Byron Brumbaugh

September 20, 2022

Where the grass grows…

 

Dark green is my favorite color.  It’s the color of nature, the color of money and the color of moss!

-Leonardo DiCaprio

 

It’s a little bit cooler when Waldo and I start out today, so we leave a little after sunrise, around 6 AM.  It’s still going to be too hot to walk comfortably after 10 AM, but we have plenty of time to do our morning constitutional and still beat the heat.  The sun is up and the light that penetrates the long forest shadows has lost its golden hue, but the glaring burn of late morning is yet to come.  There’s a slight breeze that adds to the sensation of cool and rattles the leaves of the quaking aspens.  It’s nice, but it does lack the early predawn magic of a walk in the woods before sun-up.  On the other hand, Waldo and I did get to sleep in a little longer.

All this nuance seems to be lost on Waldo.  His tail is up and wagging as he explores the bushes next to the trail – stick in mouth, of course.  He loves being out here, romping in the wild.  The heat doesn’t really deter him from attempting to cavort, either – it’s just that it isn’t long before he becomes overheated.  Today, that’s not a problem and he’s off entertaining himself, leaving me to my own devices for amusement.  I decide that I’m going to engage with nature by paying attention to whatever mosses I can find.  I’ve seen them alongside the trail before, but I pretty much ignore them.  Today, I’m going to fix that.  It’ll help me be more aware of the wonderful world around me.

Mosses are a group of plants that were one of the first to evolve to be able to live on land.  To do that, they had to developed new ways to breathe, preserve moisture and reproduce.  Those developments are what distinguish them, and all plants, from algae.  As a plant, though, they are diminutive and rudimentary.  They don’t have real roots, leaves or vascular tissue.  This means they like to live in shadowy, wet, cool places that other plants are less eager to inhabit.  On the rail-trail, this means places that have lots of thick shade.  The trail used to be a railroad bed and has drainage on either side that provides plenty of water, but most places have more sun than mosses like and are heavily populated by other phylae of plants, like grass, weeds and bushes.

Though there are several places where mosses can be found, there are only a couple that have a lot of it.  One stretch runs through thick forest shaded by large maples, oaks, sumacs and other trees.  There isn’t much grass in these shadowy places and moss can be seen to grown right up to the tarmac.  I identify four different species: twisted moss, common hairmoss, delicate fern moss and silvergreen bryum moss.  They are all close to the ground and no more than an eighth of an inch or so thick.  I brought a jeweler’s loupe with me (botanists like them because they’re small and readily accessible, hung from a lanyard around your neck) to get a close look and I have to get down on my knees to use it.  When I do, Waldo comes up next to me, drops his sticks and looks at me as if to say, “Did you find something really stinky?”

I’m reminded of a time I went to southeast Alaska with a group of people to survey a uranium claim on Prince of Wales Island off of Ketchikan.  We were five young men in our early twenties.  Three weeks we spent there, staying on a piece of the island that had no other living souls, living in a tent, sleeping on the ground and eating what we brought with us.  The place is a rain forest, filled with Sitka spruce, and it rained every damn day except one.  That one day was the only day we took off and we did nothing but enjoy the sun.  One thing I remember well is that the trees looked like they were covered with a green furry hide.  Of course, it wasn’t really fur; the trees have a thick layer of moss, over an inch deep, that surrounds the trunk.  Whoever came up with the idea that moss only grows on the north facing side of a tree has never been to southeast Alaska because, if that were true, all directions would be north up there.  I know for a fact that it isn’t the South Pole, so that idea must be false.

The moss I see next to the rail-trail is comparatively stunted and meager.  But it’s there and it seems happy enough.  Grass doesn’t grow nearby and it seems to have found and secured its own niche in the local ecology.  I straighten up and look around me.  There is so much variety to the life in these woods.  Dozens of different kinds of trees, myriad species of bushes and multitudes of varieties of weeds and flowering plants.  And lots of moss, too.  What a horrible disservice is done to Mother Nature when man comes into an area and “civilizes” it.

We finish our walk and return home until tomorrow.  Waldo got his sticks and I saw my mosses.

Who knows what tomorrow has to offer.

 

…where the moss grows.

 

 

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 13, 2022

It’s still quite dark as we start out.

 

The best part of the day is coming home to a wagging tail.

-Unknown

 

It’s hot out today, with lows in the low 70s, so Waldo and I are up before dawn.  We have a scant three hours to finish our walk before it gets unbearably hot for Waldo.  It’s still quite dark as we start out and it’s hard for me to see Waldo.  Fortunately, nature provided him with a white-tipped tail and that, I can see as it weaves back and forth with his sashaying gait.  I can tell when he stops, but I don’t know why.  Sometimes it’s to lift a leg and pee, sometimes to pick up a stick, sometimes to smell who has gone before and sometimes it’s for something I have to know about.  I have a small bright flashlight in my pocket and I shine it on him when his taillight stops to see if he’s pooping.  I’m vigilant for that because I have to pick it up when he’s done.  Keeping the flashlight in my mouth, so I have my hands free, I shine it on the pile he leaves behind.  I pick it up in the doggy poop bag I always carry with me.  I tie the bag in a knot, the light goes back in my pocket, and we’re back on the trail.  That’s how dark it is.

Whoever said that it’s darkest before the dawn clearly wasn’t equating sunrise with dawn.  Twilight creeps up on us slowly, as we make our way down the path.  It’s a good hour before the sun comes up and I can begin to see more and more of that piece of Mother Nature that we’re walking through.  Soon, I can make out Waldo’s sable birthday suit and the leaves of the trees and bushes that surround us.  It isn’t long and it becomes light enough that I can’t tell if the sun has risen behind the foliage.  I glance at my watch.  Nope, won’t happen for another half-hour or so.  One way to tell that the sun isn’t up yet is to note that there are no shadows.  The light is diffuse without any obvious source and makes everything look a little flat, without the shadows to provide a sense of depth.

We’re halfway done with our walk before the sun creeps above the horizon and shadows appear, outlined by the golden glow of sunbeams as they slice between trunks of oak, maple and sumac.  The orb of the sun is still hidden behind the leaves, but its penetrating fingers of light give the landscape a magical, incipient promise of the day to come.  It also warns of the hot temperatures that will follow – the day is already getting warmer.

There was a mostly submerged volcano that erupted near Tonga, in the southwest Pacific Ocean, on January 15, 2022.  Named Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, it created a cloud of water vapor about ten times the size of Singapore.  This water shot up into the stratosphere (between 8 and 33 miles above sea level), in an amount so large that it increased the amount of water vapor already there by a good 10%.  This increased upper atmospheric water vapor traps heat near the surface of the Earth like carbon dioxide does and may add to our problem of global warming.  It can take five to ten years before the upper atmospheric water vapor can dissipate, so this effect could last awhile.  That’s all we need.

What I know for sure is that it’s getting pretty hot before we finish our walk.  And it’s only six-thirty AM!  Waldo is dropping his sticks so he can let his tongue (man, he has a long tongue!) dangle, dripping, in an effort to pant effectively.  He’s going from shady patch to shady patch to avoid the sunlight and his gait is slowing down.  I’m soaking my shirt with sweat and it’s hard to hold onto the leash handle because my hands are so wet.  We’re both looking forward to the AC at home as we finish our trek.  And the forecast is for even hotter days for the next month or so.  Sigh.

I put Waldo in the front passenger seat, sit behind the steering wheel and roll down the windows.  Waldo gets a treat, just ‘cause, which he accepts with joy.  He seems as grateful to be sitting as I feel.  I’m slimed in the treating process and pat him on the head, wiping the worst of it away so I don’t smear goo everywhere.  “Another day and another six miles,” I say to him.  He audibly sighs.

God, it’s good to be back in the groove.

 

Early morning twilight over Fort Meadow Reservoir.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 6, 2022

Goodbye, Haute Nendaz , Switzerland. Until next time…

 

I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.

-Bill Bryson

 

I awoke early this morning, after a hard night.  My temperature remained elevated and I developed a sore throat that intermittently woke me from sleep.  This morning, though, the soar throat, although not gone, is significantly better and the fever is gone.  The sore throat convinces me I should take a Covid test.  I argue with myself, “How could I have Covid and still walk 7 – 7.5 miles?”  But people can have Covid and be asymptomatic and I have a sore throat, so I tested for it (I brought 4 tests with me from home).  The test was positive.

My family were not surprised and no one I was exposed to felt threatened or in danger.  It is, after all a risk we all take when we travel these days.  Now, I have to decide what I’m going to do about it.  I could stay another week without much problem.  After all, I do have health and travel insurance that would cover the extra cost.  I really want to get home and see Waldo, though.  I decide to look once again at the CDC guidelines.

The CDC says that for the first five days since the onset of symptoms, one should isolate.  After that, as long as the symptoms are better and the fever is gone, one can come out of isolation, but they should wear a mask.  The CDC arrived at these recommendations through various studies and considerations.  It is known that Covid is most infectious just before the onset of symptoms.  After 5 days, one can still shed virus, and therefore, still be infectious, but by wearing a mask, the risk of infecting someone else is quite small.  The CDC weighed the effect on the economy and the interruption of personal lives, as well as the impact of spreading the infection, and decided that this scheme was the best solution in an imperfect world.  I figure this is day 5 of having symptoms (counting the days when I had a low-grade temp and sinus irritation), symptoms are improving and, so far, I am afebrile.  So I meet the criteria.  The fever seems to come on in the evening, so I decide that I will go ahead, mask up, and keep my plane reservations to return home tomorrow, unless I develop a fever tonight.  As long as I’m afebrile and my symptoms continue to improve in the morning, I’m good to go.

I spend the day mostly sleeping, only getting up, now and then, to grab a small bite to eat.  I have no problem sleeping that much, but I’m not really feeling sick, except for a slight sore throat.  Night comes and I’m still afebrile.

I get up before dawn the next morning and pack – no fever and my sore throat is almost gone.  I say goodbye to my family and get on the bus to get to the train.  After many hours on trains and planes, I finally arrive in Boston.  Throughout the trip, I remained afebrile with only minor symptoms (even the extreme tiredness was gone).  I pick up my car and drive to pick up Waldo.

It’s 11 o’clock when I get to the house where he’s staying and the people are asleep – they left the back door open for me.  Waldo is very happy to see me, wiggling his butt and whining with excitement.  I pack up his stuff and soon we’re back home, ready to resume our lives and our walks.

No one I know and can track has come down with Covid, so I’m comfortable that I did the right thing.

I have come to some conclusions from this trip that others might appreciate.  If you want to experience the joys of international travel in the midst of 2022 Covid, you can.  But be prepared.  Some countries still require Covid testing before entry.  Covid is out there and the R0 for BA.5 is 18.6 (R0 is a measure of how contagious a disease is) and it is easy to catch (it’s a little more contagious than measles).  For most people, it’s not a big deal if you get it.  But it is still killing lots of people and if you are in a high-risk group that could get really sick, you might want to reconsider travel.  You can still get very sick even if you’re not in such a group, but it’s not very likely.  Weigh your risks and benefits carefully and make a well-informed decision before you go.  If you go, it would be wise to get both travel and health insurance, just in case you have to prolong your visit.  Lastly, the travel system is stressed right now, due to a shortage of pilots and other things, and delays and cancelations are frequent.  It’s even worse during the height of vacation season, so try to avoid traveling then.  Pack and plan as though you will miss your connecting flight and be without your checked luggage.  Assume that will happen and then be surprised if it doesn’t.

After having said all that, if you feel that the benefits outweigh the risks for you, then, by all means, go.  The world is a big and wonderous place, filled with many fine people (and dogs) and amazing things to experience – fine food and wine, people happy to share a small piece of their lives, and extraordinary cultures rife with long and deep histories.  Just make sure that you are fully vaccinated, boosted and you follow the recommended guidelines.

But for now, please, excuse me.  A black furry critter is agitating me to take him out for a walk.

It’s good to be home.

 

Come on! Let’s go!

 

 

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 30, 2022

Back streets of Sion.

 

The mountains are calling, and I must go.

-John Muir

 

Sion is one of those cities whose roots go back into antiquity.  In Roman times, it was called Sedunum.  There are two hillocks in Sion crowned by the remains of the 13th century Château de Tourbillon and the Château de Valère (the latter containing a museum and a 13th century church).  In the town, there is also the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-du-Glarier, the Church of Saint-Thêodule (1516), the Maison Supersaxo (1505), the town hall (1660) and the remains of the Château de la Majorie (now housing an art gallery).  It is an important market place for fruit, vegetables and wine and lies on the road and rail routes to Milan, Italy, via the Simplon Pass.  It is predominantly French-speaking and has a population of 29,000.

We take the bus to Sion today, not to enjoy the sights, nor to ponder our place in its history, but to go shopping.  Tomorrow is my sister-in-law’s (Michele) birthday and I want to find her a gift.  I’m also looking for chocolate to bring home (when I asked my friends and family what they wanted me to bring back from Switzerland, the unanimous answer was chocolate) and maybe something uniquely Swiss for me.  The temperature is 88℉ and I work up a sweat walking through the streets.

After a few miles and stores, I find a girolle.  It is a round wooden plate with a hole in the middle through which you secure a spike.  Small wheels of cheese (traditionally Tete de Moines, or monk’s head cheese, but there are others) are impaled over the spike.   One end of a blade, with the cutting edge sitting down on the cheese, is placed over the spike so it can be spun round and round.  As the blade is turned, thin portions of cheese curl up into rosettes that are just the right thickness and consistency to melt in your mouth.  Delicious and very Swiss.  I buy Michele a bottle of Novembre, her favorite local white wine, a lot of chocolate for me to take back to the US and we head home.  At dinner, I feel uncharacteristically very tired and, again, slightly feverish.  Damn cold.  I will sleep well.

I awoke feeling fine and rested, no fever or other symptoms.  Today is Michele’s birthday.  It is a tradition that the family goes, on her birthday, to Crans-Montana, a touristy ski resort town high in the Alps, down the tracks and on the opposite of the valley from Haute Nendaz.  There’s a restaurant there that has a blueberry tarte that Michele loves.  It also has a lot of small shops that cater to the rich and famous and is a nice place to window shop.

The first hotel, Hotel du Parc, was opened in Crans-Montana in 1893.  Golfing started in 1906 on a majestic plateau that exists amongst the steep slopes.  Golfing is still popular here today.  The first downhill ski race took place in 1911 and the place has been a ski mecca since.   I can only guess how brutal skiing in these mountains must have been before there were any ski lifts.  One of its most well-known celebrities, Roger Moore, owned a chalet and lived at the resort for many years until his death in 2017.  The town has a population of 10,218.

After we have lunch and eat our tartes (I had a wild-berry tarte full of currants that was delicious), we walk around the town and ogle what’s behind the store windows.  There’s a store dedicated to selling every kind of Swatch you can imagine, chocolatiers, sports shops for all kinds of outdoor activities, cheese shops, clothing stores and just about anything else you can imagine a resort town might have.  By the time we make for the bus stop, I’m feeling really tired, achy and a bit feverish again.

Back in Haute Nendaz, we go out to eat and enjoy a fondue dinner and good wine.  Fondue is a very traditional Swiss meal originally designed as a way to eat hardened cheese and stale bread during the winter months.  The earliest known recipe is from 1699, and today, it’s prepared using mostly Gruyère and Emmental cheeses.

The food and wine are very good, but the exhaustion and fever are starting to get the best of me and I’m glad when it’s time to go home.  The temperature in the valley was in the high 80s today, but tonight, up here in the mountains, it’s 60℉ and I’m feeling a little chilled, wearing no jacket.  I’m soon in bed, picturing all the places I’ve been the past few days, imagining doing it all with Waldo on the end of the leash.

He would love it.

 

Celebrating Michele’s birthday with a nice glass of vin blanc.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 23, 2022

The promenade next to Lake Geneva.

 

My hair is grey, but not with years.

-“The Prisoner of Chillion,” by Lord Byron

 

Today, we went down the train racks toward Geneva a little further to a town named Montreux.  Montreux is a city of about 26,000 citizens that lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva.  There is evidence the area was occupied since the late bronze age and an important wine-growing region since the 12th century.  It has been a popular tourist spot since the 19th century with grand hotels attracting the rich and famous from all over Europe and the Americas.  It has seen the likes of David Bowie, Noel Coward, Zelda Fitzgerald, Freddy Mercury, Vladimir Nabokov, Igor Stravinsky, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski, and Shania Twain, just to name a few.  Queen Victoria was a fan of Montreux, visited here several times, and Freddy Mercury has a larger than life bronze statue on the promenade erected in his honor.  We’re here just to explore around and see what the place has to show us.

We get off the train and walk through winding streets, surrounded by buildings from the “Belle époque,” the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  They often have roofs and windows of a unique design that have an ornate flair that gives the city, in my mind, an old and cherished feeling of pride-of-history and culture.  It’s like I’m walking through reflections of the past, footprints left of what’s gone by.  I seem to be surrounded by lingering shadows of things, things that once marked a daily life, now gone and largely forgotten.  There’s a sense of continuity that runs from what happened centuries ago to my walking the streets in the present day.

We walk down to the lakeside where there is a promenade running right next to the shore of Lake Geneva.  It is well manicured, sporting flower beds, beautiful trees and shrubbery, and seems to be a popular place to go for a stroll.  Soon, our path takes us to where the yearly jazz festival is being prepared – we will miss it by a week.  In addition to auditoriums, there are food stalls of every imaginable flavor and ethnicity – Indian, Brazilian, American, English and, of course, French, German, Italian and Swiss.  Soon we are entering downtown and we stop to have a tasty lunch at a French restaurant.

After eating, we retrace our steps and walk on to Chateau de Chillion, some seven miles or so away.  Its origins and distant history are buried in the darkness of the middle-ages.  A castle was built there in the twelfth century that survives to today and is a popular tourist spot.  Among other things, it served as a prison and in 1880, Lord Byron wrote the poem, “The Prisoner of Chillion,” about an unnamed man who was imprisoned there.  In the bowels of the place, once used to house prisoners, there is a plaque honoring Byron.  The castle was also the domicile of various dukes and other royalty and there are a number of interesting old artifacts left behind.

On the way to the chateau, I lag a little behind my brother, his son and grandson.  I’m feeling unusually tired and I keep getting distracted by the dogs leading their charges down the path.  I say hello to them, but they ignore me and continue on with their doggie business.  After a bit, I notice a young woman, in her thirties, I would guess, setting her cellphone on a rock so she can get a selfie.  “Est-ce que je peux vous aider? (Can I help you?),” I ask.  She says yes and hands me her phone.  After a few pictures, we talk a little about where we’re from, and so on.  It turns out she’s from Sao Paolo, Brazil.  I speak a little Portuguese, she speaks a little English, but I explain I need to practice my French, so we walk on and chat in that language.  She is going to the castle as well and we have a very pleasant conversation as we visit there.  I don’t understand everything that’s said, but enough to get by, and I’m pleased she can understand my probably horrible accent.  All too soon, we bid each other enchanté and part ways.  My family and I have to catch the train.

Soon, we’re back in Haute Nendaz, have a nice dinner, and go to bed.  I’m starting to feel like I have a low-grade temperature, a lingering irritation in my sinuses, and very tired.  I figure I’m coming down with a cold as the symptoms are so minimal.

As I fall asleep, I think of Waldo and how much he would have liked the walk down the promenade next to the lake.  He’s fine, but I really wish I could have brought him here with me.

But at least I don’t have to explain to him about my trying to cheat with the other dogs I met today.

 

In the dungeon of Chateau de Chillion. I must have been here before — there’s a plaque that says so!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 16, 2022

The trail, next to a bisse, meandering through the forest.

 

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

-John Muir

 

This morning, I awake, dress and meet Bill and Ted in La Brioche, a boulangerie (bakery) across the street from my studio.  It’s small and cozy and has a welcoming and gentil (kindly) atmosphere.  The French (and this part of Switzerland) believe in l’art de vivre, or the art of living.  They choose to skillfully craft their experiences, including those of eating and drinking.  It is no wonder that the origin of the word gourmand is French.  The result is very tasty food and excellent beverages, including, of course, the local wine.  I don’t usually drink wine at home, but here, I relish it.  At La Brioche, I have a cappuccino and a tarte au framboise (a raspberry tarte).  Man, it’s a good thing I’m only spending a week here.  If I spent much more, I’d go home weighing a ton.

Afterwards, we walk to the tourist office where we are scheduled to take a bus to Veysonnaz, a small village not far away.  At the tourist office, we meet up with Luda, a retired colleague of my brother’s.  She was born in the Ukraine, but now lives in Houston.  Both Luda and my brother are retired geophysicists who used to work in oil exploration and bought property in Haute Nendaz when that was possible (Americans can no longer buy property here, although they can keep it if they bought it before it became illegal).  She is energetic, very friendly and will make a good companion for this morning’s trek – a local hike through the mountains.

It’s a short ride to Veysonnaz and the bus leaves us close to the beginning of a well-manicured trail that follows les bisses.  Switzerland used to have a lot of two things, high mountains and glaciers.  They still have the former, but global warming has cut deeply into their supply of the latter.  There is still enough water, though, flowing down from the heights, to provide hydroelectric power and the life-giving fluid necessary to grow crops and animals.  They’ve built reservoirs up high and one of the ways they bring the water down to where it’s needed is through long troughs, about three or four feet wide and three or four feet deep, made up of stone, cement, and other materials.  These troughs they call bisses and they run nearly horizontally, traversing the steep slopes of the Alps laterally.  Along the way, sluice gates can be opened to allow the water to flow down to where it is needed.  Because the bisses are nearly horizontal, the water flows vigorously, though not overly rapidly.

Trails exist alongside the bisses to maintain them and a volunteer community has arisen to keep them in good order for those, like us, who enjoy walking on them.  We are walking opposite to the flow of water, so we must be going uphill, but the grade is so gentle, it’s hardly noticeable.  Even for us old(er) folks.  The bisses and the trails wind around the steep slopes through dense forest and, in places, flatter open pastureland.  Just like New England, many of the trees are white pine.  Unlike home, there are very large trees, probably over a hundred years old, and remind me of the Black Forest in Germany and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  The temperature is in the eighties, but it is much cooler in the shade of all these trees.  Add to that the friendly people we pass (most of whom speak English) and the beautiful vistas out over the Rhone Valley and you get a very pleasant hike.  If only Waldo could be with us.  And look at all those sticks!

Along the way we talk about all manner of things, including the Ukraine war, of course.  But we don’t spend too much time on that topic, Luda still has family there and I think she finds it difficult to think about it.  She’s been on this hike before and points out landmarks along the way, like the small village of Verrey, just a few yards uphill from our path, and tells us that it has only been the past ten years or so that they’ve had electricity.  I could do that.  I have done that for short periods of time.

Our hike takes us to Planchouet, another alpine village, about seven and a half miles from Veysonnaz.  There, we have a nice late lunch.  I have a croûte de fromage avec jambon et oignons (cheese on toast with ham and onions) and a local beer.  Délicieux!

After lunch, we catch another bus and go back to Haute Nendaz.  The trail continues on and ends up right outside my front door, but it is a couple of miles further and I’m feeling a little tired and my back is starting to hurt.  My mucus membranes are a little raw too, but I decide that’s because I must be coming down with a cold.  At any rate, we get back home and, after eating a wonderful dinner of grilled rabbit, prepared by Ted, I go off to bed, feeling like I’ve earned the right to sleep this night.

I get texts that tell me that Waldo is doing okay, but, damn, if only Waldo were here,  sharing this day!

 

Watch where you’re going, Ted! You’re on a cliff face!

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Kids playing in the water fountain on a warm day in Martigny.

 

The animal kingdom is destined by nature to serve, and that service is fulfilled in alleviating the temporal and physical needs of man…

-Saint Bernard

 

The next morning, I awake with the sun just peeking over the serrated mountain ridge across the valley.  It shines over the middle of my balcony, through the large window and glass door, directly onto my bed and in my eyes.  Misty clouds hang around the jagged peaks and the early morning light glints off the meandering Rhone River as it winds its way through Sion.  The air is still and cool, enticing me to go for a hike along the steep, but walkable, slopes.  Birds sing tunes unfamiliar to me and the smell of dewy grass, white pine and green shrubbery tickles at my nose.  What a glorious morning greeting in the midst of the Alps!  If Waldo were here, we would be out roaming around, looking for sticks.  (I want to check on him, but it’s too early.  There’s a six-hour time difference between here and Massachusetts, so I’ll have to wait until at least 2 PM).  It’s so early, and I am still tired from my journey, so I decide to go back to sleep for a bit.  I pull the curtains to get the light out of my eyes and I’m soon, once again, unconscious.

Reawakening at about 9 AM, I walk up the hill to Chez Michele.  My luggage indeed showed up last night, but not until around 1:30 AM.  After a cup of coffee and a croissant, Bill, Michele (his wife), Ted, William and I take the bus to Sion and catch the train to Martigny, a village at the mouth of the Rhone Valley.  The plan is to visit the Saint Bernard Museum there, and maybe, pet the puppies.  In the past, Martigny was a starting point for pilgrims to cross over the Alps to get to Italy.  Some 20,000 people a year hiked over a high pass, two-thirds of them in the winter.  Needless to say, many trekkers got into significant trouble and some monks founded a hospice near the summit to care for them.  Dogs were bred, the Saint Bernard, to help them rescue the travelers when they were in need.  It’s a myth that they carried kegs of wine or brandy around their necks, but sometimes they did carry milk from cowsheds.  One dog, named Barry, saved over forty people during his lifetime and is still a remembered hero in the area.

The museum is housed in a building on the edge of town.  They still breed and raise the dogs whose ancestors saved so many.  Unfortunately, since Covid, they don’t let visitors pet the puppies any longer, but you can still see them lolling about in the shade, trying to get out of the heat.  The temperature is about eighty degrees or so, but with all that fur, it must be hard to stay cool.   The museum also has artifacts and pictures of what the trek was like when the pilgrimage was still popular.  Now, of course, there are trains, roads and tunnels that pass through the Alps to Italy.

Also in the town are Roman ruins, including a bath and a small colosseum.  Martigny housed a Roman settlement (Octodurum) from the first century BCE until the fifth century CE.  What’s left are structures that are recognizable, although a mere shadow of what they once were, and stabilized so one can wander through them safely.  I walk through the entrance to the colosseum and, once in the middle of the arena, have the strongest urge to shout, “Where are the lions?  Bring ‘em on!”, but there is no audience to appreciate it, so I demur.

The town of Martigny itself has quiet cobblestone streets and a twelfth century church.  There are open plazas sporting artful water fountains that kids play in and many a nice café.  I had a cappuccino and then go searching for some local brandy.  We visit a distillery outlet, but all they have is apricot brandy, Abricotine (fruit brandy they call eau de vie or water of life).  The stuff is good, for sure, but I’ve already tried some and I’m looking for something different to bring home.  In addition to the ubiquitous grape, apricots can be found everywhere in the valley.  Abricotine is a local specialty.

Our tour done, we returned to the train, and then the bus, and got back to Haute Nendaz at about 8 PM.  Not at all a late hour for French dinner, but I am hungry.  We go out to a local restaurant where I enjoy a fine meal and a glass of Gamay vin rouge.  A long day, lots of walking and interesting things to experience.  A quick text tells me Waldo is doing fine and I’m off to bed.

Waldo would have loved all the walking and meeting all the people, for sure.

 

Brother Bill in front to a 12th century church.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 2, 2022

The Alps, in the distance, Sion and the Rhone Valley, as seen from the bus, winding its way up to Haute Nendaz.

 

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

-Confucius

 

And so, I’m now in Switzerland.  Switzerland is a land-locked country in the midst of high mountain peaks – the Alps.  It is bordered by France in the west, Germany in the north, Austria and Lichtenstein in the east and Italy in the south.  It has four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh.  The raison d’être for its existence comes with a long and varied history and prehistory.  There is evidence of people living in the area for centuries before the Romans invaded.  The local tribes, celts, were known by the Romans as the Helvetii, a name that persists into today (Swiss money is referred to as CHF – Confoederatio Helvetica Franc) and the Romans occupied the area for a time.  The mountains and valleys of Switzerland saw military conflict with the French, Germans, Italians and the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1291 an alliance of cantons was formed against the Hapsburg dynasty.  Allegiances flowed back and forth and finally, in 1815, at the Conference of Vienna, the European powers agreed to permanent neutrality for Switzerland – something that France, Italy, Austro-Hungary and Germany would benefit from.  They have remained neutral since.

In 1848, the modern state of Switzerland was founded.  Today, it has the second largest GDP per capita in the world.  Its major industries are banking and finance, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, mechanical/electrical engineering and metals.

As the train (electric) skirts around the north shore of Lake Geneva, and then up the Rhone River Valley to Sion, I see tall mountains on both sides – the Alps.  Some still have significant snow and ice on their peaks.  In the valley, the ground is tilled and, it seems to me, mostly covered by vineyards.  The Swiss do love their wine — as do I.  We pass villages made up of old (nineteenth century and older) traditional stone buildings, well cared for, that suggest a heritage-rich, quaint and calm ambiance.  Being neutral, Switzerland avoided the devastation of two world wars and its history is there to be seen everywhere.  Nowhere, even in Geneva, are there large glass and steel skyscrapers that haunt much of the rest of the twenty-first century world’s large cities.  It feels like I am transported into an ancient, simpler time, but with a few modern conveniences, like buses, cars, trains and planes, embedded for comfort.

We finally arrive in Sion, a small city on the Rhone River, population around 30,000, that spans the valley floor.  White glaciated peaks on each side of the valley rise to around 11,000 feet.  The city streets wind around in no obvious pattern.  There are cars and buses on the streets, but there is no evidence of traffic jams or too many cars.  Gas is a bit more than $8 a gallon, which I’m sure plays a role, but the Swiss also seem to try to keep things the way they have been.  The roads are bordered by pastel-colored buildings of four to five stories high; many are apartment buildings, mixed in amongst commercial buildings.  There’s a McDonald’s across the street from the train station (I find that embarrassing), although why anyone would choose their fare over the traditional Swiss offerings, I can’t guess.  The food and wine here are excellent, better than what we can get in the States, unless you want to pay the exorbitant cost of importation.  Not much of either is exported.

On arrival at the Sion train station, William and I go next door to the bus station.  Our bus doesn’t leave for 45 minutes, so we go to the Grand Café.  I order a café renverse (a cup of coffee with milk) and a small quiche, warmed.  I am quite pleased that my French is understood and I understand what the clerk behind the counter is saying.  All those hours of studying French are paying off!

The bus arrives and we are soon driving over a bridge crossing a very full, muddy Rhone River and then up the steep mountain on a serpentine path.  The city spreads out below us as we ascend and the entire Rhone Valley can be seen hemmed in by white topped Alpine peaks.  We climb higher and pass many older chalet-like buildings, some homes, some hotels and restaurants.  The road is narrow, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, with a sharp drop-off on the downhill side.

Our stop is the last one on this route and, after we get off the bus, we climb the hill to the Edelweiss After Ski Bar.  There, William and I meet my brother Bill and William’s father Ted.  After some beer and wine, we walk down to where I pick up keys for the studio apartment I’ve rented for the week, then we’re off to have dinner at Chez Michele, Bill’s chalet, about a half-mile up the hill.  Bill owns the house, but rents it out most of the year.  Haute Nendaz is a ski resort in the winter and there are many apartments to rent there.  We have a delicious dinner prepared by Ted, who is a wonderful chef, and then it’s off to bed.  It’s been almost 24 hours of travel time and I am spent.  I crawl under the duvet and drop off without worrying about my lost baggage.

I do wonder how Waldo is faring, though.

 

Rooftops of Haute Nendaz, nestled high up in the Alps.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 26, 2022

The Alps, near Geneva.

 

Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.

-Freya Stark

 

The day of my next adventure has finally arrived.  My plane leaves for Philadelphia this afternoon.  From Philly, I’ll be flying to London for a plane change, then on to Geneva.  From there, I go on a two-hour train ride to Sion, a city in the Rhone Valley.  Then it’s just a short 45-minute trip in a bus, switchbacking its way up a steep mountain slope, to Haute Nendaz, where I’ll be staying for a week.  The whole trip will take right around 24 hours.  First, though, I have to drop Waldo off with the woman who watches him when I’m away.

I throw my luggage, Waldo’s portable crate, food, bowls and treats into the car, put the dog in his seat (front passenger side) and we’re off.  I’m pretty sure Waldo knows something is up before very long because we almost never spend so much time in the car.  When we do, it’s either for a long walk, or I’m leaving him somewhere.  When we get to the house where he’ll be staying, he recognizes it, wags his tail and seems happy to greet his caretaker.   I set up his crate and leave.  As I close the door, I look back through the window and Waldo is staring up at me with the most forlorn face fur can make.  Big brown sad eyes look up at me as if to say, “What?  You’re leaving me?”  Then, after just a few seconds, his attention is diverted to something in the room and the moment is gone.  I’m sure he’ll have a good time.

I park my car in a commuter lot and take a bus to Logan Airport, getting there about four hours early.  I never know what to expect from security and try to give myself at least three hours for international flights.  I’m all packed and ready to go, it’s just a matter of waiting at the airport or at home, so it doesn’t bother me.  It’s Thursday and there aren’t that many people traveling, so security is a breeze.  I grab something to eat and drink and settle down in the stiff uncomfortable chairs and wait.  I brought plenty to keep myself busy, so it’s no big burden.  I wear a KN95 mask the entire time – most of the other people are not masked.

Traveling by twenty-first century passenger jet is magical.  As I step into the plane, I feel like I’m leaving the real world behind and entering a surreal and artificial metal and plastic tube.  The door closes and my fate is sealed – I am of the world, but no longer in the world.  There’s a lot of noise and vibration, the tube jostles about and the most amazing, spellbinding sights can be seen through the small windows.  The world is out there, thousands of feet below, dutifully rolling from in front to the rear.  After a period of time, the plane lands and I am again in the world, but at a distant place from where I started.  It’s like I walked into a teleportation device from Star Trek, but a breathtakingly slow one.

Through the years, I’ve traveled by means of all sorts of conveyances.  First generation passenger jets, prop planes of a wide variety, steam locomotive trains, diesel-engine drawn trains, freight trains, buses, on horseback, horse drawn wagons, boats of various kinds and sizes, bicycles and, of course, my own two feet, are all on the list.  They all are also relatively uncomfortable (at least the way I use them) with plenty of delays and opportunities for things to happen to interrupt my trip.  Today is no exception.  My flight to Philly arrived at Logan late.  At Philadelphia, I only have about twenty minutes to walk (there were no alterntives) a long way to get between my arrival and departure gates.  When I do get to my departure gate, no other passengers are in line to get on the plane.  The door is closed and sealed behind me as I walk down the aisle, looking for my seat.  I just barely made it.  Finding my place, I get settled and send off a hurried text to see if Waldo’s doing okay, before I have to put the phone in airplane mode.  It doesn’t take long for a response – he’s doing fine.  We take off on time and it’s not long before we’re out over the Atlantic in the dark of night.  We’re scheduled to arrive in London at about 8 AM.

At Heathrow Airport in London, I go through customs and walk directly to my departure gate.  No Covid tests or vaccination cards are required any longer (although I did bring my card) and my flight is boarding as I get to the gate.  From there, it’s a relatively short flight to Geneva and I enjoy a pleasant conversation with a retired couple from Bristol, England, who used to manage four pubs in the area around where they live.

Customs in Geneva was much like that in London, only a lot slower and more crowded.   I make it to baggage claim and find out that my checked baggage didn’t make the plane in Philadelphia.  Sigh.  I arrange for it to be brought to me in Haute Nendaz and I go to the train station, which is a short walk in the same building as the airport.  Still not many people are wearing masks…

At the train station, I meet up with my grandnephew, William, who flew in from Gatwick, England, just an hour or so before me.  I wasn’t expecting that, but am quite pleased that it happened.  We made connection by cellphone and were soon on the train to Sion.  I’m exhausted, but I think William is even more so.  He said he was only able to catnap now and then for the past seventy-two hours.  It wasn’t long and we’re both sound asleep sitting up.

I’ll bet Waldo slept much better.

 

The Rhone River Valley, as seen from the train.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 19, 2022

I’m ready, let’s go!

 

The function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time.

-Jack London’s Credo, published at the time of his death at the age of 40.

 

Waldo is having a hard time of it today; I can tell he’s a little uncomfortable.  The temperature when we started out this morning was at its lowest for the day, in the high-sixties, but it quickly rose to something in the mid-seventies — high enough that it’s hard for Waldo to keep cool.  He’s walking from shady patch to shady patch and then lying down.  His tongue is fully extended and flattened out and he doesn’t hold sticks for long so he can pant more effectively.  Waldo and I have been together long enough that I can sense when he’s uncomfortable and I usually can intuitively guess why.

I think life is lived mostly by making intuitive guesses.  I know that’s the way I do it.  I go from moment to moment, making decisions and taking courses of action and I don’t really know why.  Oh, I have ideas and theories, but at best, they’re just guesses based on past experience and intuition.  That can’t be helped because, even for the smartest of us, we just can’t know enough, if such knowledge is even possible, to live life rationally.  Everything is an educated guess.  But most of us do a pretty good job of it, just the same.  We make mistakes often, but we’re able to keep the ship upright, keep the wind in the sails and make some sort of progress in life.  And we learn from our mistakes.  There’s something to this subliminal ability to make good guesses.  Something that, whereas maybe not infallible, does serve at least as a good place to start.

When I first started flying an airplane, it was very much an intellectual activity.  I paid attention to how much aileron I was using, how hard I was pulling on the stick and pushing on the rudders.   I paid close attention to what the instrument dials were saying and adjusted what I was doing to the numbers I saw.  This kind of flying does not allow you to get ahead of the plane – that is, know what the plane is going to do before it does it.  You’re always behind, playing catch-up, trying to counteract what just happened instead of directing what’s about to happen.  The plane is doing the flying and you’re just going along for the ride.  But over time, and a lot of hours of practice, you get a “feel” for the plane and the plane eventually becomes an extension of your body.  There’s a rewiring of your brain that happens that allows you to fly instinctively.

At first, I would think, I want the plane to turn and go over there, so I’ll move the stick so much to make that happen.  Later on, I would think, I want the plane to do this and it would automatically just do it.  I wouldn’t have to think about it any more than I have to think about the mechanics of moving my arms and legs.  I want to walk down the rail-trail and all I do is set the intention, the rest just happens.  I want a plane to fly in a loop, and voila, I’m upside down.  I’m flying without cognitive awareness of the process.  I’m the one flying, the plane is just a suit of clothes that I put on before I left the ground.  That’s a very good thing because there is a lot that has to happen while flying that does require rational thinking and you need to put your attention there.  But there is much also that does not.  And that is where the wonder, the magic, the glory of flying is.

Just so, living life intuitively is the art of just letting it happen.  Living in the moment and enjoying the wonder of it all.  That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t think about what it is you should do.  Intuition is something that grows and improves over time, just like the ability to fly a plane, and it doesn’t always lead to making the right decision.  Even high-time pilots can screw up and unintentionally make an airplane crash.  But the real act of living is in the living, not thinking about living and thinking should be subordinate to living.  Think about what you’re doing, sure, but then do it, fully, completely and fully engaged.  Pay attention to what’s happening in the moment, because that is your life.  All that other stuff is just you thinking about your life.

Waldo is on his feet again and ready to go on down the trail.  I may be projecting myself onto him by saying this, but I don’t think I’m far off the mark when I say that he’s pushing himself to get to the car and then home to chill in the AC.  He’s not done walking, by any means.  But he could use a little break.

I know I can.

 

Gimme just a minute…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments