Walking with Waldo

February 23, 2021

Come on! Let’s go see where this goes!

 

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

-T. S. Eliot

 

A dirt path, covered with the tan and orange detritus of winter, winds through and amongst naked trees and bushes.  It rolls out in front of Waldo and I in a gentle arc that disappears after a short distance, curving around then veiled by its swathe of hibernating plant life.  Some green persists, but only that offered up by the white pine that’s scattered here and there in the forest — the deciduous trees, bushes and vines are all brown and skeletal.  What grass remains is mostly buried under a thick blanket of rotting leaves.  The oaks and maples slumber on in the cold and still give shelter to squirrels.  There are rabbits about, but they shelter from the icy air in their snug hidey-holes.  Most of the birds are gone, but a few linger on, chattering softly in the bare branches.  This wintery world is a quiet pastel place, yet the air itself assaults any exposed skin as if to demand a price for this peace, while simultaneously drawing the mind to the present moment.  It is a perfect time and place for a wandering, wondering mind.

Waldo trots along, apparently searching for anything of interest, and he finds it.  A stick here, pee-mail there, a fading vestige of scent left behind by some passing animal, it is all there for the discerning nose.  His mind seems to be wandering as well, going from one external experience to another.  We are both exploring.

Exploration has served mankind well, over the ages.  It brought our ancestors down from the trees, spread them out over the plains and then onto a vast diaspora that covered the Earth.  No other species has wandered so far and wide.  And our travels have been internal as well as external.  Philosophy, mathematics, art, literature, innumerable things that people do can be understood as exploration, extending the boundaries of the familiar.  What is it that urges us on?

Some might think that it is a need, like breathing, drinking and eating.  But I don’t think so.  Needs have goals in their sights and the inability to attain those goals cause frustration and anger (among other things).  And, if you do attain your goal, you then cling to it ferociously.  Exploration is different.  When you explore, you have no idea what you’re going to encounter and, often, your most valuable finds aren’t tangible things, but experiences.  Experiences you can only hold in your memory, not your hands, and they only have value on reflection.  Then, once you find what’s there, your thirst is not quenched, and you move on to the next discovery.  One is driven more by curiosity and wonder than by need.  And trying to satisfy that curiosity is no more a need than flowing water has a need for the sea, or a falling apple has a need for the ground.  It’s an expression of our nature.  To not explore is to not be human.

Now, not everyone safaris in Africa when they hear hic sunt leones (here be lions).  But every single one of us has felt curiosity in one form or another and has probed their personal unknown to some degree.  It is universal among our species, although many may suppress the urge, sublimate the longing.  At its best, exploration is the direct outcome of a sense of wonder.  It is the direct result of appreciating the magic of the human condition.  Not so much asking the questions, “Why are we here?” or “What’s the purpose of life?” or even “What is a human life?” as much as just bathing ourselves in the magical experience, as it is, of being a living, breathing, feeling, thinking human being in a world whose vastness will always be beyond our poor ability to grasp it all with our puny minds.

Today, I’m content to open myself up to my immediate surroundings.  To watch the unfolding of the world right in front of me as it dances and sings in nature’s icy recital.  To discover the curious and wonderful magic that speaks to me if I only take the time to look and listen.  And Waldo is doing much the same thing, in his own Waldo way.  So, maybe, the drive to explore is not exclusively a human thing.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of having a mind of any kind.

 

Phyllis likes to explore too.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 16, 2021

The trail runs straight in Bedford.

 

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

-Khalil Gibran

 

It’s cold out today, colder than it has been.  Without windchill, it’s 27 degrees.  With windchill, it’s, well, just damn cold.  Phyllis and I are accompanying Waldo on the Reformatory Branch Trail and the Minuteman Bikeway — Christine had a conflict and couldn’t make it.  The two paths together make up a route that goes from Concord to Cambridge at the Alewife T-Station near Fresh Pond.  The Reformatory Branch is not paved and it runs 3.9 miles from Concord to Bedford.  The Bikeway is paved and follows, pretty closely, the path Paul Revere took on his famous ride of 1775.  It runs 10.1 miles from Bedford to Cambridge and has been a multipurpose path since 1998.  Bicycle commuters use the latter to bike to town from Boston’s outlying suburbs, but there are bikes on the former as well.  Today, there aren’t many bikes, but, despite the cold, there are a lot of fellow walkers.  After the warmup trek from Concord to Bedford, Phyllis and I are comfortable enough and Waldo, hell, he’s in his element.

After the Battle of Lexington and the subsequent clash with the colonials in Concord, the British retreated through the same woods (although not the same trees) that we walk through today.  The trail runs close to Lexington Green, where the “shot heard around the world” was fired, but not so close that we can see it.  Although we do walk through forested areas, we can see houses and commercial buildings through winterized denuded foliage along much of our route. The towns and cities of Boston suburbia are very close.

I’m impressed that the Redcoats marched not only along our 14-mile trek, but further, all the way into Boston.  And they did it twice, both to Concord and then back.  And they did it all on the same day.  And they did it while being shot at by the colonial militia.  They were some hardy dudes.  I can’t help but wonder what both the Redcoats and the colonial militia would think of this place as it is today.

Even more incredible is the realization that all this happened only 8 generations ago.  I’m almost 72, so that’s only 3.4 times my lifetime.  In those terms, it doesn’t seem so long ago at all.  Think about all that has happened in the world during that short period of time.   For that matter, I’m awed by all the change that’s occurred during my lifetime, and I remember it.  It’s not theoretical history at all.  It’s real, solid and palpable, flesh and blood.  Hell, I can still smell and taste it.  We are living through an ever-accelerating change in the way we live, and it’s happening globally.  I can remember living in Ethiopia in the early 1960’s when there was just one short piece of paved road in the country.  Everything else was gravel or dirt ruts.  Today, the country is connected by modern highways.  I have heard that the camel drivers of caravans crossing the Sahara now use cell phones to keep in touch with their families while out trekking through the dunes.  Dramatic change is everywhere.

And yet, we, as biological organisms, haven’t changed hardly at all.  There hasn’t been enough time for us to evolve from what our ancestors were in 1775.  Or even to evolve much from what people were during the Trojan War.  That was 100 generations ago and there just hasn’t been enough time to make that much difference between what human beings were then and what they are now.  Evolution happens slowly.  Very slowly.  So here we are, animals whose bodies evolved to live in forests and run on grassy plains, interacting with other animals and plants, also evolved to exist in a natural world, who are thrown into a totally artificial man-made universe that our bodies were never designed to function in.  Is it any wonder we’re having trouble?

The thing is, the natural world of our ancestors is still here, just outside our doors, struggling to survive in this new ever-changing world, supporting us as best it can.  We may think that we live in large cities filled with electronic and gas-powered doodads that keep us living in relative luxury, but we do not.  The truth is, these cities and machines are imbedded in a natural world that envelops us and provides us with the raw materials that we need to survive.  All our technology and advancements just changed the caves we live in.  We still rely on nature to provide us with the essentials of life – the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink and the biology that supports our biology.  Without nature, we are screwed.  And we’re destroying that heritage as rapidly as we change the milieu we live in.

But out here on the trail, although it is paved by tar that has been dredged up from underground, and the air we breathe is polluted by industry and cars, we are swathed in a thin blanket of nature where we can be reminded of the real world of our existence.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Just ask Waldo.

 

Great Meadows, Lexington, near Lexington Green.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 9, 2021

Harvey is feeling better!

 

Companion: a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels.

-Oxford Languages

 

We took Harvey to the animal hospital where they gave him subcutaneous fluids, force fed him into his craw, and gave him antibiotics.  It isn’t clear what he was suffering from, some Harvid disease of some kind, and at first, it seemed he was near death.  We discussed euthanasia, but decided we would support him for a few days and see how he did.  Lo and behold, he started eating again and perked up!  We brought him home and continued the antibiotics.  So far, he is getting more energetic, is eating more and appears to be on the rebound!  What a relief.  We’re not out of the woods just yet, but things are looking up.

Meanwhile, back on the rail-trail, Waldo and I do our daily six miles.  It’s cold out there, although that doesn’t seem to bother Waldo at all, but I can dress for it.  I’ve found that the neck gaiter I use as a face mask also helps keep my neck, cheeks and chin warm.  When pulled up into position, over my nose, my face is quite toasty.  The downside is that it redirects my exhaled breath so that my glasses get foggy.  My breath also makes the cloth quite wet if I keep it in place for long.  So, when I am alone, I pull it down, but keep it over my chin to keep my lower face warm.  It works quite well.

Waldo plods along, usually up ahead at the far reach of the leash, but sometimes s-turning back and forth, pursuing some odor or other.  There are also times when he will come back to me and almost trip me with a body-block while dangling his omnipresent stick just out of my reach.  I’m not sure what the rules are of the game that he wants to play, but I make up some moves of my own and enter into the fun.  If I grab at the stick, he’ll clamp down hard on it and refuse to let it go.  Digging in his feet and pulling away from me with his not-insignificant strength and weight, we could play tug-of-war over the damn stick for miles.  This game necessarily impedes our progress, so I look for other ways to entertain us both.  I could chase after him, but, hey, it’s hard enough to walk six miles, I don’t have to run it!  Another ploy: grab another stick off the side of the path, they are ubiquitous, and wave it in front of Waldo.  He’ll stare at it, drop the stick he’s carrying and wait for me to throw the one I’ve got.  As soon as I do, he grabs the one he dropped and then runs after the one I threw.  He then brings them both back to me and “tempts” me with them.  I pick up another stick, repeat the process, and see how many sticks he can carry.  This depends on the size, weight and geometry of the sticks, but I’ve seen him carry as many as five before they start falling by the wayside.

Sometimes, I cheat.  As he gets close to me, instead of going after the stick, I grab his tail.  I don’t think this is as much fun for him, though, so it’s a stratagem I don’t use often.  However we play it, there is a give and take, a kind of communication, that passes between us that reinforces our bond.

This bond fascinates me — we are two different species who share a life together.  It is theorized that both dogs and humans are communal animals and the groups they instinctively form help them survive in an evolutionary sense.  We both have biochemical, perhaps hormonal, needs that draw us into association with others.  I’ve often wondered if this is mediated through pheromones.  Whatever mechanism is involved, this “other” does not have to be of the same species.  For humans, the bonds can be made with birds, dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, and even snakes and spiders.  If each one of these bonds is not a conscious exchange between two separate minds, I don’t know how to explain it.  I’m anthropomorphizing here.  I’m not suggesting that animal minds are human minds or that they have the same qualities as a human mind.  But I’m convinced they have a mind just the same.

Waldo is an independent cuss.  I’m told it’s a characteristic of border collies.  He spends most of his time entertaining himself out there at the front end of the leash and ignores me.  But every once in a while, he’ll turn and look at me, or tempt me with a stick, or bite at my feet, or nudge my hand with his nose and I know that even when he’s pursuing an alluring odor, as if I’m not in the universe at all, I am there in the back of his mind.

As he is always in the back of mine.

 

Lets play!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

February 2, 2021

Harvey at the hospital.

 

“We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”

-Dean Charles Stanforth, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 

It’s yet another grey day out on the rail-trail.  Even in the early afternoon, the temperature is cold, although not frigid, and the air is mostly still.  Waldo’s up front at the end of the leash, on a mission, trotting along toward some goal I don’t understand.  I’m not at all sure he does either.  This is what a big piece of my life has become in retirement – get up, take the dog out, feed the dog, take the dog out, play with the dog, take the dog for a walk, feed the dog, take the dog out, go to bed.  Christine used to text, me asking me what I was up to, and I inevitably answered WWW, walking with Waldo.  She has since banned me from doing so, saying that’s a given.  Now, I am only to answer what else I might be doing.  One thing that is consuming my attention today is my yellow-naped Amazon parrot, Harvey.

I’ve had Harvey for about 35 years.  I got him when I lived in LA and just moved into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs.  I wanted a pet and birds were okay, so I went to a pet store and became enamored with Harvey.  He has been with me and seen a good deal of my life, about half of it, come and go.  I think he is about 40 years old now and his expected lifespan is around 105 years.  I fully expected to die before he does.  Years ago, I arranged for my younger daughter to take care of him when the time came that I couldn’t.  Things came around full circle and, when I got Waldo, I moved into an apartment that allows dogs, but not exotic pets.  My daughter agreed to take care of Harvey and he now lives with her, about a half an hour away.

I’ve missed Harvey since, being no longer able to have daily nonsense conversations with him.  For example, I’d say, “Hi, Harvey!”

And he’d answer, “Whatcha doin’?  Huh?”

And even crazy adventures, like the time he was in a TV episode of Dragnet (1989-1990), starring Bernard White and Jeff Osterhage.  But that’s a story by itself.

Harvey has had liver problems, something I’m told is not unusual for a bird, for many years.  It now appears that it has caught up with him and he is on the edge of death.  There is still a small chance that he’ll survive, but it doesn’t look good.  We will know in the next few days.

When I was young, my life was expanding.  The number of people I knew and interacted with grew and changed constantly.  Opportunities for work, career, friendship and adventure were legion.  But time was scarce.  Work requirements often made it difficult to find the time to explore life, while at the same time, having the money to make it happen.  Then I got older and my options grew fewer.  Time is now aplenty, but wealth, well, not so much.

In my old age, loss has become a regular event.   After retirement, my life became much simpler.  I don’t regret that at all.  The tight schedules, stress, multifaceted daily schedules, deadlines, life-and-death responsibilities – much of the stuff of which modern life is made, are gone.  It leaves me time to reflect, commune with my soul, my atman, nature and Waldo.  I now have the time and space to swim in the wonder of it all, not with an effort to understand it better, but to relax in it and become absorbed with the magic of human life.  I’ve lost a lot because of age and retirement, but I’ve gained a lot too.  Much of the quantity is gone, but the quality is greatly improved, although, sometimes, it is quite painful.

It is also true that when I was young, most of the people I knew were young and healthy.  Older family members got sick and died, but it was shocking when my peers did.  At my current age, acquaintances are dropping with more regularity.  Most of the people I have known are about my age. The older I get, the more vulnerable I am to disease and death and, therefore, so are many of the people I know.  It comes as no surprise, then, that the more time moves on, the more people I lose to the grim reaper.  More loss.

Now, I have Harvey’s loss of good health and it comes unexpected.  His death, if it happens, will be yet one more loss as I make my own way toward the end of life.  And it will be a hard one.  I have known him for so long, shared so much of life with him.

At least I have Waldo.  Dogs live about 13 – 15 years or so before their life has run its course.  Waldo is still young, at almost two and a half, and we will both grow very old together.  At least, that is my plan.  By the time he is 15, I will be 85 and we will be of about the same age in every real sense.  I would not mind it at all if he outlived me, but I sure hope I don’t outlive him.  That would be hard indeed.

In the meantime, he and I can share our love of walking in the outdoors and being surrounded by nature.  We can give each other company and although the end is somewhere out there in the not-so-distant future, it is not yet in sight.

I take a deep breath.

Come here, Waldo!  Wanna chase a stick?

 

Waldo and his ubiquitous stick.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 26, 2021

Its grey out today — again.

 

Gray is the color… the most important of all… absent of opinion, neither/nor.

-Gerhard Richter

 

It’s a grey day out on the rail-trail.  It’s cold and the tarmac is wet, slushy in some places.  There is a light breeze that blows, on occasion, and when it does, its cold bites through my gloves and makes my fingers ache.  The frigid air numbs my cheeks, the only exposed skin I have.  Our pace is brisk – Waldo’s because it is his nature and mine because I’m trying to generate some body heat.

The daylight, being scattered by an overcast, is soft and diffuse.  There are no sharp edges or glaring contrasts.  Edges still exist, but they are not black against white, they are just different shades of grey.  Physics and Chemistry would suggest that objects do not really have edges in the way we think of them.  Atoms and molecules are bound to each with an equivocal grasp that is loosed by normal vibrations caused by heat.  The tarmac I walk on has free roaming heavy hydrocarbon molecules just above the surface that intermingle with molecules of air.  Air molecules also grapple to the structure of the solid tarmac.  It’s like an Escheresque dance of air and tar.  Far above the asphalt, all is clearly gaseous.  Within the substance of the tarmac, everything is clearly solid petroleum residue.  But there is this thin gap between those two extremes where one morphs into the other like an Escher drawing.  As I walk along behind Waldo, watching his attention disappear into nature in very much the same way, I am struck by the idea that much, if not all, of life follows a similar meme.

After all, there is no impenetrable boundary that separates me from the rest of the Universe.  My physical being is made up of atoms and molecules, just like all other matter.  There is no substance in my makeup that does not make up all of existence.  What I am corporeally is a product of the ebb and flow of energy in the cosmos just like everything else.  I am part of the universe and inseparable from it.  As I reach out to interact with the rest of reality, it reaches into me with unavoidable tendrils of truth that are there whether I want to deny them or not.

One might argue that man has a “soul,” a “consciousness,” or a “mind.”  Something that is unique to the species, or maybe even shared with other living things, but not the inanimate, like rocks and dirt.  Perhaps this animas is not subject to the shackles of deterministic matter and controlled by the laws of nature.  Maybe some of what we are is made of something the rest of the world does not have.  If there is such a thing, there is no objective evidence of it.  No scientific experiment can demonstrate it.  Is it rational to think of ourselves as being anything more than a collection of stuff, the very same stuff that the rest of the universe is made of?

Perhaps, a more realistic way of seeing ourselves and the world, instead of being composed of a collection of solid objects, is to think of everything as being liquid, melding everywhere with everything else.  But a viscus liquid that maintains some cohesion and separate identity, although only vaguely separate.

Waldo is out in front of me, sniffing some probably God-awful substance I do not want to identify.  Because I witness it, it is a part of me.  Waldo’s life experience fluid flows into and mixes with my own.  I am not separate from Waldo, my essence is mixed with his.  The trees and bushes, such as they are this time of year, intermix with my quintessence through the conduits of sight, hearing and smell.  I absorb something of the nature of the ground on which I walk through my sense of touch, the feeling of my muscles contracting and the lift of that the very dense liquid, ground, that keeps me from falling through the Earth.

And these liquids are not made of just different shades of grey.  They are vibrant with a cornucopia of bright colors — hues of emotion, tints of desire, dark pigments of fear, pastels of hope and golden glints of bliss.

It is all so magical.

 

There are subtle colors, even when all seems grey.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 1 comment

January 19, 2021

Kinda wet and, in places, slushy.

 

The road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then?  I cannot say.

– Tolkien, J. R. R.  The Lord of the Rings.

 

There are two disjointed parts to the Assebet River Rail Trail.  The first, and closest to where we live, is 5.25 miles long and is the one Waldo and I take from Marlborough to Hudson.  The second, once part of the same railroad bed, begins in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge and runs up to Acton, about 3.35 miles away.  There’s a gap between the two sections,  navigable by way of city streets, of around 5 miles.  One day, we’ll have to do the entire 14 or so miles in one whack, but today, on nothing more than a whim and because we’ve not yet done it, Waldo and I are walking on the further part of the trail.  We park in Acton and head south.

It snowed last night, followed by rain.  This left a slushy, slick mess on the tarmac we have to walk through in places.  The going isn’t too bad, though, and we make good progress.  Shortly after we leave the car, the trail takes a bend to the left and then right again.  This is obviously not exactly on the old railroad bed – a train would never be able to make that sharp of a turn.  It then runs over a new well-constructed footbridge.  Someone has spent some time and money making this trail foot-friendly using the old right-of-way, but not following the original track exactly.  I see the same thing in Marlborough, but there, I can see why.  The path needs to be slightly rerouted because of streets and highways.  Here, it’s not so obvious why the path twists and turns the way it does.  Maybe it’s due to property boundaries?

We seem to be on the edge of town, buildings and streets on the left, swamp, forest, trees and, sometimes, the Assabet River on the right.  The river is full, lapping up against tree trunks and around bushes on the shore, and the water moves fast.  Waldo takes to the trail as soon as his paws hit the ground and is off out in front as if he knows where we’re going, which he probably does, given the number of these walks we’ve been on.  The day is cold, but not terribly so, the sky is partly cloudy and the sun shines down between white puffs, more of a reminder that it is still there than a source of warmth.  Waldo seems quite comfortable in his sable birthday suit.

As we walk further, we move into Maynard and by some old factory buildings.  A placard posted beside the path reveals that one of them belonged to DEC, back when it was a big deal.  It’s now owned by someone else, but it’s still in use.  Other placards along the route give lessons in local history, including the founding of Maynard and Acton and the industry that made them grow.  Now the towns are quiet suburban areas.

We pass people, all bundled up against the cold, wearing masks.  I wonder how busy rail-trails were before COVID hit and before everyone was spending so much of their time at home.  There are about 55 rail-trails Massachusetts alone, and every one we’ve been on, so far, has been well used.  Some are paved, some not.  Some have places that are hard to navigate, for one reason or another.  Even so, we’ve passed people, bikes, skateboards, roller skates, electric powered wheels of one kind or another, joggers, kids, afoot and in strollers, and dogs.  On cold days, hot days, rainy days and snowy days, when the track is clean and dry, wet and muddy, icy or covered with a foot of snow, at midday or after dark, we have never been completely alone.  There have always been others there.  It’s nice to know that there are people out there that appreciate a good place to walk.  People who share with Waldo and I the pleasure of being out in nature for a stroll.  Clearly, there is a community of like-minded people who are renewed by living in the moment, surrounded by the natural world.  And there are so many beautiful places to walk, so many places to go.

And they are just outside your front door.

 

The Assebet River in flood.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

January 12, 2021

In the Highland Street Forest.

 

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

-Susan Sontag

 

Waldo and I, we love our little rail trail.  But there are so many other places to walk.  Phyllis lives in Weston and has told us about the trails around where she lives.  Today, we tread on paths we have not yet wandered down.  It will be an adventure of exploration.

We start at Phyllis’s house and walk down unpaved footpaths that border the nearby streets until we get to the Highland Street Forest, which abuts the grounds of Regis College.  Many paths wander under the bare trees, winding along amongst the oaks and maples like noodles in a bowl of spaghetti.  It’s been a little while since Phyllis has explored in here and she’s forgotten its wiles and ways, but she has a map we can follow.  That isn’t as easy as you might think, because for a map to be useful, you have to know where you are on it.  The place is thick enough with tree trunks, branches and denuded brush that you can’t see very far to get a clue.  But, on the other hand, it isn’t so big that if we get lost, we would be in a bad way.  We could just walk along any path and, sooner or later, we would wander out of the forest and onto the surrounding streets where we could orient ourselves.  It’s an opportunity to exercise our scouting talents and I kind of like that.  Besides, wandering around without a clue as to where you are or where you’re going has a certain charm to it, you know?  Kinda reminds me of life.

Waldo, he’s having a grand old time, sniffing about, wandering along, exploring the off-path country, as the three of us humans are trying to figure out which track we should follow.  He doesn’t care about the destination on the large scale, he’s too busy learning about what is right in front of his nose.  Besides, for Waldo, the destination is not something that holds much value.  After all, arriving at journey’s end means a good walk is over and I’ve never seen him eager for that.  I’m sure, too, he is quite confident that when it’s time to eat and go to bed, he will be in a nice warm comfortable place.  He doesn’t know how that comes about, but history would tell him that it always ends up that way.

It’s cool out and, as we walk on the leaf-covered ground on tracks not much wider than what a single person needs to navigate through nature’s arboretum, we snuggle more tightly in our jackets.  It’s a perfect temperature for Waldo.  Our footfalls drop hollow on the ground, as if we were walking over a deep cavern.  I’m guessing the sound and sensation are caused by the soil being raised by an extensive system of roots that leaves many gaps in the subterranean dirt.  At any rate, it sounds like we’re walking on a ripe watermelon.  We come to the intersection of other trails and arbitrarily choose a way to go.  We pass a few other people coming through the woods.  It’s not clear as to whether they are as lost as we are – another apt metaphor for life, I think.  After a bit, though, we decide we should figure out where we are, because we want to go on to the Weston Reservoir, just so we can explore more trails, and we have to figure out how to get there.  So, I cheat and pull out my iPhone.  It seems we’ve come around in almost in a full circle, so we readjust our route and leave the forest.

There’s an aqueduct that leads the way to the reservoir, and the area is advertised to be “dog friendly.”  This appears to be akin to providing a bright light for moths because there are a lot of dogs out here.  Some are off leash and all seem to be friendly enough.  With every one we meet, Waldo does a perfunctory hello-dance, waggling his butt and tail about and approaching in a submissive posture.  He’s then off to the next interesting thing, as if saying to himself, “been there, done that.”

We get to the reservoir and walk around it in a large loop; it’s about a mile in circumference and fenced in.  The lake is still and serene.  The shores are pristine — in some places rocky, in others plant life wades in at the edges of the clear blue water.  By the time we’re all the way around, the sun is set.  We follow the city streets back to Phyllis’s house and it’s dark.  All in all, it as been a pleasant winter’s trek.

But then, they all have been.

 

The Weston Reservoir, through the fence.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 1 comment

January 5, 2021

On the road at the beginning of our trek across Massachusetts.

 

The lofty mountains and the seas,

Being mountains, being seas,

Both exist and are real.

But frail as flowers are the lives of men,

Passing phantoms of this world.

-Reiko Chiba

 

By the time this is posted, the new year will have begun.  This is a time for not only making resolutions for a better life to come, but also to reflect on what has happened during the year just passed.  Waldo and I have done a lot of walking, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and, this year, it has been in the midst of unique circumstances – notably, a pandemic and a very contentious presidential election.

2020 started with no indication that anything unusual was going to happen.  I spent Christmas 2019 traveling to Switzerland and shared a week or so with my brother and his family.  Waldo stayed with a dog boarder I use when I have to leave town.  He enjoys it there as he gets to romp with other dogs.  I’m told he spends 24/7 doing nothing but playing.  I missed him, but I didn’t feel guilty as he had a good time.  The first week of January, 2020, when I got back, he was happy to see me and we immediately returned to our life of walking 6 miles a day on the Marlborough Rail-Trail.  Everything seemed to be a smooth segue from 2019.

Then, only two months later, Covid hit.  At first, it was more theoretical than real.  Even though Marlborough was one of the first hot spots (there was a nearby medical conference that disseminated the virus), it didn’t touch us directly.  Soon after it started, though, my daughter and her family came down with it.  They all weathered it fine and they were back to baseline after two weeks.  Then, the numbers kept growing, businesses and schools closed and masks were encouraged.  After that, initially, the numbers came down.  But it didn’t last long.  A pandemic fatigue set in for many people, guidelines were ignored, and the numbers rose again.

Presidential campaigning became earnest, and our country’s bipolar division, urged on by a sitting President who encouraged a disbelief in long-standing, well-established institutions, science, and even logic, in favor of emotionally stirring conspiracy theories, widened and deepened.  Without the restraint of reason, emotions ran high and many people became frenetic enemies of other citizens.  Some questioned whether or not our Democracy would survive this test.  Meanwhile, the Covid numbers kept climbing and the death toll rose.

Throughout all this, Waldo and I kept walking.  We joined with Christine and Karen, and then Phyllis, when Karen left, and walked across Massachusetts.  We were cautious, wearing masks indoors and practicing social distancing.  None of us got sick.  The people we passed were friendly and social.   None seemed to be afraid or politically aggressive.  There was a certain tension in the air, but it was subtle.  As amiable as everyone was, there was a subconscious awareness of a disease-laden cloud hanging over all of us and a pending political contest whose outcome held the potential for disaster, one way or the other, depending on your point of view.  Still, all we met treated us and, as far as we could see, each other with sanity.

Not so on social media.  There, people went bonkers.  Perhaps that’s due to the anonymity it provides.  You’re interacting with a computer screen, not a face-to-face human being, and not in real time.  People treated each other more like a theoretical construct than a reality.  To read the things people posted, you had to wonder whether they had lost touch with reality.  According to all too many, science was not something you should believe in; its results were tainted by self-interest and were unreliable.  Some claimed that if you went to school and got an advanced degree, you were brainwashed and lost any common sense you may have once had.  Most devastating was the widely held belief that no source of information could be counted on; all data was fake — except that which supported your point of view or cherished conspiracy.

And yet, Waldo and I and our friends walked on.  We walked through country surrounded by history, trees, bushes, beaches, ocean, swamps, and forests.  We passed dogs, squirrels and birds.  We met people face to face and exchanged heart-felt pleasantries.  We breathed sea air, got wet from rain, got sunburned on clear days, sweated from high temperatures and shivered when they were low.  There is a reality, despite what anyone may think, and it is right here, right now.  As a reminder, all I have to do is look at Waldo.  That’s where he lives.

At the end of the year, although the insanity continues, the election was over, vaccines were developed and, for most of us, life goes on.

And Waldo and I, we walk still.

 

On the Atlantic beach at the end of our journey, Race Point, Cape Cod.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 29, 2020

This trail is wide!

 

Walking is the best possible exercise.  Habituate yourself to walk very far.

-Thomas Jefferson

 

Phyllis, Christine, Waldo and I get together once or twice a week to walk somewhere between 10 and 14 miles.  The idea is to keep our endurance up until we can decide on our next project.  In the past, Phyllis walked 22 miles along the Boston Marathon route and then stopped only because her companions wouldn’t go any farther.  Christine, Waldo and I have done about 15.5 miles, while we were on our way to Provincetown, and were not interested in trying to see if we could make it 16.  Phyllis walks and bikes daily, Waldo and I do six miles a day, and Christine gets plenty of daily exercise taking care of her rescue cows, horses, dogs, cats, and birds.  But still, we’d like to stay in good enough shape so we can walk long distances comfortably.   There are a lot of rail-trails in the area that suit our needs, and even more hiking paths, so there is no want for places to stroll.  Today, we are going on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail which runs from Acton up to Lowell, some 11.7 miles.  It gets its name from a state legislator who championed the establishment of the trail in the mid-1980s.

The day is warm, in the mid-fifties, and I am quite comfortable in my hoodie.  There is a parking lot at the trailhead in Acton, where we leave one car, and it has a surprising number of cars in it.  At the end, in Lowell, we leave another car in a parking lot that is also almost full.  We pass many people on the trail, presumably belonging to those cars, who, seemingly, are trying to go on a few more good walks before the bad weather sets in.  These include walkers, with and without dogs, and bikers.  Most are wearing masks; all are pleasant and friendly.

Each rail-trail we’ve walked on has its own character.  This one is paved, flat and wide, as well as popular.   It runs north from Acton and, after only a few minor turns, it passes through swampy areas, alongside a few lakes and ponds, and next to some residential developments.  Most of it is in the country, but as it gets close to Lowell, it does pass through some urban areas.  In fact, it runs right next to the center of downtown Chelmsford.  One of the things that these trails provide is a long path, in or near urban areas, surrounded by wilderness that you can’t see from roads and sidewalks.  I love the fact that I can go a mile from my house, turn right, and end up in a forest that I can saunter into for miles.  Waldo likes that too.

Dogs naturally like to walk.  When they do, they get exposed to a wonderous quantity of odors, a few things to chase, on occasion, and a way to burn off their pent-up physical energy.  They need to exercise their minds too, through play or training, but walking is a great way for them to get physical exercise.  Many dogs are limited as to how far they can comfortably go, but Waldo, well, if he has a limit, I haven’t found it yet.  Once we return home, he seems quite satisfied with what we do, though.

Me, I’m 71 years old, going on 72.  There’s a lot that implies, but one thing is for sure.  I can’t do what I was able to do at 20 and it now takes me longer to get into whatever shape I can achieve.  It also means I lose endurance much faster than when I was younger.  I therefore have to keep walking, every day.  From the time our ancestors became bipedal, walking has been a natural way to exercise.  I can feel my entire physical being strengthen and my endurance improve when I walk regularly.  Because of his relatively big brain, man has created environments to live in where walking is not only not required, it’s inhibited.  This may mean that we have more time to create art, engineer labor-saving machines and learn some of the secrets of the universe, but we’ve also lost the benefits of walking.  Now that I’m retired, I have the time to walk regularly and far.  I just have to make sure I don’t rest too much between jaunts.  The rail-trails have proven to be excellent for this, and Waldo, Christine and Phyllis have proven to be great companions.

But, although I feel this pressure to keep walking, that’s not the core reason why I do it.

I just like to walk with Waldo, and my friends, and do it out in nature.

 

They be swamps here!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

December 22, 2020

This is serious, now.

 

Behind the mask beats a loving heart, willing to save others.

-Helene Munson

 

It’s right around noon when Waldo and I start our walk on the Marlborough Rail Trail.  It’s overcast with a light breeze and not cold enough to wear a parka.  Brown decaying leaves covering the ground under hibernating trees have become a familiar sight by now and Waldo no longer has voluptuous green bushes to plunge under and into for God-knows-what.  He still has plenty to smell and he is as absorbed, as always, in being out in nature.

Not one quarter mile into our walk and something new appears.  It is a large white sign tied to a rail-fence.  Black and red writing, in capital letters, tells anyone passing by on the trail that the Governor of Massachusetts has ordered that masks are now required.  Up until now, I have been careful to wear a mask, usually a cloth neck gaiter that I can easily and quickly pull up over my mouth and nose, whenever I’m in public indoors, but now I’ll do the same even when walking Waldo outdoors.  I keep the gaiter down around my neck until I see someone approaching, or hear them coming up from behind, then the slip the mask in place well before the recommended six feet of separation is reached.  I keep it there until I’m once again alone for a significant distance.

This I do not only for the protection of myself and others, but also to help decrease the spread of the virus.  I do it as an expression of support for our authorities who are using the meager tools they have available to get this thing under control.  What rational person wouldn’t?  Covid-19 is spread through the air, it is very contagious, it kills (the overall death rate in the world is about 2.3%), there is no natural immunity, and there is no treatment for the virus (although there are some effective supportive measures that can keep some people alive until their bodies can overcome the infection).  It is a potentially catastrophic situation that has only infected about 8 percent of the world’s population (4.2% of the US population).  The infections won’t stop until about 70% of the world’s population is immune.  In the United States alone, if there were no vaccine, that would mean about 230 million people infected and 4.6 million dead.  But there are several vaccines on the horizon and we can reach the 70% immunity by vaccine and avoid 4.3 million deaths in the US, if we can just hold out long enough for the vaccine to become widely available.  This is expected to happen by May of 2021.  Until then, it only makes sense to do whatever we can to limit the spread.  This means following the guidelines provided by the experts who study this stuff and are the most knowledgeable.  Wear your mask, avoid gatherings, etc.

From what I can learn, wearing a mask outdoors doesn’t make much difference.  But it also costs so little – just a little temporary discomfort.  Very little.  The risk to benefit ratio is clearly on the side of the mask.  Apparently, most of the people we pass on the trail agree with me as they are either wearing masks or pull them into place, as I do, when we get close.  There are a few who are not wearing masks, but they give us a wide berth and pass quickly.  All seem to be very friendly and I see none arguing about wearing or not wearing masks.  Judging by what I read and hear from the media, this is not universally true.  At the rate things are going now, some 300,000 Americans will be dead from Covid before Christmas. That’s more than the number of American soldiers who were killed in combat during World War II (291,557).  And Covid has only been killing people for nine months.  America was involved in WW II for three years and nine months.  History will not judge kindly those who oppose following the guidelines.

I have two grandchildren who had the virus and will remember what that was like.  They will also remember how the disease changed all our lives.  Although they aren’t old enough to fully understand the implications of shut downs and job losses, they will remember what it was like to have to stay at home, wear masks in public, and to be denied in-person schooling.  They will remember not being able to shop in the malls and meet with their friends as much as they would like.  They will remember living in a world full of other human beings who could only be touched through digital devices.  But how, I wonder, will they ever explain to their children and grandchildren how it was that so many people fought to avoid the guidelines and allowed the virus to surge to what it is today?  I can’t get my own mind around it.

My family and I, we do what we can and keep on trucking.

At least I can still walk with Waldo, even if it is with a mask.

 

Despite the pandemic, we are still able to responsibly go for a walk.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments