Walking with Waldo

September 26, 2023

My daughter’s front yard. The Japanese clover is the dark green patch.


Japanese clover up close.



The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

-Alan Watts


The temperature has gone back up and Waldo and I are again getting up at 4:30 to beat the heat.  The highs are in the eighties, but with the high humidity (in excess of 90%), the temperature index is into the nineties.  But it remains in the low seventies when we walk and, aside from sweating a lot, it doesn’t bother us much.

The humidity has been really high this summer, which means it has rained a lot.  After all, the more moisture the air holds, the more it can dump out on the ground in a storm.  Last year, we didn’t get much precipitation at all and the plants I saw along the trail showed it.  Many didn’t grow that high and their leaves were smaller.  This year is markedly different.  Burdock leaves are huge and there seems to be more of it.  Japanese knotweed (a plant originally introduced to the US in the nineteenth century as an ornamental) doesn’t seem to be as prolific and I can see places where it has been supplanted by other species, like orange jewelweed.  Maybe the Japanese knotweed doesn’t do so well in wet areas, or maybe the orange jewelweed just does so much better under these conditions.  I don’t know, but it’s fun to think about.

There is one species that I haven’t seen before at all – Japanese clover.  Like Japanese knotweed, it first appears in the US in the nineteenth century.  It’s a “good” plant in that it fixes atmospheric nitrogen (puts the nitrogen in the air into a chemical form that can be used by living things) and helps prevent erosion.  I had to stop and pull out my phone to speciate it.  It’s probably been there all along, I just didn’t notice it.  Now, there are places where it grows in large thick contiguous swathes that I can’t miss and it seems to be taking over where grass once ruled.  It’s a plant that grows close to the ground in dense patches.  It has smaller leaves than ordinary clover and doesn’t grow as high, nor as scraggly, as grass.  My daughter’s yard has never been seeded for grass and grows a number of different kinds of weeds mixed in with the wild species of grass that has managed to take root.  This year, the Japanese clover has replaced what was growing there with a soft spongy carpet that I think is better than grassy lawns.  My daughter’s front yard is almost all Japanese clover this year.  Most people consider it a weed because it chokes out whatever grass they’re trying to grow.  Maybe they should consider a change of species.  It’s curious, though.  Japanese clover is supposed to like poor dry soil, so why is it so prolific this year?  Perhaps because of the heat – Japanese clover likes hot places.

Another species that I’ve noticed growing along the trail is liverwort.  Liverwort is a lot like moss and likes damp compacted soil where other plants, except moss, can’t take root.  Where you find liverwort, you’ll probably also see moss nearby.  I’ve seen liverwort around the apartment buildings where I live, but it’s rare.  Moss is much more common.  Until this year, I’ve only seen it under waterspouts and dripping ACs.  This year, though, it’s growing in large thick patches close to the tarmac and under fence rails right next to the rail-trail.

All of this is, of course, lost on Waldo.  As I walk along, looking for interesting plants I haven’t paid attention to before, he sniffs away, looking for smells he hasn’t noticed before – and probably some that he has.  There’s, of course, the pee-mail, but he also seems to be distracted by odors that don’t seem to be associated by the passage of other dogs.  At times, he’ll suddenly, for no apparent reason I can fathom, veer off into the woods, following some scent trail or other.  I call him back and he raises his head, as if to say, “Oh, yeah,” and comes back to me.  He’s quite patient with me as well.  When I stop to look at something, or pull out my phone to take a picture, he stops too.  He doesn’t tug at the leash, but just turns his head and looks at me.  And waits.  Could it be that we’re each doing very similar things, but with different sense organs?

It seems strange that a patch of Mother Earth can be so familiar and yet never cease to hold new stories to tell us every day we’re out here walking.  Although, it is true that there is so much here that one can’t hope to take it all in at one time.  Not even, it seems, a thousand times.  And the constantly changing weather and climate contributes to the variety.  You can’t step on the same rail-trail twice – or even once.

It keeps Waldo and me mightily entertained.


Big patch of liverwort.


Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 19, 2023

The forest in early morning light.


“We few, we happy few; we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile.”

-“St. Crispin’s Day Speech”, William Shakespeare


Waldo and I were able to sleep in until 7 today.  The sun is up, the sky is clear and the forecast is for temps in the low 70s when we are to finish our walk.  Although the temperature hasn’t dropped low enough yet to cause the leaves to change color, I can see that the season for falling leaves is not far off.  Weeds alongside the trail have lost their flowers, many are starting to droop and some have shriveled altogether.  Waldo loves to walk under the overhanging branches of the Japanese knotweed and they contribute green seeds to his back.  It makes him look like he has mint sprinkles.  They (mostly) fly off when he shakes himself, but they linger there until he does.

The humidity is still high and the plants seem to like it.  It makes it easier for them to keep from drying out.   The mosquitoes like it too – judging from their numbers.  I don’t know, but maybe the high humidity keeps the ponds and puddles from drying up which means that the little buggers can reproduce more prolifically.  All I know is that, when I get home, I have four or five new itchy red bumps to scratch in places not covered by my clothes.  Waldo’s hairy coat keeps them from bothering him, although I do sometimes see swarms of bugs flying around his butt.

I’m walking along, watching Waldo sniff out the world in front of me, while I’m swatting at mosquitoes and brushing away at any sensation I have on exposed skin.  I’m thinking about a get together I went to recently with some of the nurses I used to work with.  There were eight of us who showed up and most of those worked at my old hospital for decades.  None work there anymore, although I am the only one retired.  The others finally moved on to other places for various reasons.  We shared past memories of the crazy things that can and did happen in the emergency room, the sometimes bizarre people we ran into (not all of whom were patients) and shared what information we collectively had on the people we knew who weren’t there with us.  One of the things that bothered us the most was the way medical care has changed in small community hospitals.

Medical care, within the past few decades, has been concentrated into a few large hospitals in the larger cities.  The corporations that run them have bought out the smaller hospitals on their periphery and gutted their resources.  Services once available in the community hospitals have either been eliminated or diminished significantly, all in the name of efficiency.  That efficiency doesn’t translate into lower healthcare costs, as we all know.  It just means that the CEOs of the large corporations and the company’s stockholders get more money in their pockets.  The biggest problem is that needed services now have to be referred to the larger hospitals which are often two hours or more away.  I can remember many a night when there just wasn’t an ambulance available to take a sick patient to the mother ship and they had to wait an unreasonable length of time for the care they needed.  And I think it’s getting worse.

We talked about all these things as we ate fried cod and shellfish at a restaurant near where we used to work.  The important thing wasn’t in what we talked about, but about remaking old connections.  Working in the emergency room is a lot like doing battle in a war.  We never knew what would come in the door, life and death was involved and all of us depended on each other, under very stressful conditions, to get the job done.  That forms bonds that are deep and don’t easily go away.

I no longer have to deal with the issues I had as a physician and, today, my war buddy is Waldo and, occasionally, Christine and Phyllis.  Even so, life is still the main issue, death, as of yet, is not, and, although not as dramatic, I never know just what’s coming down the trail.  Things are more subdued and calm, but I still rely on my friends to keep me company – especially Waldo.  Every day is different and the battle has largely been reduced to struggling with the aches and pains that old age is heir to and the increasing fatigue that comes with getting even older.  Even so, I am grateful that I have others to share my journey and help me with whatever I struggle – including the heat, humidity and mosquitoes.

My band of brothers is now smaller, but they are very much my brothers.


Fort Meadow Reservoir in the morning.


Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 12, 2023

The Wachusetts Aqueduct Trail.


Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.

-Tennessee Williams


The planets are lined up right in the correct constellations, the weather gods are appeased enough to push the high temperatures temporarily aside with rain that finally paused, Phyllis has a last minute hole in her busy schedule and Waldo and I finally get to walk with her on the Wachusetts Aqueduct Trail.  Alas, Christine is tied up and won’t be able to join us.  It’s noon when we start out and the temperatures are in the high sixties with a slight breeze of six mph or so.  The sky is overcast and the ground is still wet from showers that drenched us yesterday.  Our path is overgrown with grass that is heavy with moisture that soaks through the tops of our shoes and it’s not long before we have wet feet.  Waldo seems to relish the dampness and rolls in the wet grass.  He’s soon soggy from head to toe.  He looks up at me with a doggy grin plastered on a furry face streaked with water.  Phyllis and I smile on the inside and out as we set out on our exploratory jaunt down what’s left of the aqueduct that used to carry water from the Wachusetts Reservoir nine miles to the water treatment plant in Marlborough.  It’s been too long since we were out on a jaunt like this.

Although the aqueduct is nine miles long, two of those miles are underground.  We start somewhere near the middle, next to the Edmund Hill Woods, and head north, toward the Wachusetts Reservoir.  We expect to walk somewhere around four and a half miles before we turn around and head back.  The path is raised a good eleven feet, on average, from the surrounding ground, and the grass that covers it is kept well mowed by somebody.  On either side of the path is cleared land.  Beyond that is dense New England forest – and an occasional house or two.  The ambience is different from the rail-trail – there’s no shade to be found from an arboreal canopy.  We are definitely exposed.

Waldo gave Phyllis a vigorous welcome when we first piled out of our cars, but now he walks along, doing his Waldo thing and pretty much ignores us.  So, I leave Waldo to his own devices and focus on getting caught up with Phyllis.  We talk about all manner of things, as we are wont to do, but some it involves discussing Phyllis’s experiences with her recently deceased husband, Lee, and how’s she’s now coping with the loss.  Outwardly, she seems to be doing quite well, but I know it’s not easy for her and we try to focus on other things to give her some reprieve from her grief.  She’s burying herself in all kinds of activities (Christine likes to call her “The Energizer Bunny”).  For the longest time, she was totally absorbed with taking care of Lee in his last days and now she has a big hole to fill.  She’s doing a good job of it – she’s going on a biking trip to France the end of September and is training for it by riding her bike as much as she can between now and then.  She has other trips and activities planned and that all takes up a lot of her time.

For my part, I’m planning on getting back to Switzerland and I’m studying French again.  We talk about how learning another language is difficult, especially in your seventies, and I mention how I had a breakthrough while working in the ER.  I’ve spent a lot of energy, over the years, trying to learn many languages — Italian, Portuguese, Swahili, Amharic and Spanish, as well as French.  I always had difficulty picking more than one word out of the many when listening to others speak.  Then I had some kind of transition.  I don’t know how or why, but while listening to translators tell my patients what I wanted them to hear, I developed the ability to get enough of the gist of it to know when I wasn’t being translated correctly.  I couldn’t hear anywhere near everything that was being said, but I could understand enough that I could tell when what I heard wasn’t right.  This has somehow carried over to French.  Now, in my learning, I use an app whose focus is on speaking to me and prompting me to speak back in the language.  It’s not as good as being immersed in the language, but it’s not a bad alternative and the app has helped me a lot.  Phyllis hears me out, but doesn’t seem convinced that she can learn much French before she gets to France for her biking.  She’s undoubtedly right.

Eventually, we come to a place where the aqueduct disappears into a hill.  The path just runs into a sloping, boulder-strewn wall and ends.  I suspect there was a tunnel in there once, but there’s no evidence of its prior existence – just a pile of dirt and rocks.  I can see, on the top of the hill, a space between trees where a powerline runs, but I don’t think the aqueduct was ever above ground there.  That would mean there’d have to be a waterfall somewhere to get the water down to where the trail ends.  Alas, it’s yet another piece of Massachusetts to explore further at some future date.   We have come four and a half miles and it’s time to turn around and head home.

A total of four hours after we left, we’re back at the cars.  It seems like so much less.  We talked about a lot of stuff, yet I don’t think either one of us feels like we have made a dent in the number of things to talk about.  I miss our walks with Phyllis and Christine and I know Waldo does too.  Maybe next time, the four of us can venture out once again.

There will be a next time.


This use to carry water from the reservoir to the water treatment plant and then on to Boston. Now it carries Phyllis, me and Waldo.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

September 06, 2023

Despite the hot humid days, the early morning light is still wonderous.


We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.

-Barack Obama


Alas, the cooler temperatures didn’t last.  Waldo and I have to wake up between 5:30 and 6 AM because of the heat.  Neither one of us is a morning person and sometimes it takes effort to drag ourselves out of bed.  This morning, Waldo got up when I did, then went back to bed as I got dressed to leave.  I had to grab him by the collar and gently encourage him to get out of his crate.  But, once out, he was ready to go and gave me no reason to worry that he shouldn’t go.

Today, we hit the trail at 6:30 and the temp is 63℉.  There’s a gentle breeze and it’s quite pleasant as we pass the Covid Garden.  Waldo is out front, leading the way, sniffing along down the trail with a jaunty trot, wide awake and ready to get on with it.  I, too, am fully awake and the blood in my veins has, at least temporarily, pumped away my immediate need for sleep.  Though it’s nice out now, it will warm up fast and the temp will hover around 75℉ (Waldo’s maximum) when we finish at 9.  I’ll be sweating profusely and Waldo panting with tongue fully extended and dripping.  Later on in the day, the peak temp will be around 83℉ with humidity around 65%.  So far, we’ve been able to gage things so Waldo hasn’t felt the need to lie down in the shade and refuse to continue.

It has been one hot, muggy summer.  There is one place, just south of the Florida peninsula, in Manatee Bay, where the water temperature was recorded to be over 100℉!  Damn boiled fish on the hoof!  That can’t be good for the marine life there.  It’s not as bad as it may sound, though, because the bay is only five feet deep and its exposure to open ocean currents is limited by encircling land, but still…  I read one report that the month of July was the hottest month on record – something we seem to hear a lot these days.  But not only that, it was the hottest month in over 150,000 years (they can determine how hot it’s been in the past by looking at trapped gases in ice cores garnered from polar ice, among other ways).  That’s approximately as long as there’s been modern humans walking on this Earth!  Modern man may never have experienced a month as hot as this July!  The temperature that environmentalists refer to in these reports has been averaged over very many recording stations positioned over the entire planet and from observations in planes and orbiting satellites.  Its accuracy cannot be rationally questioned.

All that is not just some number on some scientists measuring instrument.  There are real world consequences, like the hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Southern Europe, Maui, Texas and elsewhere (there are still some in California, but nearly as many as last year!).  It’s predicted that the number of extreme fires will increase by 14% by 2030, 30% by 2050 and a whopping 50% by 2099.  This year, in the Northeast, we’ve had quite a bit of rain, with a lot of flooding.  But last year, we were somewhat dry.  Overall, wild swings of weather patterns will increase in severity.  The overall number of storms is expected to remain more or less constant, but the storms there are will be more dangerous.   For example, it’s estimated that there is a 25-30% worldwide increase in the number of category 4-5 cyclones per increase of 1℃.

Waldo and I probably won’t live long enough to see the worst of what Mother Nature has in store for us.  I saw one report that we may be closer to a tipping point of certain ocean currents that ameliorate the climate around seacoasts.  Some currents might completely stop in the next few years, changing the weather patterns dramatically in Europe and North America.  At any rate, dramatic changes are close upon us and we can expect to see worse in the coming years.

I’m surprised at how fast these changes are occurring and how much they are effecting me directly.  But Waldo and I can still go out and walk in the woods (except on those days where the air quality, due to wildfires, is so bad, we can’t) and we can still avoid the worst of the heat by walking early in the day.  We haven’t been affected that much, but, sadly, our progeny will.  What hath man wrought?

This morning, though, it is beautiful and mild.

And both Waldo and I appreciate the fact we can enjoy it.


Waldo and I have certainly learned to be thankful for the shade.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 29, 2023

Waldo spends most of his time entertaining himself.


Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.

-Orhan Pamuk


The days have finally cooled off a bit, with high temps in the seventies to low eighties.   The humidity has dropped from above ninety percent to right around fifty.  With the drop in temperature, Waldo and I are able to start out a little later, waking at 7 AM instead of 5.  The smoke from the Canadian wildfires has dissipated and our air is once again clear (at least as clear as twenty-first century air can be).  I can now stand at the clearing above the Fort Meadow Reservoir and see the green hills of Eastern Massachusetts roll off into the distance.

I can’t help but wonder what all that smoke did to Waldo’s sense of smell.  Hell, even I could smell it!  Somehow, Waldo seems to be able to focus on some smells and block out others, like we can pick out and concentrate on a single voice in a room full of talking people.  He walks along and sniffs and snorfs as if the only thing that exists is right in front of his nose.  I guess, in a sense, it is – at least it’s the only part of the universe he seems to be aware of.  I wish he could tell me about what he experiences.  That would be interesting – and sometimes yukky, like when he’s sniffing stuff I wouldn’t want my foot next to, let alone my nose.

Waldo and I have gotten pretty good at understanding one another — mostly on a body language kind of level.  Sometimes, though, he knows by my tone of voice when I’m exasperated and want him to stop messing around and sit, goddammit.  He then plops his butt down with force – I’d expect it to go splat if it weren’t covered by so much hair.  When we’re going up the stairs to go home, he likes to roll over on his back and wriggle around to scratch it.  I get tired of waiting for him, call his name, say, “Come on!” and then, “Hey!”  At the “Hey!”, he usually knows there’s gonna be repercussions if he doesn’t right himself and get to the stairs.  But he also knows that the repercussions are an empty threat – mostly my displeasure.  They aren’t physical nor onerous and he jumps up and happily follows me along.

Then there are times when I don’t say a thing, yet he knows what I want him to do.  All I have to do is point to the bedroom and he goes into his crate.  If, on our walks, I stop to talk to someone, or look at a plant or something, he stops until I’m ready to go on.  When he poops, he stops and waits for me to pick it up, tie the bag in a knot, then continues on his way.  When his attention has been diverted to something dogly interesting and falls behind, he’ll start back up again with the slightest of jerks on his leash, like he’s responding with an, “Oh yeah.”  When we approach a dog we don’t know, he’ll slow down without fuss, as I rein in his leash to draw him close.  He’ll then stay next to me until the potential danger has been addressed.  There are so many ways, some of which I’m not even aware of, that we communicate as we go about our lives.

And it works the other way too.  If Waldo sees an approaching bike, he will stop and back up, assuming a position either right next to, or in front of me.  I shorten the leash and tell him it’s okay and he charges back to the end of his tether once the perceived threat has passed.  When he stops behind me, where I’m not looking, to do his business, I feel a tighter than normal tug on his leash and understand I need to stop and let nature take its course.  When we’re in the car (he’s not a fan), he’ll put a paw on my arm or shoulder and I know he needs some pets and pats in reassurance that what he’s going through is worth it.  I have a woman who comes by once a month to help me with some housekeeping.  He really likes her, but when she pulls out the vacuum, he’s in between my feet or trying to crawl up into the chair with me.  And the woman hasn’t even turned the thing on!  I understand and give him his due.  He calms down after a bit of fathering and we go on with life.

In so many ways, mine and Waldo’s lives are such an intimate exchange of subliminal information.  It builds a connection, a bond, that runs deep.

And it makes for very warm companionship.


I love the long shadows of the morning light.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 22, 2023

The beginning of the Edmund Hill Wood trails.


Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.



Just off Rice Street, there is a graveled wedged clearing, designed to hold four or so parked cars, that pokes into the boundary of the Edmund Hill Wood — a 75-acre parcel of land that is new-growth forest and wetlands.  A footpath, starting at the apex of the clearing, runs up into the woods and winds around into the foliage in just a few feet.  As Waldo and I walk toward the path, I have the distinct impression that the forest is beckoning us to enter with outstretched arboreal arms.

Once on the path, Mother Nature embraces us in a welcoming blanket of life – we’re surrounded by a wide variety of trees — oaks, hickory and white pine, and various and numerous types of brush.  We’re also serenaded by the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects in accompaniment with the soft rustling of leaves.  The glaring hot sunlight in the cloudless sky of the streets has been replaced by an all-pervasive deep shadow that calms and comforts as well as cools (although it is still quite warm).  The leafy flora, tall and small, baffles the sound of passing cars and other city noises, more and more as we penetrate further into the forest.  It isn’t long and the omnipresent sound of civilization has been diminished to the point of extinction and we can’t see anything but wilderness.  Waldo and I have stepped into another world.  A soothing, friendly world.

The path we follow is narrow, about two feet wide, made of dirt, beaten down by the passing of many feet, with an occasional exposed root.  It is easy to follow as it winds its way up and down rolling hills and around and through small-bole trees.  Waldo seems more animated than usual, as if he feels, “Now this is what I call a walk!”  He glances at me with a look that I can only interpret as, “Why can’t we do this kind of thing more often?”   Then his nose goes back to the ground as he explores this piece of planet Earth we’ve not visited before.

We haven’t gone far and we come across a 3×3 stake driven vertically into the ground.  It’s about three feet high and on its top is the number “2” with a square of barcode.  It marks one of 26 interpretive stations scattered along the trail.  I missed numbers “0” and “1”, not knowing they existed.  The barcodes can be read by a cellphone and connect to links that have entertaining videos on the geology, botany and history of the area.

They mention that the Northeast was largely cleared of trees during the 1700s and 1800s so the land could be used for farming.  After that time, farmers moved west, where the land was more fertile, and trees were once again allowed to populate the area.  For that reason, there are few trees around that have trunks bigger than two feet in diameter (trees grow at 0.1 – 0.2 inches in diameter a year).  Having bushwhacked along deserted and unmaintained railbeds in the past, I can attest to it not taking very long before trees naturally start growing in places left to nature.  Human reforestation is not required, and the trees in this forest are native.

The land itself, as is true of much of New England, was shaped by the advancement and recession of glaciers as recently as 70,000 – 15,000 years ago.  Moraines and kettle lakes are common, as are long troughs created by glaciers pushing boulders (called glacial erratics) under the ice as they moved.  Edmund Hill is a drumlin – a long hill left behind when a glacier recedes.

The forest is mostly hardwood, including American chestnut, birch and sassafras.  I’ve seen birch and sassafras on the rail-trail, but I haven’t, knowingly, seen any chestnut there.  Sassafras is an interesting tree in that most of its parts, leaves, bark and roots, are fragrant.  Pioneers used the roots to make root beer, hence the name.  There are, of course, also maples, white pine, oaks and all the other trees I’m used to seeing elsewhere.

There is a lot more information that can be gleaned from the interpretive posts than I mention here and a lot more to be learned about the natural world that surrounds us.  Although I find all this stuff interesting, I think its greatest value is not in the knowing, but in the way learning it causes me to pay better attention to the world I live in.  Waldo doesn’t need that.  He’s naturally absorbed in whatever’s in front of his nose.

Waldo and I are short on time and have to turn around before we can explore much of the Edmund Hill Wood.  For now, like the Wachusett aqueduct, it will have to go on the list of places to explore further.  There are so many places on that list.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.


Waldo is off into the woods.

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August 15, 2023

Aqueduct bridge, covered by foliage.


Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

-Dalai Lama


My sixteen-year old granddaughter, Emily, needs a ride to her driver’s lesson, so Waldo, in the passenger seat beside me, and I happily oblige (Emily is in the backseat).  In a little over two months, she will be taking the driving test for her license and this is in preparation for that.  The instructors provide the cars, but for some reason I don’t understand, we have to meet the instructor at seemingly random designated spots.   This afternoon, we are to meet him in the parking lot of a church, about five miles away.  The GPS sends us down a section of street I’ve never been on.  That’s something I look forward to, because, well, who knows what we’ll find?  The street is a narrow back road, running through amazing greenery that swaddles us in an emerald tunnel.

Emmy and I are talking back and forth about nothing specific and, right in front of and above us, a beautiful, old stone bridge appears.  It has semicircular cutouts, between broad pillars, and the street passes through one.  On the top of the bridge are a number of bushes – it’s obviously overgrown.  This heightens my attention because that means it’s not currently being used for its intended purpose, whatever that may have been.  An old railroad bridge, perhaps?  Or a road no longer used?  Is it now a rail-trail?  Whatever the case may be, it’s prime territory for a good walk.  I’m immediately committed to finding out more.

Waldo and I drop off Emmy and now have an hour to kill before we have to pick her up, so it’s a perfect time to go explore.  We go back to the bridge and make a turn so we’re moving parallel to it, looking for some way to get on top of the thing.  It isn’t long and we come to a cross street and, right there, is a gravel parking lot and a trail that disappears into the woods.  But it’s a footpath, not the trail we’re looking for.  We park, dismount, and nearby I see a broad, mowed, grassy swath winding back the way we came, toward the bridge.  This is what I expect will lead to the bridge.  On the other side of the road is more green path, heading the other way and clearly an extension of whatever crosses the bridge.

Waldo seems to know what I’m up to because he ignores the footpath and heads, out front, at the end of his twenty-six-foot leash, toward the path to the bridge.  We step around the guardrail that separates the trail from the street and find ourselves walking over grass no more than three inches high.  Somebody has been taking care of this piece of whatever it was that it used to be.

We follow it along for about a quarter mile and come to a fence that blocks our way.  It has a pedestrian gate padlocked with a heavy chain and a sign that reads, “No Trespassing.”  On the other side is the bridge. There is no evidence of railroad rails nor tarmac.  Here and there, I can see what looks like a stone top to the bridge.  Everywhere, the bridge seems solid, just overgrown.  Curious.

Waldo and I return to the street where we started and I look at the other part of the path.  It is invitingly tempting.  A man and a woman are walking up the street from that direction and I ask them about it.  The man says he has ridden his bike up there and it goes on for several miles.  It’s the Wachusett Aqueduct.

Wachusett reservoir was built in 1905, filled in 1908, to supply water to the ever-growing population of Boston.  The aqueduct took water from the reservoir to a water treatment plant and thence on to Boston.  Today, the aqueduct is dry, replaced by the Cosgrove Tunnel, and its foundation serves as a good place to wander.  Looking up to the north, I’m sorely tempted to go thataway.  But, alas, Waldo and I have less than an hour before we have to pick up Emily and we’re told it goes on for several miles.  Instead, we take a slight left turn and, within a distance you could throw a rock, disappear on a footpath that leads into the Edmund Hill Woods.  The aqueduct we’ll save for another day.

Waldo is more than happy treading over the dirt and roots beneath our feet and we’re soon engulfed with all that forest has to offer.  I don’t know exactly why, but Waldo seems to be enjoying himself more than usual, sniffing around and charging here and there along the path.  He’s just glad to be outside in nature.

And so am I.


Aqueduct winds off into the brush to the north.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 08, 2023

Emmy bird closeup



“Some people go to priests, others to poetry. I go to my friends.”

-Virginia Woolf


One of the things I like the most about walking in the early morning is listening to the birds.  They are much more active and vociferous just after dawn than they are the rest of the day.  There’s something cheery about their songs and calls that is uplifting.  Most of the calls I hear, I can’t associate with any particular bird – I just don’t know enough about ornithology.  I can pick out their separate tunes, but I have no idea what the birds making them look like.  I hear birdsongs and see birds (much more often the former than the latter), but almost never together.  There is one birdcall that is distinctive enough that I know it comes from one particular kind of bird – the Emmy bird.

I gave the Emmy bird her name because, to my ear, her call sounds like she’s saying, “Emmy!”  My granddaughter’s name is Emily, so, of course, that left an impression.  I hear them calling out from late spring to late summer and when I hear them, I always answer with an “Emmy!” in the closest imitation I can manage.  Today is no different.  We talk to each other in the cool of the early morning twilight as Waldo saunters down the path, doing with his nose what I’m doing with my ears.  I just didn’t know what kind of bird the Emmy bird is – until this week.

Just the other day, Waldo and I were walking near the railroad cut, he in his usual position at the end of the leash and I in the rear, discussing whatever “Emmy!” means with the birds.  A flutter of movement caught my eye and a bird landed atop a branch not six feet from me.  “Emmy!” she said.

“Emmy!” I replied and we carried on a short conversation of dubious content and then she flew off into the brush.  It all happened before I could pull out my phone and get a good picture.  I did get one, but it was more of a “bigfoot” picture – a blurry smudge of color against a leafy background (now that I think of it, I find that description amusingly portentous – my nickname for my granddaughter is “Sasquatch”).  But I got a damn good look at her.  She had a solid gray breast with a black cap on her head and a pointy beak that’s longer than a sparrows.  That was good enough that I could find her on Google – she’s a gray catbird.

Gray catbirds are renowned for their unique voice – a mewing, it’s called, because someone thinks it sounds like a cat.  I speak cat, as well as catbird, and I’ve had long conversations with many a stray feline.  What the catbirds do doesn’t sound anything like what a cat does, to my ears.  Maybe my proficiency in cat has carried over to being able to speak to the catbirds, though.  I’ve noticed many times that they follow me down the trail for a ways, as I talk to them.  Maybe one of them finally became comfortable enough with Waldo and me to finally show themselves.  I’ve seen catbirds on two other occasions this past week, after that first sighting, so maybe the ice has been broken.

Catbirds make other sounds as well as their mewing.  In fact, like mockingbirds and thrashers, they imitate other bird calls.  The mewing they do is often used while courting and defending their territories.  Maybe I have somehow stumbled across a good catbird pickup line and that’s what they’re responding to?

According to Google, catbirds have varying personalities, sometime introverted and sometimes extroverted.  With gentle persuasion, people have been known to gain their trust and develop a friendship with these birds.  Gray catbirds like to sit on a high perch, hidden in thick foliage, and is the source of the phrase, “sitting in the catbird seat,” meaning sitting in a protected advantageous position.  Their genus name, Dumetella, means “small thicket” and is a nod to its preferred habitat of deep thickets and shrubs.  Which explains why I haven’t, until recently, been able to see one.  I am so very grateful that one bird’s inherent friendliness was great enough to spur it to swoop down and say “Emmy” to me, eyeball to eyeball.

Now that I can put a face to the birds I “Emmy” with, my walks with Waldo through the forest are enhanced.  I feel the wildlife, and Mother Nature herself, has become not only used to and accepting of our presence here in the bosom of life, but also welcoming, greeting us as old friends.  I find that somehow reaffirming, like we belong here.

Which, of course, we do.


In her catbird seat.


Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

August 1, 2023

Smoke has reduced visibility to about a mile.


May freedom be seen, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to please to do what is right.

-Peter Marshall


Smoke from the Canadian wildfires has invaded our airspace.  The Air Quality Index is 122, which makes it bad for people who are sensitive.  The air smells a little like smoke from a wood fire and it’s dense like fog, but not colored like smog.  Visibility is limited to about a mile to a mile and a half.  It’s muggy out, but there is no forecast of rain today, which is a pity as that would clean the air, for sure.  The temperature is in the high sixties and I’m sweating pretty good.  Shadows are only vaguely present, due to sunlight being so strongly scattered by the smoke – there is only a slight brightening off toward the east, nothing that would reveal the location of the sun.

Waldo’s sniffing around on both sides of the trail, wandering off into the weeds, exploring whatever it is he finds interesting.  He’s on a twenty-six-foot leash, so he has plenty of freedom to go about doing his Waldo thing without much impediment.  But he’s not totally free.  Keeping him on a tether allows me to keep him safe when he encounters aggressive dogs, or gets the notion to charge off to somewhere that could put him in danger.  The leash is a compromise.  I sometimes feel guilty for not being able to provide Waldo with large open fields, where he can run at will, and flocks of sheep he can herd and boss around.  But either there are many more border collies out there than there are farms and pastures, or there damn well ought to be.  Waldo is a wonderful friend and I’m so happy to have him in my life.

Freedom is a funny thing and hard to adequately define.  In a very real sense, it is entirely a state of mind.  You may not be physically free to do something you’d like to do, like I would like to travel more than I can afford to, or you may be forced to do something you really don’t want to, like pay taxes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel free.  I remember, years ago, when I returned to the US, at age fourteen, after spending 18 months living in Ethiopia with my family.  My life felt different, although very familiar.  My memory told me that when I was in East Africa, I was happier and I wondered why.  Some of that was obvious, the sense of adventure was exquisite and spoiled me forever.  But there was something else as well.  Searching my soul to see what that something else was, I discovered that I felt freer there than here.  Politically, Ethiopia has never been, and is not now, freer that the US.  And being a young teenager without the opportunity or ability to drive myself around, I had to wonder what this sense of freedom was all about.

When I returned to Ethiopia, at the age of twenty-one, for another two-year visit, that feeling was there, brought to the surface from the depths of my subconscious.  One day, some friends and I were stopped by a policeman in the city of Gondar.  There are no police cars or police motorcycles that patrol the streets and roads, the man simply stood out in front of us and held up his hand.  We stopped and asked what he wanted.

I don’t remember how many of us there were, but there enough of us that we all couldn’t fit inside one vehicle (we had a Land Rover).  We left Asmara, some three hundred miles to the north, in two cars and a truck.  One of our vehicles had mechanical problems and was getting repaired.  We didn’t want to take the truck to the restaurant we were going to for dinner, so we all piled into and onto the Land Rover as best we could – three or four of us hanging onto the back, standing on the running board, and sitting on the hood.  The policeman was angry about that and shouted at us.  We didn’t understand why he reacted that way because nearly every bus on the road had people hanging precariously on them in a more dangerous way than what we were doing.  The policeman responded by rebuking us with, “You wouldn’t do that in your country, but you come over here and do whatever you want!”  We apologized, but still confused, and made adjustments to our mode of transportation.

Thinking about that later, I decided the man had a point.  We tried to be respectful of how the people of our host country lived and thought, but we didn’t always get it right.  In this case, I think the cop was offended by the fact that we, guests in his world, didn’t feel constrained by the normative values of his culture, although we didn’t violate any.  And we didn’t feel constrained by them at all, other than to be respectful of them.

Human beings, most of them anyway, carry around in their subconsciouses a set of cultural normative values.  They’re implanted in us at an early age and we can’t escape them.  We always carry them around with us – you can leave your country, but you can never escape your culture.  I always subconsciously feel that there is a collection of shoulds and shouldn’ts that I am responsible to.  If I violate them, guilt will follow, to some degree.  I also have this subliminal feeling that the eyes of my culture are on me, watching how I behave.  Eyes that will tsk and shame if I don’t toe the line.  All of this is totally in my head and has no substance in physical reality, but it’s real, just the same.  But those watchers and censures are not always so obviously manifest.

When I came to Ethiopia, everything was so different and foreign to me.  From the language spoken, to the food eaten, the clothing worn and most peoples’ very way of life, none of it felt like it was mine.  I didn’t feel responsible to the cultural pressures that were applied to me from the host culture (mine was somewhat smothered by the adventure of it all) to subliminally keep me in line.  It was like the lid of a pressure cooker had been removed.  And as a young teenager, and later as a young man in his early twenties, exploring the limits of what life had to offer, it was heaven.

Waldo is not free, for sure, but who of us, living in twenty-first century urban environments, is?  I try to find places where I can let Waldo off leash, like fenced in ballparks, at least sometimes, but mostly, it’s just him and me, out in the world, tethered together by a synthetic umbilical cord that binds as together as a unit.  He may not be free, exactly, but he is happy, even though he lives in a city.

And so am I.


Waldo may not be free, but he’s a free spirit!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

July 25, 2023

We’ve had many rainy days….


In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

=Mark Twain


The past few days, a few weeks actually, have been warm, with highs in the mid-eighties, and humid, making it feel even hotter.  The warmth and humidity have made intermittent thunderstorms wash across our little piece of the planet, complicating our walks a little.  Rain is just water and won’t melt us, but my raincoat (appropriately called un imperméable in French) is very uncomfortable when it gets above about 60℉.  With the humidity, it’s sweltering in there.  So, I try to avoid walking in the rain for any distance, if I can.  I don’t think Waldo likes it much either, especially when it’s raining hard – he adjusts his path so he wanders under bush or tree for shelter.  But I also can’t help but think it cools him off a little.  We’ve been pretty lucky, so far, and able to adjust the time we leave (from the break of dawn to midmorning) to fit our walk into a dry hole between downpours.

By the looks of it, the local flora loves this weather.  I’ve never seen so many huge burdock leaves, large bunches of garlic mustard, fast growing-grass and ten-foot, or more, stands of Japanese knotweed.  Everywhere I look, there are dark green, happy-looking plants.  Sumac, sassafras, elm, black walnut, tree of heaven, maples, oaks, birches, aspens, locust, linden, white pine, cedar – all cast deep shadows on the ground with a prolific suffusion of leaves.  The bushes and weeds next to the trail put up an impenetrable curtain of green, blocking the sight of what lies beyond.  In the wetter places are innumerable ferns, so dense that their pinnate leaves overlap in a moiré pattern, making them seem out of focus.  Along the creeks are skunk cabbages, bigger than heads of lettuce, and ponds all fuzzy with green algal blooms.

Somehow, Massachusetts has largely avoided being suffocated by the smoke of all those wildfires happening in Canada right now.  I would guess it’s due to our proximity to the ocean, which channels storms up our way from the tropics, and wash the skies clean.  Watching the progression of storms on radar, I can clearly see them approaching from the south.  But New York City is also next to the ocean and they have, on occasion, suffered worse than we have, so that can’t be the whole story.  Oh, we’ve had smoke filled days where the unseasonal odor of burning wood is obvious, but the air quality hasn’t been so bad that Waldo and I haven’t been able to safely venture out to our daily sojourns in nature.

Like Waldo and me, other people wander out here, many with their dogs.  We exchange comments about the humidity and our shirts soaking in warm sweat, while the dogs sit patiently by, tongues hanging out and dripping.  But these are not so much grumblings as simple observations about the character of the day, like talking about how the Red Sox are doing.  When you’re in a building, toiling away at your means of sustenance, you don’t often talk about what’s happening with the weather.  But when you’re out here in the midst of whatever nature is throwing your way, it’s natural to talk about it.  And not just the weather.  I pass people who tell me they saw a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead, or to look out for a piliated woodpecker I can hear ratatatting somewhere off in the trees, or point out a rare jack-in-the-pulpit growing alongside the trail, or asking if I saw a red fox crawl from the foliage, then prance down the trail.  When you’re in nature, truly in it and not just passing through, you pay attention to what’s around you and you share your experience with those you pass.  It’s a beauty-shared-holds-twice-the-magic kind of thing.

As for the weather, at least the low temperatures aren’t 76℉ or higher.  When that’s the coolest it’s going to be, it’s real hard to justify spending two-and-a-half hours walking with Waldo.  He’s miserable.  We’re better off staying home and walking around the property more often than customary.  He can go out onto the balcony to survey his dogdom and yell at the squirrels, birds and rabbits, passing down whatever decrees, or recriminations, or whatever it is he’s doing.  He lays down under the air conditioner and cools off a bit from the condensed water dripping onto his back.  When he gets too hot, he can always wander inside and cool off in our climate-controlled apartment before returning to his duties.  He doesn’t burn off as much of his border collie energy and is a little more frenetic than usual, but he doesn’t suffer.

But, when we’re able, it’s so much nicer venturing of into the woods and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer.

And we do it as often as we can.


…and the plants show it. These are huge burdock leaves.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments