November 2, 2021

Phyllis and Waldo on the trail.


Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.

-Haruki Murakami


Phyllis, Waldo and I pick up where we left off on the Bay Circuit Trail in Callahan State Park, Marlborough — about eight weeks ago.  Christine is otherwise involved today and won’t be joining us.  The map I have indicates that we will be walking about twelve miles to our next stopping point in Ashland.  The trail takes us through more of the park to the west, then down along the eastern shore of Sudbury Reservoir and finally ends up next to Mill Pond in Ashland.  Much of it is in wooded areas, and some is along streets and highways.  It’s a perfect day for a hike – the temperature is in the high sixties, the sky is clear, there is little wind and the previous night’s rain has mostly soaked into the ground.

So far, we are a little past halfway on the BCT and it’s starting to look like we may have some difficulty finishing it before the first snow.  I do not want to walk through the woods with more than about three inches of snow on the ground; it’s just too much work.  With that in mind, we decide to walk the twelve miles even though we’ve been off our feet for a bit and are a little out of shape.  The spirit is willing, I just hope the flesh isn’t too weak.  Ah well, as Christine would say (quoting Navy Seals), “Embrace the suck.”

The fall is a great time to walk in the woods.  It’s cool, most, but not all, of the mosquitoes are gone and the ground is firm and still snow free.  There are muddy wet spots in the low places where we have to negotiate our footfalls along downed logs and rocks to avoid sinking into the mire (of course, Waldo could care less), but they aren’t many.  The trail starts out narrow and winding, but, as we get to the reservoir, it widens and straightens out into something a four-wheeled ATV could easily follow (although they are verboten).  The trees are mostly green still, with only a smattering of yellow and red leaves.  It’s late September and in years past, this would be the time for peak colors, but global warming has changed all that and things don’t get really colorful until well into October these days.  There are still plenty of dead leaves, left over from last fall, laying on the ground, and only a few of the recently fallen.  The weeds and undergrowth are starting to retreat a bit, but in the woods, there isn’t much of that anyway – they just can’t compete for the sunlight they need because it’s shadowed from the ground by the trees.

Waldo trots along, up at the forward end of the leash, as if walking on these trails is what he was meant to do.  Maybe it is.  His heritage may be one of sheep herding and farm work, but he has spent most of his life out walking through nature on various trails.  If he were working for a shepherd, even if he really liked it, he would still be performing a task required by some human.  Out here, I pretty much let him go where he wants and (mostly) do what he wants.  I just try to keep him out of trouble, out of the mud (as much as that’s possible) and away from danger.  He spends his time reacting to whatever instinct urges him to do, driven by something that is totally canine.  He is answering the call of Waldo, not the whistle or call of some homo sapiens.  I love to watch him just be a dog.

I, too, have learned how to be free floating out here.  To synchronize my stream of consciousness with the constantly shifting currents of nature around me.  To change what I put in my mind as the mood strikes me.  Oh, my mind is still consumed by human ideas and current events, and Phyllis and I spend much of our time talking about them, but it’s all free association and I’m not trying to solve some problem or other that’s besetting me.  One of the great things about retirement is that life doesn’t deluge me with things that must be done – not nearly as much as when I was working.  Now, I spend much less time responding to the whistle and call of other people and more time just following my inner navigator.

We do take a moment, here and there, to snack on what we brought along and, of course, to water Waldo.  Even with the pauses, my back hurts before we finish – enough so I have to stop more frequently than usual and stretch the muscles.  But I can make do and we arrive at our destination, deliciously tired and ready to go home and rest.  It turns out, after some wrong turns and backtracking, we walked fourteen miles in seven hours.  Next trek will be another twelve miles, or so, down to Sherborn.

We just won’t wait eight weeks until we do it.


It’s not just Waldo that carries poles!

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