Walking with Waldo

February 13, 2024

It’s a nice warm late winter day.

 

What some people call serendipity is just having your eyes open.

-Jose Manuel Barroso

 

Today, the weather is quite warm, for January, with a high of 54℉!  I left my gloves at home and I’m walking bare-eared under my wide brimmed safari sunhat.  It’s cloudy and a little breezy, so I did wear my light fabric flight-jacket, but it’s not zipped up all the way.  Waldo is happily prancing down the path, sniffing on one side, then the other.

I decided I’m going to visit my brother in Switzerland again, this June and July, so I’m committed to reviewing the French I’ve been able to learn.  I would like to take a class in intermediate French, but that’s not something I can easily afford.  So, I pull out my phone and replay the app I used in the past.  Using the app makes me listen and speak and the repetition helps me form neuronic pathways that lead to speaking with some facility.  I put the app on speaker and stick the phone in my shirt pocket where I can hear it well.  I begin with the first lesson.

Because it’s warm and a Saturday, there are quite a few people, some with dogs and even some bicycles, on the trail.  We haven’t walked more than ten minutes and an “elderly” couple, I don’t recall meeting before, passes us.  I’m saying “Je ne comprend pas” (I don’t understand) to the app and the woman gives me a strange look.  I smile and tell her, “I’m trying to learn French.”

“We are French!” she says.

Well, I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so we walk side by side and converse in French.  Well, they speak in French and I mumble as best as I can, but they seem to understand okay.  Waldo, he doesn’t speak any French, so after a cursory tail-wagging hello, he continues on down the trail in front of us, entertaining himself.  Anyhow, I discover that the two of them have been in this country for some twenty-five years and have lived in Marlborough for fifteen.  The man, whose name is Gilles, works as an engineer at Boston Scientific, a company whose headquarters is just off the rail trail opposite to the open field at Fort Meadow Reservoir.  I didn’t get where his wife, Germaine, works.

It’s been about six months since I’ve worked at learning French and I’ve forgotten a lot.  It’s still there, just under the level of my conscious awareness, and I have a lot of “Oh, yeah!” experiences.  It’s funny.  Over the years, I’ve tried to learn Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.  If I don’t work at using one, what comes out is “Spitulese”, a combination of all of them.  Since I haven’t used the French in a few months, I subconsciously default back to Spitulese when I’m searching for a way to say something in French.  After an “Uh” or two, the French comes up, or my new friends provide it for me.  It’s work, though.

After a half an hour or so, I tire and revert to English.  We then talk about all manner of things, including politics, dialectical differences in the various parts of France and Switzerland.  Germaine is from the south of France and Gilles is from the north.  We compare health care systems and retirement benefits between France and the US (Gilles says he’s thinking of retiring in about five years).  They plan to return to France when they retire (they are dual citizens of the US and France).  Heath care is every bit as good there as here, there’s universal health care, retirement benefits are enough to survive comfortably and it’s home.  Add to that the wonderful food, wine and French culture and I can see the allure.  For one thing, the French pride themselves in living the art de vie, the art of life.  That means basing one’s life on the pleasant things life has to offer: good food, good wine, good art of all kinds and good companionship.

Germaine tells me she knows someone locally who teaches French and there is a community of people in the area who get together to speak it.  Sounds like just the thing I’ve been looking for.  I would think that meeting Gilles and Germaine was serendipitous, if it weren’t for the fact that Waldo and I have been out on the rail trail some 1,800 times over the years and, if anyone speaking French were to ever walk here, the chances are good we’d meet them eventually.  Just the same, I’m really happy to have met them and, sometime soon, I’m going to have to invite them for a walk, or maybe a glass of wine (we exchanged phone numbers).  Too bad there aren’t any sidewalk cafes around here like in France.

Gilles and Germaine stay with Waldo and me for the entire walk.  At the end, we go one way, back to our car, and they go another (their home is within walking distance of the trail).  “Enchanté!” I say, shaking their hands and “Aurevoir!”

Waldo and I go back home to rest, relax and savor our new friends.

 

No flowers in the Covid Garden yet.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 06, 2024

Snow is here!

 

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.

-John Dalberg-Acton

 

Well, we finally got our first snow of the season.  Twelve inches was dumped on us overnight three days ago.  It was wet and heavy, bending some branches way down where we had to walk and even toppling more than one tree completely over.  The temperatures went well down into the teens, making me bundle up in my parka and put gaiters on over rain pants.  The worst part was that it took so much work to trudge along, blazing a trail through all that white.  My seventy-five year old body complained a lot about it.  Not only was I huffing and puffing, with heart pounding, I was dripping in sweat.  Waldo, bless his young heart, porpoised through it having a grand old time.

Then, yesterday, the temperature rose into the forties and it rained.  Today, the high was fifty-one degrees.  Fifty-one degrees!  Most of the snow is now gone, replaced by slushy swamps in the low spots and water running in the ditches.  There is, however, some snow left in shadowy places and where plows piled it up while clearing the streets.  On the rail-trail, there are stretches where there’s patches of squishy snow/slush/water, but most of that can easily be navigated around.  Except, of course, for Waldo, who doesn’t seem to mind getting his paws (and his fur) wet.  He even finds beds of the stuff to roll in.  Ah, well, I’m used to the smell of wet dog this time of year.

We haven’t gone far down the trail and we come across an “elderly” man and his wife out for a stroll.  With all the construction going on, conversation soon rolls around to how much things have changed in Marlborough.   In just the five years Waldo and I have been walking down here, there’s been townhouses built and elderly housing complexes put up in places that used to be grassy fields and stands of trees and bushes.  And now there’s the repaving of a city parking lot, the making of a park on the landfill by Fort Meadow Reservoir and the apartment complex going up at the beginning of the rail-trail.

It turns out the man is a retired carpenter who spent all of his life in Marlborough.  I ask him if he remembers when the train still ran where we’re walking.  He says he does.  Deisel engines pulled passenger cars in the fifties and freight in the sixties.  Where the trail crosses Fitchburg Street, the railroad ran over a bridge with a stone abutment.  The passage beneath it was so narrow, only one car could pass through it at time.  Most of the area that now has houses and businesses, like Boston Scientific, was all open field and forest.  Marlborough Hospital, whose parking lot can be seen from the trail, was a single small building.  The railroad tracks, back in his childhood, ran into town, well beyond where the rail-trail now ends, and there was a station behind city hall.

He remembers when the landfill, where the park is to be built, was still open and used as a dump — it was closed in the eighties.  He even remembers the guy that ran it.  He smoked a big cigar while using a bulldozer to bury whatever was left to rot.  As we walk along, he points out this old building was a factory and that was a business of some sort.  It turns out, he was hired to work on the apartment complex where Waldo and I live, back in the seventies.  He remembers when it was an orchard before that.

I was fascinated to hear about how the landscape and ambience around here has changed during his lifetime.  And that change is accelerating.  Living long enough to remember how things were and how they morphed into what they are now, adds a sense of continuity to the world.  The universe is not just a collection of random events grouped together in meaningless clumps.  The study of history was something I never really liked as a kid, but now that I’m older, I’ve learned to appreciate it.  Not as a sequence of dates and events, but the flow of the human experience as it evolves over time.  It makes me feel like I can connect the dots, tell a kind of story, without too many plot holes, that connects where we were to where we are now.

I’m looking forward to meeting this man and his wife out here again, and learn more about how it felt to live here, back in the day.  For now, though, we each must go our own way.

And I have a doggy to dry out.

 

Sadly, it’s not plowed everywhere.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 30, 2024

Mass Central Rail Trail in Wayland.

 

People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues,

-Haruki Murakami

 

Today, Waldo and I are out walking with Phyllis on the rail-trail near her home in Weston.  It’s the one that runs straight as an arrow under some high-tension power lines.  The original plan was to walk the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail, but I had to cancel at the last minute and we came up with this as an alternative.  I had a hard night and only got about three hours of sleep; I’m not sure why.  Maybe it had something to do with a pain in my right chest wall that kept waking me up.  It’s still there, but walking doesn’t make it worse, so, here we are.  Ah, the aches and pains that old age is heir to…

We got to the parking lot, where we are to meet Phyllis, little early, so we’re out strolling in circles, waiting for her.  A red SUV, about the same color as Phyllis’s car, but not the right model, pulls up about four car lengths away from us and a white-haired woman gets out.  Waldo immediately shakes his butt and wants to cross over to where she is.  I’m sure he thinks she’s Phyllis.  He constantly shows me how intelligent he is.  Even more often, he shows me how twisted his brain is, like when he puts some of the stuff in his mouth that he does.

It’s not long and Phyllis shows up and we’re off (as soon as Waldo is finished doing his welcoming waggy, licky ritual and getting his requisite pets and pats in return).  It rained last night and there are still a lot of clouds blocking what meager sunlight we get this time of year.  The ground is still a little damp, but there isn’t a lot of standing water or mud.  The temperature is in the high 30s, but there’s not much wind, so it’s not that cold.  Waldo seems quite happy and is off at the front of the leash, doing his Waldo thing.

There’s this weird thing that happens with friends.  Maybe you don’t see them for weeks, then, when you do, you strike up a conversation as if it began with a comma.  You know, you jump right into the middle of something like it was the continuation of a subject you just started discussing a minute ago.  We’re talking about all manner of stuff, some of which I’m more interested in, some that intrigues Phyllis.  Stuff like the benefits of a vegan diet (Phyllis), the requirements for a study to be called a “scientific” study (me), how delicious a recent gourmet meal was (Phyllis) and how I know Phyllis can learn a new language because, after all, she can speak English perfectly well and all languages use the same part of the brain (me).  A little over an hour into our trek and the conversation wanders over to a person Phyllis knows who was just diagnosed with tubo-ovarian cancer.

It turns out that this woman had some respiratory symptoms that caused her to get a chest x-ray.  Two different radiologists looked at it.  One thought there might be a lesion suspicious for a metastasis, and the other thought that was an over-read.  The woman’s PCP decided to follow it up and she got an abdominal CT.  That showed an ovarian mass and some spots on her liver.  A laparoscopy confirmed all this and they got a piece of tissue that they tested that revealed the cancer.  I’m hearing all this and shaking my head, yeah.  This is the usual way that ovarian cancer is found – incidentally.  It’s asymptomatic in its early stages and most often found serendipitously only at a late stage.  If there are metastases in the lung and liver (probably elsewhere too) it is late-stage cancer.

“What I don’t understand,” says Phyllis, “is why this happened to her.  She is young, only slightly more than half our age, she has no family history, she eats healthy, doesn’t smoke or drink, and exercises regularly.”

Personally, I don’t ask “why” when something happens.  That suggests that there is someone or something that directs what happens and can be made to justify their choices.  I ask how, when and to what extent, but that isn’t relevant here.  So, I listen.

“She’s married, has a couple of kids and is living a good life.  Why would this happen to her?” says Phyllis.  “I just don’t understand.”

It really is tragic and I understand Phyllis isn’t really looking for an answer, she needs to release some of the angst it has caused.  Some of our conversations are more pleasant than others, but the fact that we are friends means we can talk about anything.  And I don’t need to say anything here.  It’s my job to listen.

As much as life pains us, there is only so much that can be said about its vagaries.  We wallow in the sorrow of it all and then move on.  I think Phyllis is comforted, a bit, in sharing her pain, but she can be hard to read.  Soon, we’re back to our cars and we’ve walked 10 miles.

Maybe next time, we can talk about more pleasant things.

 

No power lines on the Marlborough rail trail.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 23, 2024

Japanese knotweed — a mere shadow of its summer self.

 

Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of the winter day.

-Elizabeth Bowen

 

We’re definitely in winter now.  The solstice has come and gone, the sun rises no more than 24 degrees above the horizon and the shadows are always long.  The temperatures have been all over the map, from the high teens in the early morning to the low fifties late in the day.  This past month was the warmest December in the last 150,000 years.  And we haven’t had any snow yet.  Wind and rain, yeah, but none of the white stuff.  I’m not complaining, just making an observation.

Waldo and I continue to be fortunate in that we have missed the wettest hours of rain.  Sometimes, it’s misty enough to soak the outside of my rain suit, and on occasion, it has even sprinkled a bit.  But except for those spits and sputters, natures raspberries, we’ve been able to find enough time to do our 6 miles and still avoid the downpours.  Not that a hardy deluge would keep us from our appointed rounds, hell no.  But my rainsuit is getting a bit used and heavy rain will soak through to my clothes.  I haven’t yet had to deal with icicles growing down the front of my hood, like they have in the past, either.  But with the shorter days, if it’s overcast, it gets quite dark just after sunset, which is now around 4:20 PM.

As we walk through our usual haunt, I see that we are, clearly, well ensconced in winter.  Deciduous trees and bushes have lost their leaves, except for a few marcescent oaks and even they have only shriveled, tan remnants of what was broad and green.   The autumn olives are mere sticks in the mud and the Japanese knotweed is just a bunch of red, hollow pencils poking skyward.  Most of the vines, that climbed trailside trunks and covered much of the foliage, are now coiled thick ropes that wind around what’s left.

The grass, while still somewhat green, has yellow blades interspersed with its chlorophyl-filled brothers and is now mere stubble.  Carpets of dark green moss and liverwort still line the tarmac, but they’ve lost the plump, fluffy pile they had in the warmer months.  The pale green of white pine is still buried in the deep of the forests, as if to remind any who look that, yes, indeed, woods are green.  The hardy English ivy persists on the tall dead stump of an oak and is unencumbered by the poison ivy that it competes with in the summer.  Garlic mustard can be seen here and there, although their leaves are not nearly as big as they were this past rainy summer.  The cinnamon and sensitive ferns are gone along with the low-lying undergrowth that hides the floor of the woods in the warmer months.

If I look skyward, I can clearly see basketball-sized clumps of sticks and dead leaves that are squirrel homes.  When the trees are all leafed out, they’re well hidden, but they’re quite obvious now.  I never have seen one of those guys cavorting outside their house, but, even in the cold, I see an occasional gray, fluffy-tailed rodent romp in the woods.  Not nearly in the numbers that I did a few months ago, though.  Back then, they seemed always to be in pairs.  Now there’s just a solitary fellow, out doing whatever it is that they do this time of year.  Maybe he’s engaged in a honey-do, I have no idea.

There are a few birds still around, although their song is a rarer thing these days.  Once in a great while, I’ll spot a cardinal flitting across my path, and even a blue jay, now and then.  Maybe their relative scarcity is due to an instinctual desire to stay someplace warm, when they find or make one, unless forced to do otherwise.  They don’t have border collies who need walking, I suppose.  There are no Emmy birds, though.  They’re long gone until late spring.

Waldo doesn’t seem to notice any of this, or maybe he just takes it in stride.  There are a lot more sticks laying around, but he no longer has the fervent need to move them around like he used to as a puppy.  He just trots along, nose less than an inch above the ground, and takes in whatever nature has to offer.  Maybe he’s just more interested in what is there, under his nose, now, instead of what was there in the past or will be in the future.

All this ambience is quite familiar, yet there seems to be something missing.  Ah, yes.  Of course.  Snow.  Well, it’s coming.  There’s a forecast for 6-12 inches of the stuff for 3 days from now.

And how the scenery will change then!

 

Covid Garden in winter.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 16, 2024

Current state of the construction at the beginning of the rail trail.

 

Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.

-Thor Heyerdahl

 

The temperature is somewhere in the mid-forties when Waldo and I start out on our trek today.  The sky is overcast, but the air is dry and there is little wind blowing.  I’m wearing a light jacket under my rain jacket and I have on a knit wool ski hat that I pull down over my ears.  Waldo and I pass others on the trail, including those with dogs and even a few bicycles.  Bicycles in late December!  But then, this is shaping up to be the warmest December in 150,000 years…

We’ve had to find new places to park our car for the past few weeks because of all the construction that’s going on.  The commercial residential housing complex that’s being built at the beginning of the rail-trail hasn’t affected where we park.  What it’s replacing are a number of old buildings that had no public parking.  Across the street from there, though, is where we used to park.  One day, as we arrived, people were fencing it in.  I asked what was up, but they didn’t know.  Now, it’s all been dug up.  There’s no sign, yet, that they’re going to put a building up there, so maybe it’ll be a future parking lot, who knows.  For now, though, we can’t park there.

It turns out there’s a parking lot, owned by the city, that is about an eighth of a mile from the start of the trail, but right next to it.  We parked there, for a week or so, then, one day, there was a fence all the way around it with gates that were closed.  After a few days, there were some men there and I asked them what was up.  They said the city was repaving it and putting in some lights.   I suspect there is more to it than that, though, because now there are some cement culverts and other structures, lying above ground, that suggest there is underground construction of some sort that is planned too.  Anyway, that’s one more spot where we can’t park.

There is another lot, also right next to the trail, about a quarter-mile from the start, that the city has designated as rail-trail parking and that’s where we park for now and the foreseeable future.  It is winter, after all, and although there is no snow yet, there will be and then it will be difficult to dig holes.  So I expect we’re stuck with what we’ve got until spring.  It’s no big deal, really.  We just start a quarter-mile from the start, backtrack to the start and then turn around and continue down the trail like we always do.  Waldo was a bit confused at first, but he’s a fast learner and he now knows where we’re going and it’s part of our routine.

Then, a couple days ago, we’re walking down the trail and as we get to the open field that overlooks Fort Meadow Reservoir, I see a man putting up a fence around it.  This fence is clearly temporary; the posts don’t go into the ground, they sit on platforms, of sorts, that rest on top of the ground.  The field is a big grass-and-weed-overgrown landfill, closed well before Waldo and I arrived, and the fence runs about an eighth of a mile alongside the trail.  I ask the guy what’s up and he says someone is going to turn the area into a park of some kind.  He didn’t know any of the details, like who was doing it, so, maybe, he was just feeding me a line to shut me up, I don’t know.  Today, I see a piece of heavy equipment chopping up the trees that border the field and turning them into saw-dust.  A nice park is a good thing, I guess, but I hate seeing all the trees being destroyed.

Right next to the landfill is the area of forest that a company from Texas wanted to turn into another commercial residential complex.  For now, that project has been put on hold because the residents around the area were opposed to it.  It is zoned for industrial use and the city council would not rezone it so they could build what they wanted.  They can still build something that fit the zoning it now has, so there’s no guarantee that the forest will be safe, but I can hope.

Meanwhile, the construction at the beginning of the trail has progressed quite a bit.  There is a completed five-story parking structure at the back of the lot and cement pillars are now poking up skyward where the rest of the building will be.  By spring, I expect most of the bones and outer walls will be finished and, at the rate things are going, the place may be open by next summer.  I’m no luddite, but I sure wish that the universe would leave my little patch of nature alone.  But, alas, it seems it is not to be.

For now, I walk the walk and enjoy the birdsong and trees, take in the peace and quiet of relatively untouched nature and hope for the best.  Waldo trots along as if oblivious to the coming changes and lives in the moment without fear of what the future has to offer.

We enjoy what we’ve got, while we have it.

 

The fence at Fort Meadow Reservoir.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 9, 2024

Sigh. It’s going to be a while before we can be back here.

 

Stercus accidit.

(Shit happens)

-David Hume

 

About four days ago, I was walking down the stairs at our apartment building, taking the dog out for doggy business.  I was midflight, Waldo was down a flight in front of me, when I misstepped, hyperextending my right ankle.  Down I went, falling against the wall, then on to the landing.  My immediate thought was, “Damn!  No rail-trail today.”   Once on the floor, I did a quick systems check.  Yep, my ankle hurt.  It was the same injury, done in the same way, as two years ago, only this time, not nearly as painful.  Waldo stopped his progress toward the door and the great beyond, turned and looked at me and waited.  With some wincing, I stood and put weight on the foot.  Not a whole lot worse.  A wave of nausea and sweating flowed over me and then subsided.  I took a step.  I could hobble.  Waldo could see that I was upright and moving, so he continued on his way.  That’s about as much sympathy as I get.  Anyway, we carried on, just a lot more slowly than usual, and did the doggy duty.

Today, walking is painful, but not too bad.  What bothers me the most is that the ankle is stiff and if I try to bend it, it hurts more.  Not unbearably so, mind you, but I worry that doing too much will make the recovery time longer and, dammit, we need to get back to the rail-trail.  At home, I elevate the foot and wait for it to heal (the pain and swelling aren’t so bad that I need to use ice or wrap it).  When we go out, I walk stiff-legged on the injured side and make do as best I can.  Waldo adjusts his pace as well, or rather, he trots back and forth in front of me, doing S turns.  He burns off his energy as best he can, while being tethered to a not-so-moveable object.  Sorry, buddy, you are not going to like the next few days and maybe weeks.  But there is little choice.

The weather has been a little chilly, with highs in the low 40s and lows in the high 20s, but it’s been dry.  As one day morphs into the next, I’ve become more depressed.  Not significantly so, but I can feel it.  I’m attached to being out in nature, walking with Waldo, and I miss it.  Waldo seems to take it all in stride.  He’s a happy puppy and that doesn’t change.  He does romp a little more vigorously than usual, but he doesn’t exhibit any bad-dog behavior, like chewing on stuff that he shouldn’t.  He seems to live in the moment; he just has more energy to vent than normal, in that moment.

Life throws all kinds of things at us that we don’t intend.  With a little thought, you can usually trace out a causal chain of events that explains how things happen, but that does little to allow us to control it.  It’s up to us to decide how we’re going to respond to what life offers us.  Me, I try to put some thought to it, put my shoulder to the boulder and push it on uphill.  In this case, I walk as necessary to see that Waldo gets to relieve himself, then try to judge how my ankle is reacting and decide how far to go the next day.  I’ve decided to try to walk one to two miles tomorrow, wearing my hiking boots.  Day after tomorrow, I’ll assess how my ankle is doing, then decide how far to push it from there.  The spirit is demanding, but the goddammed old-age flesh is frustratingly weak.

Waldo has a different approach.  It’s all hell-bent-for-leather and do as much as he can.  When his legs were sore after his vaccinations, he hobbled around, favoring them, but pushed it as hard as he could.  He didn’t try to limit how much he was going to do.  He was continuing on as long as I let him.  He’s a lot younger than I am, though, and can get away with it.  I’ve learned, the hard way, that I can no longer do that.  If I try, I’ll pay a steep price.  Dammit.  All I can do is push the damn rock up the hill judiciously.

I’m also frustrated by the fact that Phyllis and I only have 5 more legs of the Bay Circuit Trail to do before we get to the end.  I was hoping we could at least get closer before the first significant snowfall.  Now that doesn’t look so probable at all.  Sigh.

But Waldo and I are still out there, trying.

 

I’d be more than happy with a wet day.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 2, 2024

Nice sunny day, Waldo is himself.

 

We go through the good, the bad and the ugly all together.

-Emily Robinson

 

It’s cold today.  The feel-like temp is around 28℉.  It’s overcast again, but no precipitation and the wind is minimal.  Still, I’m wearing rain pants, to help hold in the warmth, and my parka.  Waldo seems comfortable enough and is eager to go walking.  I can’t help but wonder how warm his fur is.  When it’s cold, I keep a close watch on him for any signs that he’s uncomfortable.  I watch for shivering and any tendency to stop and go back, for example.  But he continues on, relishing being outdoors.  I also judge how comfortable he is in the cold by watching him on his balcony.  He can come in and go out as he pleases, yet, in these temperatures, he stays outside and only comes in when he needs to be taken downstairs to relieve himself.  Our human ancestors must have watched furry animals and had similar observations because they killed animals, stole their fur and survived just fine in the cold.

I’m also watching Waldo today because he was a little lame yesterday after his yearly vet exam.  He’s a really smart dog, which means he’s complicated.  He has a really good heart and is very friendly and loving.  But, he has his boundaries.  Like the balcony.  He’s decided that’s his territory and he doesn’t like me out there.  I go there and he yells at me, leaving me no doubt whatsoever that he doesn’t think I should be there.  He’s consolable and, after a bit, he accepts it, be he doesn’t like it.

Last year, he decided he didn’t want the vet to mess with him.  In the past, he was startled by stuff like getting a shot, but otherwise put up with it.  Last year, he wouldn’t let the vet examine him at all.  He wouldn’t let him look in his ears or look at his teeth.  Nope, he was having none of it.  He didn’t tolerate a muzzle and I had to reschedule the visit so I could premedicate him with some trazadone pills.  That didn’t work either, so the vet ended up giving him a shot that put him completely to sleep.  Giving him that shot was fun, let me tell you.

So, this year, we planned on going the shot route.  Waldo came into the vet’s office, happy and wagging his tail, eager to meet everybody.  Then we went into the exam room and his demeanor changed completely.  But we planned for this.  I sat in a chair placed so the vet could get to his butt.  I held onto his collar tight and reassured him as best I could.  A vet tech held a blanket over his face so he couldn’t see what the vet was doing.  As soon as the vet touched his butt, though, even before he gave the shot, Waldo went ballistic.  He snarled and writhed, letting everyone know that what was going down just wasn’t acceptable.  I held on tight and in just a few seconds, the job was done, the blanket was removed and I released my hold.  Poor thing was obviously frightened.  I petted him, talked calmly and softly to him and he quieted down after a bit.  A few minutes later and he was out.  Problem solved.  I wish I had some of that stuff to give when I worked in the ER.

Waldo’s exam was perfectly normal and he got some vaccine shots.  After the exam, the vet gave him a reversing agent and, within ten minutes, he jumped to his feet and was ready to get the hell out of Dodge.

After we got home, he was still a little groggy, so we spent the morning napping.  I thought we might be able to go for our walk later in the afternoon, but he developed a limp on the side where he got his shots.  It obviously bothered him, but not too much.  I figured he was sore from the vaccine.  I get muscle aches and pains after I get vaccines, so he probably was just suffering from that.  I decided to put off the rail-trail walk until today.  When we went out to pee and poop around the complex, he was a bit gimpy, but okay.  His behavior was a little off and I couldn’t tell if it was after-effects of the anesthesia or if he was mad at me.

Today, I haven’t noticed any limping at all and he’s acting like his same old self.  He’s giving me lots of attention, getting in my way as I try to put on my boots, and doing his best to get me to play.  So, we’re back out here on the rail trail.  He cavorts and I watch.  Everything is back to normal.

Yesterday was just another speed bump in the road of life.

 

My old friend, the English ivy tree.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 26, 2023

The Weston Portion of the Mass Central Rail Trail.

 

There’s some end at last for the man who follows a path; mere rambling is interminable.

-Seneca the Elder

 

Today, Waldo and I are walking with Phyllis on the portion of the Mass Central Rail Trail that starts in Wayland and goes 5 miles east through Weston to I-495.  We don’t have enough time to do the next part of the Bay Circuit Trail because it’s an hour south of us and we don’t have an extra 2 hours to spend driving that.  Within the next 2 years, this portion of the Mass Central Rail Trail is supposed to be extended 7.5 miles to the west, all the way to Hudson, to the northern terminus of the southern part of the Assabet River Rail Trail.  Right now, it’s under construction – Eversource is burying a power cable under it.  When they’re done, another crew will come by and pave it.  Phyllis and I bushwacked most of the route a couple years ago, when it was still choked with small trees and weeds.  Though we’re eager to go it again, for today, we’ll head east from Wayland.

Phyllis is carrying 22 pounds of lead weights in a pack.  She wants to find out how uncomfortable it would be to carry a pack weighing between 25 and 35 pounds.  There’s a one week hike she would like to go on in Florida next spring that requires that she carry that much weight.  She’s not sure if she can do it, so she’s conservatively trying out 22 pounds to see what it would be like.  Old age sucks.

We begin at 8 AM and the temperature is cool, in the high 30s to mid-40s.  There’s not much of a breeze and the sky is overcast.  The path starts next to a mall’s parking lot and it consists of hardpacked sand.  It runs under high-tension power lines hung from erector-set towers.  The trail is straight and the going flat – no hills at all.  After an eighth of a mile or so, the trail is paved.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of trails that run under powerlines, but this one isn’t bad at all.  There is deep forest to each side, not very far from the tarmac, and the weeds are under control.  Multiple dirt trails cross the paved trail and disappear into the trees.  There is a portion of the Bay Circuit Trail that runs into this trail and follows it west into Wayland.  That’s a part that we’ve already walked.

Phyllis and I talk about a number of things, flow of conscious stuff.  She is profoundly affected by the death of Lee, her husband, but she doesn’t dwell on it and I don’t bring it up.  Everyone grieves in their own way and I let Phyllis take the lead on that.  Instead, we talk about what’s going on in the world, the virtues of having a plant-based diet and basically anything that comes to mind.  We do talk a bit about how and when we’re going to finish the Bay Circuit Trail, but, for the moment, the details of much if that is yet to be determined.  The weather is uncertain and Phyllis needs some time for other things right now.

Waldo’s out front, doing his Waldo thing, sniffing and exploring what nature has to offer.  This is a fairly popular trail, so we pass bicycles and other people walking – a few with dogs.  I have to watch Waldo a little bit because, although he is friendly, he’s a bit overeager and, with his OCD, doesn’t respect other dogs’ boundaries.  He’ll poke his nose in their faces and sometimes elicits a growl and a snap from the other dog.  I’ll let them meet, then pull Waldo back when that happens.  He, apparently, doesn’t know what “NO” means in doggese.  Still, he’s an easy dog to walk with.  All I have to do is redirect him down the trail and he’s going again, with a “whatever” attitude, as if nothing happened.

At the eastern end of today’s trek is an old rusty railroad bridge.  Some uninspired fool put a hurricane fence across the trail on each side, probably spouting something about safety, but that didn’t last long.  Someone else came shortly thereafter, cut a hole in the fences and put down wooden planks over the railroad ties so bicycles could be ridden over the bridge.  Hey!  You don’t mess with the rail trail crowd!  In England and Wales, there are right to ramble laws that protect the freedom to roam across 3 million acres of heath, mountain, moor and downland, no matter who owns it (there are restrictions – you can’t interfere with operations on the land, like farming, you can’t leave a mess and others).  Maybe we need something like that in this country.

On the other side of the bridge, the trail is dirt and continues on, wandering east until it hits a busy highway.  Within a few miles, there’s another portion of the trail that goes on toward Boston, but we can’t go there today.  We turn around and head back.

Once we finish the 10 miles and we’re back at the cars, my back feels pretty good.  The lower part is a little stiff, but it’s nothing like what I suffered a few weeks ago.  Phyllis says her hips and feet hurt more than normal and that the experience has convinced her she doesn’t want to carry more than the 22 pounds.  Waldo is as active as ever, but curls up and chills, with eyes half-closed, on the passenger seat.  I can almost hear an “aaaah” coming from him.  “Another day and another walk,” I tell him and we head back home to drink water, eat lunch and chillax —  Waldo on his balcony and me on my recliner.

Life is good…

 

The end of the trail.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 19, 2023

Long wintery shadows are not so beckoning this time of year…

 

Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.

-Doug Larson

 

A cold wind blows into my parka hood, inflating it slightly, numbing the skin on my face.  I’m wearing a ski cap pulled down over my ears, so it doesn’t chill them, even though the air is stirring there.  My nose is running a bit and my fingers are getting just a bit achy, but not unbearably.  Bringing my leather gloves was a good idea.  Just the same, I put one hand in a pocket to keep it cozy, so I can change hands if the one holding Waldo’s leash needs a warmup.  The wind was forecast, with temps just below 30℉, so I’m wearing rain pants to keep the heat in.  I’ve gotten pretty good at judging what to wear, based on what my cellphone says.

Man, life has changed with the advent of technology.  If I had been told fifty years ago that today, I would be carrying a computer in my shirt pocket that is much more powerful than the one NASA used in the Appollo lunar lander, I would have said it was pure science fiction.  Electronic chip manufacturing was making good strides at miniaturization in the 1970’s, but how could you possibly make a battery small enough to fit in your pocket and still have enough power to make the thing run for more than five minutes?  Walkie-talkies, at that time, had batteries nine inches long, a good two-thirds of the length of the entire radio.  Computers that had more than rudimentary computational abilities filled large rooms.  And, of course, there was no such thing as the internet, let alone the ability to draw data from it in any kind of volume or speed.  Compared to today, I had to live my life by the seat of my pants.  I had to show up with a variety of clothes, sample what was happening at the moment, look at the sky, guess what was coming and decide what to wear and what to leave behind in the car.

I remember flying a single-engine Cessna over the outback in Australia in 1985.  At that time, there was no radio communication and no radio navigational aids out in the hinterlands.  Navigation was all dead reckoning – you picked a compass course to fly, noted your airspeed and the time you were in the air, then calculated where you were supposed to be.  Sounds simple enough.

However, compasses aren’t so accurate and, after flying for several hours, you can’t be sure you haven’t wandered off course enough that you’re lost.  Forecast winds (that you got by phone before you took off) weren’t perfect (still aren’t) and that can contribute to the problem too, because you can be blown off course.  In a part of the world with landmarks to follow, it’s a bit easier because you have something to check against your maps.  But flying in the outback is like flying over a table top.  Everything is so flat and dry — no lakes or large rivers or mountains, and there are no real roads.  You understand, I wasn’t afraid of getting lost, that can be a great adventure by itself.  I just really didn’t want to run out of fuel before I got to where I was going – it’s too easy to bend airplanes that way.  In the end, I found a way to navigate in the outback without getting lost, but it took some skill.

These days, you hit a “direct-to” button on your GPS and a purple line comes up on a computer screen.  There’s a little white airplane icon too and you just keep the little plane on the purple line and you can’t get lost.  You can even get on the internet (by satellite, if need be), look at a radar map of your area and watch the weather change in almost real-time.  It’s all so — cheating!

Sigh, life used to be so much more an adventure than it is now.  I know people who travel in strange cities with two cellphones so that if they lose one, or it goes pfffft, they still have a backup and they can download a map to help them get to where they’re going.  I remember being in Madrid years ago, trying to get from the airport to a train station, and not speaking a word of Spanish.  I had to be real creative with hand signals, pointing and gesturing to get people to help me get to where I was going.  It was great fun.

Waldo lives life without all the gizmos, of course.  He has his sable birthday suit, a sensitive nose and an enduring sense of exploration.  He also has an adaptable nature and a seemingly endless ability to find joy everywhere.  Right now, he’s biting at the leash, trying to get me to play tug-of-war.  In a bit, he’ll be batting at my feet with a front paw, or jabbing at my leg with a stick, trying to get me to play some game that’s more like Calvinball than it’s not.  He’s not worrying about the weather, how cold it is, or how wet it might become.  And he’s sure not thinking about not getting lost.

Maybe I should leave my gadgets home sometimes and just be in the moment too.

 

Stick season is almost over, Waldo. You’d better find them before they’re buried in snow.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 12, 2023

Hiking along the dikes.

 

Walking is the best possible exercise.  Habituate yourself to walk very far.

-Thomas Jefferson

 

Today, Waldo, Phyllis and I are walking the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  It’s been two weeks since our last walk (Phyllis has been busy) and it’s good to be back at it.  We’re going from where we left off in Easton and heading east(ish) to East Bridgewater, about 13 miles down the road.  The terrain is flat and most of where we need to go is on streets and back roads.  That worries me a little, because of Waldo, but I keep him on a short leash when the traffic is fast or heavy and he tolerates it well.  We’ve been walking together for almost five years and thousands of miles and he knows I’ll let him wander with more freedom when I think it’s safe.  He just plods along next to me, without pulling or lunging, and bides his time.

It’s cold out today and I’m wearing my parka, leather gloves and knit ski cap.  Phyllis is similarly dressed and Waldo, of course, is wearing his sable birthday suit and seems quite comfortable.  I think Waldo prefers these temperatures – he has more of a spring in his step and is more eager to get out and go.  The sky is clear, with only a slight breeze, and the ground is dry.   What’s not to like?

The land here is level and easy-going.  We’re getting close to the coast, so most of the hills are behind us to the west.  The streets have no sidewalks and we walk along on the roads’ shoulders.  Waldo keeps to the outside of the painted solid white line that defines the edge of the road as if he knows he’s supposed to.  I don’t how he learned that, I didn’t put any effort into teaching him, he just seems to know.  Still, he doesn’t pay that much attention to the traffic and is prone to do a “squirrel!” detour, or the equivalent.  I keep him close.

There are houses we pass on our way, but they’re mostly organized randomly, rather than in a burb-like grid.  Here and there, we pass a few businesses, mostly convenience stores, pizza joints and the like.  It’s definitely country, despite the fact we’re only thirty miles or so from Boston.  Urban sprawl is headed this way, though.  It’s close enough to the big city for people to commute and cheap enough for them to afford buying a home (if you happen to one of the 65% of us that can afford to try to own a home).  It isn’t the farmland it once was.  Somewhere, not too far away to the south, are cranberry bogs, but we don’t see any as we wend our way east.  There are a lot of trees, now stick figures of what they were a few months ago, and lots of tawny leaves lay on the ground.  Here and there are some open fields and there are shriveled remnants of weeds everywhere.  The streets, for the most part, don’t follow a straight course and none head exactly where we’re going, so we go from one to another by turning first right and then left and so on.

After a couple of hours, the trail veers off to the right under some high-tension power lines.  A paved road rolls along underneath huge erector-set towers and, if I listen for it, I can hear the sputtering of electricity as it leaks around the insulators.  I know from experience that the sound gets louder and you can even smell ozone, when it’s humid out.  But today, I don’t hear anything unless I pay attention.  Further on, the road turns to dry compressed earth, except where someone has dumped rocks to fill in the low places where it would otherwise get muddy.  The rocks, too big to be called gravel, makes the going a little uncertain, but it’s not too bad if I pay attention to where I’m walking.  The nearby land has been cleared of trees and is rife with the seasonal remains of what was waist-high weeds.

After two miles or so, we’re back on the streets.  Then, another couple of miles, and we turn left onto some dikes that penetrate into swampy lowlands.  We’re surrounded by hibernating trees and our footfalls are cushioned by a carpet of dried leaves.  The going is level and walking is easy.  Off to either side, the land drops off steeply to wetlands and creeks.  Not many critters out and about this time of year.  Waldo is happy that I can let him wander off at the end of the leash and he has no problem following the trail.  Neither do Phyllis and I.  We can walk along without having to pay close attention and not worry about wandering off-trail.  We talk about all kinds of things of such import that I can’t remember the subject of any of it.  What we talk about is not the point anyway.  The value is in the company, not the verbiage.

Soon, we’re back on the streets and after another couple of miles, the official trail just stops.  The map shows a gap in the trail (not the streets) and there are no markers showing which streets to follow.  Why, I don’t know.  There are perfectly good streets that connect both ends of the gap that are just like all the other streets we have to follow to get from one woodland trail to another.  It’s curious.

And then we’re back to the car, about half way between the ends of the gap.  Waldo curls up on the passenger seat, the spot in the car that he owns, and I plop some weary muscles behind the steering wheel.  Feels damn good!  No real pain, like the previous few jaunts, though.  Just a little low-back stiffness and some achy muscles a bit further up.  Phyllis sits in the back and says she too is tired.  We head back to where we left her car.

There are only five or six more legs to do (depending on how far we decide to go on each) and we will have come to the end of the trail.  I’m not sure if we can finish before the weather (snow) makes it undesirable to walk in the woods, but maybe we can finish before spring.   It’s getting close to the time when we need to start thinking of where we’re going next.  Phyllis and I each have a few ideas.

Waldo, he’ll go anywhere.

 

Marker on bridge confirms we’re on the trail.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments