Byron Brumbaugh

May 30, 2023

On the railroad bed.


Jobs fill your pockets but adventures fill your soul.

-Jaime Lynn Beatty


I found a 4.9-mile piece of the Mass Central Rail Trail that runs from West Boylston to Holden.  Today, Christine joins us for a round trip distance of 9.8 miles (we decided to do the round trip so we could use it for our daily 6-mile self-imposed obligation).  We start at about noon, in West Boylston, and head west, going upriver along the Quinapoxet River.  The day is cool, but warm enough for shirtsleeves, and the weather dry.  The path is wide, compacted and solid, but unpaved.  It starts where the river empties into the Wachusett Reservoir, just north of Worcester, and gently winds through stands of white pine that have been there for around a hundred years.

About a mile from the trailhead, there’s a place where the Springdale Woolen Mill once stood.  At one time, raw wool was processed there and then sent on by rail.  All that’s there now are some blocks of stone that made up its foundation.  What’s left is slowly being swallowed by the surrounding forest as it reclaims its own.  It seems to be an odd place to have a mill, in the middle of a forest miles from anywhere, but, I guess, all kinds of industry sprang up alongside rivers whose flows were a dependable source of power.  The Quinapoxet isn’t a big river, but big enough, I guess.  The mill opened in 1864 and, in 1905, the State of Massachusetts bought the mill and razed it to ensure the water quality of the Wachusett Reservoir.  The reservoir’s dam is in Clinton, Mass and the reservoir was finished in 1905.  It was first filled in 1908 and serves, even today, as a major source of water (along with the larger Quabbin Reservoir, further west) for Boston and its surrounding towns.

Not long after we pass the mill, we cross under Interstate 190 that runs south from Leominster to Worcester.  The highway is very high above us, supported on a huge cement trestle.  This trail is sort of an item on my bucket list.  I’ve spent many trips traveling to Worcester, looking down from on high, and thinking this would be a nice trail to walk.  It seemed sheltered and isolated, shaded and friendly.  It has proven to be all that and more.

All along both sides of this part of the trail are towering white pines, none of which is older than about 100 years (based on their diameter).  Oaks and maples stand further in the surrounding forest, but the rail-trail is swathed in pine.  The resulting ambience is that of an old European forest, like the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) of southern Germany, with lots of shade.  The river water flows briskly over rocks in its bed, providing a background symphony of white noise that is calming and soothing.  The atmosphere is peaceful and begs for a contented sigh.

Waldo enjoys the walk with its plentiful supply of sticks and many other people to say hello to.  This must be a popular trail for people from Worchester – we pass about twenty or so.  They provide Waldo with congenial pets and pats and give Christine and me smiles and kind words of greeting.  As we walk along, we idly converse about subjects so important that I can’t now, as I write this, remember much of their gist.  The perfect kind of conversations to have while walking with Waldo.  Some of the places our minds wander into are explaining why the trees are segregated as they are.  Christine believes the railroad bed must have, at one time, been open space.  Then, as they are wont to do, the pines moved in and, eventually, they’ll be replaced by the local brand of deciduous trees, including maples and oaks.  Real Earth moving, portentous stuff like that.

After a couple of miles, the trail takes a sharp 135 degree turn to the right and begins a serpentine climb over a ridge.  Clearly, we’re off the railroad bed as no train could possibly make it around these turns.  The trail remains broad enough to allow for a car and the steepness of the climb, although it does slow us down a bit, isn’t taxing.  Over the top of the ridge, the path continues in much the same way down to State Route 31, where it ends.  We turn around and head back the way we came, sorry that there’s no more to explore, but glad we still have the walk back to enjoy.  This is a walk we would very much like to repeat sometime.

But there are so many paths to venture down…


Off the railroad bed, downhill.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 23 , 2023

There are a lot of rail-trails around where we live…


A walkway system can be a showcase of how existing features in a landscape – an abandoned railroad right-of-way… can be adapted… [to form a space] where people want to gather, explore and learn.

-Craig Evans


After the civil war, railroads sprang up just about everywhere there were sizeable centers of population.  This was particularly true along the eastern seaboard where most of America’s population lived and worked.  Increasing industrialization required that goods and products be moved large distances and as individual wealth increased, there was also the desire to travel to more distant parts.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, people had essentially four choices of how to travel.  If there was a large enough river flowing where you wanted to go, you could go by boat.  There were horses you could ride, which wasn’t all that comfortable, or you could take some kind of wheeled conveyance or other, pulled by horses, which was pretty slow.  Or you could walk, which, for any significant distance, is both slow and uncomfortable.  The final possibility was you could go by rail.  If you had the money to pay for a ticket, and most people could afford it, at least occasionally, you could go by train.  The train was relatively fast, convenient and comfortable.  It was no wonder, then, that railroads sprung up in a web that crisscrossed nearly everywhere anybody wanted to go.

Then, in the early twentieth century, along came the motorcar and paved roads, and railroads largely disappeared.  They left behind these sweeping, serpentine, more or less flat roadbeds that were perfect for an easy stroll.  In the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, some people repurposed these right-of-ways for leisurely walking and the rail trail was born.  Today, there are a plethora of paths, some paved, some in gravel, around where I live.  In Massachusetts alone there are 69 of the things, covering 347 miles.  In Wisconsin, there are 101, spanning nearly 2,000 miles.  There is even a trail, The Great American Rail-Trail, planned to run, contiguously, 3,700 miles from Washington D.C. to La Push, Washington State, just south of the Canadian border.  And the number of rail trails is increasing every year.

Rail trails are easy to find, through Google or any of a number of apps, including AllTrails and TrailLink.  As you know from previous blogs, Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and I have walked many in the New England area and there are more that we haven’t explored.  Some are many miles long, requiring the shuffling of more than one car, if we want to avoid retracing our steps.  With conflicting schedules, that can be a challenge to arrange.  But, I’ve decided, Waldo and I can do 3-mile chunks, more or less, in round trip segments for our daily 6-mile jaunts.  That opens up a lot of possibilities and gets us away from the Assabet River Rail Trail, on occasion, just for variety.

Since 1887, the Central Massachusetts Railroad ran from North Cambridge, near Boston, to Northampton, on the western bank of the Connecticut River.  After the great depression, the railroad suffered financially and bits and pieces of it shut down and track was pulled up.  Today, there are plans to complete a multipurpose rail trail from Boston to Northampton along its old route.  The Assabet River Rail Trail is one branch of the one-time Central Massachusetts Railroad and it connects to the CMR roadbed across the street from the northern end of the southern portion of ARRT in Hudson.  At this time, a powerline is being buried along where the rails used to run, and as soon as that is done, the portion from Hudson to Wayland will be paved (about 7.5 miles).  It’s anticipated this will be completed in 2024 or 2025.  Phyllis and I bushwhacked our way along part of this route a while back when it was still overgrown with vegetation.

There are 17 other pieces of the trail to explore.  There’s a chunk in Sterling, one in Holden, one around Rutland and one in Ware – all fairly close by.  There’s the Norwottuck Rail Trail, that Christine, Waldo and I have already walked (when we trekked across the state from the NY border to Cape Cod), that runs south of Amherst and through Northampton.  And there are many more for us to venture down.

There are other kinds of trails we can investigate, and I’m sure we will.  We have yet to finish the Bay Circuit Trail, for example.  The thing about rail trails, though, is that most are all-weather, fairly flat, and wind gently through the countryside (all true because they run along old railroad beds that are highly compressed and designed for trains that can’t climb very steeply nor turn very sharply).  Some are even plowed free of snow during the winter, like the ARRT.

In any event, now that the weather is improved, I, and Christine and Phyllis, when they can, will be venturing out of our winter quarters more and more.

And wandering with Waldo over much of New England.


This one is ours.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 16, 2023

Still kind of wintry.


Life isn’t about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.

_-George Bernard Shaw


Two days ago, the high temperature was 91℉.  Today, it’s a cool 63℉ and the sun is out with nary a cloud in the sky.  Crocuses, irises and tulips have bloomed and even the tall oaks blush a pale green arising from nascent tiny leaves on their pencil-like limbs.  There are clumps of garlic mustard and the Japanese knotweed is sprouting from last year’s stems.  It seems strange, after so many months, to look out over the horizon and see a tint of light green mixed in with what has been a dull grey undulating horizon.  It won’t be long now and so much of what I can presently see will be hidden behind an impenetrable dark emerald curtain of foliage.  We’re in the twilight of a renaissance of verdure for sure.

The year crawls on, day by day, week by week, month by month, season by season.  Every day is different from every other day, and the same can be said for the weeks, months, seasons and years.  There is a sense of movement, a flow, to these differences that point to a destination, albeit a vague and poorly defined one.  My sense is that this movement is in more of a spiral than merely a circle.  The question is, where is the spiral headed?  This is not completely unknown.  In the coming years, for example, we’re clearly headed for a warming planet with the serious consequences that implies.

As I watch all the changes occur on the rail-trail and as I watch Waldo get older (and see how he develops as he ages) I can’t help but wonder where I’m headed.  Of course, we all know our ultimate destination — death.  But what happens between now and then?  What particular path will I take to that inevitability?  Since all paths lead to the same place, does it even matter how we get there?

As I look back on my life and how it has unfolded, I see a cyclical, although not repetitious, development, much like that of Mother Nature.  Not only have I changed with the seasons, I’ve also moved on from one chapter of my life to another, but cyclically.  I get out of bed, go out of the house, return home and go to bed.  Day after day.  Then I move to a new house and repeat the cycle.  For many years, I went back to school every fall, and then left for the summer.  I changed schools and eventually got a job with the same spiraling pattern.

Clearly, there is not just change that happens in life, but also some kind of evolution.  There is a direction to the spiral, a development, a growth from what one was to what one becomes.  I’m not saying there is a teleological nature to life, a predesigned end that draws us inexorably onward, but there is a path we tread that goes some distance from the person we were at birth to that we are at death.  Maybe life can be seen as a quest for what we want to be.  A quest to become all we can be when we die – to meaningfully taste as much of life as is possible.  It is the search for whatever it is that “meaningful” denotes that drives us forward.

For me, now, in the last years of my life, I have not devolved into someone who does nothing more than walks his dog over the same path, day after day, merely watching the change of the seasons.  I am the sum total of all that I experienced in my life and I have evolved into someone who now is assimilating what all that means.  After retirement, I went from someone who was glued to work as a prime mover of his day, to someone who drifts with the current as it carries him inexorably on, all the while awash in the magic of what life has been and embracing what it is now.  I no longer think about medical issues or how to care for people’s medical needs.  I rarely think about being a physician and don’t miss practicing as one.  It feels like all that was a chapter of my life that I closed and I moved on to the next.  When I was an adult, I talked like an adult, I thought like an adult, I reasoned like an adult; when I retired, I did away with adultish things.  Instead, I spend my time enjoying the day.  I think about not what it all means as much as absorbing all that has and is happening and making it my own.  I no longer have a set of goals to achieve, but rather a path to follow.  Wherever that path leads is where my spiral is headed.

In the meantime, walking with Waldo down the rail-trail, watching as he chases his sticks and sniffs the ground, and observing the flora and fauna as it changes with the seasons, does more than just add to my library of experiences.  The communing with nature and watching and hearing her play her symphony, serenades and soothes me as I try to become all I can be with what time I have left.

I am not done yet.



Just one week later.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 09, 2023

Things are definitely getting greener.


The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Gang aft agley…

-Robert Burns


I was hoping to post about the first leg of our New England Trail trek this week, but, alas, it is not to be.  Not yet, anyway.  Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and I were all set to go this morning.  We’d made our plans, knew where to meet and where to leave our cars, but then, at the last minute, we decided to delay it a week or so.  I am hopeful we will still venture into the Connecticut woods before it gets too hot, but I don’t know when.

Instead, Waldo and I are back on the rail-trail.  And what a beautiful day!  The temperature is 73℉, the sky is mostly sunny, and there is a mild breeze blowing through the trees and over the fields.  The past few days have been shirtsleeve weather and the plants have noticed.  Well, maybe they haven’t noticed that I and many of my co-venturers on the trail are without jackets, but they certainly are aware of the longer hours of daylight and the warm weather.  Many species of trees have started to bud, Norway maples, silver maples and paradise apples, just to name a few.  Pussy willows show off their balls of cotton, garlic mustard grows everywhere with big leaves, multiflora rose stems have greened out (with a red tinge), Morrow’s honeysuckle has leaves as does the weeping forsythia.  The many species of grass are greener and moss is thick and fuzzy.  It won’t be too many more weeks and the Japanese knotweed will be standing eight feet tall and the verdure will be so dense that I won’t be able to see more than a few tens of feet off the trail.

The forecast for the next two days has high temps of 86℉!  Of course, that means that Waldo and I will have to start walking in the morning, instead of the afternoon, as we are now.  But we won’t yet have to get up before dawn.  If we rise at 7 AM, we’ll have plenty of time to do our walk before it gets over 75℉.  It will mean getting out of bed earlier than I have been – I might as well get used to it.  Summer will be upon us in just a few weeks and I won’t have a choice.

Waldo doesn’t mind getting up early. He’s always anxious to get outside as soon as he can.  As soon as he sees me stirring under the covers, he’s up and sitting by the door, ready to go.  I think he only has an on/off button, with no rate control.  He’s up and he’s going full throttle.   Much of his frenetic puppiness is gone, but he still hits the ground running when he starts the day.

Today, though, we’re out here in the midafternoon.  It’s Wednesday, but even so, there are many people of all ages out here.  There are people of all different states of physical shape too.  Some are older than I am and doddering along.  Some are in wheelchairs, pushed along by family.  Some are teenagers, running with a local high school cross-country team.  Some are grossly overweight and some are much fitter than I’ve ever been, running at a pace I couldn’t compete with when I was in my prime.  Warm weather, after a cold spell, will cause all sorts of people to show up here.

There are dogs, and bicycles, and roller blades, and skate boards, and scooters, and electric monocycles, and baby buggies out here too.  There’s a plethora of wheeled vehicles on the tarmac.  I never knew that rail-trails were so popular until I started using one on a regular basis.  I still wonder if the popularity isn’t a hangover of the COVID lockdown, but whatever it is that brings people out here is a good thing.  Spring not only brings forth foliation and eruptions of floral gaudiness, it also entices humans of all varieties to come out and enjoy simple acts of traveling through nature.

Waldo stops and says hello to people and dogs as we pass them, as do I.  Waldo gets his due of pets and pats, gives as good as he gets with tail-wags and licks and, with other dogs, exchanges sniffs and dances.  With the people, I trade observations and appreciation of the weather and any other pleasantries that come to mind.  It’s a social event, but one sort of like speed dating — of short duration and constantly flowing from person to person.

Today was not going as planned.  Instead, Waldo and I resorted to our routine.

But that’s not a bad thing at all.


The horizon is taking on a pale green tinge to its undulating austere gray.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 02, 2023

My buddy, patiently waiting to cross the street.


Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way.

-Caroline Knapp


It never ceases to amaze me that I ever had enough time to have a career, let alone one as demanding as medicine.  Now that I’m retired, I still can’t finish everything I want to do in a single day.   Of course, I rarely let myself get sleep deprived the way I used to, and sleep takes up about a third of one’s life.  There are a couple of programs I like to watch on TV, around the times I’m eating, but that doesn’t eat up that much time.  There’s grocery shopping, preparing meals, taking care of ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), like showering and so on, coming and going, driving around.  I read books, do whatever writing I’m working on and pursue other projects of interest, and poof! my day is done.  I am never, ever, at a loss as to how to spend my time.  I haven’t mentioned the time I spend with Waldo, but, all told, that doesn’t consume more than four hours a day of constant, direct contact, unless we’re on one of our longer walks.

Even when I’m not walking or playing with Waldo, he is still there, on my mind at some level of awareness.  I made a good choice when I decided on getting a border collie.  Waldo has a mind of his own, only occasionally seeks my attention, and when he does, more often than not, it’s because he needs something – he’s hungry, he has to go outside, or he’s bored.  Actually, bored is rare for Waldo.  After all, he has his balcony to perch on and survey his dogdom, which seems to keep him well entertained, somehow.  Even so, Waldo is the organizing principle around which my life is built.  He is the bedrock that tethers me to what my life has become.  He is my family.

My daughters and friends think I’m a bit bizarre because of that.  I’m invited out to dinner, or over to someone’s house where Waldo isn’t welcome, I don’t stay for longer than about four hours.  With travel time, that means that I have to leave Waldo in his crate for six hours.  He can easily hold his business for that long, but it just seems cruel to keep him in jail for so much time.  Even if I let him run around the apartment while I’m gone, he’s still restricted to only a small living area.  I know for a fact he hates being left alone.  I may have family and friends, but all he’s got is me.

I don’t feel that any of that is a burden, or restricting my freedom.  It’s a choice I made when I got a dog and a choice I continue to make on a daily basis.  I found out, a long time ago, that real love takes place only when you take care of someone else.  It’s the tending to the needs of another that engenders the internal feelings of affection and appreciation of that other that we call love.  Performing those duties aren’t as much an expression of what we feel as they are the reason for why we feel it.  Making sure Waldo is fed when he’s hungry, has plenty to drink, gets his antiflea and tick and heartworm medicine, has enough exercise and entertainment to keep him happy, are all acts that make me feel affection, they are not done because I already feel that affection.  Cleaning up the stinky gooey mess he leaves behind because he has diarrhea and can’t get outside in time, or wiping up the wet muddy footprints he tracks in the house, or fixing the thousand other ways he creates chaos, are even more powerful ways of filling me with fondness for him.  Oh, I piss and moan, even yell sometimes, but that’s not directed at him.  It’s more directed at the fates that forced me to have to deal with whatever has occurred.  Because it’s so onerous, that kind of stuff leaves me loving the dog even more because I took a situation that I really disliked and dealt with it, making his life, and mine, even better.

I know, too, by the glint in his eye, the wag of his tail and the mischievous lunge at my bare feet, that he feels the same.  The licks he gives me when sitting next to me in the car, or when he rests his chin on my forearm, or paws at me playfully as he passes, all tell me that he, also, has affection for me.

My day is not just full of things to do.

It’s also full of Waldo.


Waldo, patiently waiting for me to take a picture.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 25, 2023

Our familiar trail.


Tourists don’t know where they’ve been.  Travelers don’t know where they’re going.

-Paul Theroux


Warmer weather is upon us and it’s almost time to start our next long trek.  We never finished the Bay Circuit Trail, we’re about two thirds along the way, but that’s been put on hold until Phyllis can join us.  She is tied up with her husband, for the moment, but is very much committed to finishing the walk, so we wait.  This year, the plan is for Christine, Waldo and I to walk the New England Trail, running from Long Island sound, near Guilford, Connecticut, north to the Massachusetts border with New Hampshire – about 207 miles.  Like the Bay Circuit trail, the NET isn’t a separate independent trail, but a collection of shorter trails that run in the right direction and are connected by streets and highways.

I really want to get going on this trek because I don’t want to take Waldo on a long walk in temperatures much above 75℉.  Even if we leave home in the early morning to avoid the heat, Connecticut is a couple of hours south of us so we can’t get started on the trail until that much later in the day.  The logistics just become impossible by mid-summer.

On the other side of the ledger is the fact that spring is mud season and there are a lot of low-country wetlands along the way.  We’re used to that, but there have been so many rainstorms recently and I know the cooler days haven’t dried up the ground they’ve soaked.  I can deal with a wet muddy dog, but I really don’t want to have to slog through mid-calf deep slimy swamps, if I can help it.  However, it’s time to bite the bullet and deal with whatever happens as it happens.  Being flexible, innovative and dealing with obstacles as they present themselves is part of the charm of these walks.

In physical preparation for this trek, Christine, Waldo and I have, in the past three weeks, walked 12.7 miles once and 10.5 miles three times.  As far as I can tell, Waldo is no worse for the wear, but Christine and I have gotten a bit stiff and sore as a result.  It was nothing that didn’t go away after a day of rest, so we’re confident that we’re in good enough shape to get started.  The weather forecast for next week is about as good as it’s going to get, so, unless unforeseen circumstances get in or way, that’s when we’ll start.

Since we leave a car at both ends of our daily walks, part of the logistical planning is to find places where it’s safe to leave a car for about six or seven hours.  At our starting point, this is no problem.  There is a lot where people can park their cars to go to the beach about 0.2 miles or so from the trailhead.  There is also a place 12.1 miles from the trailhead where the path leads across a back country road.  The question is, is it safe to leave a car there?  How do we find out?  There is nothing so disconcerting as to find out your car is not where you left it after a 12 mile hike (that hasn’t happened to us yet, but the thought of the possibility worries me).  It may just come down to trusting to luck.  The car will only be wherever we leave it for seven hours at the most.  I also have no idea if where we would leave it is on private property or not.  The worry definitely adds spice to the adventure.  I think I’ll leave a sign on the dash with a phone number and a message that reads, “On a hike.  Be back at [enter time here].”

As much as I love the woods and the trail where Waldo and I live, I am looking forward to venturing out once again into unknown territory.  I do have a certain penchant for such things, you know.  Waldo, he’s always up for finding new sticks to stalk, new smells to sniff and beasts to bother.  Christine is enamored by the challenge and all three of us are eager to get started.  Until then, we may just do another 10.5-mile walk, or maybe explore the unimproved portion of the Assebet River Rail Trial on the other side of Hudson.   There is never a lack of interesting places to walk — all you have to do is look for them.

I’m looking forward to telling you about it once we start our trek.


Trees are still skeletal, but the bushes are getting green.



Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 18, 2023

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and Waldo’s taking to the shade.


Those who train their hearts in natural wonder shall forever know the rivers, forests, wildflowers, and oceans, as friends.

-Atalina Wright


Today was the first time this season that I’ve been able to walk on the rail-trail comfortably in shirtsleeves.  The temperature is in the low sixties, with little in the way of wind to make it seem colder.  There are a few clouds overhead that keep the direct sun off me, so I’m not heated by solar radiation.  It is really a pleasant day to be out walking with Waldo.

What breeze there is blows a welcomed gentle, cool bath of air over my sweaty skin as I work up some body heat with the exertion.  There’s just enough sweat there to feel a light chill as it evaporates, but not so much so as to cause a shiver or even raise goosebumps.  The wind in the still-naked boughs of the trees causes a mild sibilance, nothing compared to the rustling it will generate when things are fully leaved-out, but it’s there just the same.  I can hear Gaia as she breathes and feel her breath as it plays with the small hairs on my arms and face.  It’s as if she’s talking to me in a nonverbal way.  I find the conversation calming and soothing and yet enticing in its magical beauty.

Squirrels are out and at play, rustling the dead leaves.  They usually appear in pairs, one chasing the other, in some game that carries them over the ground and up the trees.  Birds are whistling their distinctive tunes, talking amongst themselves in a language I can’t decipher.  They seem happy as well, whatever it is they are saying, and it raises my spirits to listen.  There are no buzzing insects to distract and no swarms of gnats, flies or mosquitoes to swat at and avoid.  All my senses are whetted by waves of sensations that induce reactions, feelings and emotions that are subtle, but somehow, if I open up to them, profound.  I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that a trip into the woods serves as an escape from my mundane life and a journey into a life more ethereal, basic and real.  What I experience here has beauty, magic and is reassuring, all I have to do is pay attention.  It is never threatening and surrounding myself in the zeitgeist makes my soul respond with, “Aaaaah.”

I just finished reading Hope Always Rises, by Kathie Giorgio.  It’s a wonderful book about a character who maybe can’t feel as I do in the woods.  She is beset by an overpowering, unattached sadness that eventually leads her to suicide.  After the act, she awakens in Heaven, where God greets her and, for the first time she can remember, she is without an omnipresent feeling of gloom.  Her sadness was a product of a biological engineering mistake that’s no longer present in her celestial being.  She meets other characters with similar stories and they share their experiences.  The book is an exploration and a destigmatizing of what can lead one to taking their own life.  It’s not judgmental or heavy or depressing and it’s not an intellectualization.  It’s more a journey taken beside a number of characters who suffered unbearably in life (a suffering that stopped after death) and just wanted the pain to stop.  The story artfully induces in the reader an empathy for its characters that would lead those characters, if they were flesh and blood, to feel that they are heard, that the reader understands, not in an intellectual, but in an existential way, their plight.

One of the things mentioned in the book is that the characters often find that art can be very therapeutic.   Of course, this is well known and widely used in psychiatric treatment, but the way it’s presented allows the reader to experience how putting what is felt on canvas, or in stone, or on the written page, can objectify emotions, externalize them and soften their impact.  Walking in the woods can also be very therapeutic.

Being in nature doesn’t involve putting something experienced inside on the outside where you can view it as being separate from yourself, though.  It’s more like you put aside what’s happening on the inside, let it go for the moment, so you can experience what’s happening on the outside and be one with that.  You replace your internal dialog with a conversation generated by the outside world, Mother Nature, and you just listen, and smell, and taste, and look, and feel.  You pay attention to all the ways you respond to what’s happening with your senses.  You experience, in depth, the human condition as it is at that moment, aside from your daily angst.  This, too, can ease life’s pains, or, at least, give some respite from them.

Just ask Waldo.  As I watch him saunter down the path, it’s apparent to me that he’s totally absorbed by what’s going on in front of his nose.  Directly in front of his nose and in the moment.  He gets a whiff of something and, for a while, that’s all that exists.  A passing dog might bark and growl at him, and he sidesteps a bit, then we walk on and continue down the trail.  The other dog is gone – it becomes nothing more than a memory — if that.  All that exists is what’s around him at the moment.  If he ever worries about what will happen or has happened, he doesn’t do it when we’re out walking.  And he is such a happy puppy.

Could I possibly go so wrong by following in his pawprints?


It’s hard to hold a stick when you gotta pant!


Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 11, 2023

This part of Massachusetts goes back a long ways.


But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.

-Gwyn Thomas


For some time now, I’ve wanted to walk, in one trip, the southern and northern parts of the Assebet River Rail Trail, and the gap in between.  Christine wants to walk from the southern shore of Connecticut to the northern border of Massachusetts this year, so she is interested in doing some longer walks to prepare for that.  It wasn’t hard to talk her into going with Waldo and me on the entire ARRT.

I’ve done some reading and the total distance is supposed to be 12.5 miles.  I suspect this distance is along the railroad bed and not on the surface streets in the gap.  The reason the entire 12.5 miles is not open is that someone has denied access across their property.  I can see on the map how to walk along the streets to bridge the gap, but I can’t tell where the property is that we would have to go around.  So, this walk will be something of an exploration.  I always enjoy these kinds of walks.  Of course, Waldo is eager to go on any walk at all.

We leave a car at the northern end of the trail, in Acton, and start from the Marlborough trailhead.  The temperature is right around 40℉, but the windchill makes it feel well into the thirties.  The sky is cloudy, but occasional patches of sunlight intermittently warm us as we make our way north.  The snow is almost gone, but not quite — there are a few short icy white patches we have to traverse, but nothing significant.

After a little more than an hour, and 5.25 miles, we come to the end of the paved trail.  The unpaved, unimproved, overgrown, raw railroad bed continues through a swampy area a short distance, then crosses a two-lane highway.  We bushwhack our way along the path until we hit the street.  I’ve been here before, but, during the summer when everything is covered in weeds.  I couldn’t see it then, but now, with all the leaves gone, I can see where the raw roadbed continues on the other side of the street.  We continue forcing our way through the weeds until we come onto another street where the overgrown bed joins it at an acute angle, making it appear that the street is following where the rails once ran.  We walk on the shoulder of the street and, pretty soon, we come across a spot where the raw railroad bed takes off and heads to the right. Now we have to make a decision.  Follow the railroad, or the street.

I’m worried that if we follow the railroad bed, we might come across the private property and be blocked from continuing, which would mean we would have to backtrack.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, except it would add uncomfortable miles to what is already a long trek.   We’ve walked longer, but we were in better shape then.  So, we decide to stick to the streets until we pick up the northern part of the rail-trail, roughly 3.5 miles ahead.

From Hudson, we pass into Stow.  The streets here are all narrow and wind around as if they were paved over cow paths.  As we walk along, we pass by New England history – old homes bearing plaques with family names and dates in the early nineteenth century.  Much of this land was, at that time, used for agriculture and most of the trees were cut down.  Then more fertile arable land was found out west and farming moved there.  Over the last hundred years or so, up to 80% of the trees now growing in New England were planted to reforest the area.  Oak tree trunks will grow somewhere around 0.2 inches in diameter per year, so after a hundred years, their trunks will be about 20 inches, or just shy of 2 feet wide.  Almost all of the trees we pass are smaller than that, so, even though we pass homes that were built in 1822, few, if any, of the trees we see were alive then.

A little over halfway to our destination, the street we’re following goes through an apple orchard.  It’s fairly large, as far as we can see, and stretches out on both sides of the road.  This is country out here, about 30 miles east to Boston and 25 miles south to Worcester.  Even without the orchard, homes are widely spaced and separated by forest and undergrowth (and somewhere off to our right, the overgrown railroad bed).  There are many idyllic spots where it’s easy to imagine spending leisurely hours, peacefully communing with the natural world.

We come to the southern end of the northern part of the trail heading north and, across the street from there, I can see the continuing part of the unimproved railroad bed heading south.  I mention to Christine, “I wonder how far you can go down thataway…”

“Oh, it dead-ends in an orchard down a ways,” says a passerby.  “They won’t let you cross their property.”

Damn.  A street passes through the middle of the orchard, where cars go freely.  What additional harm could people out for a walk do?  Ah, well…  Maybe Waldo and I will walk as much of it as we can some other time, when we’re not walking so far, just to see what it’s like.

We continue on our way, on paved rail-trail, for another 3.4 miles, passing through Maynard and then into Acton where our car is parked. Waldo and I have been on that portion of the trail before and it’s familiar.  The total distance we walked is 12.7 miles.  We’re not used to this distance and both Christine and I are sore and tired. Waldo, not so much.  But he is quite a bit younger than we are.

It was nice seeing the country the trail passes through in toto. It kind of adds additional context to our walks, even if we can’t follow the railroad the whole way.

We have plenty of beautiful places to meander.


The upper Assabet River is broad and flows gently east.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 04, 2023

We’re back!


Allow your dog to take you for a walk every day.  It’s good for the body and it’s good for the soul.

-Eckhart Tolle


We’re back on the rail-trail.  I went to see my physiatrist who thought my problem stemmed from bilateral low-back facet-joint arthritis that showed up on the MRI.  So, I bellied up to the bar for some “Old Man’s Best Friend,” shots of cortisone with a lidocaine chaser.  Worked like a charm.  The pain is almost gone and I have nearly as much mobility as I did before the pain started.  I can even put my socks on without much fuss!

Waldo is very happy.  A soon as we hit the tarmac, he’s off on both sides of the path, tail up in the air and wagging, searching for whatever is there.  He has sticks to herd, people and dogs to meet and all of nature to explore.  He loves our sojourns into the woods as much as I do.  He burns off much of his pent-up puppy energy, drags me along and gives me the exercise I need too.  Often, I’m in my own world, thinking about this or that, looking at the trees and other flora, listening for birds, or whatever, and he’s sniffing around, rolling in the snow and dragging around whatever sticks he feels are worth the effort.  But, even so, it’s a shared joy, these walks.  We both know the other is there, and periodically, we check in with each other with an offered treat, an effort to tempt with a stick or a chunk of ice, or, even more often, just a backward glance.  It’s truly something that bonds us together as friends and a family.

Waldo has come a long way from his hell-bent-for-leather puppy days.  He now readily sits and waits at street intersections until I tell him it’s okay to cross.  When I want him to cross over to the other side of the trail, because a bicycle is coming, for example, I tell him, “This way!” and he looks back at me and complies.  Sometimes I fumble with the leash handle and drop it.  He knows that something happened, stops and looks back to see what’s going on, instead of running off at full speed because he knows he’s free to do it.  He waits for me to catch up, pick up the handle and then we’re off again.  He, usually, comes when he’s called and, if whatever he has in his mouth isn’t too tempting, will comply when I say, “Drop it!”, or “Leave it!”  These changes haven’t happened because of “training,” per se.  They are emblematic of and resulting from the two of us meshing our lives together.

We share a life’s rhythm on and off the trail.  Waldo is very sensitive to routine.  When it gets to be ten o’clock at night or after, he’s ready for bed.  Sometimes he lies down near me, waiting for me to finish writing, reading, watching TV, or whatever I’m doing, until he finally gives up and goes to bed.  During the day, if I go into the bathroom to comb my hair, brush my teeth, or perform some other out of the ordinary task, he automatically goes and lays down in his crate without my saying anything, rightfully assuming I’m going out without him and will want to put him in jail.  During the day, our routine is variable, but we usually go for walks around the property about 5:30 PM, 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM.   He somehow knows when those times arrive and comes in from the balcony to nudge me on our way when they do.

Out here in the woods, what we share is a love of being outside in nature.  We enjoy the fresh air, the views of growing wild things, seeing the vistas of rolling hills, peaceful lakes and idyllic pastures.  Listening to the different bird calls, watching squirrels as they romp and play, catching the rare sight of a fox, or a deer, or a soaring hawk wheeling high above the treetops, are all things we enjoy.  I’m sure that Waldo doesn’t think about these things the same way I do, but I’m also sure we both love being swaddled in the ambience of Gaia.

These daily walks in Mother Nature have become a routine that we both look forward to and miss when we can’t enjoy them.  They take up a major part of our days and are the longest time we spend together.  If I were to describe what my life is composed of these days, I would say it is walking with Waldo, and also some other stuff.

And I’m the better for it.


The COVID garden says, “Hi!”

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 28, 2023

Snow over the balcony.


Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

-Khalil Gibran


The day unfolds in slo-mo.  Even the large puffy snowflakes, on the other side of our glass slider, drift down as if only reluctantly heading Earthward.  They float on a path that makes a thirty degree slant with the ground, like snow in a wind-driven blizzard, only there is hardly any breeze at all.  In the background, the sassafras trees just outside my door accumulate the stuff on downy barren branches.  Waldo is going in and out through his dog-door as if to say, “Come on!  Let’s get this day going.  I’ve got sticks to herd!”  How he finds sticks under the snow, I don’t know, but he does.  Alas, puppy, that’s not going to happen on the rail-trail today.

It’s not the weather, you know.  Hell, Waldo and I have been out there in worse weather than this.  And enjoyed it.  No, it’s not the weather.  Sigh.  Over the past week, I’ve been struggling with back pain – again.

It’s not the same pain that put us off the trail for two months this summer.  This one is new.  I was pain free, then I bent over to take my boots off and, wham!  My lower back went into excruciating spasm.  I could feel the muscles bind up on the left and then the tightness spread all the way across my low back.  The pain went from zero to eight within a second.  And, although it does vary a bit, it has not gone away.  Most movement makes the cramps worse, so when I walk, it’s in short, halting steps, accompanied by grunts, groans, and expletives.  My face is all pinched up in a wince as the pain crescendos in stabbing thrusts (all the barking, howling and teeth-baring grimacing must be some subliminally generated magical incantation because it makes the pain more endurable).  But I have a dog, so not walking is not an option.  It’s either that or get down on my hands and knees and clean up the mess he can’t avoid making because we didn’t go out and walk.  Not a good option at all.

Waldo must be frustrated because I have to take baby steps as we walk, so I don’t throw my back out even worse, or, God forbid, slip on the ice and go down in a screaming wail of pain.  At my age, the rule is, never go down unless you have a plan about how you’re going to get back up and I have none right now.  I still have to bend over to pick up the cylindrical brownies Waldo leaves behind, but I’ve figured out a way that, in slo-mo, involves bending at the knees and minimizes the curvature of my low back.  Waldo, while I’m sure he doesn’t understand what’s up, is kind and doesn’t add to the danger of the perilous icy path we tread by tugging at the leash.  He just wanders at the end of his twenty-eight-foot tether, sniffing and stalking sticks.

Mornings are the worst.  You ever try to put on a pair of socks without bending your back?  Can’t be done.  The best I can do is hold my breath, grit my teeth, stick the open end of a sock over the big toe, then pull it slowly over the other toes, up the foot and then to the ankle.  It takes a while…  Dancing around on one foot while trying to stick a foot into undershorts, or a pant leg, is no treat either.  But, eventually, I get ‘er done because, after all, the dog simply has to go out.

The back is a weak point in the design of bipedal animals, you know.  It really wasn’t designed well at all.  It evolved from something created for fish that would allow them to shake their tails for propulsion.  Then some animal decided to grow legs and walk on land.  At first it, was on four legs with the back held horizontal.  Okay, not too bad – all it had to support was some muscles and guts that hung on it like clothes on a line.  But then some idiot decided to stand upright so his forepaws could evolve into hands.  Now the back has to support the entire weight of the body vertically, along its entire length.  It simply was not designed to do that well.  Add to that the fact that if you’re upright, you gotta bend over all the time to do almost anything and… well, you see the problem.

This year, for me, has been one for learning how to deal with pain.  Pain is God’s way of letting us know we’re alive.  It’s not punishment and it’s not something any of us can completely avoid.  It’s just something, like the rest of life, we have to cope with.  And it’s not the pain itself that is the difficult part.  What’s worse is how we respond to the pain.  I can overlook the disgusting aspects of picking up dog poop, or, worse, cleaning it up when it’s as runny as water and spread all over the floor, and I can overlook the discomfort of having significant pain – more or less.  It’s just something that is.  There’s no reason to perseverate about it, just get on with life, you know?  But it does slow me down.

And, damn it, it keeps us off the rail-trail.  Sigh.


Sorry, buddy. No rail-trail today.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments