Byron Brumbaugh

June 15, 2021

Stairs!

 

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.

-Richard Bach

 

Christine is indisposed again, so it’s just Phyllis, Waldo and I out on the next leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  It’s a ‘tween day — a day that is neither too hot, nor too cold.  A Waldo kind of day.  Our route takes us mostly through woods, with only an occasional jaunt on the city streets.

The path takes us up and down a few hills and across large tracts of lowland swamp.  Where the hills get steep, someone has gone to the trouble of placing wooden beams across the trail, making winding staircases.  Over the swamps, wooden boardwalks with railing make a serpentine platform a couple of feet over the mud, water and vegetation.  The varying terrain and ambience is refreshing.

We pass a few people along the way, some on bicycles.  As we do, the thought occurs to me that there is little difference amongst us humans.  We all have the same traits — blood types, eye colors, body builds, and hair colors, just to name a few.  Even our different skin colors are due to nothing more than varying amounts of melanin.  This should be no surprise, since we are all in the same species.  By definition, that means that we all can, and our ancestors certainly have, intermixed our genes.  In addition, genetic analysis has shown that every human alive today has a common male ancestor who lived somewhere between 120,000 and 156,000 years ago.  Additionally, every person alive today has a single female ancestor who lived roughly 155,000 years ago.  Clearly all humans alive today belong to the same family.  We are all brothers and sisters.

As I walk along, I listen to the wind playing in the trees.  It sighs and whooshes, rattling their leaves and providing a pleasant and calming background song of floral life.  You know, we are all related to the animals, plants and even bacteria around us as well.  DNA stores the genetic information of every living thing on the planet.  During cellular processing, that information is passed on to mRNA which is used to create proteins from amino acids.  Different three-molecule sequences in the mRNA code for different amino acids in this process.  The code in the mRNA is translated into the production of proteins by manufacturing them from the amino acids that are coded for in the mRNA.  The wonderous thing is that this code is the same for all living things on the planet Earth.  This didn’t happen by accident.  It means that we are all related.  Every animal, plant, fungus, bacteria, everything living thing is related to every other.  Somewhere in the distant past, every thing alive today has a common single-celled ancestor that lived billions of years ago.

The ground I walk on sounds and feels hollow underfoot.  In places, it’s a bit rocky; after all, this entire area was once a glacial moraine.  In a sense, we’re all related to these rocks as well as the living things.  The most common elements can be manufactured in stellar cores, up to and including iron.  This is because up until iron, energy is released by the fusion that occurs in stars.  Beyond iron, though, it takes more energy than a stellar furnace can provide.  And yet, none of us would be alive if it weren’t for some of those elements.  They were created by supernovae.  I have heard it estimated that the elements in our bodies have passed through super novae about three times.  Every object on Earth that has mass was created by the same stars and super novae.  Come to think of it, if you go back 13.8 billion years, everything in the Universe was created in the big bang.  Doesn’t that mean that every part of creation is related to every other part?

I look at Waldo and Phyllis.  Yup, they are family for sure.  The birds, chipmunks, and insects are also my family, as are the trees, bushes and weeds.  The dusty earth beneath my feet and the stones I stumble over – all is family.  Everything is family.  How could it be otherwise?

After all, it is the experience of these things that make up everything in my life.

 

Follow the wooden plank road.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 08, 2021

What is this horse chestnut doing here?

 

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

-Muriel Rukeyser

 

The days are getting warmer with highs now in the low 80s.  That’s warm enough that Waldo and I have to change our routine and walk in the morning before it gets so hot.  Today, we start at 8:30 and the temperature is a cool 60℉.  Before we finish our six miles, it will be 75℉, hot enough that Waldo will have to suck down a liter of water and I’ll get my shirt wet with sweat.  Waldo will drop his sticks more frequently, so he can pant better, and he’ll look for a path that takes him through shade.  I’ll follow along behind him gratefully.

The plants seem to enjoy the higher temperatures.  Or, maybe, it’s just the increased exposure to sunlight gained by the better insolation of summer.  They are all leafed-out now and their leaves are broad and green, reaching eagerly upwards in search of life-giving energy.

As we start our walk, I notice a broad-leafed plant I haven’t seen before.  It has a branched stem that rises out of the ground up to about six feet.  I pull out my phone and speciate it – it is a young horse chestnut tree.  The thing is, horse chestnuts are not native to the Americas.  How in the world did it get here?  There are no other plants like it nearby that may have spread their seeds.  In fact, it is the only one I’ve seen on the rail-trail.  Their seeds are large and aren’t going to be born far in a wind, even a gale.  I can’t imagine anyone intentionally planted the thing amongst the dense stand of Japanese knotweed that surrounds it.  The seeds are toxic to people, so I can’t believe someone was carrying a seed around (whatever for?) and accidentally dropped it.  Could a squirrel have brought a seed from far away?  Do squirrels even eat the things?  There’s gotta be an interesting story there.

As we continue on our way, I notice there are a lot of chipmunks scurrying across the trail and running into the undergrowth as Waldo and I pass by.  I’ve seen them before, but never in so many numbers.  They hibernate during the winter, but I remember many weeks of late-summer and fall days when it was still quite warm and I never saw any.  Where did they go?  Why have they returned and why in such large numbers?  Did coyotes or other predators eat them?  If so, how did their population rebound so prolifically?  The predators are still around.  Is this an effect of Covid?  Did the increased numbers of people on the trail, in reaction to sequestration and business shutdowns, scare many of the chipmunks’ natural enemies away?  I sense the presence of yet more stories that could be told.

Off to the sides of the trail, here and there, are large granite boulders.  I’ve been told that many were brought here, pushed and rolled along under the ice, by the huge glaciers that once covered this part of America.  As the glacial ice melted, it left these rocks behind.  There are a couple of construction sites near the path where backhoes and excavators have dug into the ground to make foundations for buildings.  The pile of dirt they leave on the sides of the holes are full of rocks of various sizes.  Many of these stones are part of a glacial moraine, their edges smoothed by the grinding of the overlying tons of moving ice.  Even the very rocks around us have a history that can be discovered.

In fact, when I think about it, it’s not just what’s happened to the things around me that make up tales to be told.  The very objects themselves are nothing more than stories I tell myself.  Nature doesn’t draw lines around parts of herself and label this as this and that as that.  No, nature is a continuum, an existence that has no boundaries and every part of it interacts with every other part of it.  Nothing is really separable from anything else because all of the stuff of the universe is intimately connected to everything else.  Man, as the great storyteller, dices up creation into separate stories that he tells himself, it is not the essential nature of existence.

I wonder if Waldo tells himself stories…

 

Rocks… Show me the sticks!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 1, 2021

Rocks? What about sticks?

 

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

-Desmond Tutu

 

All the trees, even the oaks, have become green with leaves.  The taller oaks have only a tinge of light green in their upper branches, but early tiny leaves are there.  The undergrowth, the Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose, alder buckthorn, autumn olive, eastern hayscented fern, American hophornbeam and cinnamon fern are growing tall and filling space with plant-life searching for sunlight.  Even so, my view is not completely obscured by foliage just yet.  As spring progresses and leaves broaden, the ground a few yards from the trail will be hidden by chlorophyll-laden life, but, for now, I can still see dun-colored earth a ways into the woods.  The blades of grass alongside the trail have grown long and make it hard to pick up dog-poop from their midst without smearing the softer bits of it irretrievably into the lawn.  Full-on foliation is not far away.

The high temperatures have been in the low sixties for the past week or so.  That’s warm enough for the early-flowering plants to show off their many-colored resplendence and for me to be snug in shirtsleeves.  Waldo is comfortable in his sable birthday suit, but a broad, flat, lolling, dripping tongue does flop around between his opened jaws before we finish our six miles, making it obvious he needs a drink.  As he walks along, he leaves his used-water here and there, spraying a message that says, “Waldo was here!”

There are other messages alongside the trail.  One is from the State Government which reads, “Trust the Facts, Get the Vax.”  Why it’s necessary for a government to run an advertising campaign to encourage people to get a working vaccine in the middle of a deadly pandemic, I can’t fathom.  The number of people who are refusing to get the vaccine is downright discouraging.  My feelings are not politically based.  While I am not an epidemiologist, I do understand that the longer the virus is around in large numbers of infected people, the more opportunity it has to mutate into something not covered by the vaccines and even more virulent and deadly.  If you refuse to get vaccinated, you are putting everyone’s health at risk, not just your own.  Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who either don’t understand this or simply don’t care.

On a higher note, there are other signs we pass as we walk on the trail.  Near the beginning, there’s a sign that Marlborough City put up late last summer.  It reads, “Marlborough Rocks, A Community Rock Garden, Take one, Leave One, Share one.”  It sits in the middle of a pile of smooth, flat stones a few inches in diameter.  Though there are none there today, in the past, I’ve seen some painted rocks with messages.  Apparently, they were left, then taken or shared.  It’s warming to see that the community in which I live provides an opportunity for people to reach out to each other in an all-inclusive, generous and friendly way.  Symbolic, maybe, but the effort is there, in the middle of a life-threatening pandemic.  People make an effort to touch other people.

There’s another sign a little more than a half-mile from the beginning of the trail.  It’s hand-painted and reads, “COVID 2020, GARDEN, SPREAD LOVE, PLANT A SEED.”  Around it are rock-lined flowerbeds, a bench and some solar-powered lights.  Not long ago, someone shaped and painted a bit of tree stump to look like a red cardinal and sat it on an old folding chair.  The sign first appeared about this time last year, when things were locked down tight and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  Waldo and I passed the guy who started it while he was planting the first flower.  He said he wanted to create a little community space that would shine a little love and beauty through the gray clouds of doom that hung over us all.  It has morphed with the seasons and is still there today, still being cared for by those who appreciate it as they walk by.

Throughout the year of Covid, in many places where we’ve walked, including our trek across Massachusetts and our exploration of the trails around us, we’ve found similar gestures of friendliness, warmth and kindness.  We’ve encountered botanical descriptions of nearby plants chalked into the tarmac, small “villages” of wooden spoons dressed to look like people and other artful expressions of humanity.

Despite all the noise and furor, the doom and gloom, there are those among us who give us reason to hope for a better future.

 

Needs more sticks!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 25, 2021

Things are definitely getting green!

 

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.

-Orlando Aloysius Battista

 

The undergrowth has blossomed and leaved-out.  As Waldo and I walk along, we pass the greenery of weeping forsythia, eastern hemlock and northern white cedar.  The purple flowers of catawba rhododendron and eastern redbud, the white flowers of paradise apple and the pink flowers of hall crabapple all wave at us as we pass by.  I pull out my phone and speciate multiflora rose, black locust, autumn olive, eastern leatherwood, black cherry, Carolina allspice and Japanese knotweed.   What was once an indistinct blur of green plants and multicolored flowers has become a plethora of different species.  All I had to do to discover them is pay attention to what is around me.  The Waldo Rail-Trail travels through so many different kinds of foliage, you’d think it goes through a well-planned garden.  I’m pretty sure, though, that all these plants were seeded by Mother Nature, not man.  It is wild.  It is a wonder.  There are so many different living things thriving in and amongst dissimilar living things.  It should serve as an example for human kind.  But we have a habit of ignoring our interdependent relationships to the rest of the world, pretending that we are separate from it.

The forest canopy has yet to fill out in all of its shady verdure.  High overhead, the leaves of the black walnut, oak and maples are still small and furled.  It won’t be long and their need to spread out and absorb as much of the life-giving solar radiant energy as possible will cause a shower of cool shadow to splay out over the ground.  It’s warm enough that I don’t have to wear a jacket or sweater, yet cool enough so that what light does penetrate the relatively denuded limbs of the trees feels pleasantly warming.  Waldo and I are not alone in enjoying walking here today.  There are many bicycles, joggers, strollers and dog-walkers out to exercise.

I know the names of none of the people we pass, although some are regulars out here.  The dogs, though, I know.  And why shouldn’t it be so?  They’re the ones who sidle up to Waldo and me, tails wagging, seeking a sniff here or there, a pat or a pet, and offering up a lick or two.  The people, I try to stay a good six feet away from due to Covid.  We don’t see any of the dogs every time we walk, but we often meet Abbey, Arthur, Dingo and Razzle, Jax, Dallas, Haiyas and many others.  They seem eager to stop by and say hello, do a quick meet and greet, then continue on their way.  Oh, there are the occasional trouble makers, dogs who growl and lunge at their tightly held leashes as we pass.  But those dogs, we walk quietly past and ignore.

It’s not like I don’t talk to the people we pass.  Waldo does his butt-wiggling tail-wag, approaching each for a quick sniff and maybe a wet slurp as I cheerily say hello and exchange pleasantries.  That’s usually the extent of any conversation, unless there are dogs present.  We then exchange dog names, ages, sexes and breeds.  It’s not unheard of to discover each dog’s idiosyncrasies and maybe an amusing story about how dogs will be dogs.  It’s not that the dogs are more important than the people, nor even that talking about dogs is safer than sharing personal information.  It’s more that if you’re going to all the trouble of walking a dog out on the trail, it’s likely that you love dogs and like to share that love with others who feel the same way.  And you get to meet some furry, soft, cute, friendly, happy canines as well.  The dogs?  Hey, they’ll take as much affectionate attention as you’re willing to give.

When we’re not interacting with others, Waldo and I walk along, Waldo doing his Waldo thing, me bathing in the essence of the forest, breathing in its wildness and wonder.  Waldo is absorbed in the smell of everything and I diffuse into the varied, multifarious, sensual experience of the present moment in the woods.  When we’re done, we both are agreeably tired and in need of a short rest that is gloriously relaxing.

Then we get up to do it again.

 

Where’s Waldo?
Not everything is green.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 18, 2021

Proof the trail markers do exist!

 

To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.

-Helen Keller

 

Phyllis and I decide to walk the next leg of the BCT from Boxford to a parking lot in the Harold Parker State Forest — about 12 miles.  Waldo heartily concurs.  Christine can’t make it, but we decide to go anyway.  If our recent treks in this part of the state are any indication, it should be a nice walk in the woods.  We’ll probably rewalk it when Christine can come.  Our only reason to hesitate is that it rained, and snowed, quite a bit yesterday.  The rain came after the snow, so there shouldn’t be much of it left lying around, but it might make the going a little muddy.  That’s something we can dress for.

The temperature is in the forties when we start out, and there is a little sprinkle thing going on.  We’re dressed in parkas, raincoats, water resistant pants and mud boots, so the weather doesn’t bother us at all.  The ground is mostly dry-ish and covered with a thick blanket of leaves, but there are spots, in the low places, where we have to negotiate a few ponds.   There, we have to tiptoe on small rocks sunk in water and cautiously dance along steep, muddy, slippery shores to keep our feet out of the water, but it’s doable.  There’s no snow or ice.

After about an hour or so, the rain stops and both Phyllis and I are too warm for our rain shells and coats.  So, we shed them, tying them onto our daypacks.  The temperature is still in the high forties, but we are working pretty hard, going up and down hills.  After a bit, a wind picks up and we put on our raincoats, which keep us warm enough without being too warm.  Waldo has it so easy — he just wears his birthday suit through all weather.

The forest is welcoming, even when it rains, and it’s nice to leave tarmac behind and just walk through Mother Nature on the dirt, pine needles and leaves.  Waldo seems to really enjoy it.  He’s up ahead, as usual, but there’s something about his OCD-like focus on what’s in front of him that says he’s enjoying this even more than the rail-trails.  There are plenty of sticks around, for sure.  In the tricky spots, Phyllis finds and uses a couple of sticks big enough to serve as poles to help keep her balance where it’s slick.  Waldo, of course, just wades through the water where it’s shallow and has no trouble staying up ahead.  But as soon as Phyllis gets onto dry ground, Waldo charges back and takes the sticks from her, as if to say, “All sticks are mine.”  He is kind enough to let her borrow them when she needs them, though.  Waldo is thoughtful, if somewhat possessive.

The trails are pretty well marked by small, about two-inches in diameter, circles bearing the BCT logo.  Even when our path morphs onto residential streets and highways, they can be found if you look for them.  In the woods, it’s easy.  When we come to a spot where our trail intersects another, we carefully look around until we see the marker.  On the streets, though, the trail sometimes branches off into the woods without obvious warning.  We walk along a highway for about a mile before we realize we are off-trail and have to backtrack until we can find where the trail branches off into the forest.  That makes our trek an additional two miles longer than it needs to be, but hey, we’ve walked farther.  I gotta stop following Waldo.  He doesn’t know where he’s going.

Because of the rough walking and hills, it takes us a good eight hours to complete the trek.  I’m amazed by the fact that we find plenty to talk about as we walk along.  There are dead spots in our conversation, but they don’t last long.  We always find some subject to toss around.  I suppose that comes from having lived seven decades or so.  One tends to accumulate a lot of stuff during all those years.  Now that we’re older, it all seems to spill out over whoever else might be around.  We talk about family, Covid, science, vegan diets, Buddhism, politics, international travel, nature, what’s wrong with the world, what’s right with it — the list is endless.

We finally get back to the car we left at the end of our trail and head for home.  We’re pleasantly exhausted as we sit our weary bodies in the car.  Even Waldo has his eyes closed as he naps in the seat next to me.

Of course, I don’t expect that to last very long.

 

Walking in the woods with Phyllis and Waldo.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 11, 2021

Sometimes the road is straight.

 

When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Phyllis couldn’t come with us today, but Christine and I still wanted to do a long walk, so we opted to take the Nashua River Rail Trail from Nashua, New Hampshire to Ayer, Massachusetts.  It’s paved and runs more or less straight through 12.3 miles of flat, sometimes swampy country.  There are woods about, but the trees are small enough that they provide little shade.  The temperature is a chilly 51℉ when we start, but the forecast is for temps around 75℉ in a couple of hours, so we opt to leave our jackets behind and set a brisk pace to build up some body heat.  Waldo, of course, is more than pleased with both the temperature and the faster pace.

As we begin our walk, we are surrounded by people, only a few of whom are wearing masks.  It’s still a state requirement to cover your mouth and nose with a mask, but we don’t say anything.  We just pleasantly say hello and continue on our way.  Most of those we pass are on bicycles, but a few are on skates and walking, with and without dogs. I wonder where all these people come from – Ayer is small and the Nashua trailhead is quite a ways out of town.  It’s Saturday and it’s warm out, which explains a lot, but I also wonder if Covid hasn’t gotten many people off their couches and onto their feet and bikes.  I don’t remember this many people out on the rail-trails in the spring before Covid.  We don’t say more than pleasantries to one another in passing, but it’s still nice to see so many people enjoying the outdoors.

The railroad, whose bed the rail-trail follows, came into being in1848, passenger service ran until1934 and the last freight-train ran on the line in 1982.  At one point, one could get on a train in Worcester, MA, travel all the way north to Portland, ME and then return south to Boston.  Why anyone would want to take such a circuitous route to Boston from Worcester, I don’t know, but it was possible.  It amazes me how many railroads crisscrossed this state during their heyday.  Taking a train into town must have been the favorite mode of travel back then – it probably was the fastest and most convenient way to travel any good distance.  There were train tracks everywhere, going from almost any nowhere to every somewhere.  Then along came the internal combustion engine, private automobiles and commercial trucks and almost all of those railroads disappeared.  What’s left of them are rail-trails and overgrown swaths of wilderness.  Today, they provide long distance bike rides, places to walk dogs away from traffic, and a rich opportunity to get out into nature without having to travel long distances.

Except, of course, for Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and Byron.  We will drive over two hours so we can walk down some more distant lane of yesteryear.  We have this urge to explore most of the rail-trails we can find.  Our only requirement is that our trek should be at least 10 or so miles long, and that leaves a lot to pick from out there.  Waldo, he’s not all that specific, but he obviously really enjoys these long walks of ours, probably more than we do.

When Phyllis gets home, she has various kinds of stuff to do.  Christine has a lot of chores waiting for her; animals do require a lot of care.  But for me, one of the best parts of our walks, aside from the fine comradery, fresh air and communing with nature, is the exercise.  When I get home, I’m usually spent.  Sitting in my favorite chair, legs up and back somewhat reclined, the pains in my neck, back and legs slowly drain away and my whole body relaxes.  I can feel my metabolic rate slow to something less than idle and it’s like my whole being goes “Aaaaaah.”  It’s a kind of physical and mental relaxation that is hard to come by any other way.  It’s usually not long and I fall into a restful sleep for an hour or so, and then I wake up feeling refreshed, although still somewhat bodily tired.

Waldo, he usually crashes in the car on the way home.  He sits up in the passenger seat, but when I glance at him, his eyes are closed.  Once home, he too crashes for an hour or so, then he’s up and raring to romp some more.

Oh, the energy of youth!

 

Sometimes the road has a curve or two.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 04, 2021

The trees are still naked.

 

You carry Mother Earth within you.  She is not outside of you.  Mother Earth is not just your environment.  In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The days have lengthened and warmed to the low sixties.  Waldo and I can start our daily six-mile walk as late as four o’clock and still make it home before dark.  During the winter, I don’t need to carry water for Waldo as it’s cool enough that he won’t need it.  Now, even though it’s not that hot for me, Waldo does need to drink after four miles or so.  If we walk more than ten, he usually drains both of the liter bottles I bring for him.  It’s not so hot yet that we have to leave before dawn to avoid temperatures higher than 75℉, but that time is coming.  Spring is here.

The oaks on the rail-trail have small buds at the ends of their branches.  They’re getting fat and have well-defined leaflets, although they are still all well-furled.  The maples have tiny red flowers on the tips of their limbs that make them appear vaguely rosy, when seen in the distance, as if they were bathed in a veil of sanguine mist.  Pussy willows have their distinctive puffballs poofed out in the air and quaking aspens dangle small, pinecone-like pods from the ends of their twigs.  Rhododendrons are all green with uncurled leaves released from their wintery desiccation and have huge buds ready to burst forth.  Most of the other undergrowth has started to green-up with small lime-green leaves and some bushes have already burst forth in pale, vibrant yellow inflorescence.  There are tufts of green blades of grass, here and there, thrusting up amidst the yellowed and brown, still slumbering, sod alongside the tarmac.  It won’t be long now and Waldo and I won’t be able to see more than a few tens of feet through the burgeoning verdure.

The tops of the trees, still bony and emaciated, sway gently in the breeze, dancing to Mother Nature’s sibilant windy song.  Birds chirp in a soprano lilt and squirrels and chipmunks occasionally add in a chattery alto chorus.  It’s still too cool for the baritone buzzing of insects, although I do notice an occasional gnat flit about my face.  My steady footfalls provide a percussion rhythm-section, accompanied by the blood beating around my ears.  All this is syncopated by the in and out of my breath, as steady as my pace.

Even though I am seventy-two years old and will not see youth again in this life, I can’t help but be enlivened by the resurgence of the life on the trail.  I empathize with the celebratory reawakening, the eager reanimation of the plants that surround me as if I, too, knew the joy of yearly rebirth.  After all, I have seasonal rhythms too, they just aren’t as dramatic as those in the great outdoors.

I can’t help but feel that I’m not out in Nature, as if Nature was something distinct from what I am.  No, I’m part of the nature I see, hear and feel around me.  After all, the particles that make up my physical existence are the same that make up all matter in the universe.  The physical laws of nature apply to me as much as they do to everything else.  The energies that pulse and throb through the natural world around me also hum and beat through me.  Mother Nature pushes against me with heat and light from the sun, pressure from the wind and support from the ground.  I, in turn, absorb and reradiate light and heat, breathe the air in and out as I push my way through it, and stomp on the Earth beneath my feet.  I hear sounds and I make noise.  I am a part of what’s going on, not an independent observer who can pass through this life without being affected by his surroundings, nor without having an effect on everything through which I pass.  If the universe were an ocean, then I would be a drop of water in that ocean.

Although Waldo lives in an apartment, I don’t think he fancies himself to be something outside of nature.  Like the trees, bushes, grasses, birds, squirrels and insects, he is perfectly content to be an active part of the dance that’s going on around him.  The smells, the sights, the sounds, not only make up his experience, they make up who he is.

Waldo showed me the Tao of walking.

 

Things are starting to get greener.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 27, 2021

Nice day for a walk in the woods.

 

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.

-Dalai Lama

 

I’m walking along on a footpath through the woods.  Waldo’s up front with my companions, Christine and Phyllis, and I bring up the rear, breathing the piney forest air, listening to squirrels and chipmunks chatter and the birds sing.  The cloudless blue sky above is punctured by the scrawny, bony fingers of leafless deciduous trees.  Here and there are a few scattered old-growth large-bole conifers that provide the only green to be seen.  On the ground, a thin blanket of tawny, rotting leaves swathe the bottoms of the tree trunks in a thin blanket.  Underfoot, the well-aerated soft earth cushions my step and sounds soft and hollow as I plod along.  The temperature is in the mid-fifties and I am quite comfortable in shirtsleeves.

It’s still early spring, but, looking closely, I see buds on the trees, bushes and weeds.  Some of the buds even have tiny, but recognizable, leaves sprouting out into the sunlight.  The color of the twigs and branches has changed from their wintry anemic grey to sanguine green, deep browns and even some red.  I can’t help but wonder how different this forest will feel when all leaved out.  The world will seem closer and smaller, sound won’t carry as far and the air will be much fuller with the odor of life and the buzzing of insects.  This is a great time for a walk in the woods.  The snow and ice are gone, the ground is dry (for now) and it’s neither too cold nor too hot.  Instead of looking for shade to cool off, or wanting to curl up in a ball to conserve body heat, I can relax into my surroundings and physically open myself up to the ambience.  I can’t help, in the process, to also open up psychologically and experience the moment as it is as it happens.

Today, we are on the second leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  We started out from where we left off in Rowley and followed surface streets until we got to Prospect Hill.  There, we passed a big concrete water tank and, at the top of the hill, there’s a cell tower.  From then on, we are lovingly embraced by the Willowdale State Forest until we end in Ipswich on US Rte 1.  The trail is not well-marked and we get lost in the woods at first.  We soon see our error and retrace our steps until we are back on the right track.  The trail is a footpath at this point, but there are old carriage roads in the forest in some places that provide wide avenues to hike down.  None of the trek is paved.  A number of paths branch off to one side or the other, but we are able to stay on track by watching for the Bay Circuit Trail logo that some kind soul posted on trees indicating the way to go.

You know, it might be nice to get lost in here – if we didn’t have so far to go, that is.  To be lost, but unworried, and just open to your immediate surroundings.  To let go and not try to follow any particular path, not try to control what happens, but just wander down this path and then that.  Take in the forest as it reveals itself to you.  Breathe the fresh air, smell the dusty earth, listen to the chirping birds, feel the sun and shade as they wash across your skin and look at the slumbering life as it slowly awakens.  There’s no way you can stay lost, even if you tried.  All you have to do is just keep walking down a trail, it doesn’t matter which one, and sooner or later, you’ll come across some piece of civilization that will reorient you.  There’s just not that much wilderness in these parts.  If I have any worry about getting lost, it’s one of having to trek too many additional miles to get back to the car because we went off-trail.

Waldo, he doesn’t care.  I think he’s always lost on these walks of ours.  He relies on me to get us home.  Nose to the ground, ears perked up, eyes front, he just takes life as it comes down the path, without trying to force it to be, or not to be, something that it isn’t.

He just might be the most found of the four of us.

 

In some places, the trail is as wide as a road.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 20, 2021

 

 

Shucks, this don’t look so bad!

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.

-James Russell Lowell

 

There are times when Christine, Phyllis and I go to the web to find new trails to walk.  For me, it’s an urge to explore my surroundings, to look for new places to experience the outdoors.  Sometimes, these trails are easy to find and, sometimes, not so much.  I stumbled across a reference to a trail that runs from Marlborough, starting not far from where I live, to Waltham, not far from where Phyllis lives.  In the middle is the city of Wayland.  The Wayland to Waltham part is paved and Phyllis knew it well.  The Marlborough to Wayland part, neither of us knew about and we decided to find out what it was like.  Christine was busy and couldn’t come with us, so it seemed like a good place to venture forth.

We started from the Marlborough end at a wide place in the road where we could park one of our cars.  It served as the trailhead for the “Old Concord Road.”  The path is packed earth and not wide enough, bounded by trees and undergrowth, for two horse-drawn buggies to pass.  I couldn’t help but imagine that we were walking there in the 18th century, making our way to Concord and then, perhaps, on to Boston.  The temperature was 22℉ when we started and I was glad for the gloves and parka I decided to wear.  Phyllis, too, was dressed warmly, and Waldo enjoyed the cooler temperatures as he charged ahead, looking for and acquiring his ubiquitous sticks.

It didn’t take long and we came across parallel rusty iron rails in the dirt – the Central Massachusetts Branch, now defunct.  The rails ran off into the woods, still separated by old rotting wooden ties, mostly buried in dirt and weeds, heading more or less East.  It was rough, as far as most rail-trails go, but easily passable and we walked leisurely down the tracks toward Wayland.

After a mile or so, we came to Union Street in Sudbury and things changed dramatically.  For a good two miles, the path was overgrown by bushes, trees and weeds, still skeletal from the winter.  There were trees whose trunks had grown over the rails, incorporating them into their flesh.  There were trees growing between the rails and the leafless stems of weeds, taller than we were, poking up into the air, grabbing for our clothes.  Some of them had thorns that lashed out at us, forcing us to make blood sacrifices in order to pass (Waldo’s fur seemed to protect him from this).  Every few yards, fallen trees blocked the rails completely, giving us no choice but to climb either over or under them.  Waldo wrapped his leash around clumps of bushes and weeds and had to backtrack to get himself untethered.  It was hard work and I could only imagine how much worse it would be when everything was completely leafed out.  Once the temperature climbed to the mid-fifties, Phyllis and I were both sweating in our winter clothes and Waldo was panting.  We doffed our coats, rolled them up, attached them to our packs and gave Waldo plenty of water.  We were in our shirt sleeves as we bushwhacked our way along.

At one point, we saw it would be easier going off to our left, where there was manicured grass and a driveway.  Leaving the railroad temporarily, just for a respite, we sauntered along on the lawn.  We didn’t go very far, though, and the rails diverged from where we were and we had to fight the hibernating flora to get back to the “trail.”  At another spot, I saw power lines converging on our intended path.  I knew the going would be better under them so we took another detour.  We followed the power lines until their path became coincident with the old railroad bed.  Once they converged, the walking became trivial – someone had cut the weeds, grass and bushes down to the ground.  We knew the worst was behind us and we high-fived.  It wasn’t long after, around 6.5 miles from where we started, and we were on paved rail-trail for the rest of our trek to Waltham and the car we left there.  The total trek was 12.5 miles long.

I suppose, if we had been on a deadline, this trip would have seemed a burden.  But, as it was, we were exploring, nature placed obstacles in our path and we overcame them.  There’s not just a sense of accomplishment in that, we also enjoyed being out in the wilderness, Mother Nature as she is, reclaiming what man has left behind.

And Waldo, he had lots and lots of sticks.

 

I think we’ve been suckered!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 13, 2021

Waldo, let’s talk about this…

 

Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.

-Ken Liu

 

Three days ago, on the Marlborough rail-trail, the high temperature was 65℉.  This morning it was -2℉ with windchill.  Waldo, in his ever-present sable coat, is more comfortable down around the -2℉ than the 65℉ or above.  I know that to be true by his behavior.  Especially when it gets above 70℉, he pants, soaks up water like a dry paper towel and lies down in the shade often.  When it’s cold out, he trots along without interruption, doing his Waldo thing.  Today, he pauses only for a good sniff at something that appeals.

Waldo also knows things about me.  He knows when I am going to leave him in his crate.  I don’t even have to tell him to go there.  When he sees me go through my pre-leaving routine, he just walks in and sits down on his bed, looking up at me with an expression of forlorn expectation.  His ears are down, his head sags and his tail wraps around his butt so the white tip sticks up between his front legs.  He knows what’s coming.  There is definitely communication between us that is more than the sounds I make (Waldo seldom makes any).

For communication to take place, there must be some common ground between those who are trying to communicate.  When Carl Sagan and Frank Drake were thinking about what messages to send to extraterrestrials from Arecibo in 1974, they considered this carefully.  In order to communicate with any aliens who might find these spacecraft, common ground first had to be established.  It was decided to use binary mathematics to describe the molecular structure of life on Earth, among other things.  Binary mathematics is universal and maybe the building blocks of life is as well.  If an extraterrestrial intelligence could decode this message, there would be a basis for communication.  So, I can’t help but wonder, what is the common ground that Waldo and I share?  It certainly isn’t an understanding of math and biochemistry.

Some of it is obvious; we both need to eat, sleep, pee and poop.  We both are genetically social animals, so we also share a desire for communication, play and affection.  As we go through life, we both make allowances for each other, either separately or together, so that those desires are satisfied.  The one big difference between us is that Waldo depends on me for everything, whereas I get some of what I need from others.  I keep this in mind and try to include him in what I do as much as I can.

Humans also have commonality with other species who aren’t as social as we are.  I once raised a cheetah in East Africa when I lived there.  One might not think so, but they actually make great pets.  They were trapped and used by the ancient pharaohs as hunters, much like falconers use their birds.  Yet, cheetahs are very solitary animals in the wild, ranging alone over many square miles of savannah and adults only get together in pairs for a brief period during mating season.  Yet my cheetah was as bonded to me as Waldo is.  So, there must be something there that is common between animals and humans more than just a desire to congregate in social groups, because cheetahs don’t have that desire.

And take birds.  Harvey, my yellow-naped Amazon parrot, is a member of a taxonomic class that is the closest living thing to a dinosaur.  The ancestors of birds and humans parted ways many hundreds of millions of years ago and we have evolved separately since.  Yet there are African Grey parrots that can carry on meaningful oral conversations with people when they are trained to do so.  Detailed communication that is much more than just the aping of the sounds they hear people make.  And they, too, enjoy affection and getting attention from people.

The Buddhist in me thinks that what this commonality that all animal life seems to share, at least among those with some baseline level of intelligence, is a deep feeling of compassion, an appreciation for the life energy of the other, and a recognition of the loving magic of being alive.  Maybe that comes part and parcel with consciousness and is the deepest expression of the essence of what all of us are made of.

I am reasonably sure that to be true of Waldo and I, at any rate.

 

Fort Meadow Reservoir on a cold, clear day.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments