what happens in life, time rolls inexorably onwards, not caring a whit whether you’re present and aware or not.  Revisiting places once familiar and never forgotten, causes pain.  The pain of something lost.  Lost because there are events that live now only in your memory.  In their place is something new that feels somewhat foreign.  Once I came back to the trail, the forest seemed familiar, but not the same.  The dense greenery of late summer suddenly morphed into the colorful pastel hues of fall with a discontinuity.  It is all pleasant enough, but it feels like a non-sequitur.  What I observe now just doesn’t fit smoothly in with what I left behind.  There’s a gap in my experience of then and now like I was beamed into a sham replica of what was.

And now it’s snowing.

Waldo is out front, walking back and forth in S-turns, nose next to the ground, as if on a wide-area search for his next best entertainment.  The snow is wafting around him and slowly settling in piles behind.  The white blanketed ground has a beauty all its own, and he is into it.  He’s right.  The best thing to do is to enjoy what is right in front of me, instead of lamenting something that is not, even if it might have been.  If you can’t be in the place you love, then love the place you’re in.  Waldo is an ace at that.  I pick up a handful of snow and craft it into a loose ball.  I toss it at Waldo and it explodes into cloud of dust on his back.  He turns and looks at me as if to say, “What?”   I kick some snow at him and he lunges playfully at me — butt and wagging tail in the air, forelegs planted on the ground, a bright glint in his eye.  This soon evolves into a game of “Herd the Border Collie,” in a fog of flying powder.  Alas, he has skills, speed and agility I don’t have.  No matter, we don’t keep any kind of score and it’s win-win for fun.

Ah, the winter has its own delights to share.

 

It seems strange that all this snow will be gone tomorrow…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 06, 2022

The pines are still green. The rest, not so much…

 

The reason a dog has so many friends is that it wags its tail instead of its tongue.

-unknown

 

The days have turned cool, with highs in the low 50s and the lows in the high 20s.  Most of the leaves have fallen to the ground, leaving their trees with bony fingers reaching up into the sky.  The undergrowth has died back except for a few hardy vines that still display some meager greenery.  Squirrels are out in large numbers, gamboling loudly in the crisp dead leaves.  There are either more there, or I can see more of them because I can so easily hear them and they can’t hide so well without the screening foliage.  There seem to be fewer birds around, judging from the lack of song – most must have already headed south.

Waldo and I are still here, though, trekking along the trail, watching the season slowly progress.  Waldo is happy as ever, as evidenced by his wagging tail.  Whenever someone, or some other dog, approaches, he is particularly vigorous with his posterior appendage, swaying it around on one side, then the other, until he gets close, and then his entire caboose is oscillating with a purpose.  I’m pretty sure that’s his way of letting others know his intentions are friendly and not aggressive – sort of like how people will greet each other with a smile and a handshake.  But it makes me wonder, why did dogs evolve that particular bit of body language to telegraph their lack of evil intent?

I’ve read that many believe the handshake was created, in prehistorical times, as a method to show that those clasping hands don’t have any weapons in them and are of no threat.  More recently, tablets from Babylon, made 3,000 years ago, have been found bearing an embossed picture of two rulers shaking hands, so it’s been a thing for a very long time.  If this behavior is really so well thought out, though, it makes me wonder if it isn’t learned, instead of instinctual.  Facial expressions, as far as I know, have pretty much the same meaning across human cultures – a smile means the same thing to everyone.  So maybe facial expressions in humans are instinctual.

A dog’s wagging tail can also bear the meaning that they lack harmful intent.  Not because they can’t hold weapons in the wiggling part that’s the last to go over the fence, but because they can’t lunge aggressively while thrashing the thing about — it would throw them off balance.  They clearly use many different kinds of body language to show the lack of intent to cause harm, including not baring their teeth, not making loud aggressive noises, like growling, holding their head low and assuming a relaxed posture that doesn’t presage an attack.  I doubt any of that is learned, though.  It seems to be universal among dogs and similar animals and I’m pretty sure it’s instinctual.  Funny thing is, our ancestors had tails, yet I don’t think people have any residual impulse to shake our vestigial tails and butts when we’re meeting friends or if we’re happy.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, though.

Other animals that have tails, like birds, don’t seem to have the same impulse to shake them.  Of course, their ancestors evolutionarily separated from ours and those of dogs, many hundreds of millions of years ago, so maybe tail wagging was a later development.  More advanced, so to speak.  As far as I know, birds don’t sniff each other’s butts either, but it’s hard to think of that as advanced behavior.  Yet, I would be willing to bet that, if tail wagging is instinctual, then it has some evolutionary advantage over not wagging tails.

I’m guessing that dogs, like people, being social creatures whose survival was improved by joining together in groups, needed some way of signaling to each other that they desired harmless interaction with each other.  Interaction that enhanced their bonding together.  Then tail wagging wouldn’t have any direct survival advantage, but was just a convenient means to that end.  It’s thought, for example, that 80 percent of the time when people laugh, it’s not because of something funny.  It’s because they want to telegraph that what they are saying or doing is not intended as a threat — laughing reinforces socialization.  Maybe tail wagging in dogs does something similar.

Or maybe we’re all missing out on a hidden pleasure that dogs know so well.  Just maybe the joy of meeting a friend can be enhanced by shaking your booty as you do it.

What the hell, it’s worth a try…

 

Feelin’ kind of all alone…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

November 29, 2022

Follow the yellow brick road!

 

Autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly.  They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.

-Delia Owens

 

A carpet of yellow and tan leaves covers the tarmac of the rail-trail — oak and maple mostly, but there are also, in places, birch, aspen and black walnut.  The colorful quilt softens footfalls, but it also adds a crisp rustling to the sound of passing feet and paws.  There are so many dry and brittle leaves on the ground off-trail that it’s easy to hear a miscreant squirrel as he bounds through the undergrowth.  The trees from which the leaves fell still have some left, even a few that are green, but their bony skeletons are definitely poking through the foliage.

Looking out over the landscape across a clearing at Fort Meadow Reservoir, I can see lumpy vistas of green, yellow, orange and red undulate off into the distance.  A hard freeze has yet to come, but we have had temps in the early morning of 32℉.  That’s cold enough to start the arboreal shedding, but not enough to completely denude the deciduous trees.  The green I see now is largely due to conifers, trees that during the summer are completely overshadowed by their leafy cousins.  Today is warm, by fall standards, with a high of 69℉.  It’s the kind of day that you can enjoy while being in your shirtsleeves and yet still be immersed in all the splendor the season has to offer.

I’ve always liked the fall.  To me, it feels like a time of resurgence, a reawakening — even more so than spring.  Many plants and animals are on the verge of hibernation, but in my early years, this was when my life began anew after a summer hiatus.  School started again, with the promise of new things to learn and do.  Social activity increased as more people moved into my circle of interaction.  With all that, new opportunities arose for adventure and exploration.

I remember one fall in particular.  I’ve always liked the idea of flying an airplane.  This started when I was about 6 years old.  My brother, who is three years older than I, built plastic models of WWII airplanes.  I would hold them by the fuselage and pretend I was piloting them in swooping dives, gracefully curving banked turns and vertical climbs.  I knew about ailerons, elevators, rudders, flaps and propellers.  I understood, to some degree, how and why they worked and how to use them.  I knew about thrust, drag, lift and weight.  I knew and understood that the way to land was to fly onto the ground.  I intuitively grokked what it meant to fly a plane.  And I yearned to actually do it.  Then, in the autumn when I was fifteen, an opportunity arose that I could not refuse.

I had a job working in a grocery store, putting fruit and vegetables out on the stands.  For $1.00 an hour.  Shortly thereafter, the minimum wage law took effect and my wages jumped to $1.06 and hour.  Not much, but enough that, over many weeks, I had some saved.  With that money burning a hole in my pocket, I heard, I don’t remember how, that the biology teacher in my high school was a flight instructor.  So, I waited outside the door to his classroom until class was over and approached him, saying I wanted to learn to fly.  He was very accommodating and shortly thereafter my experiences in flight began.  He would pick me up, a couple of times a week, at 6 in the morning, and we’d go fly, then go to school.  I immediately fell in love and now, at 73, I have a lifetime of wonderful memories to peruse.  That was truly a wonderful fall to remember.

Nowadays, I walk with Waldo on the rail-trail in the autumn.  It no longer offers up the same kind of new opportunities to expand my life’s experiences as it used to, but the ebb and flow of time, punctuated by the change of seasons, persists.  Mother Nature pulses with seasonal change as the year progresses and the difference in my life from one to another is less dramatic than it used to be.  But still, just because of my history, I think the calendar year should begin with September first, not January first.

Waldo, I don’t think knows one season from another.  But I do think he enjoys walking out here without suffering the heat of mid-summer, or the freezing cold of the winter.  It’s hard to tell for sure, what with his tail wagging and nose to the ground in hot pursuit of God-knows-what in any season.  When I think about it, I suppose every day provides ample opportunity for new experiences for him.

But, to me, fall is somehow still something special.

 

Somebody has jumped the gun and is decorating pine trees a little early…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments