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Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 3 comments

May 17, 2022

The Japanese knotweed is getting tall…

 

Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.

-John Muir

 

Waldo and I are going on our trek earlier than usual today.  Normally, we wait until midafternoon, at my insistence, in order to take advantage of the warmer temperatures.  I look forward to being able to walk in shirtsleeves and enjoy it when I can.  But there is also something to be said for doing the morning constitutional first thing and freeing up the rest of the day for other activities.  The days are now warm enough that it’s no big deal to walk when we get up, although I will have to wear a jacket — the forecast is for a chilly and humid late morning.  Waldo, heck, he doesn’t care.  In fact, I think he likes the cooler temperatures.

We rise and I give Waldo his breakfast as I get dressed.  He’s a good eater and eagerly consumes his kibble and drinks some water, even though he has some tanks that need emptying.  I feed him first thing because we’ll be gone for a number of hours and that way he won’t have to eat late.  I put my breakfast off until we return — I’m no longer a young animal and can comfortably get away with it.  All the same, Waldo is eager to go and is frenetically worming his way between my calves and the chair as I sit and try to get my boots on.  I explain to him that he is delaying my getting ready and I can’t get my shoes tied, but he has none of it.  I don’t complain too hard as it allows me to get some puppy love and affection, something that’s going to be in short supply as soon as we get out the door.

Once we get on the trail, true to expectations, the day is cool, but I’m quite comfortable in my light jacket.  Even though lockdown restrictions have been eased, there are still quite a few people and dogs out on the rail-trail.  That’s one good thing that Covid did for humanity — it got people off their behinds and out into nature.  Two years ago, when the pandemic started, the number of people on the trail increased remarkably — exercising there was one thing they could still do outside of their homes that was relatively safe.  It must have whetted some appetites because the number that Waldo and I encounter is still higher than pre-Covid.  We all must be happier for it as, although some keep to themselves and don’t want to be bothered, none seem grumpy or wanting to be somewhere else.  There is no place Waldo would rather be.

Color has exploded alongside the trail.  Everywhere, there are green leaves blossoming on the low-lying bushes.  Even alder buckthorn is coming alive.  In addition, there are white puffs of pussy willows (although still without leaves) and small yellow lesser combine and weeping forsythia flowers.  The Japanese knotweed has started to grow – thick red tinged stalks thrust green leaves upward four to six inches above the ground.  It won’t be long and those stalks will stand eight to ten feet and choke out everything else.  Every day I’m out here I see a change – the rapid reemergence of life after a long winter.

Spring is a time when things change fast.  For so many months now, the cold icy winter has stalled the evolution of the seasons with a monotonous routine whose change can be measured by the number of inches of snow accumulated on the ground.  Now, in only a single day, I’m witness to an eruption of awakening that resets the zeitgeist of my walks with Waldo.  My morning routine, mostly the same in any season, of rising, feeding the dog, getting dressed and hitting the trail, is illuminated by nature’s stirring from hibernation.  And like the sudden whiff of a rose’s perfume, it stimulates my mood and gives it wings to soar above the mundane.  The celerity of spring’s evolution slices through my habitual plodding through life and bathes me in the beauty and magic of the human condition.

I’m not sure that Waldo notices the coming of spring, except there are a lot more sticks around and it’s easier to upgrade the one he carries in his mouth.  I could be wrong, I can only guess, but I think he sees every day as unique and different and that change is just the fabric of our existence.  If so, he’s right, of course, but I do so much enjoy watching the stirring of life as it flows in an uninterrupted stream before my eyes.

And spring has only just begun.

 

…and the shadows are long.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 10, 2022

The Japanese knotweed is getting tall!

 

The man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest.

-Henry David Thoreau

 

Today, it is pushing seventy and partly sunny (that’s a glass half full description if there ever was one) with only a light breeze.  I am in my shirt-sleeves and working up a sweat.  Waldo’s tongue protrudes from his snout, flat as a crepe and flopping about as he bounces down the trail.  It’s midweek, midafternoon, and still, there are quite a number of bikers, skaters, skateboarders, dog walkers and just plain folks ambling down the tarmac.  It’s the warmest it’s been for many months and there are quite a few people who are taking advantage.  Birds are singing, squirrels are cavorting and insects are buzzing.  The bugs must have been hibernating because as soon as it gets warm enough, they are out in numbers.  Including ticks.  But not mosquitoes – yet.

Water, left from a recent rain, flows down the creeks and channels alongside the trail.  There’s some mud around, but not much, as the sun dries up most of what is there.  Waldo always finds a wet spot to roll his head in.  “Hey,” I complain to him, “I gotta pet that thing!”  It does no good.  Whatever urges him to wriggle in the mud is stronger than my admonishment.  His white spots turn dark brown and his face and furry pate are streaked with stuff that’s curdled and slimy – the consistency of chunky peanut butter.  Ugh.  He rights himself and continues on down the trail in a gleeful trot, having satisfied an itch in a hard-to-reach place.  He is a master at enjoying simple pleasures.

Pleasure is an odd experience.  It’s not only subjective – I don’t think I’d be as joyful rolling in the mud as Waldo — it’s also relative.  I remember a time years ago when I was a teenager and I had malaria.  I picked it up while my family and I were in Ethiopia.  The strain I had could lie dormant in the liver for years before becoming active.  We had been back in the US three or four years when, one day, I developed shaking chills.  My fever shot up to about 104.5 and I felt miserable.  I had little energy to do much more than lie on my back and roll my eyes at the ceiling.  This lasted for a few hours and then, suddenly, my temperature dropped a half of a degree.  It felt like every muscle in my body spontaneously relaxed with a resounding “Aaaaaah.”  I broke out in beads of sweat the size of marbles that soaked my sheets.   My fever had broken and it happened precipitously.  I learned then that there are few, if any, pleasures so great as the sudden cessation of pain.

I remember another time I was frying some chicken in olive oil.  Idiotically, I reached out and grabbed a piece of chicken with my hand to turn it over. At that moment, a dollop of hot oil leapt up and splashed on my exposed fingers.  Damn, that hurt!  I was quite aware that burns are treated by putting cold compresses on them, but I’d never had a burn that needed it.   Until that moment.  I put my fingers in some cold water, expecting the pain to ease a bit.  I was shocked to discover that it made the pain completely go away!  I pulled my fingers out of the water — excruciating pain.  Back in the water – “Aaaaaah!”, pain free.  It was amazing.  If only all medical problems could be so completely treated.

Were these simple pleasures?  Well, they sure weren’t complicated ones.  There are so many things in our everyday life that can give pleasure – the aroma of a flower, the sight of sunlight reflecting off a placid lake, the sound of birdsong, the feeling of a cool breeze gently caressing sweaty skin, just to name a few.  They are all around us and omnipresent.  And we don’t have to experience pain to enjoy them.  All we have to do is open our awareness to appreciate them.

I look at Waldo jauntily trotting down the tarmac.  Maybe I should try a little roll in the mud?

Nah, not today.

 

The Covid garden is blooming.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 3, 2022

Bitter dock has sprouted leaves.

 

There’s a beauty to be found in the changing of the earth’s seasons, and an inner grace in honoring the cycles of life.

-Jack Kornfield

 

It’s been warm the past few days, with temps in the 50s and low 60s.  I’m walking down the trail, Waldo is tugging a bit at the leash, and I notice green on some low-lying branches.  I pause, tell Waldo to wait (he’s good about that), and I move closer.  An autumn olive bush has sprouted little, but definite, light green leaves at the ends of its branches.  Waldo patiently waits for me as I look around for more.  Sure enough, they’re there.   There’s honeysuckle with twiggy, bone-like, green-tipped fingers reaching outward.  True, they’re tiny, but they’re definitely leaves.  I also find Japanese barberry and northern spicebush sticking little verdant plumes skyward.  Off the trail, in and near a small stream that carries the run-off from a recent rain, there are broad leafed clumps of skunk cabbage, bitter dock and garlic mustard.  On the hill beyond, multiflora rose bushes show tufts of bright red as well as small leaflets.  It’s as if the underbrush is trying to get a jump on the large trees and start soaking up the life-giving rays of the sun before they get buried in shadow by the overlying dense leafage that will inevitably come.

The grass too is getting greener every day.  Late last fall, a commercial company dug some trenches next to the trail in order to bury some fiberoptic cable.  They filled them in with loosely packed dirt (that was a pain in the butt when it rained and made swampy mud for Waldo to sink into up to his belly) and sprayed seed over the top.  Today, I saw blades of grass poking up a few inches above this otherwise barren ground.  They were scattered and sparse, but they showed that, despite the abuse of the winter snow and spring rain and runoff, there was viable greenery there, just waiting for warmer temperatures to turn into a well-formed lawn.  After seeing what running water, doggy paws and human boots had done to the soil, I was doubtful that the grass seed would weather its abuse.  But life will find a way.

I think it’s no great wonder that many religions believe in reincarnation of one form or another. Life does have a cyclic nature to it.  Every living thing is brought to life, there’s a period of growth and development, a strengthening and maturation, followed by some length of time of full adulthood, then a slow deterioration to ultimate death.  Some things, like perennial plants, will follow many cycles of growth and development followed by deterioration, without death, throughout their lives.  Others don’t seem to be able to do it more than once, but the recurring seasons with their predictable rejuvenation in spring, suggests that maybe those other organisms don’t just end their existence with death, but rather morph into other living things somehow, and continue another kind of cycle.  The truth of that is beyond my poor ability to understand.

There are longer cycles as well.  Civilizations emerge, grow, flourish and then die in Malthusian cycles.  Earthly life as a whole has been through many mass extinctions in the distant past, yet it persists.  Life flourishes, diversifies, producing hosts of species, fills every nook and cranny and every ecological niche, then the biome shrinks and species die off, leaving opportunities for other organisms to replace them.  Several great extinctions have nearly wiped life off the Earth, but then the precipitating causes evaporate and life flourishes once again, evolving into new and different organisms better fitted to survive in the new world.

We human beings are causing a major die-off of species, and not just through causing climate change.  Perhaps when homo sapiens is gone, which will surely happen one way or another, it will create the opportunity for another bourgeoning of life, replacing what exists now with something as different from mammalian life as mammals are different form dinosaurs.  It could happen, if we don’t screw things up too bad.  I, personally, don’t find that prospect depressing.  We’re just part of a natural cycle that will persist until the Earth is no longer hospitable to life.  Which also is inevitable.

Until the time I perish from this earth, I can enjoy the magic of the cycle of life; watch life change and flow as the seasons go from winter to spring, summer to fall, all the while being part of that cycle and tasting its reality with every breath I share with all that’s around me.

Waldo’s tugging at the leash, his patience at an end.  He’s still a young dog and needs to go.  In about six more years or so, we’ll be approximately the same age – in our eighties.  He’ll slow down then to something that’s more like my speed.  We’ll be able to approach together that inescapable change that comes at the end of our present lives.  Perhaps a rebirth of some kind?

Who can tell until it happens?

 

Other bushes are also slowly turning green.  Here is multiflora rosa.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 26, 2022

Dutch crocuses are abloom!

 

We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.”

-Anonymous

 

There were flowers poking their multicolored manes into the air yesterday!  Dutch crocuses are early bloomers and, true to their nature, they were already showing off their splendor.  It’s in the high thirties today, but yesterday, it reached sixty degrees!   Along with the warmth came a chorus of birdsong of many different voices, melodically welcoming the approach of spring.  Today, the birds are quiet and the crocuses have closed their blossoms.  They jumped the gun.  Sigh.

Waldo and I, we are not deterred by the balking of spring.  We’re out on the trail, doing our thing, just like most other days.  The temperature isn’t bad, not when you dress for it.  Even the gusts of wind can be easily deflected by a good jacket, hood and gloves.  You really don’t need that much to be comfortable in most weather.  You just have to know the forecast so you can prepare for it.  Except Waldo.  He don’t need no stinking forecast.  He has his sable birthday suit.

Predictability is nice.  In the twenty-first century, man has gotten pretty good at predicting the weather in the short and medium term.  Even with the mess that climate change has wrought.  A hundred years ago, things were much different.  The best that could be done is that you could stick your head out the door, feel the air, smell the odors it carried, look at the clouds, determine which way the wind was blowing, notice what the animals were doing, glance at the barometer and use your past experience to make a guess as to what was going to happen in the weather for that day.  And often get it wrong.   Today, in so many ways, and not just with the weather, one can anticipate what is going to happen with a good chance of getting it right.  That makes you feel safe and cozy.

Safety, and some degree of comfort, is clearly a good thing.  But in seeking that, we can, and do, take the spice out of life.  There is joy in experiencing the unexpected.  A good surprise is a wonderful thing.  Unpredictability can also be a desirable challenge, one that stretches your abilities and causes you to grow as a human being and expand the horizons of what you can do.  During my lifetime, I’ve had many such experiences and relish them all.  You just have to learn how to be flexible so you can effectively cope with unpredictability.

Once, not that long ago, my brother, two nephews, a grandnephew and I went on a canoe trip on the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.  We had maps with us, but no GPS.  On the maps were marked portages, places where you take the canoes out of the water and carry them a short distance to another body of water.  But on a good-sized lake, some distance from shore, they were not easy to see.  More than once, I was at a loss and could only point the canoe in a general compass direction and hope for the best.  Then I noticed the horizon.  The lakes of the area are bounded by low hills.   Hills that formed an undulating horizon.  When I noticed that, it occurred to me that all I had to do was point the boat toward the low spot on the horizon.  The portage had to be that way.  No one would portage over the top of a hill, the portage would be where a trail could go around the hills.  That got us to shore near where the portage must be and it was a simple matter of just finding where a trail came down to the shore.

Another time, on the same trip, we were slogging our way through a watery grassland where tall grass grew in water that was almost too shallow for our canoes.  There were channels of clear water, not much wider than our boats, that wound their way through the swamp.  The map showed that there was a way through, but didn’t offer any advice as to which of the watery lanes to take when we came to a fork.  We definitely wanted to go the way the water was flowing, but there was very little current, so it wasn’t obvious which way to go.  Then I noticed that there was grass lying flat under the canoe.  The current made it all line up in the same direction.  It was pointing in the direction the water was flowing.  All we had to do was follow where the grass pointed.  We made no wrong turns.

I could never have wonderful adventures like these if I only ventured out my door when I knew, with a high degree of certainty, what my day would be like.  Safety and comfort are nice, but adventure is the spice of life.

Waldo is now a little over three and a half years old.  We’ve walked this same rail-trail literally a thousand times.  Yet, still, every time we’re out here, Waldo seems to approach it as if it were his first time.  Every day is different – different smells, new sticks and a wide variety of people and dogs to meet.  I think he takes his safety and warm comfy home for granted, which leaves him open to greet our walks with an eager openness, ready for whatever unexpected thing might happen.

I must be doing something right.

 

Everyday, more and more green appears.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 19, 2022

Things are definitely getting greener here at the Covid garden.

 

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

The temperature two days ago was in the 70s.  I worked up a sweat in shirtsleeves and I had to carry water in a backpack for Waldo.  Today, it’s in the high forties, but windy.  With windchill, the temps are in the low forties.  All the ice and snow are gone and in their place is grass that has significantly greened and started to grow.  Green moss is growing on tree trunks and along the trail in shady wet places not so hospitable to grass.  Even the white pines, that stay green year-round, seem to have a darker hue.  If I had a green meter, I’m sure it would show a general increase in intensity of that color.  The buds on the tips of tree limbs are still small, but some of the weeds are on the verge of bursting forth.  Spring may not be here yet, but she’s a’stirring.

Waldo is out at the end of the leash, looking for sticks and sniffing around for whatever is out there and it all entertains.  His tail is wagging and he has a jaunty step, eager to meet nature on her terms.  I‘m listening to an app on my phone in an effort to learn French.  I plan on going to Switzerland (French is one of four official languages in Switzerland and spoken widely where I’m going) for a week or so in June and I want to be able to communicate a little.  Learning a foreign language takes consistent work and lots and lots of time.  I know that when I do get to the Swiss Alps, I will be far from fluent, but maybe I can communicate a little.

I find the intellectual exercise of trying to speak in a language that I don’t know well challenging and interesting.  Stumbling around, trying to find the right words, or close enough so that the person I’m talking to can figure out what I’m trying to say, is fun.  Most people appreciate my efforts to try to talk to them in their native tongue and are probably a little amused at my errors.  They’re patient and willing to repeat themselves and slow the pace of their speech.  Teaching is fun too, you know.  The interaction usually ends in smiles all around.

I’m also bemused by what I see as the poetry of how things are said in another language.  In Italian, they say, “Non è mai succeso,” for “it hasn’t happened.”  The literal translation is “Not is never success.”  The double negatives amuse me.  In English, we say, “I am angry.”  In many other languages, like French, the literal translation of how that is said is, “I have anger.”  When I think about it, this suggests something rather profound.  For human beings, language sets the experience of life.  We see life through a filter colored by language.  We interpret what we confront through the lens of language.  So, when I say, “I am angry,” I am, to some degree, identifying with that anger.  I am that anger.  Even in the languages that express that with, “I have anger,” the psychological implication is that anger is not something that is you, but you carry it.  This is no more real than identifying with the anger because the outside world did not give it to you, you reacted to something that happened with anger.

I don’t believe that I’m splitting hairs here.  Our languages reflect a confused worldview that we generate as we develop as children, one that is supported and reinforced by our friends and family.  In this worldview, somehow, the external world is doing things to us and giving us bad, or good, that we have to deal with.  But the reality is the world is just what it is.  It doesn’t “give” us anything or “do” anything to us.  It just does what it does in accordance with emotionless natural law.  It does its thing and sometimes we get in the way.  When that happens, we react emotionally because our ancestors developed the ability for emotional responses, that, in turn, helped them survive and produce more humans.  We have little control over all that.

However, it’s what we do with all that input (the direct action of the world on us and our emotional reactions afterward) that we humans have control of.  We are not the anger and, although we feel anger, we don’t have anger – at least not in the sense that it’s some thing that we possess.  Anger is just something that happens to us, just like everything else that happens to us.  I stub my toe.  I feel pain.  I feel anger.  They’re both just something that happened to me.  I am not the pain, I am not the anger, I don’t own the anger. I get to choose, if I can maintain the right mindset, what I’m going to do, if anything, about the pain in my toe and the anger I feel.  I don’t need to act on instinct, I can choose to act intelligently.  The pain may linger a bit, but I can put my toe on ice and I can let the anger go, for example.

I look at Waldo.  His baseline emotional state is one of happiness, especially out here on the rail-trail.  If something surprises him, or angers him, he reacts instinctively, but, within a few seconds, he’s back to doing his Waldo thing – tail wagging, springy step and nose to the ground.  Why?  Part of that is his personality, but I also believe that it’s also because life is more fun that way.  And what dog doesn’t want to have fun?

I finish my French lesson and watch Waldo interact with the world for the rest of the walk.  He’s teaching me dog language.

And that’s kinda fun.

 

Moss is growing next to the trail and under the fence.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

Brrr.

 

 

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people.  I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”

-Sylvia Plath

 

An icy cold wind blows tonight, not constant, but in gusts.  Its cold, biting tendrils probe for gaps in the insulating layers of my winter clothing and, finding none, slap me in the face with teeth that sting.  It’s dark out and my headlamp illuminates a circle of windblown snow where I will need to plant my feet in just a few steps.  The whiteness does not cover all, there is less than an inch of accumulation, but the lawn has no bare spots and, in the low places, there are slippery sheets of solid ice that need to be circumnavigated to avoid disaster.  I can see scattered blades of grass poking up through what snow the wind has left behind and it assures me that the snow will almost all be gone tomorrow, when the temperature is forecast to rise above fifty.  Waldo romps through it with no apparent thought of finding secure footing and, no doubt due to his four-paw drive and low center of gravity, only occasionally slips a bit.  Somehow, he’s able to find good enough purchase to be able to pull at the leash and drag me forward when he sees something ahead that needs investigating.  Something that happens all the time.

The sky is cloud-free and stars sparkle overhead like glittering shards of ice.  The white and muddy-gray moon, tonight in gibbous phase, floats overhead like a dirty snowball.  Everything everywhere seems to be on a gray spectrum somewhere between blinding white and impenetrable black.  All the colors are still there, of course, but the light level is too low for the cones in my retinas to perceive them.  It reminds me of the scuba-diving days of my youth, lo those many years ago.

Water absorbs the longer wavelengths of light, better than those shorter, and below about thirty feet, everything appears blue and green.  Swimming around in the depths, it’s as if all was illuminated by green and blue lamps, instead of white-yellow sunlight filtered by seawater.  Much of it, you would expect to be green, like seaweed and other plants that you’re not used to seeing above water.  Unless you’re an ichthyologist, you don’t really know what fish and the other magical living critters down there look like in white light.  But then you go on a night dive, where you bring along your own source of white light, a diving lamp, and what you experience is phenomenal.  All the reds, yellows and oranges jump out and greet you in a showering display of opulence.  Fish shine in all the colors of the rainbow.  Christmas tree worm gills smile at you with hues you won’t find on a fir or spruce.  Everywhere, there is a riot of color, like nothing you can experience above water — except in a few exceptional places.  I wonder how those critters evolved all that color when they live in a place where it can’t be seen.  Maybe they have better eyesight than we do.

Late-night scenery and underwater menageries are apt metaphors for what life has to offer.  There is so much beauty and magic in the mundane world we live in.  All we need is the right light to shine on it in order for us to experience it.  A light not of electromagnetic origin, but of open-minded attention.  All we have to do is shine the light of our discerning intelligence out on the world and what comes back to our senses is awesome.  Open your awareness in a nonjudgmental, non-objectifying, egoless, nonintellectual way and the world shines forth with elegance, deep meaning and heart-warming loveliness that will make you gasp in wonder.  Listen to Mother Nature breathe with the wind and sing in delicious melodic lilts through the medium of birdsong.  See her shine in the full spectrum of shimmering iridescence in bird feathers and flower petals.  Smell the near infinite variety of odors (to our best ability to do so) that she offers in the air that envelops us.  Open the pores of your soul to take in as much of the atmosphere she bathes us in as you can and let her take your mind where it will.  She will lead you to idyllic realms where poets and artists roam.

Finally, Waldo and I return to our building and the comfy warmth it provides.  I shed my winter shell and Waldo curls up on his bed on the living room floor.  It’s time for bed and for both of us to temporarily shed our consciousness, to rest and provide respite in preparation for tomorrow.  And the world will be there then still, awaiting our return.

We just have to make sure we are not somewhere or somewhen else.

 

I do believe those are deer tracks.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 5, 2022

Sigh. More snow…

 

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.  The revery alone will do, If bees are few.

-Emily Dickinson

 

It snowed again.  It started falling shortly before Waldo and I began our walk and never really came down very hard.  It left behind a little less than two inches, just enough to cover most everything in a drape of pure whiteness.  Waldo and I did pass a few other people and dogs, but there were also places where the snow on the path was untouched, virgin, until we left marks that told we were there.  Waldo loves to bury his face in fresh snow, and sometimes rolls over and leaves snow-puppies.  The temperature was right around freezing, so it wasn’t hard to dress for it and I was neither chilled nor working up a sweat.  Waldo seemed to be in an ideal temperature and was quite happy, romping as the white flakes came down.  All the other animals appeared to have more sense than we did and were not to be seen.  Not an owl hoot, a crow caw, nor squirrel chatter was heard.  I’ve seen deer on and off the trail on occasion, and sometimes find their tracks in the snow.  Today, though, they must be holed up somewhere, because there was no sign of them.  Just people and dogs.

I remember when I was younger, I didn’t spend much time enjoying the outdoors.  I didn’t just sit and absorb whatever Mother Nature chose to perform at the moment.  I was driven to search out activities that had a more frenetic, energized and consuming nature.  Things that were thrilling and exciting, things that had a certain element of threat, but without the immediate promise of real danger.  Like rides in an amusement park, for example.

Even at the time, I was struck with the question as to why so many human beings sought out the plunging roller coaster, or the various rides that whip you around and upside down.  I thought that maybe it was because we work so hard at enveloping ourselves in a cocoon of safety that we lose the challenge of standing toe-to-toe with life’s intimidating essence and miss looking eye-to-eye at its formidable countenance.  We do so well at insulating ourselves that a kind of ennui overwhelms us and urges us to seek out seemingly ominous, yet ultimately harmless, activities.  Then, after having dosed ourselves with an inoculation of vigorous chills, we’re satisfied, for a while, to return to our lives of relative comfort and ease.  For a while.

For me, this drive to invigorate myself with thrills morphed into meeting the challenge of mastering the difficult.  I learned how to fly, then how to safely perform aerobatics.  I have never felt that aerobatics is dangerous or threatening of my well-being, but more of a difficult task that can, with work and practice, be conquered exquisitely.  That’s hubris, if for no other reason than stuff can go wrong and if the wrong stuff goes wrong at the wrong time, you’re pretty much screwed.  But it’s also true that pilots are trained how to safely get themselves out of horrible circumstances, most of the time.  If all else fails, you have a parachute.  But still, the focus is more one of being able to make the plane do exactly what you want it to do. Not to come face to face with your mortality.  I’ve been alarmed at times when things go sideways, but I’ve never felt like I could very well be injured or die.  I was more worried about screwing up than about getting hurt.

My thrill-seeking has now morphed into noticing and really engaging with the magic that surrounds us at every moment of every day.  That is plenty challenging as well, what with all the mundane distractions that are perpetually tugging at my attention.  And this at a time and an advanced age where my death is ever so much closer than it has ever been.  I’m still healthy enough to walk with Waldo more than six miles every day, but I’m old enough that I know that the biological inevitability of my death is not that many years in my future.  It’s not the thrill of defying injury and death that now interests me, it’s the beauty of the world as it is that draws my awareness.  I’m perfectly happy and deeply engaged by listening, looking, smelling, hearing and tasting the world outdoors as I walk with Waldo down the trail.

Waldo has never suffered from a need for thrills.  His life is thrilling enough just being in and interacting with Mother Nature, playing with whatever the moment provides.

And watching his spontaneous romp in the world thrills me plenty.

 

Waldo will make snow puppies anywhere.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 29, 2022

Whoa! There are some really good sticks out here!

 

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

-Heraclitus

No man ever steps in the same river once.

-Cratylus

 

This year has been unusual, and not only due to the persistence of the Covid pandemic.  Climate change has made the swing of weather, from one extreme to another, even more dramatic.  This winter has been marked by temperatures in the low 60℉s in January, followed in just a few days by temps hovering around 0℉.  Even for New England, this is unusual.  And that doesn’t count everything else meteorological that’s going on – wildfires, hurricanes, melting icecaps and glaciers and so on.  This should not come as any great surprise.  The average temperature of the Earth is now approximately 1.5℃ more than it was in preindustrial times, when the atmosphere was not filled by the products of carbon-based fuel consumption.

That doesn’t seem like much, just 1.5℃ (2.7℉).  I’m not even sure I could tell the difference if the temperature of the air I’m standing in increased by that much.  But because the atmosphere is so vast, it turns out to be one helluva lot of energy.  A 1.5℃ increase in the overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is more than one hundred million times more energy than was released by the Nagasaki atomic bomb during WWII.  Granted, that energy is distributed over the entire planet.  But weather, caused by the movement of air, concentrates this energy, causing severe weather and wild changes in what weather we get – dryer spells in some places and flooding in others, for example.  And it is only going to get worse.  Much worse.

These swings in temperature have certainly added variety to the walks Waldo and I go on.  As noted in the recent blogs I’ve posted, freezing temperatures in snow and solid slabs of thick ice were replaced in four days by mud and running water in temperatures high enough I can comfortably walk in shirtsleeves.  Squirrels and rabbits hole up in their comfy dens and cannot be seen on the cold days and the air is quiet in the absence of the birds that don’t migrate south in the winter.  Then, just a couple of days later, small mammals can be seen everywhere and the air is filled with birdsong.  I wonder if those hibernating don’t get a little restless and confused.  Small buds have started to appear on the tips of maple branches and the green leaves of short weeds can be seen poking their heads up from underground on the warmer days.  Then the ground gets buried in eight inches of snow.  If it’s a bit confusing and disorienting to me and Waldo, think of what it must be like for the life that can’t ever get out of the weather.

The walks Waldo and I go on would be more difficult, for sure, in the days before the internet and smart phones.  For me, anyway.  Waldo, he takes it all in stride and is eager to get out and go in all weather.  Using weather apps, I’ve learned how to dress to be comfortable, in whatever weather Mother Nature throws at us, by looking at the hourly forecast of temperatures, winds and precipitation.  Before all these fancy electronic doodads were available, it would, at best, be a SWAG (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess).  Things have been changing on a daily basis with such dramatic swings that I’ve had to check the forecast the night before and again a few minutes before we hit the trail to know what to wear.  Oh, to be a Waldo and live in a sable birthday suit.

Actually, the variety of weather has been nice.  The juxtaposition of these temperature and weather differences have created an entertaining catalog of phenonema, like the water flowing like a tadpole under a thin ledge of ice, or the light refracted by ice-covered tree limbs at night.  I pity those folks who have to deal with the wildfires, flooding and hurricanes, but I do enjoy the frequent changes in weather.  It sucks that there are seriously damaging consequences to what’s happening, though.

Today, the trail was slushy, with temps in the high thirties.  Tomorrow, it’s going to be icy, with a low of 7℉ and a high of 33℉.  The day after tomorrow, the forecast is for a high of 42℉, and the day after that, it’s supposed to be 60℉ and rainy.  Maybe, just maybe, we’ve seen the last of the deep snow.  What the weather brings doesn’t really matter, though.

Waldo and I will be on the rail-trail, just the same.

 

Even the COVID garden is climbing out from under the snow.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 22, 2022

And it’s snowing again…

 

 

I do not want the things I do to be easy and predictable.  I want them to be real.

-Stromae

 

It snowed about eight inches.  A series of warm temperatures and rain finally got rid of all the snow and ice, but Mother Nature was not done with us yet.  I don’t know whether Punxsuawney Phil saw his shadow or not on February 2, but clearly, we’re in for longer than six more weeks of winter.  Waldo and I stuck around the apartment complex for our walks — he bounding in wide arcs like a playful porpoise in the wake of a passing vessel and I trudging with sweat, huff and puff and toil, plowing a trench through the stuff with nothing more than my footsteps.

Waldo loves routine.  At certain times of day, he has certain expectations.  He doesn’t need a clock to tell him it’s that time we usually go outside and he waits for me at the bedroom door when the clock hits 10:30 PM.  5:30 PM is dinnertime and I’m expected to awaken at 7:30 AM or he’ll vociferously let me know I’d damn well better.  When we are on our walks, if we are going down well-known paths, he bolts out ahead, knowing exactly where we’re bound (granted, when we’re on a new trek, he still runs ahead, making a guess as to which fork to take – getting it wrong 90% of the time).  Waldo’s out front today in the snow.  His path is correct, but the holes he leaves behind give little respite for me and my plodding progress.

Waldo does not live life by habit alone, however.  His course is set, but then, navigation responsibilities done, he opens up to whatever the moment has to offer.  His nose is to the ground, his eyes are open and he’s listening the world around him.  His response to what he senses is not at all fixed.  Sometimes he’ll spot a stick and lurch forward to grab it.  At other times, he could care less and ignores the same stick.  Even squirrels elicit different reactions at different times.  Sometimes it’s the obvious “Squirrel!” bolt for a gray fuzzy blur racing over the ground and then up a tree, and, at other times, it’s “Yeah, a squirrel.  Yawn.  There’s gotta be a good stick around here somewhere.”  For all of his routine, I don’t believe he lives life out of habit.

I try to follow the same plan.  Much of my life is lived through habit alone.  I get up, I walk the dog, we eat breakfast, we take a nap.  I get up from the nap, take Waldo out for a six-mile jaunt, then eat lunch.  We go out for a poop and pee jaunt, then come back and chill.  We walk again, then come home and eat dinner.  Another walk and it’s time for bed.  But there’s also some TV watching, some reading, some studying (I’m currently trying to learn French), some baking and some writing that’s not exactly routine, but it’s not exactly spontaneous, either.  The days all have the same rhythm and, for the most part, the same content.

In a way, that’s kind of reassuring, knowing what’s coming next and all.  But it’s not the way I want to live.  It’s fine to have a routine so the things that need to get done get done on autopilot without much thought.  When I’m on the rail-trail with Waldo, for example, I don’t think about how to move my feet or try to decide where I’m going.  I automatically plod, one step in front of the other and, thoughtlessly, just follow the asphalt.  Inside of that routine, though, I’m not asleep.  I open myself up to the universe and explore what’s out there, like Waldo.  If there was nothing but routine, I would be living life on autopilot, my life would be thoughtless, unengaged and reactive, rather than proactive.  I’m in the last decades of my life.  I want to taste what’s left deeply and thoroughly.

Much of my current life revolves around Waldo.  Thank God, because I can take my cue from him and pay attention, really pay attention, when we’re out and about, to the wind in the trees, the songs of the birds, the chattering of the squirrels, the smell of the air.  I can relish the warmth of the sun on my bare skin, and endure the numbing bite of the cold in the wind.  I can relax into the moment and let the world carry my soul to wherever it leads.  A predictable life is not for me.  I yearn for the freedom of unpredictable spontaneity.

And Waldo and I have plenty of opportunity for just that.

 

Waldo can find sticks anywhere.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 15, 2022

Winter’s not over yet!

 

 

Where would I find enough leather

To cover the entire surface of the earth?

But with leather soles beneath my feet,

It’s as if the whole world has been covered.

-Shantideva

 

It’s cold again.  Not the bitter cold hovering around 0℉, like not that long ago, but more like about 10℉.  It’s cold enough to penetrate through my gloves and make my fingers ache and my cheeks are numb.  It snowed a little yesterday, but only enough to leave a dusting of white powder on the trail.  Most of the ice is gone, due to the recent warm temperatures and rain, and what’s left is easily avoided.  It’s nice to be able to walk along without slipping on or crunching through the snow.  Waldo is prancing along beside the trail, in his sable birthday suit, happily engaging with whatever he finds on and off the trail.

Waldo always seems to be having a good time.  He trots along, always on the lookout for a good stick, eyes bright and tail wagging.  I can’t think of a time when he doesn’t look like he’s having a wonderful adventure.  Always eager to meet new people and dogs, always ready to play any game one of us can think of, always interested and engaged with nature, he seems to be very happy.  Oh, things happen that startle him, and sometimes he’s put off a bit when we pass a surly mongrel, but in no more than a second, he’s back at his baseline, in a Pollyanna mood.  I can’t say the same.  His essential mood seems to be one of joie de vivre, while mine is a little more restrained.

There are times when I’m tired and grumpy, frustrated by life giving me something I don’t want, or preventing me from getting something I do want.  Sometimes I’m fearful of what tomorrow will bring, or rueful of something I did and shouldn’t have.  None of that is very pleasant and I’m moved to try to manipulate the world to make my experience a happier one.  I feel that the world has given me a bum deal and I want to change it.  But I’m really quite powerless to change the world and my efforts are mostly in vain.

In reality, the world is not responsible for how I feel.  I am.  No one injects me with a bad mood serum, or puts a gun to my head and tells me, “Feel bad or your brains will be blown out!”  In fact, all emotions I feel are self-created.  I am a product of evolution whose ancestors developed emotional responses to aid in their survival, back before homo sapiens developed the ability to reason.  I still have that primitive brain, buried deep below my cerebral cortex.  My ancestors developed the biology and ability to generate a fear response so they would run away from danger, anger that primed them to have near superhuman strength in defense and a need for companionship that urged them to come together in groups that improved their chances of survival.  I still feel those emotions as they did.  But I have also gained a reasoning ability that interacts with those emotions.

The end result is that when something happens, like I stub my toe, my reasoning brain interacts with my more primitive brain to develop a response.  The purpose of this response is to help me deal with what has happened.  Unfortunately, I often generate a reaction that is not only not helpful, but usually, injurious.  I curse at the pain in my toe and develop anger, blaming what I stumbled over or whoever might have put it there.  That doesn’t help the pain at all, and can even make it worse, and instead increases my suffering by also giving me a bad mood, replacing whatever good mood I may have had before.

The wondrous thing is, we don’t just have a primitive brain that governs how we emotionally react to the world.  We also have a cerebral cortex that can step in and decide that we don’t have to act on how we feel.  It can also intercede with our emotional responses and decide that we want to feel something else other than what our primitive brain says we should.  We have the power to change what we feel, simply by putting our attention on something we enjoy, rather than on what we don’t.

Waldo doesn’t just show me that it’s possible to be happy at baseline.  Watching him be happy also makes me happy.  Focusing my attention on his happiness morphs my mood into one of happiness.

Even when I stub my toe.

 

At least it’s easy to walk out here.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments
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