October 26, 2021

Through the tunnel after dark.


Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

-Garth Nix


We, Waldo and I, have returned to our old haunt, the Assabet River Trail, in Marlborough.  I wish I could say that everything has gone back to the way it was before I left, but it has not.  I was away for a total of ten days, six days on the river plus travel days and a day visiting my younger brother, Stuart, in Montana, and I didn’t do the usual six-mile walk on any of those days.  “Use it or lose it” has taken on a whole new dimension of meaning for me in the past few years and the lack of exercise during just that short period of time affected my endurance.  I can still walk six miles without too much trouble, but it really wears me out.  When I get tired, it affects my posture and my back starts hurting.  It usually starts in my low back, then travels up to my upper back and neck.  It’s all muscle pain and goes away quickly with rest, but it does make the last two or three miles a chore.  It will take a week or two, but I will get back to the way I was.  These days, I lose my endurance fast and it takes more work than it used to for me to get it back.

Even so, I still enjoy daily answering the call of our trail, being out in nature, watching Waldo explore and romp, and it is a real thrill to see him having so much fun.  He, for sure, didn’t go on any long nature walks while I was gone and the first time we were back at it, he charged off to the end of the leash as if shouting, “Oh boy!  Oh boy!  Oh boy!”  He really loves being out on the trail and, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I know he is very happy to be back.

Another thing that changed during my absence is the temperature.  God turned down the thermostat a bit and we no longer have to walk in the early morning in order to avoid the heat.  We can leave later in the morning, or, as happened today, even wait until the afternoon before we start.  Life got in our way today and we didn’t hit the tarmac until just after five PM.  The temperature is in the high sixties, it’s overcast, and there is only a light breeze.

Although there hasn’t been any hard freeze yet, the leaves on a few of the trees, mostly sumacs and maples, have begun to turn.  There’s even a scattering of fallen leaves on the ground.  The weeds and undergrowth have begun to shrivel and turn yellow and there is a plethora of burrs that reach out and grab Waldo’s fur.  It doesn’t help that he likes to wander off into the foliage and even roll around in it.  Recently, I’ve had to pull and brush the damn things out of his coat when we get home – a real treat when he’s wet from frolicking in wet grass.  Fall is coming quickly and is not far away.

As we walk along, the shadows grow longer and the light becomes more orange.  At some point, after sunset, the shadows disappear altogether and everything becomes dimmer.  There is still plenty of light to see by from the twilight sky-glow caused by refraction of the sun’s rays in the upper atmosphere, but the overcast makes it less than what would be there on a clear evening.  In just a few minutes, it is quite dark.  My eyes have adjusted to the slowly waning daylight and I can still make out the vague shapes of the trees and bushes to the side of the trail.  Although I do have a small flashlight in my pocket, I don’t need it.  Waldo, being mostly black, has become almost invisible – except for the white tip of his tail sashaying back and forth behind him as he lopes down the trail.  His night vision is better than mine, of course, and I can’t tell that the dark affects him much at all.   Maybe it’s hubris, but I feel perfectly safe out here even in the dark.

It’s not all darkness.  In places, like the Fort Meadows Reservoir overlook, the foliage opens up and I can see the night lights of human habitation reflecting off the water.  At street crossings, there are four, lights pull back the curtain of darkness and light up our path.  There is also an occasional house or building, here and there, that have outdoor lights giving us a better idea of what’s around us.  I have a head lamp I could bring with us, but I really don’t see the need.  There is something peaceful about walking along with your dog in the dark.   Morning or night, tired or not, with or without back pain, it is good to be back in our routine.

And we get to do it all over again tomorrow – though maybe during daylight.


Night lights over Fort Meadow Reservoir.

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