October 31, 2023

We occasionally pass other people and sometimes, we talk…


Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach, and wisdom to share…

-Melanie Moushigian Koulouris


The day is warm enough that I can walk in shirtsleeves.  The sky is mostly blue and there isn’t much of a breeze.  Many of the low-lying weeds have lost their green and shriveled up to a brown brittle stem.  Some, like the common burdock, have spiky balls on the ends of those stems, reaching out to plant themselves in Waldo’s fur and my pants.  The moss, liverwort and grasses are still green and plump, although the Japanese clover has lost its leaves and turned a dull brown.  The tops of the oaks are still green and, here and there, maples have started to turn orange and red.  Yellow and tan birch leaves are beginning to accumulate on the tarmac and there’s even a few oak and maple leaves among them.

Waldo and I haven’t gone a half mile when we come upon a gentleman, I’d guess in his fifties somewhere, wearing a light jacket and blue jeans.  He immediately grabs my attention because he’s staring up into the trees, off to the side of the trail.  When I see something like that, my curiosity is piqued.  In the past, I’ve met people doing similar things who showed me a rare jack-in-the-pulpit, snapping turtles, deer and other interesting things I might not have noticed.  So, “What are you looking at?” I ask.

“I really like those big old trees,” he says, waving a hand toward a stand of trees.

“You mean the black walnuts?” I ask as I look where he’s indicating.

“Yeah.  They only appear over this quarter-mile stretch of the trail.  I’m wondering if they were planted when the railroad was built.”

“I don’t think so,” I say.  “This part of the railroad was completed in 1855.  That’s 168 years ago (I did some quick arithmetic in my head).  These trees grow in diameter at the rate of about 20 inches per century, so none of what we can see is big enough to be that old.  They would have to be about 34 inches (more math) in diameter and, although there are some that are a good 20 inches, I don’t see any that big.”

That started us off on a discussion of the other trees on the trail, which in turn led to talking about the patch of woods about a quarter-mile further down the trail that a development company from Texas wants to decimate to build apartments.  The man told me that he did some legal work for Marlborough’s mayor, who was not in favor of the project.  He assured me that the construction was not going to happen because it would require a rezoning of the area and the mayor would block that, so the apartments could not be built.  That was something I was very pleased to hear.  We exchanged a few more words of appreciation for the ambiance of the trail and then, Waldo tugging at the leash, we each went our own way.

Usually, as Waldo and I plod along, I don’t say much to the people we pass.  When I do, I find folks with interesting things to share.  I met an engineer next to the construction site at the beginning of the trail and learned about how muddy water was being pumped from the site.  Big hoses take it from where they’re digging into two settling tanks (about the size of shipping containers).  From there, the water goes through filters into some fire hoses that run uphill to the next street, about 3/8 of a mile away.  That’s a lot of hose.  I always wondered why they did that because they could have just let it flow downhill into the closest street’s drainage, about 1/8 of a mile away.  It turns out the city doesn’t want that water to go into the aquafer on the downhill side because that’s the source of our drinking water.  Pumping it uphill to the next aquafer gets rid of it.  From there I’m not sure what happens to the water, but it won’t end up in our water faucets.

There are a lot of different kinds of people who use the rail-trail.  There is a selection mechanism at work there – not just anyone chooses to go for that kind of walk.  I’m not sure how that mechanism works, but it does bring out a wide variety of people, most of whom are quite interesting.  Although I usually don’t talk to many of the people Waldo and I pass, we’ve been out here doing this for a long time and over the years I’ve talked to quite a few.  I’ve met professors from law school, Russian immigrants, high school students learning French, Swedes who own a border collie, retirees (some older that I) out for their daily constitutional, and many others.  Most are willing to exchange a word or two and all have something interesting to say.  Waldo likes nearly all of them and is eager to get his allotted pets and pats as he waits us to finish our patter.  It’s not just Mother Nature who is interesting out here.

You never know who you might meet.


There’s plenty to talk about… or simply enjoy.

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