Byron Brumbaugh

June 21, 2022

Waldo! Get out of the bushes! There’re ticks in there!

 

Forever – is composed of Nows.

-Emily Dickinson

 

Today, Waldo and I have a markedly different walk, compared to yesterday.  We got up late, around 10 AM and it’s in the low 60s as we hit the trail.  94℉ one day and 61℉ the next — that’s quite a difference.  These temperatures are measured outside of direct sunlight and reflect the temperature of the air.  The reason for this is that sunlight passes directly through the air without being absorbed, we can see through it after all, but our solid measuring instruments do absorb sunlight and, if they are in direct sunlight, will get hotter than the surrounding air.  The measurements would not be correct unless we put the devices in shade.

Our bodies are like that too.  That’s why shade feels cool.  As I walk down the trail, I’m quite cool in the shade, but as I pass into direct sunlight, I get hot enough to start sweating.  It’s an odd sensation.  The temperature difference is very noticeable, even Waldo feels it, despite the fact that his skin is protected from the sun by his sable birthday suit.   He purposefully searches out and takes advantage of shade as it presents itself.

I like to pay attention to what is happening to me in the moment, as you can tell from reading these blogs.  It’s a way of drawing my attention away from the thoughts, ideas, and stories I perpetually tell myself.  Stories that really don’t make my life any better – they’re more perseverations, worries and plain entertainment than the solving of any problem.  It’s just a constant narration that goes on and I listen to it as if it were important.  But it’s not.  It’s like a dog seeing a squirrel.  My thoughts flow through my head and my attention is carried away as if nothing else was more valuable.  I’m no longer in the land of trees, birds, flowers, Mother Earth, the trail underfoot, or the vistas of green life in all its abundance.  I’m in the land of self-created abstraction.

But then I force myself back to reality by asking, What kind of tree is that?  Are all the trees leafed out, or are there some holdouts, waiting for warmer temperatures?  How many different bird-calls can I distinguish?  Can I see the birds that are making them?  What does that blossom smell like?  How many of the plants I see have blossoms?  The object is not to find answers to those questions, but to just ask them.  The asking is what makes me pay attention to the greater world outside of myself.  The next step is to pointedly refuse to answer them, which would draw me back inside my head, and to just soak in the experience of the moment. Alas, it’s something I have to do with a purpose.  I like asking questions, then trying to answer them.  It’s entertaining, you know.  But the real meat of the human experience is to just experience.  To smell the flowers, hear the birds, see the trees, experience how it all makes me feel, without conceptualizing about them.  We only live in the moment, you know.  Everything else is a self-created fantasy in the mind.

I look at Waldo.  He’s doing his Waldo thing, bouncing down the trail with a precious stick between his jaws, checking things out and exploring what’s there.  I have no doubt that he has a language center in his brain; after all, he can understand what I say to him.  But I highly doubt that he fills his mind with words, the way I do.  It would be my guess that his waking moments are filled by a flowing river of sensations and, although he can change the course of that flow, he doesn’t translate it into ideas that are a mere shadow of reality.  He lives in the now, as he pursues his constant search for the perfect stick.

Now that I’m retired, I have plenty of time to bathe my soul in the present.  But, alas, I don’t take advantage of it as much as I should.  I have a psychic momentum that tenaciously propels me down well-rutted tracks and takes me nowhere of any real importance.  I calculate, I philosophize, I reason, I formulate, I propose, I fret, I celebrate, all out of habit, and all to no great purpose.  The time I have left in life would be so much better spent in just drinking in the essence of the human condition, to live each moment to its fullest.  I’m retired now and I can finally get away with that without negative consequences to myself or anyone else.  Alas, it’s not that easy.

Waldo, if he’s not already there, could get there more easily than I.

But I keep trying.

 

Beautiful summer day. So much to enjoy!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 14, 2022

Things are still in the early morning…

 

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

-Al Bernstein

 

The forecast is for highs in the mid-nineties, so Waldo and I rise at 4:30 AM.  It’s still dark out as I crawl out of bed, but it morphs into predawn twilight as I get dressed.  Sunrise isn’t until 5:30, but it’s quite light out as we start our daily trek at 5 AM.  Once the sun is up, the shadows are long and the light has a golden hue that gives the landscape a magical, almost surreal, appearance.  I would not be surprised to see fairies flitting about in the weeds.

The temp is in the mid-sixties and a slight breeze blows over my exposed skin, giving the morning a cool, but not chilly, ambiance.  The trees, all now in full summer plumage, shimmy in the air and make shadows dance on the ground.  The Japanese knotweed now stands eight feet tall and dominates the land where it grows.  Common reeds too stand a couple of feet high in the drainage ditches alongside the trail.  Southern Indian azaleas, wild daffodil, ground ivy, lesser celandine and common blue violet are abloom with a riot of color.  Everything live has awakened and the summer solstice, marking the beginning of summer, is only a few weeks away.  With temperatures as high as they are in mid-May, I can’t help but feel high-summer is going to be a scorcher.

Having temperatures this high so early in the season does a number on Waldo.  He’s still sporting his heavy winter coat.  He’s shedding, but not yet that much.  I know, I know, most animals, including dogs, temperature regulate by panting.  Their furry coats actually help keep the direct sun off their skin and keeps it from warming the skin directly.  But, still, having a lighter coat must allow the air to circulate next to their skin and aid in cooling by conduction and convection, even if they can’t benefit from the evaporation of sweat.  Otherwise, why would they shed when it gets hot?  Waldo, this time of year spends more time looking for shade, as we trek along, than he does later in the year, in the same temperatures, when he has a thinner coat.  Also, he will turn and give me a “Water!   Water!” look earlier on.

The foliage seems to appreciate the higher temperatures.  The world is verdant and blooms are full and hearty.  In drier climes where I’ve been, things would have withered and browned.  But in New England, where we have plenty of humidity and rainfall, the sun provides better insolation, which means more food for photosynthesis, and doesn’t dry things out.  Out west, things would be all yellow and tan, wilting and drooping in the sweltering heat, but here even the grass, which is never artificially watered, stays lush and green.  I’m sweating, soaking my shirt with stale body odor.  On a hot day in the dry air out west, my clothes and skin wouldn’t get wet at all.  Instead, I would be growing a gritty, salty crust all over me, the sweat evaporating as fast as it’s formed.  Once home, I would feel like I’d taken a prolonged dip in the Great Salt Lake, instead of returning from a walk in the woods.

I remember living in Albany, New York, one summer.  It was so humid that you never felt like you didn’t need a shower.  All you had to do is leave the air-conditioned comfort of your home, cross the street, and your clothes were soaked.  It was so humid, I don’t think my sweat evaporated at all.  It just grew into pools and rivulets that ran off onto whatever was nearby.  Even writing was hard because the sweat would drip onto and emulsify the paper, making it impossible to move a pen around without tearing holes in it.  Of course, that was a while ago, before computers replaced pen and paper.

I don’t say all this in complaint.  It’s just another experience that life has to offer.  And it does provide me the opportunity for the exquisite pleasure of sudden relief as I step into my air-conditioned home.  It may be a bit wussy, but man, it feels good to sit down in my recliner and cool off in the AC with a cold drink in my hand.  Even Waldo appreciates the AC.  He’ll come in and flop over onto the bare floor, tongue extended, panting heavily.  Then, after an hour or so, he fully recovers and he’s back outside, romping around in the heat.

For a little while.

 

…and sometimes a little wet.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 7, 2022

Yet another day on the rail-trail.

 

Upon the subject of education … I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.

-Abraham Lincoln

 

Waldo is on point at the forward end of the leash, in his usual position.  He comes to a cross street and sits at the curb, waiting for me to come up.  He dutifully stays put until I give the magic word, “Okay,” then, when he hears it, he bounds forward and continues in his Waldo quest for the perfect stick.  It has taken a long time, and a lot of patience, but this is something he has learned to do pretty well.  And he now does it without looking for a way to avoid it.  He just does it.

I train Waldo for three reasons.  First and foremost is his, and my, safety.  Stopping at streets is an example of this.  Second is for my convenience.  I’ve finally gotten him to sit when I put on his Halti.  It can be hard to get it on when he’s squirming around, which is what he does if he doesn’t sit.  Lastly, I train him for fun.  Teaching him how to jump over barriers, weave between poles and crawl through tunnels is something he likes to do (and receive treats for doing) and it doesn’t take much to get him to cooperate.  We both enjoy the interaction and he gets to run off a lot of that border-collie energy the breed is renowned for.  If he is going to live amongst people in the city, and he has no choice about that, he needs training – education.

I remember when my brother, my niece and nephew and I went on the trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro a few years ago.  After the mountain, we went on a “safari” to several game parks in the area to see the animals.  On the way to the Serengeti, we stopped at a Masai village and met the people there.  Traditionally, they live in bomas — small collections of one room mud huts surrounded by a wall made of high piles of thorny acacia limbs.  These bomas lay on dry semiarid grasslands in places where civilization has not yet deigned to encroach.  The Masai are cattle herders and a family’s wealth is measured by the number of bony, scrawny, emaciated cattle they own.  Their way of life is slowly being squeezed out of existence, like that of so many indigenous peoples, by the needs of modern-day civilization.

Tanzania has a poverty problem, as well as other troubles, and one of the things I felt as we visited was a desire to help somehow.  Helping in any situation, truly helping, is a complicated thing and this is particularly true when it involves people of a different culture.  I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, understand the Tanzanian situation well enough to know just how I might help, so I turned to our guides.  I asked for the best way America and Americans could help the Tanzanian people.  They said, “Send us teachers.”

This surprised me, but I immediately recognized its wisdom.  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” said Lao Tzu.  Traditionally, we give a helping hand by giving money.  It’s easy and it’s cheap.  However, it’s really not that much help and its effect doesn’t last long.  Kennedy’s Peace Corps, if it hadn’t been corrupted by the CIA and other influential government pressures, might have been a great way to accomplish this. But alas, like so many other attempts at international aid, it failed to fulfill its promise.

America’s educational history is long.  In 1635, the Boston Latin School, America’s first public high school, was created, and today, it is judged to be the #1 high school in Massachusetts.  Thomas Jefferson pushed for the establishment of an educational system paid for by taxpayer dollars.  That did not catch on right away, but today, we have a public school system from kindergarten through high school that is not only supported by taxes, it is required for all children to attend (unless their education can be arranged by other means).  It was, and still is, felt that a democracy, even a representative democracy like ours, can only be workable if its electorate is well-educated.  Smart move on the part of our ancestors.

In order for our system of government, and our very lives, to function well, the educational requirements of our citizens are much greater than it was in 1635.  High school is no longer enough.  To be competitive in today’s world, to not be a second, or even a third, rate nation, requires that our citizenry be highly educated.  We have jet aircraft and spacecraft to build, dangerous diseases to control and irradicate, an internet to use and protect, an entire interdependent way of life to keep running in all of its complexity.  Making college education, vocational education, all types of education, free is not a handout any more than making K-12 education free is a handout.  It’s an investment in our future.  Our society should decide what education is needed and provide that without forcing students to assume usury levels of incredible and ever-increasing amounts of debt.  Instead of putting up a barrier to education, we should be encouraging the education of those who are so inclined and capable.  Let’s not be reduced to having to ask other countries for their expertise to keep our society running and developing.  Let’s not allow ourselves, even in a small way, to fall into the situation Tanzania finds itself in.

Waldo, sigh, needs further education as well.  He’s good and has a good heart, but he still has to learn not to roll his furry head in the mud.  Yeah, he did it again.  Fortunately, he has someone to pay for his education.

And to wipe the mud off his face.

 

Waldo, looking for trouble, found some shade.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 31, 2022

Waldo has stolen some poor bird’s perch.

 

When we listen, we hear someone into existence.

-Laurie Buchanan, PhD

 

The birds are out in force.  Their voices, in various pitches, melodies, whistles and cries, fill the air as Waldo and I meander through our favorite patch of woods.  At any one time, I can distinguish four or five voices, but I don’t know the species those voices belong to.  Waldo makes no response to them, I’m guessing because they’re well outside his influence, but I try to mimic their speech – sometimes more successfully than others.  I haven’t heard the Emmy bird yet, they show up a little later in the year, but there are birds whose whistles I can imitate.  Sometimes I get a response, I think, when I whistle in as similar a tone as I can to what I hear.  I’m not sure, because it may be that birds are just having a conversation among themselves.  It’s hard to know.

I do speak domesticated cat pretty well and without much of an accent.  Many a time, I’ll be walking down the street (don’t see many cats on the rail-trail), see a cat (I have to be sans Waldo) who will start to move away from me and I’ll meow at it.  A friendly rising pitch usually does the trick, and the cat will stop and look at me.  It meows back and a continued give and take often results in the cat approaching and accepting a pet from me.  Not always, but it’s not unusual either.  Dogs, you can talk to in English.  Strange cats, not so much — if you don’t speak their language, you don’t exist.  Unless they already know you.

Waldo is kind of like a cat in that way.  When he wants something, he’s in my face and persists until I respond appropriately (in his mind).  He’s got a good heart and does it in an affectionate way, rubbing up against me, pawing at me, nibbling at my feet, that sort of thing.  Then, when he doesn’t want anything, he goes off on his own and entertains himself.  If he’s not absorbed in something or other, which he usually is, he’ll respond appropriately when I speak to him.  Sometimes he won’t.  It’s almost like he’s moody.

For example, when we’re out walking and a passerby shows interest in Waldo, and he is focused on going on his way and couldn’t be bothered, I’ll say, “Go say hello, Waldo,” and he’ll start wagging his tail and go up to the person with a submissive posture and nuzzle them, happy to receive a pet or scratch.  Then there are other times when he ignores me and continues on his way as if he didn’t hear me.  Sometimes, too, he’ll go over to the interested person, give them a wag or two, then bolt off in the direction he was going.  It’s almost as if he feels like, “Okay.  Duty done.  See ya!”  Waldo and I definitely have conversations, often nonverbal.

Usually, in my subconscious, I think of nature as being external to me.  It’s something to be controlled or conquered.  That’s just silly, because we are all just an expression of nature ourselves.  But what if, instead, I think of myself as being a small part of nature and when I interact with her, what I am really doing is having a conversation?  I’m not doing something to nature, I’m saying something to her.  What if I change the way I think about what nature does in response, not as a reaction, but as an answer to what I just said.  I’m just a small piece of nature vibrating in harmony (or disharmony) with her.

For example, when I spew carbon emission from my car into the atmosphere, it’s a kind of statement.   Mother Nature responds by raising the average global temperature, increasing the frequency and severity of storms, changing the PH of the oceans and killing off coral, and so many other things tied to global warming.  It’s as if she’s saying, “Uh, no.  Don’t do that, at least not in that quantity.”   When I do something as seemingly innocuous as whistling at the birds, she responds by them whistling back as if nature is saying, “I hear you!”  When I plant a tree, she responds by decreasing the CO₂ in the atmosphere, providing shade and a home for birds and squirrels.

Thought of in these terms, why in the world would anyone want to get into an argument with Mother Nature?  Instead of being in competition with her, wouldn’t it be better to be in harmony?

Like any other conversation, sometimes the best part is keeping quiet and just listening.  I look around me and see the seething green of the burgeoning new-growth leaves, the exploding reds and yellows of the just-bloomed flowers — all of spring-life waking up.  I listen to the birds, yes, but also to the wind in the leaves and the buzzing of insects.  I smell the varied and subtle odors in the air and feel the wind play with my hair.  I listen to nature’s meter, rhythm, and the flow of her syntax.  I just listen.  She’s talking to me in poetry.

I look at Waldo.  He’s trotting down the path and turns to give me a glance as if to say, “You coming, or what?”

We are in a harmony of our own.

 

Mother nature is talking. I just need ears, and attention, to listen.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 24, 2022

The Covid garden is looking good!

 

One travels to run away from routine, that dreadful routine that kills all imagination and all our capacity for enthusiasm.

-Ella Maillart

 

The past few days have been quite warm, with temps touching 70℉.  I worked up a sweat, walking in shirtsleeves, and Waldo worked up a thirst.  Today, though, the temp has been in the low 50s with a mild breeze and I’m wearing a light jacket.  The sprouting and budding plants don’t seem to mind the colder temp and Waldo really enjoys it.  There are even a few bugs flying around, no mosquitoes, but plenty of ticks.  Birds are abundant and making their songs and calls while squirrels run about, doing whatever it is that they do in the spring, with abandon.  Nobody seems to care about the cooler temperature.  Including me.

I’m reading about The Lewis and Clark Expedition with my grandson.  In 1803 to 1806, the Corps of Discovery traveled some 4,000 miles on their own, each way, out and back, having nothing to help them survive but what they carried with them, what they could find on the way, and what some friendly Indians gave them.  They went all the way from Pittsburg, PA, down the Ohio River, to the Mississippi River to St. Louis, then up the Missouri to parts unknown and eventually came to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  No European had trekked the entire distance before and no one knew what was really out there.  There were rumors of wooly mammoths, mountains of rock salt, a lost tribe of Israel, volcanoes and the dream of a Northwest Passage.  They knew that the Missouri River ran through the area and that there were Indians and mountains to be crossed, but little else.  They also knew that on the western side, there was a river, the Columbia River, that ran east, but didn’t know how far it went.

My grandson is twelve years old and has never done any real camping.  I’ve tried to impart to him a sense of what it must have been like for those guys, but without some exposure to living in the wilderness, it’s pretty hopeless.  He’s a city boy.  I take him out on the rail-trail when I can talk him into it, but he’s more interested in playing video games.  I also have trouble explaining to him what motivated the men to go.  I tell him about a sense of adventure, the glory of being where none of your people have gone before and the enticement of being able to tell others about it when you return.  But, I think, all that is beyond him — for now.

There’s something else that appeals and draws me into nature.  The sense of leaving behind my everyday mundane life, at least for a while, and all the worries that suck me into my normal day to day existence — an escape, while at the same time, I’m open to and welcoming of something new.  I certainly felt that when I was growing up.  I also felt it when I went flying.

On many occasions, alone in the cockpit, throttle and trim set, there was little to do other than look out of the canopy.  Thousands of feet below, on the ground, were roads and highways, cars and trucks, cities, people and all the stuff that made up my ground-pounding life.  But up at altitude, there was just the sky, the horizon and an occasional cloud or two.  I felt as if I was above the world I knew, separate from it, in some kind of hiatus.  It was liberating and exhilarating, even if temporary.  There are many things that I enjoy about flying, but that is definitely one of them, even when I take a commercial airliner.

I feel the same thing, to a lesser degree, every day when Waldo and I go walking.  My life isn’t as complex and full of stuff as it was before I retired, but still there is that sense of being somewhere other than in the mundane world created and populated by man.  It provides a change in perspective that allows me to see my other life as one outside of that life, rather than one intimately a part of and drowning in it.  Removed in that way, I can think about whatever issues I may have in a less intimate and painful way.

For Waldo, this is his everyday life.   I’m not sure how much reflection he’s capable of, or how much he benefits from the change of scenery, but I do know he’s eager to go when we’re on new and different walks, like the ones we do with Christine and Phyllis.  Variety is the spice of life and that, too, is a motivating factor in seeking time out in nature.

I’m definitely ripe for a new adventure.  But for now…

This’ll do, Waldo.  This’ll do.

 

Looks like a jungle…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 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