Walking with Waldo

March 26, 2019

March 26, 2019

Being inside with Waldo is a challenge. Despite my best intentions and frequent sojourns in the snow, it’s just too cold to spend much time outside. We try to compensate by playing inside – fetch, tug-of-war and training (like “sit,” “splat [lay down],” “stay” and so on). But it’s really not enough for the puppy and he has serious cabin fever. When he’s restless, he’s constantly at me, looking for entertainment – toys in my lap, dog in my lap, teeth on my shoes, paws clawing at my legs. I do my best to come up with new ways to keep him busy, but how much can you do while sequestered inside a one-bedroom apartment, seeking refuge from the winter weather? I can keep myself busy without any trouble, but Waldo – not so much. Eventually, I get tired of pulling on one end of a fabric toy soaked in dog slime and brace myself for winter in New England.

There is a rail-trail near where we live. It was used, originally, by a train that ran about 10.2 miles from Marlborough to the neighboring town of Hudson. The rails are gone and the two towns have paved over the path. No motorized vehicles are allowed (except snow plows) and it provides for a beautiful rural walk all year round. Dogs need to be on leash, but I don’t feel comfortable letting Waldo run free in a non-fenced-in area yet anyway. I like to go there whenever I can muster up the intestinal fortitude. It’s funny, once I’m out walking the dog, I really enjoy it. However, I very seldom would get my ass of my easy-chair and explore the great outdoors without the dog. Waldo loves it.

It’s a bit warmer outside than it has been, but still chilly when we get to the trail.   Temperature is just a couple of degrees above freezing and the air has that fresh, brisk, clean odor with only a wisp of snow-smell tainting the air. I can feel my cheeks, the only exposed skin I’ve allowed, flush in the cold. It brings out vague memories of playing in the snow in my younger years. I walk along on the plowed paved part of the path and Waldo runs in front of me, venturing from side to side into the deep snow, plowing into the banks, burrowing under the crusty surface and rolling around.

Waldo has an eight-meter-long leash, so he has a lot of leeway as to where he can go and what he can do. This is intentional. He spends most of his time at the extreme end of the leash, but he is not just walking (God knows he’d love to be running, if not for the old[ish] man-anchor at the other end), he is checking out everything. The least little movement grabs his attention and he stops and stares. Any discoloration in the snow deserves investigation, and, of course, everything, everything, needs a good sniff and sometimes a [yuk] taste. Sometimes, he stops, head up, sparkle in his eye, and just looks around. I can almost hear him think, Wow, this place is cool! I’m probably anthropomorphizing here, and definitely projecting, but, looking at Waldo, I get the sense that he is a new visitor to the world (which he is) who is totally enthralled by the magic around him that he is just discovering in the moment.

I strongly believe that curiosity is a sign of intelligence. In fact, I’m not so sure the two are not synonymous. Curiosity seems to be a necessary and sufficient condition for intelligence. I’ve never met anyone who was curious and not intelligent, nor anyone who I considered intelligent who was not curious. Waldo is very curious. About everything. A nearly empty memory bank requiring new input data, soaking it up constantly. Every person and dog we pass needs a Waldo-greeting. He waddle-wags his tail as he approaches and says hello. A couple of pats and pets by the passers-by and Waldo goes on, looking for the next thing, as if to say, “Been there, done that.” We do this for two to three hours, when I’m totally spent, then we return home. Waldo doesn’t slow down at all – until we get into the apartment. He has no throttle, just an on/off button. Once home, he lays down, apparently exhausted.

That doesn’t last long.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 1 comment
March 19, 2019

March 19, 2019

It’s cold out. And snowy and icy and slushy and generally miserable. But Waldo doesn’t mind, he loves the snow. He runs, slides, nuzzles the snow and eats it, rolls and makes snow angels and generally has a ball. Me, I follow behind, as best I can at half puppy-speed, tramping along in old loafers, trying to keep the snow outside my shoes. Waldo runs to the end of the leash, turns and looks back at me as if to say, “Come on, old man! I’m on a mission!”, then turns his attention to a large, low, thick evergreen bush, sniffs around and under the dense leafage at its base, looking, I’m sure, for a rabbit warren. I tighten the leash and urge him to reverse course by saying, “This way.” If he gets tangled up in there, I’ll never get him out. I’ve had him for only a little over a month, but he understands what I want and complies. We’ve done a lot of walking. Many times a day.

It’s been two weeks since I worked my last shift. It doesn’t feel like I’m not going back. It feels more like I’m on vacation – something I didn’t get much of when I was working, but used to great advantage to decompress when I did. It’s funny how you can have this psychic momentum that propels you forward even when your life has changed, almost as if you are still on automatic pilot, doing what you’ve been doing for so long – working, resting, then back to work. I know I’m not going back to work, but some part of me does not.   Work defined who I was by what I did. I’m still that person, but no longer characterized by saving lives, alleviating pain and aiding the diseased. I don’t think I’ve worked out in my subconscious just who I am now, but whoever it turns out to be, just by the amount of time and energy I put into it, a large part must be “doggy-daddy.”

Waldo stops and squats with his butt in the snow just an inch above the ground. It doesn’t look to me like there’s enough room for him to leave a deposit, but he manages. Sizeable one too. I reach in my pocket and pull out a doggy doo-doo bag, but before I can retrieve what he’s left behind, he’s off at full puppy speed, looking for the next adventure. “Wait!” I call out as I reach down, fighting against the tugging leash. Waldo pauses, but only for a moment. A puppy’s attention span is short and he’s easily distracted. The apartment complex has several dog-waste disposal bins placed around the property. I locate one and redirect our course.

We haven’t gone far and Waldo’s ears perk up and he’s staring, motionless, into the distance. I look in the same direction and notice three kids playing in the snow, sliding down a gentle slope on broad flat pieces of plastic designed for that. He bolts out in their direction, tail wagging back and forth with a vigor that makes him waddle. I call out to the kids and let them know he’s friendly and ask if it’s okay if he says hello.   “Yeah, sure!” they call back as they bend over, mitten-covered hands outstretched in preparation to pet the puppy. Waldo approaches in a submissive low to the ground, posture, tail going to-and-fro with even more ferocity. Soon, all are wrapped up in the leash as Waldo dances around, trying his best to lick each and every one. God, he knows how to have a good time.

Hmmm. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here…

My only real complaint is the weather. I am so looking forward to warmer days. True, with the higher temperatures comes first the melting snow, then the mud, then the spring rains and more mud. But the ground will firm up eventually and, in the meantime, as muddy as it may be, it won’t be so uncomfortable to stay outside for long periods. Mud can be washed off, after all. Well, okay, brushed, washed, rinsed, dried, more brushing and so on. Sometime this summer, I’ll be sweating, Waldo panting, and we’ll both be looking forward to a cooler clime.

But not now. Now it’s time to go inside and thaw out.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 1 comment

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Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 3 comments
Walking With Waldo

Walking With Waldo

“Now this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

             – Sir Winston Churchill, after the battle of El Alamein, Egypt, 1942

I am seventy years old.  Seventy.  Seventy?  How can that possibly be?  I understand the physics of it, the physiology of it.  I understand the chronology, the biology, the sociology – hell, all the -ologies.  But spiritually, well, that’s something else.  When I look at that wrinkled, gray-haired, age-spotted poor impersonation of me looking back at me from the mirror…  Well, it just isn’t right, that’s all.  There’s been some mistake.  I’m not him.  How did that happen?  I must not have been paying attention.

But it’s what the records show.  So, I take advantage and retire from being a full-time ER doc to being, well, retired.  I took the leap from a pressure cooker, where “life-and-death decisions” is not a figure of speech, and into the vacuum of deep space.  I’m still trying to get my head around just what it is that I’ve done.

Retired. You know what that means, right?  According to the old adage, retired means tired again.  Fitting, I suppose.  I really feel it when I do those things that used to be ordinary, like walking a few miles with my puppy, Waldo.  What, not so long ago (seemingly), I could take in stride and feel pleasantly exhausted afterward, like a three-hour stroll, I now finish feeling spent and aching in places I didn’t realize I had places.  No, not just aching, feeling real pain.  My feet, my calves and, don’t get me started, my back.  There must be some truth in this seventy thing.  Damn.  Well, maybe it’ll improve after I’ve had some time to get into shape…  That still happens at seventy, right?

Now Waldo, he’s a real sweetheart.  I chose a border collie because I wanted a dog that would force me to regularly get my ass out of the house and exercise, just to release his daily basal energy.  They are very active dogs.  The experts say they need a minimum of four to six hours a day of exercise.  I can handle that, I thought.  It’ll give me something to help fill my day and structure my life-in-retirement.  Uh-huh, sure, Mr. Age-denial.  Waldo is patient with me, though, and we struggle along as we merge our lives.  It is a thrill to watch him run and play, sniff about and explore his new world (he’s only six months old now).

We live in a large apartment complex in central Massachusetts.  There are some two dozen buildings, with twelve apartments per building, separated by expanses of green grass, bushes and trees.  Wild rabbits live there and when Waldo sees one, he bolts after it in a gallop that nearly wrenches me off my feet when he slams into the end of the leash.  He looks back at me as if to say, “Really?  I almost had him!”  I sorely wish I could let him off-leash and go after the thing.  Besides the fact that it would wear him out and give me some peace, watching him enlivens a spirit in me that I haven’t seen in quite a while.

Waldo and I, we have a January-Octoberish relationship.  He’s at the very beginning of his life and me, well, I’m nowhere near the end of mine, but I am significantly further down the road.  Being with him provides me with a perspective I might, otherwise, have missed.  It kind of closes the “circle of life” for me and reminds me, a bit, what the early years of life were like and that puts what’s happening to me now into a focus that awakens a sense of wonder.  This thing we call life is magic.  No matter what happens in it.  As bad as it can get sometimes, it is not nothing, not an empty void.  It is full of joy, pain, anger, peace, fear, self-confidence, love, hate – all the vast colors of experience that we conjure up daily by merely opening our eyes.  I look back at my life and wonder, “What the hell was that all about?” and look at Waldo and wonder, “What kind of life will he have?”  But the reality of life is in the rabbit-chasing moment.  The here and now.  Waldo excited by the chase and me being thrilled at seeing him have fun being a dog.

Waldo has been quiet for a couple of hours and is now jumping on my recliner, telling me it’s time to douse some of his nuclear grade energy.  It’s take him out now or deal with a hyperactive puppy.  I shall return.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments