Byron Brumbaugh

April 13, 2021

Waldo, let’s talk about this…

 

Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.

-Ken Liu

 

Three days ago, on the Marlborough rail-trail, the high temperature was 65℉.  This morning it was -2℉ with windchill.  Waldo, in his ever-present sable coat, is more comfortable down around the -2℉ than the 65℉ or above.  I know that to be true by his behavior.  Especially when it gets above 70℉, he pants, soaks up water like a dry paper towel and lies down in the shade often.  When it’s cold out, he trots along without interruption, doing his Waldo thing.  Today, he pauses only for a good sniff at something that appeals.

Waldo also knows things about me.  He knows when I am going to leave him in his crate.  I don’t even have to tell him to go there.  When he sees me go through my pre-leaving routine, he just walks in and sits down on his bed, looking up at me with an expression of forlorn expectation.  His ears are down, his head sags and his tail wraps around his butt so the white tip sticks up between his front legs.  He knows what’s coming.  There is definitely communication between us that is more than the sounds I make (Waldo seldom makes any).

For communication to take place, there must be some common ground between those who are trying to communicate.  When Carl Sagan and Frank Drake were thinking about what messages to send to extraterrestrials from Arecibo in 1974, they considered this carefully.  In order to communicate with any aliens who might find these spacecraft, common ground first had to be established.  It was decided to use binary mathematics to describe the molecular structure of life on Earth, among other things.  Binary mathematics is universal and maybe the building blocks of life is as well.  If an extraterrestrial intelligence could decode this message, there would be a basis for communication.  So, I can’t help but wonder, what is the common ground that Waldo and I share?  It certainly isn’t an understanding of math and biochemistry.

Some of it is obvious; we both need to eat, sleep, pee and poop.  We both are genetically social animals, so we also share a desire for communication, play and affection.  As we go through life, we both make allowances for each other, either separately or together, so that those desires are satisfied.  The one big difference between us is that Waldo depends on me for everything, whereas I get some of what I need from others.  I keep this in mind and try to include him in what I do as much as I can.

Humans also have commonality with other species who aren’t as social as we are.  I once raised a cheetah in East Africa when I lived there.  One might not think so, but they actually make great pets.  They were trapped and used by the ancient pharaohs as hunters, much like falconers use their birds.  Yet, cheetahs are very solitary animals in the wild, ranging alone over many square miles of savannah and adults only get together in pairs for a brief period during mating season.  Yet my cheetah was as bonded to me as Waldo is.  So, there must be something there that is common between animals and humans more than just a desire to congregate in social groups, because cheetahs don’t have that desire.

And take birds.  Harvey, my yellow-naped Amazon parrot, is a member of a taxonomic class that is the closest living thing to a dinosaur.  The ancestors of birds and humans parted ways many hundreds of millions of years ago and we have evolved separately since.  Yet there are African Grey parrots that can carry on meaningful oral conversations with people when they are trained to do so.  Detailed communication that is much more than just the aping of the sounds they hear people make.  And they, too, enjoy affection and getting attention from people.

The Buddhist in me thinks that what this commonality that all animal life seems to share, at least among those with some baseline level of intelligence, is a deep feeling of compassion, an appreciation for the life energy of the other, and a recognition of the loving magic of being alive.  Maybe that comes part and parcel with consciousness and is the deepest expression of the essence of what all of us are made of.

I am reasonably sure that to be true of Waldo and I, at any rate.

 

Fort Meadow Reservoir on a cold, clear day.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 6, 2021

On the beach — Plum Island.

 

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

-John Muir

 

Phyllis, Christine and I decided that this year, we would walk the Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) around Boston.  Waldo happily went along with the idea.  The trail is not a single trail and it isn’t contiguous.  It’s a serpentine collection of trails, connected (at this time) by streets and highways, running in, more or less, a semicircle around Boston.  In some places, it’s unpaved, narrow, not well-marked and it can be easy to lose your way.  In others, it is paved, broad and easy to navigate at night.  It was first conceived in 1929 as a “outer emerald necklace,” a greenbelt surrounding Boston, and has yet to be finished.  The trail(s) run in a long serpentine arc some 230 miles from Plum Island to Kingston Bay.

We start our new trek at the northern tip of Plum Island, Plum Island Point.  This is about a mile from the official trailhead, but parking is hard to come by and there is a public lot at the Point.  Besides, we’ve all, with the probable exception of Waldo, gotten tired of trudging around in snow and ice and long for warmer temps and the beach.  Today’s forecast is for temps of about 54℉.  That oughta melt some of that ice we’ve been sliding around on!  We head from where we parked our car east to the beach.  At the top of the coastal dunes, we can see the Merrimac River to the north and west and the broad Atlantic to the south and east.  There’s about a ten mile an hour breeze that drops the effective temperature a good 10℉ and I’m glad for the light jacket I decided to wear.

Waldo is ecstatic as we head south in the sand.  I have to keep him away from the water, since he likes to drink the stuff, but, man, he really, really, really wants to go into the light surf.  I think it’s the constant motion of the water that attracts him, but who knows.  He digs in the sand, prances this way and that, and is having a fine old time.  There are very few people out on the beach, something that will change dramatically in the next months as temperatures rise and Covid restrictions ease.  There are plenty of footprints in the sand, though, bearing witness to the recent passage of many others.  Our going is slow in the loose footing and it works muscles I’m not used to using that much, despite walking in snow for the past too many weeks.  But it is so very nice to be on a beach again, watch the surf coming in and smelling the fresh ocean air!  Both Phyllis and Christine say this was just what they needed to alleviate the winter Covid blues.

After a little over a mile, we’re on the streets again.  There are trail markers every so often on telephone poles and trees, but we have to be alert not to miss them.  Eventually, we veer off the streets onto a narrow foot path covered in ice, water, mud and undergrowth.  This path is not at all well-marked and not used enough for it to be obvious where it goes.  We’re still within sight of the street and, due to inattention, we lose our way and get caught up in branches and mired in mud.  We backtrack and Phyllis finds where we got off-trail and we continue on.  Shades of Mirkwood for sure!  Didn’t see no stinkin’ big spiders in there, though.  Waldo is exploring around, getting his leash all wound up in the undergrowth, tail wagging, nose to the ground, truckin’ along as if he knew where he was going.  In fact, now that I think about it, we were following him when we got lost!  About a mile or so from where we left the street, we come to another street and continue on.

There are a handful of such paths on our route, but most of this part of the trail is on car-carrying tarmac.  Using the BCT website, I tried to find a stopping point that was about 10 miles from where we began.  Their numbers must be off, because when we finally get to our second car, 13.5 miles have elapsed, it is full-on dark, and the temperature is dropping to something uncomfortable in the light jackets we wore.  Except, of course, Waldo isn’t cold.  He loves the cold.  We’re tired, sore and hungry when we get back to the car.  But we’re also refreshed and invigorated after spending some six hours outside, exercising.

Our next trek on the BCT looks from the map to be mostly footpaths through forested areas.  The trails seem to offer up a lot of variety which is welcome to all of us, not the least of whom is Waldo, I’m sure.

For now, it’s home, eat, rest and prepare for our next jaunt.

 

Lost, off-trail, in Mirkwood.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 30, 2021

 

 

Wet pavement.

The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.  With each step, the wind blows, a flower blooms.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Today, I decide to park in the parking lot across the street from the beginning of the Waldo rail-trail.  It belongs to an abandoned building that sits on that corner, so no one plows there.  The snow has been too deep for my little Prius to venture forth there without high-centering and getting stuck (I know this from experience).   We’ve been parking in a municipal lot about one-eighth of a mile from the starting point that provides parking for people who want to use the trail.  It is plowed, but not paved.  End result, in the warming temperatures, it gets muddy.  Which, of course, ends up in the car.  I’ve been keeping my eye out on the abandoned lot and there are now places that are snow free.  Problem is, there are also drifts that are too deep for my little car that separate those spots from the street.  The drifts have been shrinking and today, I decide to risk powering through them to get to a dry spot.  The car fish-tails, but I have enough momentum that I can blast through them without getting stuck.  We get out of the car — it’s so much better without the mud.  I lock the car and we’re off.

The temperature is ranging around the high thirties, the wind is still and the cloudless sky is a chilly shade of blue.  The deciduous trees thrust fractal-like fingers into that blue as if grasping beseechingly for the spring that is not yet here.  There is still plenty of snow on the sides of the path, but the tarmac is clear of the stuff.  There are a few shallow puddles here and there, from the melt draining across the path.  They can’t be more than a quarter of an inch deep, but they’re around four feet across and I can see in them a perfect reflection of the tree tops and sky.  Birds are singing, not so many as during the spring and summer, but they’re there.  I haven’t seen a rabbit or a squirrel around here for many weeks, but today, I do get a whiff of skunk.  Charming.

I quickly set my pace and put my gait on a mental subroutine that requires no attention.  One foot follows the other, I feel the muscles in my legs contract and the solid Earth pushes up on my feet as I put my weight down.  My quads and calves feel strong as they rhythmically force my mass forward and the going seems effortless.  The air is cold enough to numb my cheeks, but not so cold as to freeze my fingers in their gloves.  My torso is warm in my parka and I know that after two miles, about the time we hit the unplowed Hudson part of the trail, I’m going to be sweating.  It’s harder going there.

Waldo, he’s out-front, trotting along with nose less than an inch above the ground.  He forays off to the side and grabs at a stick in the snow, only to find that it is still firmly attached to the bush to which it belongs (the connection being covered by snow).  He goes back to lead position and continues on.  Before long, he veers off path again, this time deep into the surrounding woods and I have to call him back.  I have no idea what attracted him to go that way, but the suddenness of it speaks of something enticing.  I can see nothing that might have seduced his interest.  One thing is for sure – the temperature is made for a Waldo-walk.  No panting and no need to stop for a drink.  I don’t even bring any water for him.  If he gets thirsty, he just grabs a mouthful of snow.  He prefers that to water anyway.  The entire time we’re out, Waldo is in tune with the nature around him.  Except, of course, in those moments when we pass another human or dog – he has to try to say hello to everyone.

It’s not too long and we’re back to the car.  I put Waldo in the passenger seat, then I rest my now weary butt and back in the driver’s seat.  I can’t help but sigh at the relief of taking the weight off my feet and Waldo curls up next to me and quietly waits until we get home.  Another charge through the snow drifts at the parking lot and we’re on our way back to warmth, snack and rest.  Until tomorrow when we’ll do it all over again.  It’s never dull, never boring and never the same, because we’re never the same and neither is Mother Nature.

It’s a kind of meditation on the hoof.

 

Walking along, taking it as it comes.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 23, 2021

The snow is still deep in places.

 

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.

-Lovelle Drachman

 

Here in New England, we get most of our snow in January and February.  This year was no exception.  On the Marlborough rail-trail, there are deep heaps of snow along the sides where the tank-like snowblower threw it.  In many places, it is still two to three feet deep.   I walk behind Waldo, at the anchor end of the leash, as Waldo marches down the trail, then suddenly shoves his head into the drifts, up to his neck.  It reminds me of a video I saw, showing foxes hunting.  They jumped up, completely out of deep, fluffy snow, and dove headfirst into the pristine whiteness, so hard they nearly disappeared.  They would come out with a mouse in their mouths, ready for dinner.  Waldo comes out empty-mouthed, and, I suspect, if he was able to find something in there, it would be a stick, not an animal.  I’m not sure why he does that; maybe he’s just playing in the stuff.

Sometimes, Waldo climbs up on the snowbanks and trots along on top.  The snow is packed up there and he doesn’t sink in very far.  He’s not the only dog that does that.  I know because there are puppy tracks that he’s following.  Other times, he’ll be scampering along and suddenly veer off at a right angle to the path, jumping through piles of snow and into the bushes.  Something has caught his attention, but I can’t tell what it is.  Maybe he’s just off on an adventure.

Maybe that’s an apt descriptor for what these walks are for Waldo — an adventure.  They are for me.  Webster says an adventure is, “an exciting or remarkable experience,” or, “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.”  They excite curiosity in me and leave me feeling enlivened.  The danger is muted, but it’s there.  I could slip, fall and sprain an ankle, or break something.  Waldo could get hit by a car as we crossed a street.  I never leave the house thinking that something bad could happen, but, hey, stuff happens.  You never know what’s out there, ready to grab you.  Every moment is new, risky and unknown.  All life, from the day you’re born until the day you die, is an adventure.

What would it be like if you approached every moment, thinking of whatever you were doing, whether it’s going to work, washing dishes, or walking the dog, as an adventure?  What if you thought of it as a probe into the unknown, risking your well-being, exploring what is possible in that moment?   Surely that’s all true.  Life itself is the greatest of adventures, even though the end-point is well known.  What happens in between birth and death is totally unknown until it’s in the past.  But it is the stuff of which adventure is made, no matter what you fill the time with.

I’ve always been an adventure junkie.  Sometimes my adventures have been relatively mild, and sometimes kinda wild.  But they’ve always been interesting to me.  Throughout my life, I couldn’t go an entire year without doing something off the reservation.  It was sometimes flying small planes in Australia, Africa or Mexico just to explore.  Sometimes, it was going on a trip to Brazil, just to see what the place and people were like.  Sometimes, it was going on a canoe trip on the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, just to see what it was like to live a week in the wilderness.  Sometimes, it was flying a light plane to Mexico to help out in medical and dental clinics, talking care of the needs of the poor people there.  And sometimes, it was taking up aerobatics just to see what it was like to dance in the sky.

Only now, in my later years, have I come to understand that every breath I take is an adventure.  All I need to do to live it is to open myself up to the moment — listen to the birds sing, insects buzz, and the trees whisper.  All I have to do is look at the universe around me.  To really see the trees around me, how their leaves change with the seasons, how vines wrap themselves around their trunks, how they provide habitats for many different animals.  All I have to do is be in the moment, be curious and full of wonder.  And, of course, watch Waldo.

Waldo is really good at showing me how to see every moment as an adventure.

 

C’mon! This way!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 16, 2021

Stuck in a polar vortex.

 

Climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now.

-Barack Obama

 

Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and I have put our longer walks on a temporary hiatus.  It’s cold and wintry out, but that’s not the reason.  We just don’t want to traipse around in deep snow and most of the trails available to us are unplowed.  Snow storms, a couple of weeks ago, left a good two feet of snow on the ground.  Since then, it has settled somewhat and, in places, been stamped down into an uneven track that’s difficult to walk.  For short distances, they’re tolerable, but for our longer treks, not so much.  The Marlborough Rail Trail is the only exception I know.  They plow it shortly after every storm.  So, Waldo and I have someplace to go to put in our six daily miles.  That does require about a 1.5-mile unplowed walk on the Hudson part of the trail, but that is something we can usually do.  With effort.

Today, we’re in the middle of a polar vortex.  That’s meteorologese for very cold weather coming down from the Canadian arctic into the lower contiguous 48 states.  Because we’re so near the ocean in Massachusetts, which moderates temperatures on the land nearby, it’s not as bad as further inland.  Texas is getting particularly hard hit.  They’re having single digit temperatures in some places!  Not being used to such frigidity, they are not prepared.  Here, the temperatures are dipping down into the low double digits, which is plenty cold enough, thank you very much.  It is believed that the frequency and severity of these polar vortices is due to global warming.

The argument goes that the jet stream keeps the arctic cold up north.  Global warming has weakened the jet stream and that’s the reason the icy air migrates south.  The fact is, due to the average temperature of the atmosphere increasing, more energy is being dumped into meteorological systems.  That energy has to be dissipated, which means we have more frequent violent storms and storms that are more violent.  All that energy makes the atmosphere swirl and rage in ways we’re not used to.  Hence, we get Texas turned into an icicle.

Waldo loves going out to the rail-trail.  He never tires of it.  Always sniffing and searching about for entertainment, he always finds it.  For example, he can sniff about on the surface of the snow, then plunge his nose deep into the white stuff and come out with a stick.  Me, I look out over the forest, fields and fens alongside where we walk and I see a white blanket with bare poles and sticks reaching skyward.  It’s a world in hibernation, waiting for warmer temperatures to be reborn.  It’s waiting to explode in verdure and inflorescence.  Like a sleeping child, it has a beauty all its own.

I look up at the sky above the trees.  Blue, with white puffs of moisture, it hangs there as if it is vast and limitless.  But it’s not.  I’ve been to the top of Kilimanjaro, 19,341 ft above sea level.  At that altitude there is very little air to breathe.  The little blanket of air surrounding our planet is only one thousandth of the radius of the Earth.  Seen from space, it’s a thin veil that provides us with the gaseous elements that we need for life.  And at over seven billion, there are so many of us dumping the waste of our vast energy consumption into the environment that we are slowly making it impossible to live on the Earth.  In 2017, it was estimated that 32.5 gigatons, that’s 65,000,000,000,000 pounds, of CO2 were pumped by us into the air.  We are killing our planet.

It is time that we step back from our industry, our commercialism, our consumption and look at what we are doing.  We don’t live in big modern buildings of hundreds of stories in height, we don’t live in cities the size of small countries, we don’t live in cars, buses, trains and airplanes, we don’t live in luxurious palaces of brick and mortar, we live in Nature.  We live in a world of trees, bushes, flowers, grass, weeds, squirrels, rabbits, birds and insects.  Those other places are just sites where we spend some of our time.  We live in Nature and we need it, all of its trees, bushes, flowers, grass, weeds, squirrels, rabbits, birds and insects, and the air we breathe, to survive.  And we are killing our planet.  It’s up to us to stop it and stop it now.

Waldo and I, we’re going to do our part and decrease our carbon footprint.  We’re going to walk more and drive less, for one thing.

And we’re going to enjoy Nature while we do it.

 

Cold? What cold?

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 09, 2021

I could play in this all day!

 

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human.  The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

-Edward Hoagland

 

I look up from where I am ensconced in my comfy recliner, legs all stretched out, and see a pair of black eyes staring unblinkingly at me.  Waldo is as still as stone and I get this feeling he’s repeating over and over in his head, “You wanna go for a walk.  You wanna go for a walk.  You wanna go for a walk.”   One thing for sure, I could never win a stare-down with this dog.  Some dogs will whine, or scratch at the door, or pace nervously about the room to let you know they want to go out, but not Waldo.  No.  He goes for the old mind projection thing of “If I concentrate hard enough on it, it will happen.”  It’s as if he’s trying to bore his thoughts into my head — which maybe he can, because I get it.

Once I get out of my chair and start to dress for the wintry weather, he gets all excited and starts running in circles.  After a few circuits, he goes over to something that will make some noise if he paws it, like his aluminum dog dishes.  A couple of swats and spilled water later, he goes back to spinning.  I’m trying to tie my boots and he comes over and sticks his nose and tongue in the loose laces, trying to lick my fingers.  I do battle with his gooey, slimy, pink thing, doing my best to keep his parts out of the knot I’m tying.  He then raises a paw at me swipes at my pant leg as if to say, “Come on!  Let’s go!  Let’s go!”  Only once I’m all together and I stand does he attack the door, lunging at it with 50 pounds of puppy power.  I have to tell him to sit so he’ll calm down enough so I can get the leash on his collar.  Once that’s done, I open the door and swoosh, he’s racing down the stairs (a far cry from when I first got him and I had to carry him up and down the stairs).  He gets to the bottom and stares at the outside door, again trying to exercise mind control, and bolts out into the snow as soon as it opens.  It doesn’t take him long to get to the extreme end of the leash and we’re off.

Over the past week or so, Mother Nature has seen fit to grace us with a good foot or more of snow.  Property management has plowed the sidewalks, streets and parking places quite well, but our path usually takes us over where the grass is buried deep under the cold, white fluffy stuff.  Over many treks down the same path, we’ve worn narrow deep canyons through which Waldo charges as if he’s in a rush to get to where they lead.  But he’s not.  He’s just antsy, anxious to get out and run off his border-collie energy.  He sniffs about, his proboscis radar on the lookout for a buried stick, or pee-mail, or any other interesting odor lurking about.

The going is uneven and I’m struggling to keep my balance which slows me down.  Waldo has four smaller feet, walks a lot closer to the ground and doesn’t have to work so hard to keep his footing.  He’s faster than I am and often finds he has to stop and wait for me to catch up.  Sometimes, the path diverges in a “Y” and Waldo takes a wrong turn.  “This way!” I call and he porpoises through the deep untrodden snow between the paths, leaving deep footprints about three feet apart separated by undisturbed snow.  A gazelle couldn’t do it better.  He loves this stuff.

After a quarter mile or so, Waldo finds a place to squat.  He does what he needs to and then goes a little ways and stops, waiting for me to pick up what he has deposited.  Once done, I say, “Okay,” and he continues on his way, doing his Waldo thing.  I stumble along behind and watch him being a dog, enjoying the outdoors.  And I can’t help but share in that joy.  Although we are separate beings with our own individuality, we are also something else, something shared, something somehow merged, acting as a unit.  A part of each of us has met somewhere in the middle ground between us and formed something non-dog and non-human, and yet both dog and human.  Waldo and I, we have become a couple.  A couple of what, I’m not sure.

But we are a couple.

 

Ah! Nothing like freshly fallen snow!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 02, 2021

It is cold, but at least it is plowed. In Marlborough anyway.

 

Attachment is the source of all suffering.

-Buddha

 

It snowed a few days ago, not much, only about 3 inches or so.  And then it got really cold, down to -13℉ with windchill.  I don’t own a pair of long underwear, but when it gets that cold, I do increase the number of layers.  T-shirt, shirt, fleece jacket and down jacket and gloves for the hands, are my standard go-to dress when it gets really cold like this.  My legs usually don’t get that cold, but I add rain pants over them that keeps the heat in just enough that I don’t get a cold rash on my legs when the temps go below 10℉.  The cold doesn’t seem to bother Waldo in his sable birthday suit, although I do keep a close eye on him to see that he doesn’t exhibit behavior that would suggest he’s cold.  The only such behavior I’ve ever noticed is that when it gets below zero and he’s walking on ice, his feet get cold and he’ll lay down and lick his paws.  When this happens, we go home.

Today, I’m waiting for the hottest hours which are after noon.  I momentarily toy with the idea to take the day off because of the cold, then I look at Waldo and those thoughts are gone.  He needs to get out.  Subconsciously, I brace for icy air on my face, cold that penetrates my fingers until they hurt, and the fear that I will be miserable.  I take a deep breath, a decision is made, and just like that, the fear goes away.  I put the leash on Waldo and we hit the rail-trail.

We start out and I can feel the cold.  It bites my nose and cheeks and gnaws at my fingers through my gloves.  I’m dressed heavily enough that the rest of me is quite warm.  When the wind blows, the skin on my exposed forehead starts to ache.  I pull my neck gaiter up to cover my lower jaw and chin, which helps that part of my face, and carry on.  Waldo, he hits the snow at a trot and snuffs around in the stuff.  Soon, somehow, he’s found a stick and he’s prancing down the trail, tail held high, waving that stick back and forth with pride of ownership.

After the first half-mile, I settle into my pace, one foot going in front of the other with an automaticity that requires no thought.  I settle into the sensation of having part of my body feel like it’s going to grow icicles where there shouldn’t had oughta be any, knowing full well from past experience that I am in no real danger, and I relax.  The mild pain in the parts of my face that are freezing just becomes another sensation like any other sensation, like the firmness of the ground that I walk on.  I rotate the leash from hand to hand as my fingers start to ache, putting the idle one in my coat pocket to warm it up.  This all becomes routine as well and I am soon opening myself to my wintery gestalt.

The air is clean and fresh, almost odorless.  I feel its icy tendrils probe at the insides of my nose, only to be warmed and integrated comfortably with the air in my lungs.  I see the white pines dotted along our route that give a pale green tinge to the otherwise white and tan palette of winter.  It is so quiet out here, there’s not even the sound of wind sifting through the leaves that abound in other seasons.  No constant buzz of insects, and any animals, including birds, that are around must be snuggling in their respective nests because they are making no noise.  No whistling, no chattering, no squawking, nothing.  I wonder of they’re peeking out of their doorways watching the icy day that I’m a part of.

And then it occurs to me.  The anticipation of coming out here is so much worse than being here.  Like so many things, the thinking of doing a thing is often so much worse than the actual doing of it.  My hanging onto the desire for warm comfort caused me to resist going for a walk in the cold.  My fear of being miserable put barriers up in my mind to getting out here.  But, once being here, I relax my grip on those things and just melt into the moment, tasting whatever happens without judgment.  And I am quite comfortable, I have no fear, it is, in fact, enjoyable.  How we torture ourselves, grasping for things that are not real.

Waldo, he just prances along, pleasuring in what he can find where he can find it.

 

Come on! It’s only snow!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 23, 2021

Come on! Let’s go see where this goes!

 

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

-T. S. Eliot

 

A dirt path, covered with the tan and orange detritus of winter, winds through and amongst naked trees and bushes.  It rolls out in front of Waldo and I in a gentle arc that disappears after a short distance, curving around then veiled by its swathe of hibernating plant life.  Some green persists, but only that offered up by the white pine that’s scattered here and there in the forest — the deciduous trees, bushes and vines are all brown and skeletal.  What grass remains is mostly buried under a thick blanket of rotting leaves.  The oaks and maples slumber on in the cold and still give shelter to squirrels.  There are rabbits about, but they shelter from the icy air in their snug hidey-holes.  Most of the birds are gone, but a few linger on, chattering softly in the bare branches.  This wintery world is a quiet pastel place, yet the air itself assaults any exposed skin as if to demand a price for this peace, while simultaneously drawing the mind to the present moment.  It is a perfect time and place for a wandering, wondering mind.

Waldo trots along, apparently searching for anything of interest, and he finds it.  A stick here, pee-mail there, a fading vestige of scent left behind by some passing animal, it is all there for the discerning nose.  His mind seems to be wandering as well, going from one external experience to another.  We are both exploring.

Exploration has served mankind well, over the ages.  It brought our ancestors down from the trees, spread them out over the plains and then onto a vast diaspora that covered the Earth.  No other species has wandered so far and wide.  And our travels have been internal as well as external.  Philosophy, mathematics, art, literature, innumerable things that people do can be understood as exploration, extending the boundaries of the familiar.  What is it that urges us on?

Some might think that it is a need, like breathing, drinking and eating.  But I don’t think so.  Needs have goals in their sights and the inability to attain those goals cause frustration and anger (among other things).  And, if you do attain your goal, you then cling to it ferociously.  Exploration is different.  When you explore, you have no idea what you’re going to encounter and, often, your most valuable finds aren’t tangible things, but experiences.  Experiences you can only hold in your memory, not your hands, and they only have value on reflection.  Then, once you find what’s there, your thirst is not quenched, and you move on to the next discovery.  One is driven more by curiosity and wonder than by need.  And trying to satisfy that curiosity is no more a need than flowing water has a need for the sea, or a falling apple has a need for the ground.  It’s an expression of our nature.  To not explore is to not be human.

Now, not everyone safaris in Africa when they hear hic sunt leones (here be lions).  But every single one of us has felt curiosity in one form or another and has probed their personal unknown to some degree.  It is universal among our species, although many may suppress the urge, sublimate the longing.  At its best, exploration is the direct outcome of a sense of wonder.  It is the direct result of appreciating the magic of the human condition.  Not so much asking the questions, “Why are we here?” or “What’s the purpose of life?” or even “What is a human life?” as much as just bathing ourselves in the magical experience, as it is, of being a living, breathing, feeling, thinking human being in a world whose vastness will always be beyond our poor ability to grasp it all with our puny minds.

Today, I’m content to open myself up to my immediate surroundings.  To watch the unfolding of the world right in front of me as it dances and sings in nature’s icy recital.  To discover the curious and wonderful magic that speaks to me if I only take the time to look and listen.  And Waldo is doing much the same thing, in his own Waldo way.  So, maybe, the drive to explore is not exclusively a human thing.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of having a mind of any kind.

 

Phyllis likes to explore too.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 16, 2021

The trail runs straight in Bedford.

 

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

-Khalil Gibran

 

It’s cold out today, colder than it has been.  Without windchill, it’s 27 degrees.  With windchill, it’s, well, just damn cold.  Phyllis and I are accompanying Waldo on the Reformatory Branch Trail and the Minuteman Bikeway — Christine had a conflict and couldn’t make it.  The two paths together make up a route that goes from Concord to Cambridge at the Alewife T-Station near Fresh Pond.  The Reformatory Branch is not paved and it runs 3.9 miles from Concord to Bedford.  The Bikeway is paved and follows, pretty closely, the path Paul Revere took on his famous ride of 1775.  It runs 10.1 miles from Bedford to Cambridge and has been a multipurpose path since 1998.  Bicycle commuters use the latter to bike to town from Boston’s outlying suburbs, but there are bikes on the former as well.  Today, there aren’t many bikes, but, despite the cold, there are a lot of fellow walkers.  After the warmup trek from Concord to Bedford, Phyllis and I are comfortable enough and Waldo, hell, he’s in his element.

After the Battle of Lexington and the subsequent clash with the colonials in Concord, the British retreated through the same woods (although not the same trees) that we walk through today.  The trail runs close to Lexington Green, where the “shot heard around the world” was fired, but not so close that we can see it.  Although we do walk through forested areas, we can see houses and commercial buildings through winterized denuded foliage along much of our route. The towns and cities of Boston suburbia are very close.

I’m impressed that the Redcoats marched not only along our 14-mile trek, but further, all the way into Boston.  And they did it twice, both to Concord and then back.  And they did it all on the same day.  And they did it while being shot at by the colonial militia.  They were some hardy dudes.  I can’t help but wonder what both the Redcoats and the colonial militia would think of this place as it is today.

Even more incredible is the realization that all this happened only 8 generations ago.  I’m almost 72, so that’s only 3.4 times my lifetime.  In those terms, it doesn’t seem so long ago at all.  Think about all that has happened in the world during that short period of time.   For that matter, I’m awed by all the change that’s occurred during my lifetime, and I remember it.  It’s not theoretical history at all.  It’s real, solid and palpable, flesh and blood.  Hell, I can still smell and taste it.  We are living through an ever-accelerating change in the way we live, and it’s happening globally.  I can remember living in Ethiopia in the early 1960’s when there was just one short piece of paved road in the country.  Everything else was gravel or dirt ruts.  Today, the country is connected by modern highways.  I have heard that the camel drivers of caravans crossing the Sahara now use cell phones to keep in touch with their families while out trekking through the dunes.  Dramatic change is everywhere.

And yet, we, as biological organisms, haven’t changed hardly at all.  There hasn’t been enough time for us to evolve from what our ancestors were in 1775.  Or even to evolve much from what people were during the Trojan War.  That was 100 generations ago and there just hasn’t been enough time to make that much difference between what human beings were then and what they are now.  Evolution happens slowly.  Very slowly.  So here we are, animals whose bodies evolved to live in forests and run on grassy plains, interacting with other animals and plants, also evolved to exist in a natural world, who are thrown into a totally artificial man-made universe that our bodies were never designed to function in.  Is it any wonder we’re having trouble?

The thing is, the natural world of our ancestors is still here, just outside our doors, struggling to survive in this new ever-changing world, supporting us as best it can.  We may think that we live in large cities filled with electronic and gas-powered doodads that keep us living in relative luxury, but we do not.  The truth is, these cities and machines are imbedded in a natural world that envelops us and provides us with the raw materials that we need to survive.  All our technology and advancements just changed the caves we live in.  We still rely on nature to provide us with the essentials of life – the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink and the biology that supports our biology.  Without nature, we are screwed.  And we’re destroying that heritage as rapidly as we change the milieu we live in.

But out here on the trail, although it is paved by tar that has been dredged up from underground, and the air we breathe is polluted by industry and cars, we are swathed in a thin blanket of nature where we can be reminded of the real world of our existence.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Just ask Waldo.

 

Great Meadows, Lexington, near Lexington Green.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 9, 2021

Harvey is feeling better!

 

Companion: a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels.

-Oxford Languages

 

We took Harvey to the animal hospital where they gave him subcutaneous fluids, force fed him into his craw, and gave him antibiotics.  It isn’t clear what he was suffering from, some Harvid disease of some kind, and at first, it seemed he was near death.  We discussed euthanasia, but decided we would support him for a few days and see how he did.  Lo and behold, he started eating again and perked up!  We brought him home and continued the antibiotics.  So far, he is getting more energetic, is eating more and appears to be on the rebound!  What a relief.  We’re not out of the woods just yet, but things are looking up.

Meanwhile, back on the rail-trail, Waldo and I do our daily six miles.  It’s cold out there, although that doesn’t seem to bother Waldo at all, but I can dress for it.  I’ve found that the neck gaiter I use as a face mask also helps keep my neck, cheeks and chin warm.  When pulled up into position, over my nose, my face is quite toasty.  The downside is that it redirects my exhaled breath so that my glasses get foggy.  My breath also makes the cloth quite wet if I keep it in place for long.  So, when I am alone, I pull it down, but keep it over my chin to keep my lower face warm.  It works quite well.

Waldo plods along, usually up ahead at the far reach of the leash, but sometimes s-turning back and forth, pursuing some odor or other.  There are also times when he will come back to me and almost trip me with a body-block while dangling his omnipresent stick just out of my reach.  I’m not sure what the rules are of the game that he wants to play, but I make up some moves of my own and enter into the fun.  If I grab at the stick, he’ll clamp down hard on it and refuse to let it go.  Digging in his feet and pulling away from me with his not-insignificant strength and weight, we could play tug-of-war over the damn stick for miles.  This game necessarily impedes our progress, so I look for other ways to entertain us both.  I could chase after him, but, hey, it’s hard enough to walk six miles, I don’t have to run it!  Another ploy: grab another stick off the side of the path, they are ubiquitous, and wave it in front of Waldo.  He’ll stare at it, drop the stick he’s carrying and wait for me to throw the one I’ve got.  As soon as I do, he grabs the one he dropped and then runs after the one I threw.  He then brings them both back to me and “tempts” me with them.  I pick up another stick, repeat the process, and see how many sticks he can carry.  This depends on the size, weight and geometry of the sticks, but I’ve seen him carry as many as five before they start falling by the wayside.

Sometimes, I cheat.  As he gets close to me, instead of going after the stick, I grab his tail.  I don’t think this is as much fun for him, though, so it’s a stratagem I don’t use often.  However we play it, there is a give and take, a kind of communication, that passes between us that reinforces our bond.

This bond fascinates me — we are two different species who share a life together.  It is theorized that both dogs and humans are communal animals and the groups they instinctively form help them survive in an evolutionary sense.  We both have biochemical, perhaps hormonal, needs that draw us into association with others.  I’ve often wondered if this is mediated through pheromones.  Whatever mechanism is involved, this “other” does not have to be of the same species.  For humans, the bonds can be made with birds, dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, and even snakes and spiders.  If each one of these bonds is not a conscious exchange between two separate minds, I don’t know how to explain it.  I’m anthropomorphizing here.  I’m not suggesting that animal minds are human minds or that they have the same qualities as a human mind.  But I’m convinced they have a mind just the same.

Waldo is an independent cuss.  I’m told it’s a characteristic of border collies.  He spends most of his time entertaining himself out there at the front end of the leash and ignores me.  But every once in a while, he’ll turn and look at me, or tempt me with a stick, or bite at my feet, or nudge my hand with his nose and I know that even when he’s pursuing an alluring odor, as if I’m not in the universe at all, I am there in the back of his mind.

As he is always in the back of mine.

 

Lets play!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments