Walking with Waldo

July 27, 2021

Walden Pond

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

-Henry David Thoreau

 

Phyllis, Waldo and I are on our way down the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  This part is about 12 miles long and runs from where we left off last time in Acton, through West Concord and Concord and on to Walden Pond.  Yes, that Walden Pond.  The day starts out cool, at 61℉ and overcast.  There is hardly any breeze and a mist hangs in the air that’s just short of being thick enough to call it a drizzle.  The ground is dry, the grass and leaves are heavy with dew and bugs are out buzzing around, making themselves a nuisance.  Waldo is in his lead position at the extreme end of the leash, even though he has little idea where we’re going, and we are soon engulfed by greenery and Mother Nature.

Phyllis has spent a lot of time around the Concord area, biking and walking, and her kids went to the Fenn School, a private school that is located there.  She knows the place well and it doesn’t seem like much time has passed when she asks, “Are you sure this walk is 12 miles long?  I think we’re close to Concord.”  Indeed, just up ahead is North Bridge, where the Colonialists stopped the British advance into Concord.  There are statues everywhere, including the famous Minuteman statue depicting a musket-carrying Patriot with one hand on a plow.  The BCT is great about connecting to trails that take the trekker through interesting places along the way, including historical sites.  Continuing on, we pass the Old Manse, once occupied by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather (no relation to our Waldo), and on into the town of Concord.

In Concord, we deviate a bit from our route to visit the school, for nostalgic reasons, that Phyllis’s sons attended.  We promptly get evicted – no dogs allowed.  From there, we go to downtown Concord and again leave the path to get some chocolate from Phyllis’s favorite candy store.  Even before we emerge from Concord, we’re again in the woods, following paths that Emerson and Henry David Thoreau likely trod.  I don’t know if Thoreau had a dog, but they say he liked dogs.  I’m sure he would have loved Waldo, but then, who doesn’t?  Both Emerson and Thoreau, along with Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, are buried just to the north and east of downtown Concord on Author’s Ridge, a section of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The wooded track winds around, crosses a street or two, a highway, and then we’re at Walden Pond.  The lake is an example of a kettle pond, about 1.7 miles in circumference and 108 feet deep, created by retreating glaciers 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.  Today, Walden Pond is a State Reservation and serves as a placid place to take the family to swim and float about on paddle boards and canoes.  Although not far from the town of Concord, the area is all woods, quiet and serene, and well insulated from most of the noise and sights of civilization.  Near the north shore of the pond is the site of Thoreau’s 10’ X 15’ one room cabin.  He lived there from July of 1845 until September 1847, when he left because he felt he had other things to do with his life.  The original structure was moved to a nearby farm two years after Thoreau left, where it was a granary and, later, a pigsty.  Eventually, its wood was used to repair a barn.  A replica of the cabin and its furnishings is located at a spot near the parking lot on the east side of the reservation.  You can look in the window and imagine Thoreau sitting on his chair at his desk, before his stone hearth and across from his small bed.  The original cabin cost Thoreau $28.12 ½ to build in 1845, or about $999.19 in today’s currency, although the replica now at the pond cost $3,000 to build in 1985.  If one had a similar inclination to live in the woods today, and I believe there are some who do, they would probably opt for a synthetic fabric tent with cooking stove, plus or minus some kind of space heater, an inflated sleeping pad and sleeping bag.  The overall cost might just be about the same in today’s dollars. How times change.

The path loops around the pond to its west, staying above it, some fifty feet or so, on a low ridge.  Both Phyllis and I have played and swum in its waters in the past, so we have little interest in stopping our walk to do so today.  We can see the water through the trees and underbrush and it’s easy for me to pretend that I’m walking on the trail in 1845, maybe even talking to Thoreau about transcendentalism and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Edgar Allen Poe, all contemporaries of Thoreau.

On the south side of the pond, we continue to Rte 126 and then walk back to the car.  Total distance?  12.01 miles.  Somehow, it didn’t seem that far.  It’s strange how sometimes when you’re out walking, long distances don’t seem that long at all.

The next leg of the trail will take us to Wayland, about three miles from where Phyllis lives.  The days are heating up, though, with highs forecast to be in the nineties.  It might be a while before we can walk in reasonable temperatures again.

We will get ‘er done, though.

 

Thoreau cabin replica.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 20, 2021

Mmmm… Where to start. Where to start.

 

Handle every situation like a dog.  If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.

– Anonymous

 

There is a thick overcast obscuring the sky as Waldo and I start our walk.  The time is ten minutes before 5 AM and the sun won’t come up for about another 20 minutes.  Still, the predawn twilight is bright enough to make everything clearly visible, but, without shadows, everything appears somewhat flat.  Even at this hour, it is quite warm, around 73℉, and the air is heavy with humidity.  Birds are singing their early morning songs and insects are all abuzz.  A soft breeze is playing in the trees and it’s not just the aspen foliage that is shaking its leaves in princess waves.  Rabbits and squirrels are out and about, scurrying here and there, doing their morning rituals.  Everywhere I look, living things are filling their time with the things they do.

Before I retired, I often wondered if I would have a hard time filling the hours with meaningful activity.  I should not have worried.  Now that I’m retired, my days get filled without any effort on my part.  It just happens.  I wake up, a bunch of stuff happens, and then I go to sleep.

When I was working, all my days were filled with gotta-dos.  You know, gotta get up, gotta get in the car and go to work, an overwhelming plethora of gotta-dos at work, the gotta-dos at home that sustain life in the twenty-first century — grocery shopping, cooking of meals, getting gas for the car, paying bills – the endless gotta-dos in the daily battle to stay alive.  I had a friend who defined life as a constant battle against degeneration.  Perhaps, but anyway, life before I retired was certainly filled with things that needed to be done.

Now that I’m retired, to-do lists and gotta-dos have not gone away.  I still need to go grocery shopping, cook meals, get gas for the car, pay bills and so on.  There remains plenty there to fill up the day.  But there is a difference.  A pie chart of my life’s activities and to-do lists would now show a bigger slice labeled wanna-do, and a smaller wedge labeled gotta-do.  That’s nice.  However, it’s also true that some of the wanna-dos are less likely to turn into got-it-dones because of the relative lack of resources.

Then there are the should-dos, the could-dos, the would-dos, the might-dos, the will-dos, the won’t-dos and the there-is-no-way-in-hell-I’m-gonna-dos.  In retirement, there seems to be fewer of the should-dos and that goes along with the smaller number of gotta-dos.  The could-dos are more numerous because of time available, but diminished by not having a work-income anymore to support them.  The would-dos provide a reservoir of possibilities that one can dip into to create wanna-dos and the might-dos need only the desire and energy to turn them into gonna-dos (of course, as I age, both my desire and energy is ebbing a bit).  Many of the will-dos are really deferred gotta-dos and even some won’t-dos that we lie to ourselves about.  Some won’t-dos are pretty self-explanatory, but they can also be gotta-dos that have passed their expiration date and become won’t-dos by default.  The older I get, the there-is-no-way-in-hell-I’m-gonna-dos pot gets bigger and bigger and, thankfully, is better tolerated by those around me.

At any age, and any condition of work, the trick to life is to get the venn diagrams of all your dos to overlap in such a way as to produce enough got-it-dones to make one’s life full and meaningful.  This juggling is no less important in retirement than it is while still working.  It’s particularly important before one retires to make sure the really important wanna-dos don’t turn into man-I-wish-hadda-dones.  Once one retires, he can still turn the wanna-dos into got-it-dones, but time is short, energy and endurance are limited and the bank account is shrinking.  Post retirement, one can spend more attention on emptying the bucket of wanna-dos and that can feel somewhat liberating.  But time remaining is ever rapidly evaporating and opportunities are drying up.  The trick, as it always is, is to find a way to get the dos done without making a lot of doo-doo, and stepping in it, along the way.

At any rate, thinking about all this has filled my attention out here on the trail, instead of just appreciating the moment, and Waldo and I are on our way home to relax and cool off in the AC.  You know what?  The hell with it.  I can hear my recliner calling; I’m gonna take a nap.

Because I’m retired and I can.

 

“Come to me… Come to me!”

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 13, 2021

Let’s play stick!

 

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

-W. H. Auden

 

The days have cooled down, now with temps around 60℉ when we start our walk and in the high 60’s to low 70s when we finish.  We sleep in, well, I do, until 7 AM, then rise, get ready and hit the trail before 8 AM.  Waldo, of course, is already awake when I open my eyes.  His big, round, brown orbs are glaring at me from his bed in his crate, as if by force of will alone his stare can get me out of bed.  God knows, his will is stronger than mine when I first rouse from sleep.

Waldo dances around in tight circles in front of me as I bend over, trying to tie my boots.  After about three or four circuits, he stops and paws my hands, trying to get me to hurry up.  He is not impressed by my logical argument that what he’s doing only makes it take longer before we can get out the door.  I tell him to sit, which he does after a pause where it seems like he’s thinking, “Do I have to?  Sit?  You gotta be kidding!  I wanna go out!”  He sits for no more than a few seconds, then he’s up and spinning around again.  At least once during this dance, he goes over to his food and water dishes, both of which are aluminum, and gives them a resounding whack.  I think he feels the gong-like sound adds needed punctuation to his fervor.

We get out to the car and, after a brief pee break, I open the passenger door and Waldo readily jumps in and sits.  Once the car starts moving, he nudges my arm with his nose and licks my sleeve.  I think the ride makes him nervous and he needs constant reassurance.  So, we go down the street, I have one hand on the steering wheel and the other is on Waldo, petting, patting and scratching his fur.  He’s facing me and he raises his right foreleg, insisting that I scratch his chest.  Apparently, this is an unspoken contract and, once his demand is met, I am obliged to continue until we stop the car.  Any interruption of the caress, even by the demands of road safety, is immediately met with more nudging, licking and a look on a furry face that says, “Hey!  Did I say you could stop?”  It seems that petting the dog in the car is of the highest priority in Waldo-world.

Once on the rail-trail, Waldo is trotting out in front at the end of the leash.  He relieves himself, sniffs the bushes, finds a ubiquitous stick, then is off once again, breaking trail.  This continues for a bit, then he finds a bigger stick, drops back to right in front of me and gives me a look like, “Wanna play some stick?”

Now, I’m not really quite sure what the rules are to this game of Waldo-stick, but I think they bear some semblance to the rules of Calvin-ball — poorly defined and somewhat fluid.  It goes something like this: sometimes he’ll drop the stick in front of me, then pick it up and run ahead a couple of feet.  I think he’s saying, “Chase me!”  I’m too old for much of that, especially when we’re going to walk six miles or more.  So, I pretend not to understand.  In response, he drops back behind me, then comes up next to me, blind-siding me, and starts stabbing me with his stick.  Sometimes, if I continue to ignore him, he’ll jab the damn thing between my legs and almost trip me.

On other occasions, if he has a longer stick, he’ll grab one end and drag the other just in front of where I need to put my feet as I walk.  I have an easy solution for this.  I step on the grounded end of the stick and either break it (to pause the play, which has the potential to create a sprained ankle or worse) or I pick the thing up.  If I do the latter, a heavy game of tug-of-war ensues.   This continues until either I let go, which means the prior gambit is repeated, or I’m able to take the stick from him.  If I have the stick, I throw it for him and again we start over.

Sometimes I’ll grab another stick and wave it in front of him.  This is met with wide-eyed, tail-wagging enthusiasm.  He stops, waits until I get close, then drops the stick he has in his mouth.  I throw my stick and he picks up his stick (God forbid I should get it!) and bounds happily off to retrieve the new one.  If I repeat this ploy, Waldo drops all his sticks, picks them all up again after I toss the new one, and he then adds to his collection.  He’s had as many as five sticks in his mouth at once, depending on their size.  It looks like he’s carrying a small bush (which, by the way, sometimes he does).  Passersby exclaim, “Ah, how cute!”

“I think he’s building a nest,” I reply.

So it goes, until we return home and rest.  I may not understand the rules of the game, but I do know the goal.

And we both win.

 

Whmmmf!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 6, 2021

Dawn over Fort Meadow Reservoir.

 

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.

-Mahatma Gandhi

 

Waldo and I start our walk today in the predawn twilight.  There are no shadows yet as the dim light available is from the glow of the sky alone.  It’s 73℉ and muggy.  The air is heavy with humidity and walking through it feels like moving through dry water.  In less than a quarter mile, my shirt starts to feel moist from sweat.  Whatever sweat I do produce does little to cool me off since little of it evaporates in the nearly saturated air.  I make more sweat.

Getting up at 4 AM was a challenge this morning.  The impulse to roll over and go back to sleep was alluringly tempting.  But I knew if I didn’t get going then, it wouldn’t happen — any later and it would just be too hot for Waldo.  I don’t like exposing him to heat if I can help it.  He doesn’t complain about it, but his behavior says that he isn’t comfortable.  Who would be while wearing a sable coat in these temperatures?  He’s a real trooper and, even when he’s overheated, he keeps plugging along until we return to the car.  You can tell hot days really take it out of him, though, because, on those days, once we get home, he plops down on his side with his tongue fully extended, panting rapidly, until the AC cools him off.  That won’t happen today.

The twilight slowly brightens and long shadows soon lay across the tarmac.  A small brilliant orange disc hangs just above the distant treetops and a scraggly oak trunk reflects dim bands of tangerine light across its bark.  I’m in my stride now and the activity has me fully awake.  What was all the fuss about getting out of bed?  It was just one of those many times when you have to tell your brain, “Shut up and just do it.”  I should take more lessons from Waldo.  He wakes and is immediately up on all fours, tail wagging, ready to go.  Now, out here in nature, walking with Waldo, all that resistance-to-rising nonsense is forgotten.

My footfalls are on autopilot, along with my breaths and heartbeats.  I pay no attention to them at all.  I’m a passenger traveling along, looking out at the world as it passes by.  The human body is amazing that way.  You can just tell it, “Go thataway,” and it happens without further thought or mental effort.  You can look out at the world through the windows of your soul and absorb whatever is there, as if someone else were driving you along.  Sounds, smells, sensations, everything is there to be tasted and admired.  I watch as the tree trunks shift their relative positions due to parallax and the background grows into foreground.  The chirping and singing of birds change in volume and tune as they pass through my field of hearing.  The sweet smell of pine morphs into the sordid odor of swamp and the heat of sunlight abates into the blissful cool of shade as my mind is transported down the trail.  It almost feels as if I’m not the one moving, but what I experience is moving, like watching a movie.  I notice, for the first time, sassafras trees, bitter dock and common burdock, American beech, black locust and silvergreen byrum moss as they crawl past me.  A hundred yards off, alongside a small rill at the bottom of the railroad bed, the large broad leaves of skunk cabbage grow in dense rows.  My mind is drawn out there into nature and all the mundane things that absorbed my attention before I started are gone, as if they were never there at all.

All those battered and bruised, scraped and dented places in my psyche, caused by the ebb and flow of life, are gone.  Those imagined wounds have not just healed, they have evaporated as if they were never there, never real.  And you know, they weren’t real.  They were creations of my own mind, reactions that I authored in response to what happened around me.  The hesitancy to wake up and get out of bed, the pain of sharp words directed at me by frustrated people, the worry of whether or not my bank account can survive without overdraft charges until it is rejuvenated by income, all of that is gone.  My attention is somewhere else.  Somewhere pristine and pure, untouched by human value judgment.  I’m just experiencing the world as it is, as it passes by.  It’s all so magical.

Oh, all the issues that bother me will return in force as soon as our walk is done.  But for now, I can just bask in the serenity of the moment.

Out walking with Waldo on the rail-trail.

 

Early morning on the trail.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 29, 2021

It’s peaceful in the early morning out here.

 

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

-Marcus Aurelius

 

There’s a heat wave wafting through the land with highs in the low nineties and lows around seventy.  This has pretty much put a kibosh on any long hikes in the woods for Waldo and me.  He still needs daily exercise, though, so we get up near dawn and head for the rail-trail in the coolest part of the day.

Today, we start just before 6 AM.  The air has a mild coolness to it and, with a slight breeze, it is quite pleasant.  The skies are clear and the shadows are long, the shade adding to the refreshing ambience.  The life around me is new and full.  If you think of it as being reborn in spring after a cold winter death, resurgent nature would now be somewhere in her late teens.  Hearty, hardy, vibrant, lusty, full of promise, it throbs and flows, shines and sings all around us.  Birds are all atweet, squirrels achatter, insects abuzz and leaves aflutter.  It feels like Mother Nature, now in late-spring, is just coming into her full stride.  Soon enough, it will be fall, then winter, and the cycle will repeat itself.  Looking out over the world around me, I think it is no wonder that many cultures believe in reincarnation.

Waldo trots along the side of the path, grabbing his essential sticks, sniffing the foliage here and there and reveling in the newborn day.  He is now almost three.  In dog years, that would put him in the full summer of his life, about 27 years old.  I’ve noticed the difference in his behavior as he’s aged.  He’s still very energetic, lives in his own world that is sometimes hard to break into, curious, playful, and full of joie de vivre, but he seems less frenetic, calmer (boy, that’s a relative term), and more responsive to me.  Waldo has always been loving and friendly, ready to meet and sniff other dogs as they pass by, eager to seek out hugs and pats (especially from small children) and generally a real sweetheart.  But, now, he seems to do it all in a more placid, relaxed manner.  Waldo is maturing.

Me?  I’m somewhere in late fall.  Oh, okay, full winter.  Many of my leaves have fallen, I’m growing winter weeds where there shouldn’t be any (including in my ears, nose and eyebrows) and there’s snow on the roof.  Many of my body parts are in hibernation, at least partially, and the functions of the others are not what they used to be.  Still, I’m able to walk 6 to 16 miles with Waldo, write and enjoy my family.  I’m not yet in my late winter.

You know, I’ve never been afraid of death.  What’s the point of fearing the inevitable?  I will admit, though, that the process of getting there leaves me a bit jittery.  Who wants to suffer?  But that’s somewhere in the future, even if it is not as far off as I might like, and I’m more interested in deciding how to meaningfully fill the days I have left.  I’ve led a full life and done most of the things I’ve always wanted to do.  I really have no items on my bucket list that have a burning need to be crossed off.  Even so, there are plenty of ways I can still fill the hours that have loads of magic.

As you can see from what I’ve written in this blog over so many weeks, I am in a place where I’m full of wonder about life.  Not so much a wonder about the meaning of life; I think the only meaning to life is what you choose to put there.  It’s not why stuff is in the world that holds my attention; it’s more what is there that’s important.  I’m more interested in experiencing the human experience, bathed in the universe around me, fully and in depth.  I want to reach out and embrace as much of what is as I can.  Now that I’m retired and not as distracted by an overwhelming flood of demands by life’s mundanities, I have a powerful urge to meet raw reality, face to face, such as it might be.  I don’t want so much to try to understand what life is about as to dive in and be fully a part of it, to be consumed by it.

Walking with Waldo is a wonderful stroll into magic.

 

Even early in the morning, we meet other people on the trail.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 22, 2021

Now, that’s a world of green!

 

Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.

-Anne Frank

 

Phyllis, Waldo and I are out on the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  We meet at 7 AM and begin our walk shortly thereafter.  It’s cool out, but not so cold that I’m not comfortable in shirtsleeves.  The forecast is for temps in the 80s later, so we really want to finish before it’s that hot.  At best, though, we’re going to have to sweat with temps in the high 70s before we finish.  I worry about Waldo, but we’ve walked on hotter days and I bring plenty of water for him.  It’s clear that he doesn’t like it as much as when the temps are in the forties, but he deals with it.   It seems his need to get out and enjoy the world trumps his discomfort.  As soon as paws hit the dirt, he’s off at the far end of the leash, leading us down the path.  And he’s right.  It is beautiful out here.

Phyllis, too, is eager to walk.  She really enjoys getting out and exercising.  She bikes when she can, cross country skis and snowshoes in the winter, and walks long distances with us.  She is in phenomenal shape and suffers our 12-to-15-mile treks with delight.  She’s very mindful that by staying active it means that she will continue to be active, for many years to come.  Especially as we grow older, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  When you lose it, it goes fast and getting it back again is a long, hard road to travel.  But that is not her real motivation.  She really enjoys being outdoors.  Maybe she’s related to Waldo.  Maybe we all are.

All the flora along the path, the trees, bushes and weeds, are completely foliated with large green leaves.  I’ve spent much of my life in arid and semiarid places in the world, where my surroundings were dull brown and yellow, and I always find it thrilling to be bathed in so much green.  All those leaves wrapped around me limit how far I can see, hear, smell and feel the world, which makes it feel small, cozy and friendly.  The leaves dance in the wind, shake and shimmy and give me the feeling of floating in a vibrant sea of life.  Insects buzz, birds chirp and flit about, squirrels and chipmunks race across our path, but it is the everywhere-dancing of the leaves that make me feel as if I’m in a pool of fluttering life.  Opening myself up, by just focusing on all the sights, smells, sensations and sounds around me, I invite in the present moment to dwell in my awareness.  That is a thing of great beauty.

You know, beauty is a funny thing.  I mean, what is beauty?  Why does it exist?  Humans have art, some of which serves no other purpose than to be beautiful, but there’s also a lot of beauty in nature.  The varied and florescent beauty of some birds, the shimmering and dazzling colors of insects and the multiple hues of flowers, just to name a few.  The tinkling burbling of a stream as it flows over rocks, the whispering murmur of wind in the trees, the song of birds in their nests, all of these things are beautiful.  Then there’s the odor of sage wafting over desert sands on a dark moonless night, the scent of burning eucalyptus as it cooks an evening meal and the sweet aroma of roses perfuming the air in a humble garden.  All these things we see as beautiful, and many are seen by different animals as beautiful as well.  Why is that?

Experts in evolution have tried to argue that beauty exists because it gives the beholder some evolutionary advantage by seeing them as beautiful.  Many have come to the conclusion, however, that effort has failed.  They would argue, in many cases, no such advantage can be found and beauty exists simply because someone or something perceives some things to be beautiful.  Sexual preference, for example, causes some combinations of colorful feathers in birds to be passed down from one generation to another, simply because the animals perceive them to be beautiful, without there being any survival advantage to the patterns at all.  Not all evolution is driven by natural selection and survival of the fittest.

Whatever the case, we are surrounded by beauty and all you have to do is open your senses and notice it.

And it is magic.

 

There is something alluringly beautiful about water running in a creek.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 15, 2021

Stairs!

 

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.

-Richard Bach

 

Christine is indisposed again, so it’s just Phyllis, Waldo and I out on the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  It’s a ‘tween day — a day that is neither too hot, nor too cold.  A Waldo kind of day.  Our route takes us mostly through woods, with only an occasional jaunt on the city streets.

The path takes us up and down a few hills and across large tracts of lowland swamp.  Where the hills get steep, someone has gone to the trouble of placing wooden beams across the trail, making winding staircases.  Over the swamps, wooden boardwalks with railing make a serpentine platform a couple of feet over the mud, water and vegetation.  The varying terrain and ambience is refreshing.

We pass a few people along the way, some on bicycles.  As we do, the thought occurs to me that there is little difference amongst us humans.  We all have the same traits — blood types, eye colors, body builds, and hair colors, just to name a few.  Even our different skin colors are due to nothing more than varying amounts of melanin.  This should be no surprise, since we are all in the same species.  By definition, that means that we all can, and our ancestors certainly have, intermixed our genes.  In addition, genetic analysis has shown that every human alive today has a common male ancestor who lived somewhere between 120,000 and 156,000 years ago.  Additionally, every person alive today has a single female ancestor who lived roughly 155,000 years ago.  Clearly all humans alive today belong to the same family.  We are all brothers and sisters.

As I walk along, I listen to the wind playing in the trees.  It sighs and whooshes, rattling their leaves and providing a pleasant and calming background song of floral life.  You know, we are all related to the animals, plants and even bacteria around us as well.  DNA stores the genetic information of every living thing on the planet.  During cellular processing, that information is passed on to mRNA which is used to create proteins from amino acids.  Different three-molecule sequences in the mRNA code for different amino acids in this process.  The code in the mRNA is translated into the production of proteins by manufacturing them from the amino acids that are coded for in the mRNA.  The wonderous thing is that this code is the same for all living things on the planet Earth.  This didn’t happen by accident.  It means that we are all related.  Every animal, plant, fungus, bacteria, everything living thing is related to every other.  Somewhere in the distant past, every thing alive today has a common single-celled ancestor that lived billions of years ago.

The ground I walk on sounds and feels hollow underfoot.  In places, it’s a bit rocky; after all, this entire area was once a glacial moraine.  In a sense, we’re all related to these rocks as well as the living things.  The most common elements can be manufactured in stellar cores, up to and including iron.  This is because up until iron, energy is released by the fusion that occurs in stars.  Beyond iron, though, it takes more energy than a stellar furnace can provide.  And yet, none of us would be alive if it weren’t for some of those elements.  They were created by supernovae.  I have heard it estimated that the elements in our bodies have passed through super novae about three times.  Every object on Earth that has mass was created by the same stars and super novae.  Come to think of it, if you go back 13.8 billion years, everything in the Universe was created in the big bang.  Doesn’t that mean that every part of creation is related to every other part?

I look at Waldo and Phyllis.  Yup, they are family for sure.  The birds, chipmunks, and insects are also my family, as are the trees, bushes and weeds.  The dusty earth beneath my feet and the stones I stumble over – all is family.  Everything is family.  How could it be otherwise?

After all, it is the experience of these things that make up everything in my life.

 

Follow the wooden plank road.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 08, 2021

What is this horse chestnut doing here?

 

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

-Muriel Rukeyser

 

The days are getting warmer with highs now in the low 80s.  That’s warm enough that Waldo and I have to change our routine and walk in the morning before it gets so hot.  Today, we start at 8:30 and the temperature is a cool 60℉.  Before we finish our six miles, it will be 75℉, hot enough that Waldo will have to suck down a liter of water and I’ll get my shirt wet with sweat.  Waldo will drop his sticks more frequently, so he can pant better, and he’ll look for a path that takes him through shade.  I’ll follow along behind him gratefully.

The plants seem to enjoy the higher temperatures.  Or, maybe, it’s just the increased exposure to sunlight gained by the better insolation of summer.  They are all leafed-out now and their leaves are broad and green, reaching eagerly upwards in search of life-giving energy.

As we start our walk, I notice a broad-leafed plant I haven’t seen before.  It has a branched stem that rises out of the ground up to about six feet.  I pull out my phone and speciate it – it is a young horse chestnut tree.  The thing is, horse chestnuts are not native to the Americas.  How in the world did it get here?  There are no other plants like it nearby that may have spread their seeds.  In fact, it is the only one I’ve seen on the rail-trail.  Their seeds are large and aren’t going to be born far in a wind, even a gale.  I can’t imagine anyone intentionally planted the thing amongst the dense stand of Japanese knotweed that surrounds it.  The seeds are toxic to people, so I can’t believe someone was carrying a seed around (whatever for?) and accidentally dropped it.  Could a squirrel have brought a seed from far away?  Do squirrels even eat the things?  There’s gotta be an interesting story there.

As we continue on our way, I notice there are a lot of chipmunks scurrying across the trail and running into the undergrowth as Waldo and I pass by.  I’ve seen them before, but never in so many numbers.  They hibernate during the winter, but I remember many weeks of late-summer and fall days when it was still quite warm and I never saw any.  Where did they go?  Why have they returned and why in such large numbers?  Did coyotes or other predators eat them?  If so, how did their population rebound so prolifically?  The predators are still around.  Is this an effect of Covid?  Did the increased numbers of people on the trail, in reaction to sequestration and business shutdowns, scare many of the chipmunks’ natural enemies away?  I sense the presence of yet more stories that could be told.

Off to the sides of the trail, here and there, are large granite boulders.  I’ve been told that many were brought here, pushed and rolled along under the ice, by the huge glaciers that once covered this part of America.  As the glacial ice melted, it left these rocks behind.  There are a couple of construction sites near the path where backhoes and excavators have dug into the ground to make foundations for buildings.  The pile of dirt they leave on the sides of the holes are full of rocks of various sizes.  Many of these stones are part of a glacial moraine, their edges smoothed by the grinding of the overlying tons of moving ice.  Even the very rocks around us have a history that can be discovered.

In fact, when I think about it, it’s not just what’s happened to the things around me that make up tales to be told.  The very objects themselves are nothing more than stories I tell myself.  Nature doesn’t draw lines around parts of herself and label this as this and that as that.  No, nature is a continuum, an existence that has no boundaries and every part of it interacts with every other part of it.  Nothing is really separable from anything else because all of the stuff of the universe is intimately connected to everything else.  Man, as the great storyteller, dices up creation into separate stories that he tells himself, it is not the essential nature of existence.

I wonder if Waldo tells himself stories…

 

Rocks… Show me the sticks!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 1, 2021

Rocks? What about sticks?

 

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

-Desmond Tutu

 

All the trees, even the oaks, have become green with leaves.  The taller oaks have only a tinge of light green in their upper branches, but early tiny leaves are there.  The undergrowth, the Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose, alder buckthorn, autumn olive, eastern hayscented fern, American hophornbeam and cinnamon fern are growing tall and filling space with plant-life searching for sunlight.  Even so, my view is not completely obscured by foliage just yet.  As spring progresses and leaves broaden, the ground a few yards from the trail will be hidden by chlorophyll-laden life, but, for now, I can still see dun-colored earth a ways into the woods.  The blades of grass alongside the trail have grown long and make it hard to pick up dog-poop from their midst without smearing the softer bits of it irretrievably into the lawn.  Full-on foliation is not far away.

The high temperatures have been in the low sixties for the past week or so.  That’s warm enough for the early-flowering plants to show off their many-colored resplendence and for me to be snug in shirtsleeves.  Waldo is comfortable in his sable birthday suit, but a broad, flat, lolling, dripping tongue does flop around between his opened jaws before we finish our six miles, making it obvious he needs a drink.  As he walks along, he leaves his used-water here and there, spraying a message that says, “Waldo was here!”

There are other messages alongside the trail.  One is from the State Government which reads, “Trust the Facts, Get the Vax.”  Why it’s necessary for a government to run an advertising campaign to encourage people to get a working vaccine in the middle of a deadly pandemic, I can’t fathom.  The number of people who are refusing to get the vaccine is downright discouraging.  My feelings are not politically based.  While I am not an epidemiologist, I do understand that the longer the virus is around in large numbers of infected people, the more opportunity it has to mutate into something not covered by the vaccines and even more virulent and deadly.  If you refuse to get vaccinated, you are putting everyone’s health at risk, not just your own.  Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who either don’t understand this or simply don’t care.

On a higher note, there are other signs we pass as we walk on the trail.  Near the beginning, there’s a sign that Marlborough City put up late last summer.  It reads, “Marlborough Rocks, A Community Rock Garden, Take one, Leave One, Share one.”  It sits in the middle of a pile of smooth, flat stones a few inches in diameter.  Though there are none there today, in the past, I’ve seen some painted rocks with messages.  Apparently, they were left, then taken or shared.  It’s warming to see that the community in which I live provides an opportunity for people to reach out to each other in an all-inclusive, generous and friendly way.  Symbolic, maybe, but the effort is there, in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic.  People make an effort to touch other people.

There’s another sign a little more than a half-mile from the beginning of the trail.  It’s hand-painted and reads, “COVID 2020, GARDEN, SPREAD LOVE, PLANT A SEED.”  Around it are rock-lined flowerbeds, a bench and some solar-powered lights.  Not long ago, someone shaped and painted a bit of tree stump to look like a red cardinal and sat it on an old folding chair.  The sign first appeared about this time last year, when things were locked down tight and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  Waldo and I passed the guy who started it while he was planting the first flower.  He said he wanted to create a little community space that would shine a little love and beauty through the gray clouds of doom that hung over us all.  It has morphed with the seasons and is still there today, still being cared for by those who appreciate it as they walk by.

Throughout the year of Covid, in many places where we’ve walked, including our trek across Massachusetts and our exploration of the trails around us, we’ve found similar gestures of friendliness, warmth and kindness.  We’ve encountered botanical descriptions of nearby plants chalked into the tarmac, small “villages” of wooden spoons dressed to look like people and other artful expressions of humanity.

Despite all the noise and furor, the doom and gloom, there are those among us who give us reason to hope for a better future.

 

Needs more sticks!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 25, 2021

Things are definitely getting green!

 

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.

-Orlando Aloysius Battista

 

The undergrowth has blossomed and leaved-out.  As Waldo and I walk along, we pass the greenery of weeping forsythia, eastern hemlock and northern white cedar.  The purple flowers of catawba rhododendron and eastern redbud, the white flowers of paradise apple and the pink flowers of hall crabapple all wave at us as we pass by.  I pull out my phone and speciate multiflora rose, black locust, autumn olive, eastern leatherwood, black cherry, Carolina allspice and Japanese knotweed.   What was once an indistinct blur of green plants and multicolored flowers has become a plethora of different species.  All I had to do to discover them is pay attention to what is around me.  The Waldo Rail-Trail travels through so many different kinds of foliage, you’d think it goes through a well-planned garden.  I’m pretty sure, though, that all these plants were seeded by Mother Nature, not man.  It is wild.  It is a wonder.  There are so many different living things thriving in and amongst dissimilar living things.  It should serve as an example for human kind.  But we have a habit of ignoring our interdependent relationships to the rest of the world, pretending that we are separate from it.

The forest canopy has yet to fill out in all of its shady verdure.  High overhead, the leaves of the black walnut, oak and maples are still small and furled.  It won’t be long and their need to spread out and absorb as much of the life-giving solar radiant energy as possible will cause a shower of cool shadow to splay out over the ground.  It’s warm enough that I don’t have to wear a jacket or sweater, yet cool enough so that what light does penetrate the relatively denuded limbs of the trees feels pleasantly warming.  Waldo and I are not alone in enjoying walking here today.  There are many bicycles, joggers, strollers and dog-walkers out to exercise.

I know the names of none of the people we pass, although some are regulars out here.  The dogs, though, I know.  And why shouldn’t it be so?  They’re the ones who sidle up to Waldo and me, tails wagging, seeking a sniff here or there, a pat or a pet, and offering up a lick or two.  The people, I try to stay a good six feet away from due to Covid.  We don’t see any of the dogs every time we walk, but we often meet Abbey, Arthur, Dingo and Razzle, Jax, Dallas, Haiyas and many others.  They seem eager to stop by and say hello, do a quick meet and greet, then continue on their way.  Oh, there are the occasional trouble makers, dogs who growl and lunge at their tightly held leashes as we pass.  But those dogs, we walk quietly past and ignore.

It’s not like I don’t talk to the people we pass.  Waldo does his butt-wiggling tail-wag, approaching each for a quick sniff and maybe a wet slurp as I cheerily say hello and exchange pleasantries.  That’s usually the extent of any conversation, unless there are dogs present.  We then exchange dog names, ages, sexes and breeds.  It’s not unheard of to discover each dog’s idiosyncrasies and maybe an amusing story about how dogs will be dogs.  It’s not that the dogs are more important than the people, nor even that talking about dogs is safer than sharing personal information.  It’s more that if you’re going to all the trouble of walking a dog out on the trail, it’s likely that you love dogs and like to share that love with others who feel the same way.  And you get to meet some furry, soft, cute, friendly, happy canines as well.  The dogs?  Hey, they’ll take as much affectionate attention as you’re willing to give.

When we’re not interacting with others, Waldo and I walk along, Waldo doing his Waldo thing, me bathing in the essence of the forest, breathing in its wildness and wonder.  Waldo is absorbed in the smell of everything and I diffuse into the varied, multifarious, sensual experience of the present moment in the woods.  When we’re done, we both are agreeably tired and in need of a short rest that is gloriously relaxing.

Then we get up to do it again.

 

Where’s Waldo?
Not everything is green.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments