Walking with Waldo

June 11, 2024

Who’s back there?

 

Discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”

-Isaac Isomov

 

The days cooled off a bit and Waldo and I are walking out on the rail-trail in mid to high sixties weather.  Those temperatures are well within the Waldo operating range.  Even so, he still glances behind us every few seconds as we head out.  It can’t be that he’s doing it because he’s too hot and wants to go home.  It must be that he’s leery of bicycles coming up from behind us.  I do know that he doesn’t like it when they do.  I don’t like it much myself, but, for some reason, he has now developed a real concern about it.  It’s not like his tail is tucked, or anything like that.  He’s just vigilant.  When a bike, or bikes, do come from behind us, he goes off to the side of the trail and sits down.  I never trained him to do that and I certainly don’t discourage him from doing it now.  He has just developed the habit on his own.

The thing I find most curious about it is that he is constantly looking behind us, even when there is nothing there.  Granted, some bicyclists insist on pushing their vehicles to the limit and come up on us fast.  Sometimes at around thirty miles an hour.  Nothing happened to make Waldo suddenly so wary (I would know because I’m with him 24/7), but he is.  Maybe it’s because he knows from experience that bikes will more than likely be there?  I sure wish I could speak Waldo as well as I do French, and that’s a pretty low bar, but I don’t.  The important thing is, he is okay.

I think what’s going on here is that Waldo has detected a pattern.  Warm days of spring, when there’s no precipitation, means that it’s likely there will be bikes on the trail.  I don’t think the fine details of how the number of bikes increases on the weekend matters to him, but I do think his understanding makes room for some variation.  There are days, usually midweek, when we don’t meet any bikes at the beginning of the trail and he seems to relax his vigilance a bit.  He is a smart dog.

Now, if he were human, he might count the number of bikes on each day, note the day of the week, the time of day, the weather and maybe some other variables, then look for a more detailed pattern.  If a pattern were noticed, then he might look for a mathematical formula that produces the same variation of the number of bikes, given the variables involved.  He could then formulate a theory and test it against observation.  Having a theory, confirmed through observation, he might then extrapolate to estimate, on any given day, just how many bikes he is likely to confront on our walks.  He would then have a better idea as to how vigilant to be.

That is how human science is done.  But, of course, doggie science isn’t concerned with that level of detail.  Warm day, morning, no rain = an increased need to watch out for bikes coming up from behind, is plenty good enough.  Confirmed by meeting at least one bike near the beginning of our walk, and his behavior is set for the rest of the walk.  I think the difference on the return trip is that he has more the attitude of “Damn the bikes, full speed ahead!  I wanna go home and chill.”

Now that I think about it, it could be argued that the real intelligence of human beings is that we are really, really good at detecting and defining patterns.  All of science can be thought of as pattern recognition.  We assign numerical values to objects of observation, collect data and look for patterns in the data.  Our real genius is in being able to define mathematical functions that reproduce a pattern in the numbers that corresponds to the patterns of what we observe.  That’s why mathematics is the language of science.  Armed with those functions, we can then predict what is likely to happen.  Having that foresight, we can engineer huge passenger jets, rockets into deep space and foresee the coming debacle of global warming.

Some believe that science searches for truth.  It doesn’t.  If truth is what you want, you need to look into philosophy, or religion.  Science doesn’t ever reveal truth.  It tells you what, when, and to what extent something is likely to happen.  Scientific models, like the atom, protons, electrons, neutrons and so on, are not meant to be the truth, just a useful way of thinking about reality that helps in the formulation of accurate patterns.

Waldo science is much simpler than that.  He can just get enough of a vague idea of the patterns that happen to get a gut feeling of what might happen, and then pay attention in case it does.  He doesn’t need to build planes, or rockets, or worry about global warming.  All that is our bailiwick.

All he needs is a nice walk out in the woods without being bothered by a bicycle.

 

Damn the bicycles, let’s go!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

June 4, 2924

Waldo is nervous about what’s behind him.

 

Did you know that there are over 300 words for ‘love’ in canine?

-Gabrielle Zevin

 

There are a few hot days now.  The forecast is for temps in the high seventies today, so Waldo and I are walking the rail trail in the morning, when it is still in the high sixties to low seventies.  It’s hard to predict how hot it will feel for a given temperature.  Humidity, the amount of wind and the presence of direct sunlight, all play a role.  It’s going to rain tomorrow, and maybe for the next few days, so we don’t want to miss a nice, even if a little warm, day to walk.

We park in our usual spot and Waldo seems somewhat reluctant to leave the car.  I don’t force him and, with just a little encouragement, he’s soon prancing down the trail, sniffing his way along.  But he’s still acting strange.  He lags behind me, instead of going out front to the end of the leash.  He sometimes does that when there are bicycles coming up behind us – he doesn’t like bikes that do that.  I turn to look, but there’s nothing there.  I tug on the leash and force him to walk beside me or in front of me.  He is stopping, turning his head and looking behind us, every few seconds.  I look back that way and see nothing, not even another person.  It’s strange.

I watch Waldo’s body language carefully.  He does not seem to be in any distress.  He’s not laying down in the shade, his tail is not tucked between his legs.  He seems perky enough and doesn’t unduly resist the tug on his leash.  He just seems preoccupied, wary without being anxious.  I’m sure he’s hot, hell, I am, but he doesn’t seem to be distressed about it.  I offer him treats and he comes right up to me, sits and eagerly accepts what’s offered.  I offer him water and he rejects it, pushing his water bottle away with his nose.  His stools are normal and the amount he urinates hasn’t changed.  ‘Tis a puzzle.  Maybe he’s just not in the mood.  I know I’m like that sometimes.

He continues to behave a bit oddly all the way to our turnaround point.  On the way, we pass people and people with other dogs and he is as eager as ever to stop and say hello with vigor.  He does go off to the side of the trail and sniffs around, but not for long, then turns again and looks behind him.  I frequently turn and look back where we’ve been as well.  Maybe he knows something I don’t.  But I can’t see anything that would elicit that behavior.

We get to the turnaround point, reverse our course, and Waldo goes back to the front end of the leash and tugs with a purpose.  This dog wants to get back to the car.  It’s hot, but he’s not seeking out the shade or laying down to rest.  He’s panting with his tongue limply protruding and flopping around, but it is dripping with saliva.  He just goes out front and pulls gently on the leash to encourage me to “come on!”  Waldo is on a mission.

I’ve seen him behave this way when the temps get up to around 78℉, but I also remember him as a puppy walking in 87℉.  That’s clearly too hot for him and I won’t expose him to that again, but the maximum temperature we have during our walk is only 75℉.  Is his reluctance due to the temperature?  It is sunny, but radiation heating should bother me more than him.  He has a coat of fur to keep the sun’s direct heat off his skin; I just have clothes that cover a part of my body.  There’s a slight breeze blowing and the humidity isn’t all that high.  I continue to worry over it as we get back to the car.

Once in the car, Waldo curls up and settles down.  I open up the windows and set the environmental control to 68℉.  Soon, we are both basking in the wafting cool air from the AC vents.  Waldo lays his head down on the console between us and seems more content.

Once home, Waldo makes a beeline to his water bowl and sucks down an appreciable amount.  He then goes out to his throne over his dogdom and stays there, in the sun, apparently unconcerned with the heat.  I can’t get my head around it.

I guess the next thing to try is to leave earlier in the day, when it’s cooler, to see if that makes him any more comfortable.  Fortunately, the next few days are forecast to be cooler and intermittently wetter, so we won’t have to get up predawn.

Balancing getting Waldo out for enough exercise while doing it in weather that’s not too hot for him just might be a problem.  He is getting older (he will be 6 on August 25, about 45 in people years), so that might be playing a role.  Global warming is making things hotter and hotter every year (our forecast is for unusually high temps and wet weather this year).  I am going to have to brush him more often and get rid of some of his winter coat, for sure.  Maybe I should consider going on shorter walks more often, that add up to the same daily distance?  Something to think about.

I do want Waldo to have a good time while we’re out getting our exercise.

 

And he really doesn’t like the bikes.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 28, 2024

Early morning walk.

 

Bliss is when you have surrendered your worldly self to your inner self.

-Tapan Ghosh

 

Moss, liver wort and grasses are now all very plump and green.  The low-lying leafy plants, like garlic mustard, lesser celandine, hairy bittercress, and motherwort, are all sporting large leaves and some have flowered.  The many ferns are unfurling their coiled-up branches.  The smaller bushes, like autumn olive, Bradford pear, common milkweed and oriental bittersweet are already in their prime, sporting well developed leaves and some have flowers.  The Japanese knotweed has large leaf-bearing stalks poking up from the well-established root systems of seasons passed.   Even the larger, taller trees, like the oaks, maples, sumacs, black walnuts and so many others, are sporting yellowish to pale green leaflets in their upper branches.  I’ve been watching as spring burgeons forth from the ground upwards – low lying plants maturing first in order to gain unshaded solar radiation before the taller plants can plunge them into shadowed darkness.  It’s, literally, like watching grass grow, but taken in short snippets, then melded together into a memory-movie, the developing season can be compressed like time-lapse photography.

There are more animals out and about as well.  Squirrels and rabbits run here and there, doing their seasonal romping and cavorting.  I even saw a possum slowly waddling across tarmac this morning, crossing the road for why?  The plethora of birdsong has increased in volume and repertoire, and I even heard one Emmy-bird the other day (they migrate and only show up here in late spring).  On warmer days, with temps well into the seventies, bugs are out and buzz around, but not yet the annoying ones, like gnats and mosquitoes.  I’m sure they’re out there, but, because Waldo and I stick, mostly, to the blacktop, I haven’t seen any ticks yet.  Waldo likes to roll around in the fallen leaves and on the grass, as well as wander under the drooping leaves of weeds and bushes, so, in the past, I have often found ticks in his hair as I pet and scratch him.  But I haven’t found any yet this season.  Summer is not far away.

When I’m walking with Waldo, my mind time-shares these thoughts and observations with watching Waldo and enjoying (and sometimes being exasperated) seeing him entertain himself, but I also have other ideas floating around in my head.  I just finished my second novel, Bikerman’s Quest, and all that is in there too.  When doing the writing, my focus is up close and personal, making the whole thing work.  Now that it’s done, I’m looking at it from a distance, encapsulating the story in my eternal search for meaning.

I got the idea for the story one night, about eight years ago, while driving home from work on my Super Glide Custom, Harley Davidson motorcycle.  My mind wanders a bit at those times too.  Motorcycle meditation, I call it.  Anyway, I bumped into the question, “What would life be like if you had absolutely no needs?”  Suppose everything else was the same, you don’t have any “superpowers,” but you don’t need to eat, drink, sleep, breathe or have any other needs?  What if you were invulnerable and immortal as a consequence?  What would such a human life be like?  What would motivate you to do anything?

So, I formulated a plot that made such a thing plausible (with some suspended disbelief on the part of the reader) and let a story unfold to explore just these questions.  I threw my main character into a maelstrom of conflict — fighting with the Russian Mob and taking them down, then trying, and failing to disarm a thermonuclear bomb (I do love a good action/adventure thriller), to test my thoughts about it all.  I think anyone with an open mind will find it entertaining and thought-provoking.  It contains not so much answers as thoughtful questions.  Keep your eyes open here and on social media for the details when I find a publisher.

Anyway, I’m out here on the rail trail with Waldo, with all these thoughts and ideas echoing around in my mind, and it occurs to me.  At this moment, in this place, I have no unmet needs.  I can just let all that hurley-burley go and enjoy what is happening in the here-and-now.  I can inhale the breath of life that Mother Nature wafts towards me and bathe in its awesome beauty.  I can smile and laugh at Waldo doing his Waldo-thing, as he also lives in the moment.  I can “watch” all the thoughts, ideas, impressions and reactions that bounce around in my skull, without getting wrapped up in any drama.  I absolutely have no need to do anything about any of it.

At this time and place, I not only don’t have any unmet needs, or even desires, it’s also easy to imagine that I’m invulnerable, because I am invulnerable to what is likely to happen any time soon.  It’s easy for me to have the mindset that I am immortal as well, at least in the sense that when I think of the foreseeable future, I am alive; I’m not about to cease to exist. That’s very liberating.  I can just walk along, out here in the woods, with my good friend Waldo, and exhilarate in all that life has to offer and feel like I don’t have to do anything about anything.

Can there be a more meaningful existential definition of bliss?

 

Waldo’s in his own world…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 21, 2024

Ther are places where you have to be careful what you say…

 

 

Whose woods these are I do not know.

I’m so happy that I’m here, though.

Sunlight bathes us in golden hue

And I can watch the green things grow.

-Riff on “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost

 

There is one piece of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail that Waldo and I have not yet walked.  It’s about four miles long and runs from Concord to Sudbury, terminating where the railroad bed crosses the Mass Central Rail Trail.  We could wait until Phyllis is available to join us, or we could walk this one last piece by ourselves and repeat the nine miles from Acton to Sudbury.  We decide on the latter.  Waldo does need his exercise and we’ve been spoiled by, at least occasionally, venturing out into new territory to get it done.

We park at the Lotus Blossom again and head west on the Mass Central Rail Trail.  This will add about 0.6 miles to our roundtrip journey for a total of 8.6 miles.  Not bad at all.  The day is warm, with temps of 63℉ and the skies are sunny and clear.   A light breeze makes it feel a bit coolish, but I get by in shirtsleeves just the same.  Waldo leaves the car and hits the ground in eager anticipation of the trail to come.

The Mass Central Rail Trail is still incomplete where we start and has standing water trapped in deep ruts, but it’s all easy to negotiate.  Waldo isn’t phased at all and has no problem plodding through the gook.  I can avoid the worst of it without collecting too much mud between the waffles of my boot soles.

We cross Union Ave and I know the intersection of the two trails is nearby – somewhere.  I’m on the lookout for a dumpster or garbage can so I can reposit Waldo’s deposit that I’m carrying.  I find one and deviate from our path to get the job done, then rejoin the trail.  After a half mile going further west, I know I’ve missed our goal and turn around.  Sure enough, backtracking about a half mile, there it is.  Pavement meets mud.  I have no idea how I missed it, even if my attention was elsewhere, looking for a repository.  That diversion will make todays walk 9.5 miles long, but that’s still well within parameters.  It’s something we’re used to; we don’t get lost, we just wander a bit.

We turn north and in a short distance pass by a huge nursery – Carvicchio Greenhouses.  Rows upon rows of small pots, holding some green plant or other, lay out in the sunlight, waiting to be planted somewhere else.  The place has many acres and seems to offer a large variety of species.  I’m told they supply landscapers with trees, bushes and flowers.

Less than a half-mile later, we’re crossing a bridge bounded on both sides by a chest high wooden rail fence.  Between the fences is a hurricane gate chained to the wooden rails of the fence.  There is a space between the gate and the fence for Waldo to easily pass, but not me.  There are people on both sides of the gate walking and biking and I see no reason for the gate to be there.  Waldo squeezes through the gap and I climb over the fence, go past the gate, then climb over the fence again on the other side of the gate.  We recognize no obstacles – just speed bumps and go arounds.  We continue on our way.

From now on, until we turn around at North Road, we are in deep forest.  The oaks and maples are still just sticks without leaves, but there are plenty of white pines too.  There are bushes with sprouted leaves and swaths of large green-leafed skunk cabbage or bitter dock (I can’t tell which) in the low swampy places.  Birds are out and singing in the breeze, and even a few bugs, but no mosquitoes.  I find it a happy place.  Forests generally make me feel more peaceful and relaxed.  I know I’m not alone in this.  Some people have suggested that sense of well being is a consequence of species memory – it’s built into our DNA.  Our long-ago arboreal ancestors would find standing trees a sanctuary, a safe place.  It’s proposed that even once our ancestors went from tree to savannah, they still preferred to be near a copse of trees just in case they found themselves chased by a predator.  Whatever the reason, I feel comforted being swaddled in a blanket of Mother Nature.

When we get back to the car, we’re tired.  Even Waldo is anxious to get into the passenger seat and curl up.  Of course, that won’t last long for him.  Some water, dinner and a short rest and he’ll be ready to go again.  Me, I’m done for the day.

But we’ve completed yet another trail.

 

The trail passes through some beautiful forests.

 

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 14, 2024

Footbridge over Route 20.

 

God Almighty Himself must have been hilarious when human beings so mingled iron and water and fire as to make a railroad train!

-Kurt Vonnegut

 

The first railroad in the US was built by the B&O in 1827.  The first passenger railroad was started by the South Carolina and Canal in 1830.  By the beginning of the Civil War, there were 200 railroads in the US, comprising some 30,000 miles of track.  21,000 miles of that track was laid in the North and the rest in the South.  During the Civil War, the advantages of railroads became obvious – troops and strategic material could be shipped so much faster by rail than by any other means then available.  In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed and a person could travel from Nebraska to California in 4 days.  Before that, it took 6 months by wagon or 25 days by stagecoach.  By 1916, the total length of track in the US grew to a peak of 254,000 miles (as a comparison, there are currently 157,724 miles of highway in the contental US).  Railroads sprouted everywhere.  All sizeable towns were connected by iron rails.

That rail travel spread so quickly and so ubiquitously is hardly surprising.  I live in Marlborough and if I want to go to Boston, I have to travel some 32 miles.  In the mid nineteenth century, my only travel options were by water (but there has to be a navigable waterway available – there isn’t) or overland, by foot or under some kind of animal power.  That trip would take the better part of a day, or longer.  By train, it would take something over an hour, depending how many stops there are in between.  With the railroad, a day trip to Boston is possible.  Without it, not so much.

So, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, there were railroads going everywhere.  This was particularly true in the Northeast where the population density was greatest.  Then along came the internal combustion engines, cars, trucks and highways.  Railroads withered on the vine.  Today, there are over 1,000 miles of abandoned railway lines in the state.  Their right-of-ways, roadbeds and, often, their iron rails and cross ties, still exist and are owned by various entities.  They lay fallow, doing little more than growing weeds, until people find other things to do with them.  There are several groups in this country who are trying to revive them into recreational paths for bicycles, walkers, dog owners, roller skaters and any other kind of nonmotorized mobility.  In 2023, in Massachusetts alone, there were at least 69 rail trails covering 347 miles.

Bruce Freeman was a Massachusetts State legislator who, in 1985 and 1986, proposed that a multi-use paved trail be laid down over a railroad be that runs from Lowell to Framingham.   He died of cancer in 1986, and in 1989, the proposal was signed into law.  The northern most part opened in 2018 and will be opened up to the Mass Central Rail Trail in Sudbury sometime in summer of this year.  There is another section that runs into Framingham, but when this will be reclaimed is uncertain.

Waldo and I (sometimes with Christine and/or Phyllis) have walked all but the piece that runs from South Acton to Sudbury.  I planned to walk that 9.2 mile stretch with Phyllis, but that’s been delayed.  I still have to walk Waldo every day, so I decided to walk it with just the two of us.  We can always do it again when Phyllis is ready.  Because Waldo and I have only one car, and a round trip of 18.4 miles is a bit much, we park our car in South Acton and head toward Sudbury.  The plan is to walk about 4.7 miles and then turn around.  We can do the other half on another day.

The skies are sunny and mostly clear.  The temperature is 70℉ and the winds are mostly light with occasional gusts to around 12 mph.  There are a lot of people out here, as one might expect there to be, because of the weather and the fact that it’s a holiday – Patriot’s Day. We don’t go a mile and we come across a footbridge that passes over Route 2, a four laned highway.  Shortly thereafter, we pass alongside the walls and under a guard tower of a medium security state prison.  Not much further, we pass by the West Concord commuter rail train station.  That train runs from Fitchburg to Boston and will not be a rail trail any time in the foreseeable future.  Thereafter, we are enveloped by pine forest that surrounds many a pond.  Not far from here is Waldon Pond, but we’ve already walked over thataway.  This part of the path is much more appealing than the part that runs from Sudbury to Framingham.

We turn around at North Road, which is almost exactly 4.7 miles from where we started, and head back to the car.  We passed dozens of walkers, a plethora of bikers and said hello to many a puppy.  It’s been an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk.  Traveling these rail trails is clearly a popular thing to do, and, if my experience is any judge, is becoming more and more popular since the lockdown.

Whoever first came up with the idea of reclaiming railroad right-of-ways for recreational use is a genius.

 

State prison wall and tower.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 7, 2024

Seems like a good place for a dog park to me.

 

March’s weather ranged from parka temperatures, with frequent rain and occasional ice, to unzipped light jacket weather with sunshine that made me sweat.  Waldo’s need for water has gone from none to eager to get in the house so he can lap down a half-bowl of the stuff.  Soon, I’m going to have to start carrying his water bottles in my pack again.

Buds are now out on the tips of tree branches.  Low-lying plants, like garlic mustard and bitter dock, wear full leaves, although they are still small.  There is a pale green tinge to the sides of the trail from the nascent leaves bursting from buds on the branches of the bushes that grow there.  The Japanese knotweed is a jumble of dead hollow and broken stalks, but soon they will be sprouting from their roots once again. Spring, although not fully sprung, is emerging.  Even so, there is a forecast of “plowable amounts of snow” in a couple of days.

The construction along the Assebet River Rail Trail hasn’t changed much in the past few days.  Cement pillars now have cement floors on their top two stories, but there are no walls yet.  Windowed pressboard walls, one story high, zig-zag along the ground past the pillars, but they don’t yet have an external surface that will sustain New England’s weather.  I wonder how they will be finished, but I’m going to have to wait to find out.  Nothing is moving along very fast.

The piles of dirt at the soon-to-be public park, about a mile further down the path, are still being pushed around without any suggestion of what the final outcome will be like.  The piles move around, grow and diminish, and change their consistency.  Some are rocky hills bearing sticks and branches, while others are more like sand.  Huge dump trucks haul the stuff around and deposit it here and there.  There’s even a road roller (once known as a steam roller) that smooths down the path the trucks take.  Curious.

Several of my fellow dog-walkers have shown some interest in asking the town to put in a dog park on these grounds.  Seems like a perfect place for one.  The area is quite large, with lots of room for a dog park, along with whatever else they may be planning on putting in there. So, I decided to call the town hall.  I asked them, first, what they were planning on doing with the area.  The woman I talked to said that it was going to be a large open public space without any athletic fields of any kind.  My first reaction was, why did all the trees need to be cut down for that?  But I held my tongue and asked instead about the dog park.  She said there were no plans for one there, but to call back in a couple of months.  Apparently, they’re thinking about putting one in somewhere else.  She wouldn’t say where, just call back.

Today, as Waldo and I passed along the fence that encloses the piles of dirt, I noticed a man and a woman looking at the construction being done.  We decided that all the earth-moving was necessary because there used to be a landfill there and they have to process the ground to make it safe.  Maybe so.  I then suggested that it would be a good idea to put in a dog park.  The woman said that she was talking to the mayor the other day and there was a plan to put a dog park in somewhere in town, but she didn’t know where.  Apparently, the mayor promised a dog park when he ran for election.

“You have the mayor’s ear?”  I asked with some excitement.

“Well, yeah, I guess. Sort of,” she said.

”Well, tell him to put a dog park in here!” I said.

The woman promised to mention it the next time she talked to him.  I have no idea what the connection is she has with the mayor and I wasn’t interested enough to ask.  I just figured, whatever it was, there was an opportunity to offer a suggestion from a constituent.  It would be very convenient for Waldo and I to stop by here, after our walks, for a little off-leash free-time romp.  It would be pretty cheap to set up too.  What do you need other than a gate and some hurricane fencing?  I am considering starting a petition, but I’ll wait until I do call back, in a couple of months, to see what they have in mind.

Meanwhile, Waldo and I continue on our way.

Watching the snail-paced, but cosmic, changes along the rail trail.

 

Waldo likes to walk, but he needs a good place to romp off leash .

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 30, 2024

Building construction at the beginning of the rail trail.

 

A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to transit a landscape.

-Rebecca Solnit

 

March’s weather ranged from parka temperatures, with frequent rain and occasional ice, to unzipped light jacket weather with sunshine that made me sweat.  Waldo’s need for water has gone from none to eager to get in the house so he can lap down a half-bowl of the stuff.  Soon, I’m going to have to start carrying his water bottles in my pack again.

Buds are now out on the tips of tree branches.  Low-lying plants, like garlic mustard and bitter dock, wear full leaves, although they are still small.  There is a pale green tinge to the sides of the trail from the nascent leaves bursting from buds on the branches of the bushes that grow there.  The Japanese knotweed is a jumble of dead hollow and broken stalks, but soon they will be sprouting from their roots once again. Spring, although not fully sprung, is emerging.  Even so, there is a forecast of “plowable amounts of snow” in a couple of days.

The construction along the Assebet River Rail Trail hasn’t changed much in the past few days.  Cement pillars now have cement floors on their top two stories, but there are no walls yet.  Windowed pressboard walls, one story high, zig-zag along the ground past the pillars, but they don’t yet have an external surface that will sustain New England’s weather.  I wonder how they will be finished, but I’m going to have to wait to find out.  Nothing is moving along very fast.

The piles of dirt at the soon-to-be public park, about a mile further down the path, are still being pushed around without any suggestion of what the final outcome will be like.  The piles move around, grow and diminish, and change their consistency.  Some are rocky hills bearing sticks and branches, while others are more like sand.  Huge dump trucks haul the stuff around and deposit it here and there.  There’s even a road roller (once known as a steam roller) that smooths down the path the trucks take.  Curious.

Several of my fellow dog-walkers have shown some interest in asking the town to put in a dog park on these grounds.  Seems like a perfect place for one.  The area is quite large, with lots of room for a dog park, along with whatever else they may be planning on putting in there. So, I decided to call the town hall.  I asked them, first, what they were planning on doing with the area.  The woman I talked to said that it was going to be a large open public space without any athletic fields of any kind.  My first reaction was, why did all the trees need to be cut down for that?  But I held my tongue and asked instead about the dog park.  She said there were no plans for one there, but to call back in a couple of months.  Apparently, they’re thinking about putting one in somewhere else.  She wouldn’t say where, just call back.

Today, as Waldo and I passed along the fence that encloses the piles of dirt, I noticed a man and a woman looking at the construction being done.  We decided that all the earth-moving was necessary because there used to be a landfill there and they have to process the ground to make it safe.  Maybe so.  I then suggested that it would be a good idea to put in a dog park.  The woman said that she was talking to the mayor the other day and there was a plan to put a dog park in somewhere in town, but she didn’t know where.  Apparently, the mayor promised a dog park when he ran for election.

“You have the mayor’s ear?”  I asked with some excitement.

“Well, yeah, I guess. Sort of,” she said.

”Well, tell him to put a dog park in here!” I said.

The woman promised to mention it the next time she talked to him.  I have no idea what the connection is she has with the mayor and I wasn’t interested enough to ask.  I just figured, whatever it was, there was an opportunity to offer a suggestion from a constituent.  It would be very convenient for Waldo and I to stop by here, after our walks, for a little off-leash free-time romp.  It would be pretty cheap to set up too.  What do you need other than a gate and some hurricane fencing?  I am considering starting a petition, but I’ll wait until I do call back, in a couple of months, to see what they have in mind.

Meanwhile, Waldo and I continue on our way.

Watching the snail-paced, but cosmic, changes along the rail trail.

 

Pushing dirt around at the soon to be public park.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 23, 2024

The power substation — in the weeds…

 

Let’s face it.  Adventure and exploration are in my blood.

-Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

 

Sometimes I get this chafing in my subconscious when I don’t complete something I intended to accomplish.  It must be sort of like the urge some people have to buy the newest, latest and greatest iPhone every year (I haven’t bought a new phone for the past 5 years, so this is speculation).  It’s a definite itch that needs to be scratched and if I don’t deal with it in some way, it gnaws at me subtly and subliminally.  It’s not a strong compulsion, it’s just there.  I’ve trudged many a stormy mile, through headwinds and deluge, to accomplish goals in life, using simple determined perseverance, but this isn’t that.  I’ve got that itch now because Phyllis, Waldo and I didn’t walk all the way to the beginning of the unfinished part of the Mass Central Rail Trail.

Anyway, today, Waldo and I park our car on Route 20 where we started last time.  Phyllis is busy, so it’s just the two of us.  The gate at the beginning of our walk is open and the “No Trespassing” signs are gone.  Down about a quarter mile or so, I can see a pickup truck.  When we get there, I see that there are actually four trucks at a bridge and five or so workmen.  It looks like they’re building a wooden form around the power lines that come out of the ground to pass next to the bridge.  I’m guessing the forms will hold cement designed to cover the cables.

Waldo charms the nearest of the workers with his need to give and get a little lovin’, so I start talking to the guy.  He tells me that the trail does, indeed, end at the power substation that I saw the last time I was here.  He also tells me that Eversource will be building another substation at the Hudson end of the rail trail, but that hasn’t begun yet.  That answers other questions I had.  As he works, I see that what I thought were power cables are actually empty 6” (or so) thick rubber/plastic tubes.  The cables themselves have not yet been run through these “pipes.”  These guys don’t work directly for Eversource, they’re subcontractors, so they don’t know the details about how 7.5 miles of huge copper power cable can be threaded through those already buried pipes, but I guess that’s the plan.  Waldo and I wish them a good day and we continue on our way.

The weather is chilly and partly cloudy.  Rain is forecast in about two hours or so, and there is a gusty wind blowing, but not too much.  There have been small rainstorms pass through recently, so the ground is a little muddy and we sometimes have to cautiously navigate around puddles in trenches left by long-gone heavy equipment tires.  The surrounding country is pine forest and large expanses of lowland wetlands.  The wetlands are national wildlife preserves and we do disturb a duck or two as we make our way west.

About a mile or so, into our trek, we come to the end of the incomplete rail trail.  There is a fence across the trail, but no “No Trespassing” signs.  Across a dirt road and through the bushes, I can see the electrical substation.  Across that same road, the railroad bed continues on into the brush, straight ahead, towards powerline towers headed east that disappear into the wetlands.  I decide to continue on the railroad bed, under those powerlines.  We have been here before with Phyllis, so I know where they go (to the terminus of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Wayland), I just want to be able to say that I’ve walked this new trail from one end to the other.  It’s that itch, don’t you know.

The railroad bed still has rails and wooden ties on it, but they are pretty well overgrown with grass.  There is a footpath that (mostly) runs between the rails where others have trodden the vegetation down and the going isn’t bad at all.  Waldo seems to know where he’s going and leads the way to Russell’s Garden Center which where our path connects to the rest of the MCRT.

Along the way, I notice there is a spur running off to the north with a well tramped-down path between the rails.  There’s that itch again.  Damn.  I’m going to have to defer that exploration for another time.  The wind is picking up and I can see storm clouds in the distance, back the way we have to go to return to the car.  I know Waldo will want to go on that spur too.  He always wants to go.

We get back to the car as a few sprinkles splatter on me, Waldo and the ground.  The total roundtrip distance we walked is right around 5 miles.  That makes the total distance, via rail trail, from Hudson to Russell’s about 9 miles.  That means that we could, if so moved, walk from Hudson to the end of this section of the MCRT for something like 14 miles.  Might have to do that sometime in the future, just to be able to say we did.

Then there’s that spur I saw…

 

There are no obstacles. Just speed bumps and work-arounds.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 16, 2024

Rail trails tend to be kinda straight…

 

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.

-Barack Obama

 

Another warm day!  And Phyllis is available to walk!  I’ve been planning on walking the other half of the (as of yet) unfinished stretch of the Mass Central Rail Trail, but the appeal of walking the whole thing tugs at me with force.  A quick call to Phyllis, a pat on Waldo’s head and it is decided.  We’re going to walk from the beginning of the thing in Sudbury to its terminus in Hudson, roughly 7.5 miles.

There’s a bit of a snag here.  I can’t really tell where the Sudbury end of the trail is.  I’ve read it’s somewhere in the Sudbury/Wayland area, but other than that, I don’t have a clue.  I always knew where the trail ends in Hudson, because I’ve been up there and I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen bits and pieces of the trail in Sudbury, but I’ve not seen where the construction ends.  Phyllis and I bushwacked our way through it a couple of years back, but the plan, apparently, is not to pave that entire route.  I can go online (God bless the 21st century) and follow the route of the old railroad bed, but again, since the trail isn’t yet finished, there is no indication of where the rail trail will terminate in Sudbury.

This is just the kind of adventure I revel in!  I’m pretty sure the trail at least goes as far as Route 20 in Sudbury, so I find a nearby business with a parking lot and we start there.  Once out of the car, I see that the trail, now just a wide muddy track bearing deep tread marks from heavy equipment, crosses Route 20.  There are fences and No Trespassing signs, but, damn the signs, full speed ahead.  We head that-a-way with the idea of going to where it ends and turning around to complete the walk into Hudson.

The temperature is in the mid-50s, the skies are clear and there is no significant breeze.  Like I said, the track is a little muddy and scoured with the rutted wake of long-gone construction equipment.  The ground is not as firm and solid as the part of the trail that Waldo and I traversed in Hudson.  On both sides are stands of tall old growth white pine, just like the rest of the trail.  Here and there, we pass old, rusted pieces of railroad remnants and one large, still standing, signal light.  It’s the kind that you see where railroads cross roads, but there’s no road out here.  It’s just standing there, all alone, out in the woods.  Things have changed, I guess, since steam locomotives pulled long lines of railcars through here.

We walk a good half mile and the trail just keeps going.  There are doggy footprints in the mud that aren’t Waldo’s, and we do pass a couple of other people walking dogs.  There must be others, beside myself, who, given the fact they must do doggy duty, are always on the lookout for new places to go.  It is interesting that most of the people we pass are walking their dogs.  Anyway, it’s late in the day, we have at least 7 miles to walk to get back to Hudson and we’re not sure just how much farther away the end of the trail is.  We turn around and decide to explore the rest at a later date.

Meanwhile, Waldo is having a grand old time, walking through the mud and exploring the country off to the sides.  There must be new smells and sticks that draw him onward, much like the allure of finding new ground to explore has for me.  He’s trotting this way and that, nose just above the ground, stopping and staring into the undergrowth and being generally engaged in living in the moment out in nature.  He’s enjoying his time out here at least as much as I am.

Phyllis and I chat as we walk along, as we always do.  We finished the “36 Questions to  Fall in Love” questions when we were on the Bay Circuit Trail, so we talk about family, our personal histories and philosophies and upcoming trips.  She just returned from hiking down into the Grand Canyon and back out again.  That’s a trip of about 8 miles, each way, with 4,000 ft in altitude gain!  I’m impressed.  I know my physical limitations, from all the walking we’ve done, and I’m not at all sure I could do it.  Maybe not all in one go anyway.  We also talk about my upcoming trip to Switzerland and the magical draw of international travel.  We decide, if we can arrange it (something that is not at all certain) that our next trip together will be to Tanzania to volunteer, for a couple of weeks, as teachers for the local kids.  That’s something I’ve explored online and there are organizations that exist to connect potential volunteers to the needs of people around the world.  It appeals strongly to both of us old folks.  It’s a pity I can’t take Waldo.  He’d love it, of course.

We get back to the car, I drop Phyllis off at her car, then I drive down Route 20, trying to locate the beginning of the trail in Sudbury.  I can’t see the thing from the highway, but I can stop and get out of the car at places where side-streets pass over it.  I’m able to track it to a power substation, about a mile or so from where we turned around, just at the place where a line of high-tension powerline towers takes off and heads toward Wayland.  Phyllis and I walked under those same towers some time ago, so I know that the trail must stop at the substation, even though I can’t get close enough to actually see it.  That makes perfect sense because the powerlines Eversource buried alongside the trail have to connect to something somewhere and a substation is the logical place for them to do that.

We need another good day to explore the rest of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Sudbury.  That should not be much of a problem.  There are no bad days for a good walk.

There are just some days that are warmer, dryer and less muddy than others.

 

Not really sure what this was supposed to signal…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 02, 2024

They’re putting some money into this trail.

 

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.

-Helen Keller

 

There is this piece of the Mass Central Rail Trail that begins just across the street from the parking lot where the northern end of southern portion of the Assebet River Rail Trail ends.  Well, at this point, it’s really more of a rail trail gonna-be than the real deal.  Anyway, from there, it runs more or less east by southeast to somewhere in the Sudbury/Wayland area.  I’m not yet sure just exactly where it ends.

The remnants of the railroad bed were overgrown and barely passable until about a year ago.  There were some lawsuits involving a local utility, Eversource, and NIMBYs who were trying to block its development.  Phyllis, Waldo and I actually walked the southern most part of it, in that natural condition, a couple of years ago.  The lawsuits were settled and, around a year ago, Eversource started burying power cables in the railroad bed and, in the process, clearing all the weeds.  The cable is now buried and the plan is to pave it over and, when that’s done, open it up to the public.  The paving has not yet begun.

I’ve been watching the beginning of the trail in Hudson.  For the longest time, there was a fence that blocked it off, bearing signs that said, “No Trespassing due to construction,” in big red letters.  These signs also said that big brother is watching 24/7 via video cameras (although there was no evidence anywhere that any such cameras existed).  Not wanting to wait for the time that all was paved over, I visited this fence every couple of months or so, hoping for a change that would allow me a chance to explore.  Last spring and summer came and went, then fall and winter, without any change.  Then, a few weeks ago, the fence and signs were gone, replaced by a yellow plastic ribbon strung between traffic cones. The cable is now buried, but the paving has not yet begun.

I was pretty sure that the path, even though not paved, would be solid and easy to walk on because Eversource had to have trucks and heavy equipment in there to bury the cable.  But I didn’t know what the ground would be like and I waited until there was a prolonged dry spell.  I really don’t like treading in muddy areas, with a border collie, if I can avoid it.  Today, the temperature is 60℉, cloudless and there is only a light breeze of 5 mph.  This is the day!

The entire thing is billed as being 7.5 miles long.  Round trip, that’s 15 miles – something my back is not up for right now.  So, the plan is to walk 3.75 miles or so, about halfway, explore what’s out there, and return.  Waldo is eager to go as we leave the car, cross the street and start on our way.

As I thought it would be, the path is broad, solid and flat.  Large treads have dug into the dirt, evidencing the prior passing of heavy equipment, but the ground is very firm and they don’t dig in very deep.  There is no equipment, trucks or cars anywhere to be seen and no one else is around.  There are lots of white pine on both sides of the trail as we enter into a forest.  Pine needles and cones litter the path, but there are no oak leaves.  Just off to the side, down a slight embankment, there is a carpet of oak leaves, so I’m guessing that the construction happened sometime after the oaks lost their leaves.  Pines continuously lose their cones and needles, so that explains why that’s all I would see on the trail now.

Waldo and I are about a mile and a half into our walk when we come across a fence partially blocking our way.  On it hangs those same signs of, “No Trespassing.”  I consider our options and decide to ignore them.  Stirred with confidence, I compose:

I in my shirtsleeves and Waldo sans balk

Carry on anyway with our new walk.

Hubris, maybe, but I also can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were caught.  A fine, probably.  But what if I were jailed?  What would happen to Waldo?  Would they put him in a pound?  Neither one of us would like that!  What if they made us walk by way of the streets to get back to the car?  That would add significant distance to our trek.  My back would certainly not like that!  But Waldo and I are intrepid fellows and we continue on.  Within a half-mile, we come across a young woman, her young son and a golden retriever, also ignoring the signs.  As we go on, we pass three more people with two other dogs and even a guy on a bicycle.  Some danger adds spice to adventure and what risk we are under here doesn’t seem that threatening anymore.  After all, we’re just an old man and his dog out using the path for what it was intended.  Damn the signs, full speed ahead!

On the way back, Waldo keeps trying to venture off the railroad bed and into the woods.  He must have gotten bored with the easy going.  It is pretty straight.  Not this time, Waldo.  Not this time.  The sun is low, about an hour before sunset, as we get back to the car and the air is getting just a bit chilly.  My back is a little sore as I settle into the car seat, but I’m really glad that we explored this part of the rail trail.

And we still have the other half to do.

 

There’s still some work to do…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments