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.

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