March 24, 2020

Atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, Tanzania 08/25/2010.
5895 meters, 19341 feet

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

-Henry David Thoreau


The day is a little warmer than it has been – temps are in the high forties and low fifties. Nature is still in hibernation mode on the rail-trail, though.   The spring equinox hasn’t arrived yet and she slumbers on in a cloak of dead leaves and naked limbs. There are some subtle stirrings, though, harbingers of greener, lusher times to come. The birds are back. I can see some of them, although not well enough to identify most of them, and I can hear those that I can’t see.  They sometimes come in flocks and, in places, are quite noisy. Things get awfully quiet when a cold spell hits, and then the birds are back in abundance on the warmer days. Either they follow the warm air as it moves around the country, or, when it gets cold, they disappear into some warm cozy cocoon somewhere out of sight and hearing. Either way, they are back, even if intermittently.

Before I retired, my day was spent indoors, or inside a metal cocoon going down the highway. I interacted with many people, most of whom I barely knew or had only a working relationship. My exposure to the larger world was limited to a few days here and there, scattered throughout the years. Like when I climbed Kilimanjaro, or went on a ten-day canoe trip on the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. I’ve always loved being out in the wilderness, surviving on what I could find and what I carried with me on my back. It’s rejuvenating, somehow, to leave the artificial, man-made environment that defines most of our lives. It feels sort of like going back to the essentials of what it means to be alive.

Since I retired, things have changed. Now, thanks to Waldo and his canine needs, I’m surrounded by nature every day. Even though we’re still inside a city limits, it feels like we’re out in the country — the artificiality of humanity surrounds us, but it’s mostly unseen and easily ignored. I get to directly experience the ebb and flow of life as it changes with the seasons. I see the budding of trees (maples, sycamores and black walnuts), bushes and weeds I can’t identify that then become fully leafed-out and flowering, followed by the bearing of seeds of various kinds that fall on the ground, the cycle ending with bare limbs and twigs buried in orange dead leafage and then snow. I see and hear the coming and goings of various animals – squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and an occasional opossum, that are there in abundance on warm days and then gone when the temperature drops. Some animals are present only in the warmer months, like chipmunks, robins, sparrows, the Emmy bird and bugs (noseeums, gnats, mosquitoes, flies, crickets, beetles, ticks – the list is huge) and gone when it gets cold.

I experience the changing of the seasons intimately, because I’m in whatever weather the day has to offer, for up to three hours at a time. Long enough to grow icicles on my hood in freezing rain, to have my cheeks and nose become numb with the cold as my armpits moisten my shirt with sweat. I watch the bowing of Waldo’s leash, fully extended, as it’s blown about by a strong wind. On a snowy day, I tramp through deep snow, my feet and gaiters buried to above my ankles. In the summer, I get up before dawn to start our daily six mile walk before it gets too hot. I slog through pouring rain and grit my teeth against the cold, gusting wind. And I do this every damn day. On the rare occasion we skip the rail-trail, we still go out for half-mile poop and pee breaks, roughly fifteen minutes at a time, four or five times a day.

And Waldo is with me each and every time. He is the force of nature that propels me forward, literally as well as figuratively. Oh, I enjoy being outside every day, but I know that if it weren’t for Waldo, I would find some excuse to stay inside, sitting in my recliner, growing roots. I would stay in my artificial box I call a home and witness only that small part of nature I can see through my living-room window.

And Waldo has become so much else. He is my constant companion. My charge that, totally dependent on me for everything, I care for and worry about, whose welfare I am constantly thinking about. The surest way to fall in love with something, including inanimate objects, like cars or airplanes, is to tend to their needs, daily, hourly and in detail. Best of all, I can say that Waldo is my friend.

Waldo has changed my life, and so much for the better.

Today, with Waldo on the rail-trail.

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