Byron Brumbaugh

October 19, 2021

Floating down the river, for the most part, is quite peaceful.

 

The end of a melody is not its goal, but nevertheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.  A parable.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

 

For six days, we floated down the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon.  Hell’s Canyon…  That’s a real misnomer.  It is so peaceful down there.  No roads, no cars, no planes overhead, no lawn mower racket and only a rare other human being (and they, too, were there for the peace and quiet).  The only disturbance was the occasional jet-boat powering its way on the water.  Other than that, we were bathed in the serenity born of bird song, plopping oars, river gurgling, chucking chukars, pleasant conversation and the warm glow of late summer sun warming us through deep blue skies.  It’s not easy to get to, but once you’re there, it’s a place truly worth enjoying.

The ancient Indians must have thought the canyon had spiritual value.  There are places where stone cliffs are still blackened from ancient fires.  Many are next to artful displays of pictographs, now faded by the passage of as much as 10,000 years.  Early stone-age man, perhaps even Clovis People, stood there and painted red and black (other colors may have been there, but are now faded and unseen) sawtooth lines and various geometrical figures of unknown significance.  They, too, must have felt the sacred nature of the place, special enough to draw them there past the difficult trek through the rugged country.  Looking at the traces they left behind, I couldn’t help but try to imagine what life might have been like for them.  To try to feel what it was like to be an ancient hunter-gatherer trying to survive in that country and take time out from life’s struggle to leave a message behind that said, if nothing else, “I was here.”  Indian tribes are still in the area, the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) and Shoshone mostly, but are not now in the canyon itself.

The white man tried to use the Snake as a water artery leading to Boise, Idaho, and points east, but failed due to much of the river being unnavigable.  A handful moved into the canyon to try to farm on the few flat spaces that would allow cultivation, but this proved not to be economical.  Miners burrowed holes in the rock, looking for the big strike, but were frustrated by the minerals being too rare to justify the expense of ripping them from the Earth.  Mother Nature herself put up obstacles that modern man couldn’t plunder as if to say, in good Tolkien fashion, “You may pass, but you shall not stay!”  Now, the US Government owns the land and preserves it, as much as is possible, as a nearly pristine wilderness.

And it came to pass, that on the sixth day, we, too, had to depart from this land and return to life in the twenty-first century.  We pulled the rafts up onto the boat-ramp just south of Asotin, removed our gear from the drybags and boarded an old mustard-yellow school bus for the ride into Asotin.  It took a while — the road winds around through steep hills next to the river.  In Asotin, Ron got his truck and took us back to Pullman.  On the way, we stopped at a museum in Lewiston, Idaho, the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center, and learned more about their adventure in this part of the country.  We also stopped at the Jack O’Connor Center – a memorial to a man who lived and ranged in the area, hunting big horn sheep.  He also hunted in Africa and had many trophies mounted on the walls of the center.  I’ve never been much of a hunter, although Bill and Gary were in their younger years.  My idea of hunting uses a camera rather than a rifle, but it was interesting to see the culture once more that I was exposed to in Ethiopia in my youth.

The real treat came once we got to Pullman.  A shower!  I had been rinsed many times over the preceding six days, but to soap up in warm water and wash away all the sweat, grime and green-river residue that had accumulated after almost a week was bliss.  We went out to dinner at a local pub, Rico’s, had a few beers and a good meal.  That wasn’t so special, though, as America’s Rafting Company provided us with beer and good food on the river.  The shower was the thing.

Next morning, we said our goodbyes – until the next adventure (yet to be defined) and boarded planes for home.  Phyllis and I arrived in Boston in the afternoon and parted ways.  I got in my car and drove to North Andover to pick up Waldo.  It was dusk when I knocked at the door of the house where I left him.  I heard a “Come in!” and pulled the door open.  A ball of black, tan and white fur let out an excited whimper and lunged at me, wiggling his whole body in proper Waldo fashion.  I tried to grab him and give him a hug and a pat, but he wouldn’t hold still.  Then, in proper border collie style, the “been there, done that” demeanor, his attention went toward the outside he could see through the open door and we left.  We got in our car and drove the hour it took to get home.  Once there, we ate, took a walk around the grounds to make sure nothing had been moved from its proper place.  Waldo confirmed it still smelled the same.

Yup, this is home.

 

Boat ramp, near Asotin — the end of the trip.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 12, 2021

Phyllis and I up in the bow, early morning, ready to head out.

 

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

-Mae West

 

“I wonder what time it is?” I said to no one in particular.

“What time do you want it to be?” said Bryce, our guide.

Good point.  I stretch out on my back, laying my head on the small drybag that holds my personal gear.   Gear boxes, just behind the bench seat that supports Phyllis and me in the bow of the raft, are just big enough for my upper body to fit.  My feet are on the inflatable floor and my eyes are on the deep blue cloudless sky above.  The water gently swirls and gurgles around us and there is a soft plopping sound as Bryce repeatedly drops the oars into the river.  The jagged edge of tall steep mountain ridges saw across the horizon and cast short shadows over the canyon.  Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse a kingfisher fly by just inches over the water and it occurs to me, what need do we have for time out here?

I could look at my watch, which I still have around my left wrist, but it’s set for Boston time.  In any case, the Pacific Time Zone and the Mountain Time Zone are separated by, you guessed it, the Snake River.  So if it is three o’clock on the west bank, it would be four o’clock on the east bank.  And out here in the middle of the river, what, three-thirty?  Take your pick?  Is either relevant?  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to separate the day into periods like, time to get up and pack your stuff, time to breakfast, time to board the raft, time to beach for lunch, time to beach for camp and so on?  And these events aren’t determined by a clock, or even some other arbitrary rhythm of events, but whenever some task is completed, regardless of clock-time.  Or maybe we don’t need time at all. We just do what needs to be done in whatever good time it takes to do it.

That’s sort of the point of being out here in nature, miles away from civilization, isn’t it?  To quote Thoreau, “to live deliberately.”  There is still a rhythm to things as we float down the river, but that rhythm is very different from our routines back in the city.  There, we’re interconnected with so many synchronous activities that we have to have a clock-time to be certain things mesh together appropriately.  I need to get out to my car by such and such a time so that I can arrive at the airport in time to catch my plane, for example.  In the canyon, we don’t know what’s going on in the world outside and if it occurs to wonder about it, it doesn’t stick — it’s merely a passing whim.  Out here, we just need to join in the pulse of life as it gently rolls downriver.  Get up when the dawn wakes us up, pack up as we wait for breakfast, climb into the rafts when they’re ready to go, beach the boat when we arrive at our lunch spot, and again in the late afternoon when we arrive at our campsite.  What do we need clocks for?

Waldo would understand.  He’d fit right into this kind of lifestyle without any problem.  We’d just have to beach the boat more often so he could poop and pee without doing it on our feet.  I do wish he were here.  I miss the guy.

We arrive at our campsite and everything is already set up.  There are five small two-man dome-like tents, each with cots.  Chris and Megan have their own tent, pitched a short way from the rest of us for privacy.  Phyllis has her own tent, as does Ted.  Bill and I share a tent, so does Ron and Gary.  There’s not a whole lot of room in the tents, but you can stand up in them.  The guides bed down not too far away – they sleep under the stars.  A short walk from the tents, in some bushes or under a tree, is the groover and another box with a toilet seat for the ladies – it would be more difficult for them to pee in the river.  “A handy thing to have on a picnic,” is what my aunt used to call a particular part of the male anatomy.  Both boxes are tucked away under a tree or behind a bush for privacy.  Tables and chairs are unfolded and ready to be used as soon as dinner is cooked.

The first thing I do, after taking my gear into our tent, is to strip off my wet clothes and put on dry.  The wet stuff I hang on the tent frame to let the wind blow-dry them.  It doesn’t take long.  We then hang out and explore around for a couple of hours to stay out of the way of dinner preparation.  Tonight, we’re having baked brie with crackers and grapes as an appetizer, then grilled tri-tip steak with asparagus, couscous, candied walnut, and an apple and gorgonzola salad with soda bread.  The coup de grace is Dutch-oven s’mores bars for dessert.  After that, it’s getting dark and we go to bed when we feel like it – after watching nature display her magnificence in a light display of stars, the likes of which cannot be witnessed anywhere close to a city.

Life is good.

 

Our home at the end of the day, comfy tents with cots.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

October 5, 2021

Riding the bull, getting ready for the rapids.

 

Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere.

And sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.

-Stacy Westfall

 

I’m sitting on the large tubular bow of our rubber raft, like a figurehead, as we ride on smooth current down the Snake River.  Between my legs, almost under my crotch, is a ring that has a rope attached to it, used for securing the boat to the shore when we beach it.  I have a death-grip on that rope with my left hand, as close to the ring as I can get it.  I’m almost sitting on my hand.  My right hand is free but ready to grab hold if needed.  My feet are dangling over the prow just above the water and my butt is dangling over the floor of the raft.  I’m ready for the next rapids.  The guides call this position, “riding the bull.”

As I get ready for the ride ahead, I look out and see the river around the raft is remarkably still, except for large areas of calm upwelling water, gentle eddies and tiny swirls all linked in an arc.  I say remarkably, because I can see smooth, erosion-worn rocks on the bottom seemingly fly past to our rear as we rush downstream with the current.  I glance over at Phyllis, who is sitting on the forward bench just behind me.  She is bracing herself as well because, up ahead is white-water; churning, roiling waves of tormented rive as it crashes inexorably over unseen boulders on the river bed and bounce off the rocks onshore.  The waves form a kind of an inverted “V,” whose apex is where most of the water is channeled – that’s where we’re headed.  In places, the water rises, then crashes over a large unseen obstacle, forming a kind of a hole in the river on the downstream side.  Water backwashes into the space created this way, causing a wave to flow upstream, cresting in a big white-peaked wall of green wetness that crashes down into the depression.  “Green holes,” the guides call them (the river is quite green, due to algae) and they are something to be avoided as a boat can get stuck in there and have trouble getting out.  Then, of course, there’s always the risk of getting flipped over…

We seem to go over a ledge, like over a small waterfall, and I’m staring down into a deep trough.  I look up and see I’m about to be slammed with a froth-topped building of green wetness that rises up over my head.  With my free hand, I pull my hat down tight over my skull and brace for impact.  “Yippee!” I shout, waving my right arm above my head, like in the pictures I’ve seen of bronco-busters.  The wall slams into me.  Sploosh!  It’s like high-diving into an emerald swimming pool with a bellyflop.  Miraculously, my hat stays on.  Dripping from head to foot, I hold on tight as we plunge down into another trough and the process repeats itself.  After a few more inundations, the river smooths out a bit, though we’re still in rapids, and I lose my perch, sliding back onto the raft floor.  I flounder there for a bit, on my back like an upset turtle, arms and legs flailing about, unable to get purchase or get them under me.  I feel something grab my personal flotation device by the shoulder strap and I’m yanked upright onto my feet again.

“Thanks, Bryce,” I tell our guide.  “I needed that!”  I feel a big grin stretch out on my face.  I sit down next to Phyllis and glance at her.  She is also soaked and smiling.  Looking up, I see we’re on smooth flat water again.  But there’s more white-water not too far ahead.

“My turn!” says Phyllis and she gets up to take my place.

On the stretches of smooth water where there are no rapids, we float down the river at around eight or nine knots.  Tall steep mountains loom up close on both sides with cliffs that plunge down into the water.  The rugged horizon, not that far away, is silhouetted by a dark blue sky – so much bluer that what I’m used to on the East Coast.  The contrast of this blue with the drought-fraught pastel tan and yellow of the gorge’s walls is striking.  Here and there, in places where there are spots flat enough to hold them, we can see bighorn sheep and even deer.  Kingfishers and chukars flit about over the water and hang out on rocks and bushes near the river’s edge.  Herons wade in the shallows, mergansers float in the calmer water and we even see a bald eagle or two.

In the early twentieth century, there were a few people who tried to move into the canyon and scratch out a living.  Their cabins have since all been bought up by the government and abandoned so the canyon could be made into a wilderness area.  Some of them are still standing and we stop and explore a few.  There were some attempts at mining here and there, none of them very successful, where people were looking for lead, zinc, molybdenum, silver, gold and other minerals.  The holes they left behind are still there, although the entrances have been blocked off for safety.  Pictographs, left by ancient aborigines, some perhaps as old as 10,000 years or more, can be found on rock walls easily accessible from the river.  Hell’s Canyon has plenty to do and see, on and off the water.

I hope Waldo is having as much fun as I am!

I miss the little guy.

 

White water ahead!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 28, 2021

First look at Hell’s Canyon, from atop Hell’s Canyon Dam.

 

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

-Marcus Aurelius

 

The night before my plane was to leave Boston, I dropped Waldo off with Laurian, our dog sitter.  Waldo was happy to see her, it was a year and a half since the last time I left him with her, and I know he will be in good hands.  No kennel cage for Waldo.  Nope.  He will have the run of the house, a back yard and the friendship of other pooches Laurian is watching.  I give him a pet, a pat, a short hug and he’s off to cavort.

The trip to Cambridge, Idaho, where we would meet our river guides, is fraught with the usual air travel issues, now exacerbated by Covid.  But after late flights, causing running between gates in Seattle and delayed baggage in Pullman, we finally get everyone and their stuff together and drive four hours to Cambridge.  The plan was to meet up with the guides at about 6:30 PM the night before we would put in the river, but, alas, we can’t make it to Cambridge until just after midnight.  All the same, at 6:30 AM, we arrive at America’s Rafting Company’s place of business, all our personal gear packed in drybags and ready to go.

Lauren, one of the owners, gives us the requisite orientation to the river.  This includes what to do if the raft overturns, if you fall out in a rapids, other safety information, and the admonition that whatever we bring onto the river, we take out.  Everything but urine, which we can leave in the river.  This includes our solid waste and we are instructed on the etiquette of using a groover – so called because the ammo cans that were originally used for this task would leave grooves on your behind.  Our groover will sport a comfortable toilet seat and the box beneath it will be carried, with contents, back off the river by our guides.  Leave no trace behind, except your footprints.

ARC provides everything we need, except our personal gear.  The guides, Bryce, Keenan, Kevin and Bob, will row the rafts, set up camp, feed us and tell us about Hell’s Canyon and its history.  These four guys are in their late twenties, skinny and muscular, sunned to a deep tan and very experienced.  Going down the river is all they do all season long (roughly April through October) and they know the river, with its rapids and currents, well.  This year’s drought in the west, and the fires that raged through the area, will have little impact on our trip.  The local fires have burned out and the water level, although low, is regulated by upstream dams enough so the water flow remains good.  Some rapids are better than at higher water levels and some are worse, but there is nothing that can’t be dealt with.

I text Laurian one last time and, fully oriented, the six of us, Bill, Ted, Gary, Ron, Phyllis and I, along with Megan and Chris who joined us in Cambridge, pile into a van and take the two-hour ride down a twisting paved road to Hell’s Canyon Dam.  Megan and Chris, aged 34 and 40, respectively, live in nearby Meridian, Idaho, and are taking a well-earned, I’m sure, vacation from their four kids who they left with a sister.  We put in just below the dam with four rubber rafts – two for gear and two for us.  The rafts are between 14 and 20 feet long and between 6.5 and 7 feet wide.  The larger boats are the gear boats.  Each guide controls a boat with long oars, positioned in the center of each boat, and oriented in a way so that the guide can row in the direction he’s facing.  The purpose of the oars, although constantly in motion, is not so much to propel the boat forward as it is to put the boat in a place on the river where the current will carry us where the guide wants us to go.  They are also used to turn the boat so the waves hit us head on, more or less, and not breach us, which could lead to turning the boat over if the wave was big enough.

Everyone is wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs) and nothing we’re not willing to get wet.  Some of us do have waterproof clear plastic pouches we can put our phones and cameras in so we can take pictures.  I have a pair of waterproof binoculars slung around my neck, a pen and notebook that are supposed to be able to be used under water, and, after tying the drybags holding our personal gear to the boat, we’re good to go.  Two of the guides and the gear boats leave first and are quickly out of sight down-river so camp will be set up, including tents and cots, in late afternoon before we arrive.  The rest of us climb aboard the remaining two rafts, Phyllis, Ted, Gary and I in one, with Bryce, the others in the remaining raft.  We’re positioned two in front and two in the rear, guide in the middle, and we’re off.

Time to get wet!

 

Putting in at the boat ramp. Personal-gear drybag in the foreground.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 21, 2021

The Snake River, from Yellowstone to the Columbia River.

 

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore…

-Lord Byron

 

“Have you been down the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon?” I said.

“No, I haven’t,” said Ron.  “But I’ve always wanted to.”

I was on Maui for my daughter’s wedding in March, 2019.  I met my future son-in-law’s father, Ron, there and we were having a very pleasant meal with both families at a luau in Lahaina.  I knew, from talking to my son-in-law-to-be, Jeremy, that Ron lived in Asotin, Washington, one of the places where rafts and boats that venture down the river end their journey.  I heard, somewhere, some interesting things about Hell’s Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, even deeper than the Grand Canyon, that piqued my interest and I’m always on the lookout for a little adventure.

The Snake River starts in Montana in Yellowstone National Park and winds its way south and west into Idaho.  There, it takes a broad, but still serpentine, loop through southern Idaho until it runs north through Hell’s Canyon, along the border between Oregon and Idaho.  It is a large deep river, with class I-IV rapids (there are six classes of rapids — class VI is impossible and class I is laughable), bearing more water through Hell’s Canyon than the Colorado carries through the Grand Canyon.  It has well known tributaries like the Salmon and Clearwater Rivers and it finally pours into the Columbia River on its way west to the Pacific Ocean.  Its name came from a misinterpretation of Shoshone Indians who used sign language to identify themselves, making a swimming motion with their hands.   It appeared to European explorers that they were signing that the river was named the Snake.  They were actually signing that they lived near the river with many fish.

In 1805, Lewis and Clark crossed over the Bitterroot Mountains through the Lolo Pass, bordering Montana and Idaho, then followed the Lolo trail down to the Clearwater.  There, they built dugout canoes (basically hollowed out tree trunks) and floated down the Clearwater and on to the Snake and Columbia Rivers, ending their journey west near what is now Astoria, Oregon.  They joined the Snake River just north of where Hell’s Canyon ends.

Hell’s Canyon is narrow and deep.  It was named by the earliest white explorers who tried to tame it with boats and ferry, but hardly any were successful.  The name first appeared in a book, published in 1895, and it has been known as such since.  The canyon walls are tall, steep cliffs and, in many places, go right down to the water’s edge.  After Hell’s Canyon Dam, there are only three roads that reach the river until the Oregon and Washington border, more than eighty miles away, and they are at the far northern end of the canyon.  One can hike in through washes and feeder creeks, but for much of its length, it is difficult to walk far along the river.  There are no radio signals that penetrate into the depths of the gorge, except using satellite phones.  On the water, one is not just isolated from the noise and hubbub of twenty-first century life, he is also removed from anything that goes on outside (except by satellite phone) until arrival in Asotin, Washington.  No news, no weather forecasts, no email, no texting, no FaceBook, nothing.  Perfect.

I was curious about the place and wanted to experience it first hand, from a rubber raft floating with the current and through rapids.  I have run rivers before, in my undergraduate days, and knew that I would enjoy it.  “It’s settled then.  We’ll do it.  How does summer, 2020, sound?” I told Ron.

Just like that, commitments and plans were made.  Research online led to reservations being secured and invitations were sent out to others we knew who might want to join us.  My brother Bill and his son Ted readily accepted.  Covid had something to say about the trip and we had to delay going until August 2021.  In the interim, Gary, someone who Bill and I met over fifty years ago in Ethiopia, and who I hadn’t seen in all that time, eagerly signed on.  During one of our many walks, I mentioned the trip to Phyllis who jumped at the chance to join us.  Fully vaccinated, the six of us readied ourselves for a six-day river rafting trip, eighty-one miles long, down the Snake from Hell’s Canyon Dam to just below Asotin.

Waldo will not be able to join us, sadly.  The company who will supply us with the guides, boats, equipment and food would not allow it.  That’s for the best, I think, and I arranged for him to board with a woman I’ve used before, where he can play all day long with other dogs.  I will miss him, he’s such an integral part of my daily life, but we both will have a nice vacation from our routine of rail-trail walks.

And so, the adventure begins!

 

Hell’s Canyon, from Hell’s Canyon Dam to the confluence of the Snake River with the Clearwater River.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 14, 2021

Sometimes the trail is wide and inviting.

 

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.  Then quit.  There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.

-W. C. Fields

 

Phyllis, Waldo and I are on the next leg of our BCT trek.  Christine was obligated doing something else and could not come.  We’re walking from where we left off in Wayland and making for Callahan State Park in Marlborough.  We start off following surface streets and highways, but will soon be back in the woods.  Our first leg takes down a highway, US Rte 20, that we both travel on regularly and is well known.  Today is a cool day with temps ranging from the high sixties to the low seventies.

This part of Highway 20 often has heavy traffic and today is no exception.  Over the many miles we’ve walked, Waldo has become educated as to where to walk and he keeps to the sidewalk when there is one.  If we’re forced to walk on the side of the road, I shorten the leash to keep better control over where he goes and what he does.  Waldo doesn’t like that much, but he goes along with it and puts his attention on finding sticks and sniffing what he can find that is interesting.

After awhile, we come to a trail in Sudbury, the Tippling Rock Trail that wanders off into the woods on the Nobscot Hill Reservation.  Off to the left is a Boy Scout camp, one that my grandson and I have stayed at in the past.  Off to the right of our trail is something called Ford’s Folly.  This requires a little history.

If we continued on down Rte 20 a few more miles, we would have come to a road that bears off to the north at an acute angle, leading to the Wayside Inn.  The Wayside Inn has 300 years of history behind it and is still operating.  It was written of by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863 and is sometimes called “Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.”  In 1923, the Inn was bought by Henry Ford and the highway was rerouted from just outside the Inn to where Rte 20 now runs further to the south.  Part of his project involved building a dam to serve as a fire fighting reservoir for the village.  Unfortunately, even though the dam was built and still stands today, it was sited on fractured rock that could hold no water.  So, there it stands still, a thirty-foot high wall of stone, 900 feet long, with no water behind it and serving no purpose.  The small stream that was the intended source of water runs up to the wall and then under it, unobstructed.  Hence it is called “Ford’s Folly.”  I am reminded of Fordlandia in Brazil – a failed attempt of Henry Ford’s to grow rubber trees for his automobile tires.  I guess if you have more money than God, you can afford to make a few grandiose adventurous mistakes.

Now, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, some were even a bit expensive – for me.  I once accidentally left an expensive camera on a tour bus, for example.  Another time, I got into an accident after falling asleep while driving home after a long shift at work (little damage, no injuries).  Then there was the time I, uh…  Never mind.  There was little ventured and little lost in my mistakes, but maybe the impact on my life was comparable to what happened to Ford, given the difference in our respective net worth.  I firmly believe that if you don’t, at least occasionally, screw up, you’re not trying hard enough.  You just have to make sure your dumbass errors aren’t permanently damaging to anyone.  Waldo makes his mistakes too.  He charges willy-nilly ahead, with what seems like little regard for what might happen.  It’s up to me to keep him safe.  You know, I must do a good job of it — he certainly feels secure enough to venture forth with wild abandon.

I have been to Ford’s Folly before with my grandson, Matty, and it’s not much to look at, so Phyllis and I stay on the path toward our goal.  There is some hill climbing as we approach Tippling Rock and when we get to the top, we have a gorgeous view of Massachusetts to the east.  The rock itself is broad and flat, making the growth of foliage impossible and the great vista possible.  We stop for a snack and water Waldo.  Waldo loves the woods and is having a great time with all the sticks and smells.  The place is dog friendly and we pass a few other dogs enjoying the woods, some of which are off leash.

From Tippling Rock, we continue on down the footpath into Callahan State Park.  The Park was named after Raymond J. Callahan, a local newspaper editor and historian. It comprises 800 acres of pristine forest, just east of the Sudbury Reservoir, in Marlborough and Framingham.  The ground is flatter here and the trail is sometimes narrower, winding around amongst the trees and undergrowth.

A little more than six hours and thirteen miles from where we started, we come to our car in a parking lot dedicated to the park.  It’s been a nice walk in the woods and we look forward to our next leg.  So far, we’ve been heading more or less west and south.  From here on out, we’re going south and then east, slowly closing the circle to the Atlantic Ocean south of Boston.

For now, though, we’re going home — Phyllis to her house, Waldo to his balcony and me to my recliner and a nap.

 

Other times, it’s quite narrow. Either way, Waldo seems to think he knows where we’re going. He’s wrong 90% of the time.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 07, 2021

Long shadows in the early morning on the rail-trail.

 

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.

-Socrates

 

It’s early morning, but after dawn, when Waldo and I start our daily jaunt.  It rained last night, but the tarmac is dry.  Dew still hangs on some of the leaves and my boots get damp when I walk in the grass.  Waldo likes to walk fast (how else would he walk) through the grass with his head down, tongue out, dragging it on the upper parts of the damp blades.  I know he’s not thirsty because, in similar circumstances in the past, I offer him water and he refuses.  I think he’s just tasting the world, to add sensory information to what he can see, smell, feel and hear.  Every day is different and he’s there to take it all in anew.

Waldo is in constant search of new knowledge.  I’m convinced that is the real raison d’etre for his constantly holding his nose-to-the ground, ears-perked-up, and eyes-forward.  He wants to know what’s out there.  And sometimes he gets surprised.  I remember once we were walking along a suburban street on the BCT.  Phyllis, Christine and I were on the tarmac and Waldo trotted along on someone’s front lawn next to us.  Suddenly, he leaped a good three feet into the air, to alight a good six feet from where he was.  He then stared at a particular spot in the grass with a wide-eyed, surprised and uncertain look on his face, as if to say, “What the hell!”  I looked where he was looking and at first saw nothing.  I got closer, bent down and looked again – there was a small crawdad, standing on its aft legs, stretching up its opened, threatening, forward-reaching claws as if saying, “Yeah, bring that nose back over here and see what happens!”  The rest of us wondered how a crawdad got onto the lawn when there was no body of water nearby.  Not Waldo, though, he put it on his “things to avoid” list and moved on, with an occasional nervous glance behind him.

Waldo’s taught me a thing or two.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him is to get out of my head and give careful attention to what’s happening around me.  This pays off big time this morning on the rail-trail.  We’re walking along through the long shadows cast on the ground by the low-lying sun when I see a most amazing sight in front of me.  Last night’s rain soaked the wooden rails of the fence that borders the trail and they’re still damp.  The morning sunlight is shining in between tree trunks and beaming onto the rails.  The light warms up the wood enough to cause the water trapped there to steam into the air.  The air is still cool enough that it takes it awhile to dissolve the water into itself and the vapor hangs there, just above the rail, carried by a very, very light breeze into a gentle arc.  I’m reminded of watching low-lying clouds spill out over a mountain ridge into an idyllic green valley as if they were viscous, slow-moving whip cream.  All I had to do is pay attention to see this.

That’s what learning is all about.  Paying attention and, intimately as possible, experiencing an event or thing, then fitting that experience into a pattern that can be assimilated into a worldview.  I once asked myself, what do I mean when I say I understand something?  After considering this for a while, I decided that I say I feel like I understand an observation when I am able to fit that observation into my worldview without contradiction.  When I can do that, it feels like I understand.  If I can’t, I tell myself I don’t understand.  That’s all it means to me to “understand” something.  It has nothing to do with fact, truth or an objective reality.  If any of those things exist, I can’t know them.  All I can do is speculate about their possible existence.  Learning, to me, is the broadening of my awareness, the assimilation of new experience into the meshwork of past experience that I’ve built up over a lifetime.  A meshwork that hangs together on the idea that understanding abhors contradiction and loves all-inclusiveness.  It’s interesting to note, though, that neither of those latter two things are necessarily true themselves.  It’s just the way my mind works.  I can readily think of exceptions to each.  Godel’s theorem comes to mind, but that’s a topic for another time.

Waldo and I continue on down the trail, eyes open, ears listening and noses sniffing.

Eager for the next beautiful thing to tease at our senses.

 

Steam boiling off wet fence rails in the early morning light.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 31, 2021

And we’re waiting for?

 

If aliens saw us walking our dogs and picking up their poop, who would they think is in charge

-Anonymous

 

Waldo’s agitating me to take him out for a poop and pee walk.  This happens three or four times a day even after the six-mile walks we do.  It starts with him coming in from the balcony, where he likes to hang out, and he lies down and stares at me from a spot on the floor that is well within my visual range.  I’m usually sitting in my recliner, writing, reading or watching TV and his favorite spot to glare at me is under the kitchen table about ten feet away.  He has no other reason for being in that spot except to get my attention.  Every time I turn to look at him, he is there, staring at me.  He never whines or paces.

I’m pretty sure he is in no desperate need, he probably just wants to go outdoors and check out what condition its condition is in — beyond what he can see from the balcony.  This, I understand, but I’m involved with reading a book I’ve been meaning to finish for awhile, and it hasn’t been that long, about two hours, since we last went out and about.  I let his silent appeals pass and try to ignore them so I can continue what I’m doing.  I am mindful that he can’t even relieve himself without getting me to take him downstairs, but I also think he just gets bored sometimes and wants to be in the grass and bushes, sniffing around.  I weigh his needs against mine and decide he can wait a bit.  If I’m wrong, he’ll let me know.

After an hour or so, and several trips back out onto the balcony that take him right in front of me, he lets out a soft, short woof.  Just one.  I look at him and he stares back at me, giving me that border collie glare as if I were a sheep in dire need of being herded.  I look away and continue with my reading, but we both know the point has been made.  Another half-hour passes and he lets out a soft growl, followed by a more fervent, but still gentle, woof.  He is a very patient dog at these times and in these circumstances (certainly not in all things Waldo), but there are limits!

I sigh.  He is dependent on me in so many ways and I respect that.  I put the footrest of my recliner down.  Immediately, Waldo is up on his feet and looking at me with expectation.  I get up and he moves over to the door where he stands and again stares at me.  “I know, I know,” I tell him.  “Gimme just a minute.”  I put on my hat and grab a couple of dog treats.  He does his Waldo thing and walks around in a circle in front of the door a couple of times.  “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I say as if that would placate him.

As I futz around, he lies down and stares at me.  Finally (in his mind), I get over to the door and grab the leash.  He paws at me, then runs around in more circles.  He runs over to his dog dishes and gives them a good whack which, being aluminum, makes them clang with a resounding “gong” and sloshes water out onto the floor.  In effort to curb his frenetic pacing, I say, “Sit!”

In response, he gives me this look as if to say, “What are you talking about?   I wanna go out, not sit!”

“Sit,” I insist and don’t move until he complies.  I really want to train him to patiently wait while I’m getting ready for us to go out, like tying my shoes or attaching his leash to his collar.  But how do you train OCD and ADHD out of anyone?  He is a border collie, after all.  This Waldo-behavior has been going on for some time, as I’ve posted in the past, and we go through the same routine four, five times a day — it doesn’t change.

Finally, he plants his butt with a plop, as if reluctantly, for about a second, then is up and going in circles again.  “Sit,” I repeat and we go through this drill several times until we’re finally out the door.

Once outside, he is off doing his Waldo thing at the forward end of the leash.  He pees a bit, but doesn’t poop, this time, and, after about a half-mile stroll, we come to the door of the building.  There, I always have to tell him to “Drop it!”, as he always has apples or sticks in his mouth that I won’t allow him to bring inside.  He complies, usually willingly, and I give him a dog-treat – a negotiation we were able to work out some time in the past.

And so it goes.  We go back inside, me to my recliner, Waldo to his balcony, until the next time nature calls.

Waldo and I, it seems, are bonded by the power of poop and pee.

 

“I gotta pee, but where?”

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 24, 2021

“Sunrise,” looking east.

 

Wake!  For the Sun who scatter’d into flight

The Stars before him from the Field of Night,

Drives Night along with them from Heav’n,

and strikes

The Sultan’s Turret with a shaft of Light

-Omar Kayyam

 

Christine and I decide we will walk to the top of Mount Wachusett (a Native American term meaning “mountain place”) to meet the dawn.  The mountain is about forty minutes away from where Waldo and I live, less from where Christine lives in Holden.  It is only 2005 feet above sea level at its peak, but it is the highest point in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut river.   A short walk up a dirt trail or paved road gets you to the top from a parking lot at its base.  We decide to meet at the parking lot at 4:30 AM in order to get to the top well before 5:26 AM, which is the forecast time of sunrise.  In the parking lot, it is quite dark, but the dim sky-glow from nearby Worcester is more than adequate to walk by, without needing flashlights.  The air is still and cool and there is little sound, other than that of the stirring of awakening life in the wild – birds and insects mostly.

The road that goes to the top is less than one mile long, so we look for a way that will take us on a more circuitous path so Waldo can get his six-mile morning walk in.  We find a road that winds around the base of the mountain that is 2.2 miles long and take that.  The rest of the Waldo walk, Waldo and I can fill in around Marlborough.

The road is bordered by trees I haven’t seen in Massachusetts before – European beech, European plum and witch hazel, to name just a few.  I’m sure they can be found elsewhere in the state, I just haven’t noticed them.  It’s funny how I can walk by so much without being aware, but I guess my mind spends a lot of time wandering and wondering in places where my body is not.  I have developed the habit, once in a while, of looking at the leaves around me as I walk and noticing when I see something different.  I then take out my handy iPhone app and speciate what I see.  It has broadened and deepened my experience of roaming around in nature.

Waldo seems to really enjoy walking someplace new.  I may be reading more into his pile of hair than is warranted, but he seems to flit about from this attraction to that, sniffing everywhere and, once in a while, picking up a new stick, with a heightened fervor compared to our usual jaunts.  He certainly doesn’t need any stinking app to help drag his attention into the present moment — that’s where he lives.  I’d be willing to bet that the smells of the mountainside are different from those of home and that, if nothing else, would pique his interest.  At any rate, his tail is up and wagging back and forth as he trots along out in front at the end of the leash.

The morning twilight slowly brightens as we saunter up the gentle slope.  A good half-hour before sunrise, we can see our surroundings almost as if in full daylight.  I recall watching the full eclipse of the sun when it occurred a couple of years ago.  Even though the sun was totally blocked out, refraction of light by the atmosphere kept the spot on the Earth that was in the moon’s full shadow from being dark.  It produced more of a twilight, much like what we’re seeing now.  Christine thinks we should start out an hour earlier next time so we can more fully appreciate the whole sunrise process.

Before very long, we come to an overlook where we can look out to the east and see much of the country that lies between us and the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that we can see past the trees, we find that there is a thick fog laying in the low places, valleys and dales, and that the sky is completely overcast.  We might have predicted this, if we’d paid attention to the forecast, but we aren’t really here for the sight of sunrise.  We’re here more for the early morning experience, despite what nature might throw at us.  It’s perfectly okay that we aren’t going to see more than a suggestive hint of the sun as it comes over the horizon, wherever that is, today.  It reminds me of Mount Kilimanjaro once we got to the top.  It was awash in fog and the glorious vista that must have been there underneath all that was blocked from view.  Like today, though, the fact did not diminish the experience even a little.  It just made it different.

At the peak, we meet a small group of other people who took the shorter route to the top.  We seem not to be the only ones who go out their way to watch a beautiful sunrise, even if we did miss it this time.  There will be other days.

And Waldo?  The difference seems to make no impression on him at all.

 

Fog makes the world look smaller.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 17, 2021

At times, the path feels idyllic.

 

Destiny is not fate, it is navigation.

-Richie Norton

 

A dry patch, squeezed between rainy days, provides us with an opportunity to continue our Bay Circuit Trail trek that we cannot refuse.  The day is cool, with a high temperature of 68℉, overcast skies and a mild breeze that makes it a really nice day to take a walk in the woods.  There is no such thing as a bad day, of course, but today’s weather definitely makes it easy.  Christine is able to join us today, after a prolonged hiatus imposed by life’s duties.  She, Phyllis, Waldo and I start where we left off at Walden Pond and head south, following the trail as it winds its way through the woods.  Waldo is in position out front, the rest of us are in a gaggle close behind.

After about an hour or so, we come across where the trail splits into two separate paths.  One seems to be as traveled as the other, so we can’t use the “one less traveled by” rule and, accordingly, we decide that it doesn’t make a difference.  A random act of navigation dictates that we go right, instead of left, and we go on our way.

The trail goes up and down a few hills as it meanders through the forest.  The ambience feels idyllic, surrounded by deciduous trees and conifers as we step along on pine-needle and fallen-leaf padded ground.  Waldo is absorbed hunting for the perfect stick and experiencing a host of new odors.  In low places, we pass through swampy land, going over wooden planks that keep us from sinking into the muck and mire.  One of the most pleasant features of the BCT is the wide variety of country we travel through.

For no particular reason, I check my phone’s compass and see that we are headed northwest.  Hmmm.  We should be going southwest to southeast.  The trail does wind around a lot as it goes over hill and dale, but this piece of trail seems to be heading more or less straight, and in the wrong direction.  There is an interactive map on my phone that shows the trail and a little blue dot that indicates where we are.  But the image takes a while to download and as I do the two-finger spread to enlarge the map, the trail disappears.  With no better information, we decide that we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and we turn around.

Exasperated and annoyed at the thought of adding unnecessary miles to our already 12-mile trek, we retrace our steps, now going southeast.  It isn’t long before we see we’re going northwest again.  We are going in circles.  Frustrated, we turn around once again and watch carefully for the trail markers.  Finally, I’m able to download the trail on the interactive map and I discover a spot where someone has misplaced a trail marker that led us astray onto an interconnecting trail.  We ignore it and soon find other markers that reassure us that we have finally made the right choice.  Because of this, Phyllis starts using an app that has an interactive feature, but it is sometimes difficult to find the BCT.  What it shows as BCT is discontinuous — it only seems to show that part that is in the woods and not those interconnecting places where you have to travel along streets and highways to get to the next piece of trail.

About another hour later and we run into a large grassy field.  On its edge, there is a fence post with a BCT marker and an arrow that points off somewhere into the expanse, as if to say, “Go thataway.”  The field has tall grass and weeds, but there is no path, per se.  There is, however, a swath where it looks like someone has mowed, some time ago, the verdure, leaving a nine-inch-high patch of vegetation, curving off into the distance, amongst the three-foot-high weeds.  In the field, there are no trees or posts to put a marker and we can find none.  So, we follow the mowed lane, keeping an eye out for a divergence into the woods, and follow along on as best we can on our apps.  Sure enough, we soon come to a path going off into the trees and there, on one of the first trees, is a BCT marker.

One of the nice things about the BCT is that it doesn’t take the shortest distance between points.  It ventures into different kinds of pristine (relatively) country and historically interesting places as it winds its way along.  Having already gone around in circles today, we get a little leery when we notice that we have walked a couple of miles without getting any closer to our destination, but, not to worry, the trail is just making S turns through the countryside.

Fourteen miles from where we started, including the circles, and we arrive back to the car.  You know what?  Half the fun of this walk is negotiating the navigation difficulties.  It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the trail were better marked.

We head home to regroup, refresh and rest up for the next leg.

 

How could anyone get lost in here?

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments