Byron Brumbaugh

September 14, 2021

Sometimes the trail is wide and inviting.

 

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.  Then quit.  There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.

-W. C. Fields

 

Phyllis, Waldo and I are on the next leg of our BCT trek.  Christine was obligated doing something else and could not come.  We’re walking from where we left off in Wayland and making for Callahan State Park in Marlborough.  We start off following surface streets and highways, but will soon be back in the woods.  Our first leg takes down a highway, US Rte 20, that we both travel on regularly and is well known.  Today is a cool day with temps ranging from the high sixties to the low seventies.

This part of Highway 20 often has heavy traffic and today is no exception.  Over the many miles we’ve walked, Waldo has become educated as to where to walk and he keeps to the sidewalk when there is one.  If we’re forced to walk on the side of the road, I shorten the leash to keep better control over where he goes and what he does.  Waldo doesn’t like that much, but he goes along with it and puts his attention on finding sticks and sniffing what he can find that is interesting.

After awhile, we come to a trail in Sudbury, the Tippling Rock Trail that wanders off into the woods on the Nobscot Hill Reservation.  Off to the left is a Boy Scout camp, one that my grandson and I have stayed at in the past.  Off to the right of our trail is something called Ford’s Folly.  This requires a little history.

If we continued on down Rte 20 a few more miles, we would have come to a road that bears off to the north at an acute angle, leading to the Wayside Inn.  The Wayside Inn has 300 years of history behind it and is still operating.  It was written of by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863 and is sometimes called “Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.”  In 1923, the Inn was bought by Henry Ford and the highway was rerouted from just outside the Inn to where Rte 20 now runs further to the south.  Part of his project involved building a dam to serve as a fire fighting reservoir for the village.  Unfortunately, even though the dam was built and still stands today, it was sited on fractured rock that could hold no water.  So, there it stands still, a thirty-foot high wall of stone, 900 feet long, with no water behind it and serving no purpose.  The small stream that was the intended source of water runs up to the wall and then under it, unobstructed.  Hence it is called “Ford’s Folly.”  I am reminded of Fordlandia in Brazil – a failed attempt of Henry Ford’s to grow rubber trees for his automobile tires.  I guess if you have more money than God, you can afford to make a few grandiose adventurous mistakes.

Now, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, some were even a bit expensive – for me.  I once accidentally left an expensive camera on a tour bus, for example.  Another time, I got into an accident after falling asleep while driving home after a long shift at work (little damage, no injuries).  Then there was the time I, uh…  Never mind.  There was little ventured and little lost in my mistakes, but maybe the impact on my life was comparable to what happened to Ford, given the difference in our respective net worth.  I firmly believe that if you don’t, at least occasionally, screw up, you’re not trying hard enough.  You just have to make sure your dumbass errors aren’t permanently damaging to anyone.  Waldo makes his mistakes too.  He charges willy-nilly ahead, with what seems like little regard for what might happen.  It’s up to me to keep him safe.  You know, I must do a good job of it — he certainly feels secure enough to venture forth with wild abandon.

I have been to Ford’s Folly before with my grandson, Matty, and it’s not much to look at, so Phyllis and I stay on the path toward our goal.  There is some hill climbing as we approach Tippling Rock and when we get to the top, we have a gorgeous view of Massachusetts to the east.  The rock itself is broad and flat, making the growth of foliage impossible and the great vista possible.  We stop for a snack and water Waldo.  Waldo loves the woods and is having a great time with all the sticks and smells.  The place is dog friendly and we pass a few other dogs enjoying the woods, some of which are off leash.

From Tippling Rock, we continue on down the footpath into Callahan State Park.  The Park was named after Raymond J. Callahan, a local newspaper editor and historian. It comprises 800 acres of pristine forest, just east of the Sudbury Reservoir, in Marlborough and Framingham.  The ground is flatter here and the trail is sometimes narrower, winding around amongst the trees and undergrowth.

A little more than six hours and thirteen miles from where we started, we come to our car in a parking lot dedicated to the park.  It’s been a nice walk in the woods and we look forward to our next leg.  So far, we’ve been heading more or less west and south.  From here on out, we’re going south and then east, slowly closing the circle to the Atlantic Ocean south of Boston.

For now, though, we’re going home — Phyllis to her house, Waldo to his balcony and me to my recliner and a nap.

 

Other times, it’s quite narrow. Either way, Waldo seems to think he knows where we’re going. He’s wrong 90% of the time.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 07, 2021

Long shadows in the early morning on the rail-trail.

 

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.

-Socrates

 

It’s early morning, but after dawn, when Waldo and I start our daily jaunt.  It rained last night, but the tarmac is dry.  Dew still hangs on some of the leaves and my boots get damp when I walk in the grass.  Waldo likes to walk fast (how else would he walk) through the grass with his head down, tongue out, dragging it on the upper parts of the damp blades.  I know he’s not thirsty because, in similar circumstances in the past, I offer him water and he refuses.  I think he’s just tasting the world, to add sensory information to what he can see, smell, feel and hear.  Every day is different and he’s there to take it all in anew.

Waldo is in constant search of new knowledge.  I’m convinced that is the real raison d’etre for his constantly holding his nose-to-the ground, ears-perked-up, and eyes-forward.  He wants to know what’s out there.  And sometimes he gets surprised.  I remember once we were walking along a suburban street on the BCT.  Phyllis, Christine and I were on the tarmac and Waldo trotted along on someone’s front lawn next to us.  Suddenly, he leaped a good three feet into the air, to alight a good six feet from where he was.  He then stared at a particular spot in the grass with a wide-eyed, surprised and uncertain look on his face, as if to say, “What the hell!”  I looked where he was looking and at first saw nothing.  I got closer, bent down and looked again – there was a small crawdad, standing on its aft legs, stretching up its opened, threatening, forward-reaching claws as if saying, “Yeah, bring that nose back over here and see what happens!”  The rest of us wondered how a crawdad got onto the lawn when there was no body of water nearby.  Not Waldo, though, he put it on his “things to avoid” list and moved on, with an occasional nervous glance behind him.

Waldo’s taught me a thing or two.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him is to get out of my head and give careful attention to what’s happening around me.  This pays off big time this morning on the rail-trail.  We’re walking along through the long shadows cast on the ground by the low-lying sun when I see a most amazing sight in front of me.  Last night’s rain soaked the wooden rails of the fence that borders the trail and they’re still damp.  The morning sunlight is shining in between tree trunks and beaming onto the rails.  The light warms up the wood enough to cause the water trapped there to steam into the air.  The air is still cool enough that it takes it awhile to dissolve the water into itself and the vapor hangs there, just above the rail, carried by a very, very light breeze into a gentle arc.  I’m reminded of watching low-lying clouds spill out over a mountain ridge into an idyllic green valley as if they were viscous, slow-moving whip cream.  All I had to do is pay attention to see this.

That’s what learning is all about.  Paying attention and, intimately as possible, experiencing an event or thing, then fitting that experience into a pattern that can be assimilated into a worldview.  I once asked myself, what do I mean when I say I understand something?  After considering this for a while, I decided that I say I feel like I understand an observation when I am able to fit that observation into my worldview without contradiction.  When I can do that, it feels like I understand.  If I can’t, I tell myself I don’t understand.  That’s all it means to me to “understand” something.  It has nothing to do with fact, truth or an objective reality.  If any of those things exist, I can’t know them.  All I can do is speculate about their possible existence.  Learning, to me, is the broadening of my awareness, the assimilation of new experience into the meshwork of past experience that I’ve built up over a lifetime.  A meshwork that hangs together on the idea that understanding abhors contradiction and loves all-inclusiveness.  It’s interesting to note, though, that neither of those latter two things are necessarily true themselves.  It’s just the way my mind works.  I can readily think of exceptions to each.  Godel’s theorem comes to mind, but that’s a topic for another time.

Waldo and I continue on down the trail, eyes open, ears listening and noses sniffing.

Eager for the next beautiful thing to tease at our senses.

 

Steam boiling off wet fence rails in the early morning light.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 31, 2021

And we’re waiting for?

 

If aliens saw us walking our dogs and picking up their poop, who would they think is in charge

-Anonymous

 

Waldo’s agitating me to take him out for a poop and pee walk.  This happens three or four times a day even after the six-mile walks we do.  It starts with him coming in from the balcony, where he likes to hang out, and he lies down and stares at me from a spot on the floor that is well within my visual range.  I’m usually sitting in my recliner, writing, reading or watching TV and his favorite spot to glare at me is under the kitchen table about ten feet away.  He has no other reason for being in that spot except to get my attention.  Every time I turn to look at him, he is there, staring at me.  He never whines or paces.

I’m pretty sure he is in no desperate need, he probably just wants to go outdoors and check out what condition its condition is in — beyond what he can see from the balcony.  This, I understand, but I’m involved with reading a book I’ve been meaning to finish for awhile, and it hasn’t been that long, about two hours, since we last went out and about.  I let his silent appeals pass and try to ignore them so I can continue what I’m doing.  I am mindful that he can’t even relieve himself without getting me to take him downstairs, but I also think he just gets bored sometimes and wants to be in the grass and bushes, sniffing around.  I weigh his needs against mine and decide he can wait a bit.  If I’m wrong, he’ll let me know.

After an hour or so, and several trips back out onto the balcony that take him right in front of me, he lets out a soft, short woof.  Just one.  I look at him and he stares back at me, giving me that border collie glare as if I were a sheep in dire need of being herded.  I look away and continue with my reading, but we both know the point has been made.  Another half-hour passes and he lets out a soft growl, followed by a more fervent, but still gentle, woof.  He is a very patient dog at these times and in these circumstances (certainly not in all things Waldo), but there are limits!

I sigh.  He is dependent on me in so many ways and I respect that.  I put the footrest of my recliner down.  Immediately, Waldo is up on his feet and looking at me with expectation.  I get up and he moves over to the door where he stands and again stares at me.  “I know, I know,” I tell him.  “Gimme just a minute.”  I put on my hat and grab a couple of dog treats.  He does his Waldo thing and walks around in a circle in front of the door a couple of times.  “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I say as if that would placate him.

As I futz around, he lies down and stares at me.  Finally (in his mind), I get over to the door and grab the leash.  He paws at me, then runs around in more circles.  He runs over to his dog dishes and gives them a good whack which, being aluminum, makes them clang with a resounding “gong” and sloshes water out onto the floor.  In effort to curb his frenetic pacing, I say, “Sit!”

In response, he gives me this look as if to say, “What are you talking about?   I wanna go out, not sit!”

“Sit,” I insist and don’t move until he complies.  I really want to train him to patiently wait while I’m getting ready for us to go out, like tying my shoes or attaching his leash to his collar.  But how do you train OCD and ADHD out of anyone?  He is a border collie, after all.  This Waldo-behavior has been going on for some time, as I’ve posted in the past, and we go through the same routine four, five times a day — it doesn’t change.

Finally, he plants his butt with a plop, as if reluctantly, for about a second, then is up and going in circles again.  “Sit,” I repeat and we go through this drill several times until we’re finally out the door.

Once outside, he is off doing his Waldo thing at the forward end of the leash.  He pees a bit, but doesn’t poop, this time, and, after about a half-mile stroll, we come to the door of the building.  There, I always have to tell him to “Drop it!”, as he always has apples or sticks in his mouth that I won’t allow him to bring inside.  He complies, usually willingly, and I give him a dog-treat – a negotiation we were able to work out some time in the past.

And so it goes.  We go back inside, me to my recliner, Waldo to his balcony, until the next time nature calls.

Waldo and I, it seems, are bonded by the power of poop and pee.

 

“I gotta pee, but where?”

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 24, 2021

“Sunrise,” looking east.

 

Wake!  For the Sun who scatter’d into flight

The Stars before him from the Field of Night,

Drives Night along with them from Heav’n,

and strikes

The Sultan’s Turret with a shaft of Light

-Omar Kayyam

 

Christine and I decide we will walk to the top of Mount Wachusett (a Native American term meaning “mountain place”) to meet the dawn.  The mountain is about forty minutes away from where Waldo and I live, less from where Christine lives in Holden.  It is only 2005 feet above sea level at its peak, but it is the highest point in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut river.   A short walk up a dirt trail or paved road gets you to the top from a parking lot at its base.  We decide to meet at the parking lot at 4:30 AM in order to get to the top well before 5:26 AM, which is the forecast time of sunrise.  In the parking lot, it is quite dark, but the dim sky-glow from nearby Worcester is more than adequate to walk by, without needing flashlights.  The air is still and cool and there is little sound, other than that of the stirring of awakening life in the wild – birds and insects mostly.

The road that goes to the top is less than one mile long, so we look for a way that will take us on a more circuitous path so Waldo can get his six-mile morning walk in.  We find a road that winds around the base of the mountain that is 2.2 miles long and take that.  The rest of the Waldo walk, Waldo and I can fill in around Marlborough.

The road is bordered by trees I haven’t seen in Massachusetts before – European beech, European plum and witch hazel, to name just a few.  I’m sure they can be found elsewhere in the state, I just haven’t noticed them.  It’s funny how I can walk by so much without being aware, but I guess my mind spends a lot of time wandering and wondering in places where my body is not.  I have developed the habit, once in a while, of looking at the leaves around me as I walk and noticing when I see something different.  I then take out my handy iPhone app and speciate what I see.  It has broadened and deepened my experience of roaming around in nature.

Waldo seems to really enjoy walking someplace new.  I may be reading more into his pile of hair than is warranted, but he seems to flit about from this attraction to that, sniffing everywhere and, once in a while, picking up a new stick, with a heightened fervor compared to our usual jaunts.  He certainly doesn’t need any stinking app to help drag his attention into the present moment — that’s where he lives.  I’d be willing to bet that the smells of the mountainside are different from those of home and that, if nothing else, would pique his interest.  At any rate, his tail is up and wagging back and forth as he trots along out in front at the end of the leash.

The morning twilight slowly brightens as we saunter up the gentle slope.  A good half-hour before sunrise, we can see our surroundings almost as if in full daylight.  I recall watching the full eclipse of the sun when it occurred a couple of years ago.  Even though the sun was totally blocked out, refraction of light by the atmosphere kept the spot on the Earth that was in the moon’s full shadow from being dark.  It produced more of a twilight, much like what we’re seeing now.  Christine thinks we should start out an hour earlier next time so we can more fully appreciate the whole sunrise process.

Before very long, we come to an overlook where we can look out to the east and see much of the country that lies between us and the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that we can see past the trees, we find that there is a thick fog laying in the low places, valleys and dales, and that the sky is completely overcast.  We might have predicted this, if we’d paid attention to the forecast, but we aren’t really here for the sight of sunrise.  We’re here more for the early morning experience, despite what nature might throw at us.  It’s perfectly okay that we aren’t going to see more than a suggestive hint of the sun as it comes over the horizon, wherever that is, today.  It reminds me of Mount Kilimanjaro once we got to the top.  It was awash in fog and the glorious vista that must have been there underneath all that was blocked from view.  Like today, though, the fact did not diminish the experience even a little.  It just made it different.

At the peak, we meet a small group of other people who took the shorter route to the top.  We seem not to be the only ones who go out their way to watch a beautiful sunrise, even if we did miss it this time.  There will be other days.

And Waldo?  The difference seems to make no impression on him at all.

 

Fog makes the world look smaller.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 17, 2021

At times, the path feels idyllic.

 

Destiny is not fate, it is navigation.

-Richie Norton

 

A dry patch, squeezed between rainy days, provides us with an opportunity to continue our Bay Circuit Trail trek that we cannot refuse.  The day is cool, with a high temperature of 68℉, overcast skies and a mild breeze that makes it a really nice day to take a walk in the woods.  There is no such thing as a bad day, of course, but today’s weather definitely makes it easy.  Christine is able to join us today, after a prolonged hiatus imposed by life’s duties.  She, Phyllis, Waldo and I start where we left off at Walden Pond and head south, following the trail as it winds its way through the woods.  Waldo is in position out front, the rest of us are in a gaggle close behind.

After about an hour or so, we come across where the trail splits into two separate paths.  One seems to be as traveled as the other, so we can’t use the “one less traveled by” rule and, accordingly, we decide that it doesn’t make a difference.  A random act of navigation dictates that we go right, instead of left, and we go on our way.

The trail goes up and down a few hills as it meanders through the forest.  The ambience feels idyllic, surrounded by deciduous trees and conifers as we step along on pine-needle and fallen-leaf padded ground.  Waldo is absorbed hunting for the perfect stick and experiencing a host of new odors.  In low places, we pass through swampy land, going over wooden planks that keep us from sinking into the muck and mire.  One of the most pleasant features of the BCT is the wide variety of country we travel through.

For no particular reason, I check my phone’s compass and see that we are headed northwest.  Hmmm.  We should be going southwest to southeast.  The trail does wind around a lot as it goes over hill and dale, but this piece of trail seems to be heading more or less straight, and in the wrong direction.  There is an interactive map on my phone that shows the trail and a little blue dot that indicates where we are.  But the image takes a while to download and as I do the two-finger spread to enlarge the map, the trail disappears.  With no better information, we decide that we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and we turn around.

Exasperated and annoyed at the thought of adding unnecessary miles to our already 12-mile trek, we retrace our steps, now going southeast.  It isn’t long before we see we’re going northwest again.  We are going in circles.  Frustrated, we turn around once again and watch carefully for the trail markers.  Finally, I’m able to download the trail on the interactive map and I discover a spot where someone has misplaced a trail marker that led us astray onto an interconnecting trail.  We ignore it and soon find other markers that reassure us that we have finally made the right choice.  Because of this, Phyllis starts using an app that has an interactive feature, but it is sometimes difficult to find the BCT.  What it shows as BCT is discontinuous — it only seems to show that part that is in the woods and not those interconnecting places where you have to travel along streets and highways to get to the next piece of trail.

About another hour later and we run into a large grassy field.  On its edge, there is a fence post with a BCT marker and an arrow that points off somewhere into the expanse, as if to say, “Go thataway.”  The field has tall grass and weeds, but there is no path, per se.  There is, however, a swath where it looks like someone has mowed, some time ago, the verdure, leaving a nine-inch-high patch of vegetation, curving off into the distance, amongst the three-foot-high weeds.  In the field, there are no trees or posts to put a marker and we can find none.  So, we follow the mowed lane, keeping an eye out for a divergence into the woods, and follow along on as best we can on our apps.  Sure enough, we soon come to a path going off into the trees and there, on one of the first trees, is a BCT marker.

One of the nice things about the BCT is that it doesn’t take the shortest distance between points.  It ventures into different kinds of pristine (relatively) country and historically interesting places as it winds its way along.  Having already gone around in circles today, we get a little leery when we notice that we have walked a couple of miles without getting any closer to our destination, but, not to worry, the trail is just making S turns through the countryside.

Fourteen miles from where we started, including the circles, and we arrive back to the car.  You know what?  Half the fun of this walk is negotiating the navigation difficulties.  It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the trail were better marked.

We head home to regroup, refresh and rest up for the next leg.

 

How could anyone get lost in here?

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 10, 2021

Yep, it’s raining. Again.

 

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

-USPS Motto

 

The temperature is in the low sixties today, so we wait to start our daily constitutional until 7 AM.  It’s raining – again.  The rain is coming down hard enough that I have to wear both my rain-jacket and my rain-pants or my clothes will get soaked.  Both are waterproof which means they don’t “breathe” that well.  It’s warm enough out so that, with the exercise I’m doing, I sweat.  The humidity outside is high (it’s raining, after all) and inside my rainsuit, it’s even higher, so the moisture next to my skin doesn’t evaporate and I am sweltering.  Waldo is happily prancing along, doing his Waldo thing, shaking himself off every so often, clearly enjoying the cooler temps.  He was sprayed by a skunk a couple of months ago and you can’t really smell it now, except when he gets wet.  The water makes the stinky oils float to the surface where they can outgas and flood the air with that distinctive essence de Pepe Le Pew.  I can smell it whenever he gets close.  Ugh.

The rain splats against the leaves, making a clattering racket, pools, then drips down to the ground in drops bigger than what the rain makes.  When they hit the inch or so of water that has collected on the tarmac, they produce momentary splashy craters the size of quarters.  All that water flowing down the trees, branch to branch, leaf to leaf, leaves the leaves all shiny and, although it may be just my imagination or the play of the dim light, they seem to exhibit a darker green color.  It seems that each leaf is spreading out, trying to grasp as much water as possible, as if to drink in as much as they can.

There is the distant rumble of thunder, but I can’t really see any flashes of lightning.  Nitrogen is an important element in the sustenance of life.  Amino acids and proteins require nitrogen and they, in turn, are needed for things to grow and be healthy.  Eighty percent of air is nitrogen so, it would seem, there’s plenty of it around.  Unfortunately, the nitrogen in air is in a gaseous form that is fairly inert under normal conditions – it doesn’t react with much.  Because of that, atmospheric nitrogen is not available to living things.  It has to be “fixed” first, i.e., converted to a form that can be incorporated into living systems — usually as nitrates and nitrites.  Most of this is done by cyanobacteria in the soil, but a small amount is fixed by lightning and then rain delivers it to the soil.  Have you ever noticed how much faster your lawn grows after a rainstorm compared to just watering it from your garden hose?  That’s why.  Clearly, plants love the rain – in moderation, of course.

Water is accumulating on the ground and, before long, the normally tinkling murmur of the small creeks and streams that run alongside the rail-trail have become a throaty gurgle as they rush seaward.  Even the dead-leaf-bound sometimes dry-dirt gutters that run next to where we walk are full of rushing water.  Before our walk is over, the water on the path is ankle deep and flowing briskly, soaking my “waterproof” boots, socks and feet.  My wet socks and feet are no big deal – they can easily be dried.  The boots, however, will require more time to dry out.  Ah well, it’s a small price to pay.  I look around.  Although we have passed two or three others out here getting wet, there’s nobody in sight.  I shrug and jump up and down in the flood, making big splashes that would inundate anything nearby, except everything already is sopping wet.  Waldo is having his own puppy moment splashing through the water and doesn’t notice.  I smile.  Some things in childhood should not be left in the past.

The air smells differently when it rains, you know?  Some say it is the odor of the ozone that’s created by lightning, but it’s more than that.  There’s the odor of wet earth, mud, and decaying leaves, the stirred-up dust from the ground and air, the aroma of wet plants and chemicals, like Waldo’s skunkiness, that you normally can’t smell, but in the rain are roiled into a perfume, and all of it is mixed together to produce something that can only be described as “the smell of rain.”

I’m glad I’m out here with Waldo, my wet feet and all, taking in a few moments of rainstorm in the wild.

It’s not a burden at all.

 

It’s gone from rain to deluge.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 3, 2021

Trees. All kinds of trees.
“They make good sticks,” says Waldo.

 

What do trees say when there is no danger and they feel content?

-Monica Gagliano

 

It’s early morning again, and Waldo and I are out, trying to beat the heat of midday.  The sun is up, but not by much. The oaks, maples, birches, white pine, aspen, hickory and many other species, tower above us and provide long and wide shadows that protect us from direct sunlight.  Their leaves block the brightest light of the sun and leave behind gentle and cool air to relish as we walk between bright patches where the light penetrates the forest canopy.  Leaves whisper in the light breeze and shimmer and shudder as the wind tickles them on its way along the land.  When it’s hot, even Waldo dashes through the sunny spots, then slows and sniffs about in the shade.  I purposely change my course to make sure that I spend as much time as possible in shadow as I walk.

It used to be thought that trees are immobile, relatively static, solitary things.  Recent studies show that this is not so.  In fact, all the trees of a forest form a community, even among members of different species.  What we see is what is above ground, but the real action is underground.  Through their roots, trees are able to not only communicate with each other, they are able to share resources to support the community as a whole.  Older established trees share the sugar generated in their leaves by photosynthesis with younger saplings who don’t have the ability to tap into the available resources, like nutrients and water, as well as they can.  They communicate with one another and share distress signals about drought and disease.  And they do it all without a nervous system like that of animals.

How do they do it? Through their roots and a symbiotic relationship with fungi.  The fungi have what are called micorrhizal networks, fine hair-like filaments that interact with the tiniest parts of tree roots.  The fungi consume about thirty percent of the nutrients generated by the trees in photosynthesis and, in return, they provide the trees with minerals, like nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, that they scavenge from the soil.  Young trees that are shaded by their big brothers who are well established, can’t generate what they need by photosynthesis because they aren’t tall enough to compete for the available sunshine.  They survive to grow big enough to claim their day in the sun only because these fungi help deliver nutrients generated by the bigger trees through a complicated interconnected system of roots.  They even communicate, without nerves, electrical signals to one another.  They also exchange hormonal and other chemical signals.  There is some evidence that they even generate and receive sound signals in their roots systems.

There is some communication above ground as well.  In Africa, acacia trees give off a gas when they are injured by grazing giraffes.  Other acacia trees sense this gas and pump tannins into their leaves that can make the giraffes sick.  They fight back as a community!  There are also ways that the forest can battle damage done by insects and browsing deer.  And they do it all without a brain.

Some of these ideas may be familiar to anyone who watched the movie “Avatar.”  Scientists in the story were studying how plants communicate with each other and even animals on an alien planet.  The basic ideas are not alien to this planet.  I suspect that James Cameron and the scriptwriters were well aware of what is going on with trees and incorporated this knowledge into the film.  It made for a very entertaining, and if you pay attention, even educational movie.

Thinking about all this as I walk down the trail in the soft morning light, I realize that I am invading a home built and maintained by other creatures.  Worse, I am doing it mindlessly, without thinking about or appreciating the impact of my transgression.  I do try to limit the effect of our passing, Waldo’s and mine, by picking up what he deposits and not leaving trash behind, but I give little thought to the other ways I may be impacting the forest I enjoy.  That is something that I should change.  My interest in identifying the plants and animals along the rail-trail, in order to make it easier to be in the moment, has taken on a whole new dimension.

I need to go hug a tree.  It just may have a response I never would have guessed.

 

I wonder what these trees are saying about us…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 27, 2021

Walden Pond

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

-Henry David Thoreau

 

Phyllis, Waldo and I are on our way down the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  This part is about 12 miles long and runs from where we left off last time in Acton, through West Concord and Concord and on to Walden Pond.  Yes, that Walden Pond.  The day starts out cool, at 61℉ and overcast.  There is hardly any breeze and a mist hangs in the air that’s just short of being thick enough to call it a drizzle.  The ground is dry, the grass and leaves are heavy with dew and bugs are out buzzing around, making themselves a nuisance.  Waldo is in his lead position at the extreme end of the leash, even though he has little idea where we’re going, and we are soon engulfed by greenery and Mother Nature.

Phyllis has spent a lot of time around the Concord area, biking and walking, and her kids went to the Fenn School, a private school that is located there.  She knows the place well and it doesn’t seem like much time has passed when she asks, “Are you sure this walk is 12 miles long?  I think we’re close to Concord.”  Indeed, just up ahead is North Bridge, where the Colonialists stopped the British advance into Concord.  There are statues everywhere, including the famous Minuteman statue depicting a musket-carrying Patriot with one hand on a plow.  The BCT is great about connecting to trails that take the trekker through interesting places along the way, including historical sites.  Continuing on, we pass the Old Manse, once occupied by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather (no relation to our Waldo), and on into the town of Concord.

In Concord, we deviate a bit from our route to visit the school, for nostalgic reasons, that Phyllis’s sons attended.  We promptly get evicted – no dogs allowed.  From there, we go to downtown Concord and again leave the path to get some chocolate from Phyllis’s favorite candy store.  Even before we emerge from Concord, we’re again in the woods, following paths that Emerson and Henry David Thoreau likely trod.  I don’t know if Thoreau had a dog, but they say he liked dogs.  I’m sure he would have loved Waldo, but then, who doesn’t?  Both Emerson and Thoreau, along with Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, are buried just to the north and east of downtown Concord on Author’s Ridge, a section of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The wooded track winds around, crosses a street or two, a highway, and then we’re at Walden Pond.  The lake is an example of a kettle pond, about 1.7 miles in circumference and 108 feet deep, created by retreating glaciers 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.  Today, Walden Pond is a State Reservation and serves as a placid place to take the family to swim and float about on paddle boards and canoes.  Although not far from the town of Concord, the area is all woods, quiet and serene, and well insulated from most of the noise and sights of civilization.  Near the north shore of the pond is the site of Thoreau’s 10’ X 15’ one room cabin.  He lived there from July of 1845 until September 1847, when he left because he felt he had other things to do with his life.  The original structure was moved to a nearby farm two years after Thoreau left, where it was a granary and, later, a pigsty.  Eventually, its wood was used to repair a barn.  A replica of the cabin and its furnishings is located at a spot near the parking lot on the east side of the reservation.  You can look in the window and imagine Thoreau sitting on his chair at his desk, before his stone hearth and across from his small bed.  The original cabin cost Thoreau $28.12 ½ to build in 1845, or about $999.19 in today’s currency, although the replica now at the pond cost $3,000 to build in 1985.  If one had a similar inclination to live in the woods today, and I believe there are some who do, they would probably opt for a synthetic fabric tent with cooking stove, plus or minus some kind of space heater, an inflated sleeping pad and sleeping bag.  The overall cost might just be about the same in today’s dollars. How times change.

The path loops around the pond to its west, staying above it, some fifty feet or so, on a low ridge.  Both Phyllis and I have played and swum in its waters in the past, so we have little interest in stopping our walk to do so today.  We can see the water through the trees and underbrush and it’s easy for me to pretend that I’m walking on the trail in 1845, maybe even talking to Thoreau about transcendentalism and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Edgar Allen Poe, all contemporaries of Thoreau.

On the south side of the pond, we continue to Rte 126 and then walk back to the car.  Total distance?  12.01 miles.  Somehow, it didn’t seem that far.  It’s strange how sometimes when you’re out walking, long distances don’t seem that long at all.

The next leg of the trail will take us to Wayland, about three miles from where Phyllis lives.  The days are heating up, though, with highs forecast to be in the nineties.  It might be a while before we can walk in reasonable temperatures again.

We will get ‘er done, though.

 

Thoreau cabin replica.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 20, 2021

Mmmm… Where to start. Where to start.

 

Handle every situation like a dog.  If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.

– Anonymous

 

There is a thick overcast obscuring the sky as Waldo and I start our walk.  The time is ten minutes before 5 AM and the sun won’t come up for about another 20 minutes.  Still, the predawn twilight is bright enough to make everything clearly visible, but, without shadows, everything appears somewhat flat.  Even at this hour, it is quite warm, around 73℉, and the air is heavy with humidity.  Birds are singing their early morning songs and insects are all abuzz.  A soft breeze is playing in the trees and it’s not just the aspen foliage that is shaking its leaves in princess waves.  Rabbits and squirrels are out and about, scurrying here and there, doing their morning rituals.  Everywhere I look, living things are filling their time with the things they do.

Before I retired, I often wondered if I would have a hard time filling the hours with meaningful activity.  I should not have worried.  Now that I’m retired, my days get filled without any effort on my part.  It just happens.  I wake up, a bunch of stuff happens, and then I go to sleep.

When I was working, all my days were filled with gotta-dos.  You know, gotta get up, gotta get in the car and go to work, an overwhelming plethora of gotta-dos at work, the gotta-dos at home that sustain life in the twenty-first century — grocery shopping, cooking of meals, getting gas for the car, paying bills – the endless gotta-dos in the daily battle to stay alive.  I had a friend who defined life as a constant battle against degeneration.  Perhaps, but anyway, life before I retired was certainly filled with things that needed to be done.

Now that I’m retired, to-do lists and gotta-dos have not gone away.  I still need to go grocery shopping, cook meals, get gas for the car, pay bills and so on.  There remains plenty there to fill up the day.  But there is a difference.  A pie chart of my life’s activities and to-do lists would now show a bigger slice labeled wanna-do, and a smaller wedge labeled gotta-do.  That’s nice.  However, it’s also true that some of the wanna-dos are less likely to turn into got-it-dones because of the relative lack of resources.

Then there are the should-dos, the could-dos, the would-dos, the might-dos, the will-dos, the won’t-dos and the there-is-no-way-in-hell-I’m-gonna-dos.  In retirement, there seems to be fewer of the should-dos and that goes along with the smaller number of gotta-dos.  The could-dos are more numerous because of time available, but diminished by not having a work-income anymore to support them.  The would-dos provide a reservoir of possibilities that one can dip into to create wanna-dos and the might-dos need only the desire and energy to turn them into gonna-dos (of course, as I age, both my desire and energy is ebbing a bit).  Many of the will-dos are really deferred gotta-dos and even some won’t-dos that we lie to ourselves about.  Some won’t-dos are pretty self-explanatory, but they can also be gotta-dos that have passed their expiration date and become won’t-dos by default.  The older I get, the there-is-no-way-in-hell-I’m-gonna-dos pot gets bigger and bigger and, thankfully, is better tolerated by those around me.

At any age, and any condition of work, the trick to life is to get the venn diagrams of all your dos to overlap in such a way as to produce enough got-it-dones to make one’s life full and meaningful.  This juggling is no less important in retirement than it is while still working.  It’s particularly important before one retires to make sure the really important wanna-dos don’t turn into man-I-wish-hadda-dones.  Once one retires, he can still turn the wanna-dos into got-it-dones, but time is short, energy and endurance are limited and the bank account is shrinking.  Post retirement, one can spend more attention on emptying the bucket of wanna-dos and that can feel somewhat liberating.  But time remaining is ever rapidly evaporating and opportunities are drying up.  The trick, as it always is, is to find a way to get the dos done without making a lot of doo-doo, and stepping in it, along the way.

At any rate, thinking about all this has filled my attention out here on the trail, instead of just appreciating the moment, and Waldo and I are on our way home to relax and cool off in the AC.  You know what?  The hell with it.  I can hear my recliner calling; I’m gonna take a nap.

Because I’m retired and I can.

 

“Come to me… Come to me!”

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 13, 2021

Let’s play stick!

 

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

-W. H. Auden

 

The days have cooled down, now with temps around 60℉ when we start our walk and in the high 60’s to low 70s when we finish.  We sleep in, well, I do, until 7 AM, then rise, get ready and hit the trail before 8 AM.  Waldo, of course, is already awake when I open my eyes.  His big, round, brown orbs are glaring at me from his bed in his crate, as if by force of will alone his stare can get me out of bed.  God knows, his will is stronger than mine when I first rouse from sleep.

Waldo dances around in tight circles in front of me as I bend over, trying to tie my boots.  After about three or four circuits, he stops and paws my hands, trying to get me to hurry up.  He is not impressed by my logical argument that what he’s doing only makes it take longer before we can get out the door.  I tell him to sit, which he does after a pause where it seems like he’s thinking, “Do I have to?  Sit?  You gotta be kidding!  I wanna go out!”  He sits for no more than a few seconds, then he’s up and spinning around again.  At least once during this dance, he goes over to his food and water dishes, both of which are aluminum, and gives them a resounding whack.  I think he feels the gong-like sound adds needed punctuation to his fervor.

We get out to the car and, after a brief pee break, I open the passenger door and Waldo readily jumps in and sits.  Once the car starts moving, he nudges my arm with his nose and licks my sleeve.  I think the ride makes him nervous and he needs constant reassurance.  So, we go down the street, I have one hand on the steering wheel and the other is on Waldo, petting, patting and scratching his fur.  He’s facing me and he raises his right foreleg, insisting that I scratch his chest.  Apparently, this is an unspoken contract and, once his demand is met, I am obliged to continue until we stop the car.  Any interruption of the caress, even by the demands of road safety, is immediately met with more nudging, licking and a look on a furry face that says, “Hey!  Did I say you could stop?”  It seems that petting the dog in the car is of the highest priority in Waldo-world.

Once on the rail-trail, Waldo is trotting out in front at the end of the leash.  He relieves himself, sniffs the bushes, finds a ubiquitous stick, then is off once again, breaking trail.  This continues for a bit, then he finds a bigger stick, drops back to right in front of me and gives me a look like, “Wanna play some stick?”

Now, I’m not really quite sure what the rules are to this game of Waldo-stick, but I think they bear some semblance to the rules of Calvin-ball — poorly defined and somewhat fluid.  It goes something like this: sometimes he’ll drop the stick in front of me, then pick it up and run ahead a couple of feet.  I think he’s saying, “Chase me!”  I’m too old for much of that, especially when we’re going to walk six miles or more.  So, I pretend not to understand.  In response, he drops back behind me, then comes up next to me, blind-siding me, and starts stabbing me with his stick.  Sometimes, if I continue to ignore him, he’ll jab the damn thing between my legs and almost trip me.

On other occasions, if he has a longer stick, he’ll grab one end and drag the other just in front of where I need to put my feet as I walk.  I have an easy solution for this.  I step on the grounded end of the stick and either break it (to pause the play, which has the potential to create a sprained ankle or worse) or I pick the thing up.  If I do the latter, a heavy game of tug-of-war ensues.   This continues until either I let go, which means the prior gambit is repeated, or I’m able to take the stick from him.  If I have the stick, I throw it for him and again we start over.

Sometimes I’ll grab another stick and wave it in front of him.  This is met with wide-eyed, tail-wagging enthusiasm.  He stops, waits until I get close, then drops the stick he has in his mouth.  I throw my stick and he picks up his stick (God forbid I should get it!) and bounds happily off to retrieve the new one.  If I repeat this ploy, Waldo drops all his sticks, picks them all up again after I toss the new one, and he then adds to his collection.  He’s had as many as five sticks in his mouth at once, depending on their size.  It looks like he’s carrying a small bush (which, by the way, sometimes he does).  Passersby exclaim, “Ah, how cute!”

“I think he’s building a nest,” I reply.

So it goes, until we return home and rest.  I may not understand the rules of the game, but I do know the goal.

And we both win.

 

Whmmmf!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments