February 14, 2023


And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

-John Muir


The weather has finally settled down from its wild swings.  We now enjoy daily temperatures somewhere near 40℉ for a high and around 30℉ for a low.  There are frequent showers, mostly rain, but not the hard driving stuff, mainly misty drizzles.  On the occasion when we do get snow, the accumulation is no more than an inch and it’s gone in a day or two.  I see some plants with swollen buds at the tips of their branches and I can’t help but wonder if they’ve been deceived by the mild winter into a premature onset of foliation.  They don’t seem to be any worse for it, though. The mosses have enjoyed a few extra months of prolonged damp and sun exposure that makes them flourish.  Our walks have been pleasant, but then they always are, and we haven’t had to plow through 4 or more inches of snow.  Even that’s not unpleasant — it’s just a lot of work.  There are no such things as bad walks; some are just warmer and dryer than others.

Waldo really enjoys going out on the rail-trail on nearly a daily basis.  If he were working on a farm, herding sheep, for example, his life would be different, but I don’t think he would be any happier.  As it is, he gets plenty of time to wander around, smell what’s here, pick up sticks, move them around and meet new dogs and people.  We’re out here so often and so much that he has become famous – at least among the regulars on the trail.  It’s not unusual at all to pass someone, who I don’t remember, and they’ll call Waldo by name.

I, too, have gained some notoriety.  I passed a woman the other day who asked, “Are you the guy who walks three hours a day?”

“We do, Waldo and I,” I replied.

“You must be in great shape,” she responded.

“Hey, I didn’t say it didn’t hurt,” I said.  I am getting older and my muscles do ache a bit by the end of our treks.

Waldo’s response to people and dogs is variable.  If his OCD hasn’t diverted his attention elsewhere, he likes to meet everyone and every dog we pass.  He wags his tail on one side of his body, then both sides and, as we get closer, he exhibits what it means for the tail to wag the dog and everything moves.  For people, after a few sniffs and licks, and getting some pats himself, he’s back on down the trail as if they didn’t exist.  For dogs, it’s more of a mutual sniffing tryst, followed by an attempted romp that ends in leashes getting entangled.   In both cases, after a few seconds, he has a been-there-done-that attitude and is once again focused on what’s in front of his nose.

On the other hand, if he’s absorbed in something, I never can tell what, he’s likely to keep going as if the people or dogs don’t exist.  He’ll pass them by without even a sideways glance and sniffs his way on down the trail.  If we pass an aggressive dog, I hold him close until we’re abreast.  The other dog barks, growls and tries to lunge at Waldo, but Waldo just keeps walking straight ahead at my side.  Then I let him go to the end of the leash and he trots on as if nothing unusual or threatening were amiss.  I can’t help but wonder if that attitude doesn’t drive the other dog nuts…

For me, I try to say a friendly hello to everyone we pass.  Most are happily receptive, but a few grumpy people are too affected by their personal strife to acknowledge our existence.  I let them pass, without taking it personally, to wallow in whatever misery they carry.   The more gregarious people will stop and we’ll exchange a few niceties, before moving on.  We are here, after all, for the walk, not the socialization.  There is no other reason to be here, except, maybe, riding a bike or rolling on a skateboard or rollerblades.  The dogs we pass, I pat and offer one of Waldo’s treats.  Waldo doesn’t mind as it means he’ll be getting one too.

And all this is happening in the middle of winter, not just a mild spring or fall day.  There is something about the woods that inexorably drives some people, and most dogs, to come out and walk the walk, in December and January, as well as May and October.  Even in some pretty rough weather, Waldo and I have never been out here and not passed at least one other person, or person and dog, doing what we’re doing.

Walking down the rail-trail through the forest.


A marcescent maple on a snowy day.

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