September 12, 2023

The Wachusetts Aqueduct Trail.


Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.

-Tennessee Williams


The planets are lined up right in the correct constellations, the weather gods are appeased enough to push the high temperatures temporarily aside with rain that finally paused, Phyllis has a last minute hole in her busy schedule and Waldo and I finally get to walk with her on the Wachusetts Aqueduct Trail.  Alas, Christine is tied up and won’t be able to join us.  It’s noon when we start out and the temperatures are in the high sixties with a slight breeze of six mph or so.  The sky is overcast and the ground is still wet from showers that drenched us yesterday.  Our path is overgrown with grass that is heavy with moisture that soaks through the tops of our shoes and it’s not long before we have wet feet.  Waldo seems to relish the dampness and rolls in the wet grass.  He’s soon soggy from head to toe.  He looks up at me with a doggy grin plastered on a furry face streaked with water.  Phyllis and I smile on the inside and out as we set out on our exploratory jaunt down what’s left of the aqueduct that used to carry water from the Wachusetts Reservoir nine miles to the water treatment plant in Marlborough.  It’s been too long since we were out on a jaunt like this.

Although the aqueduct is nine miles long, two of those miles are underground.  We start somewhere near the middle, next to the Edmund Hill Woods, and head north, toward the Wachusetts Reservoir.  We expect to walk somewhere around four and a half miles before we turn around and head back.  The path is raised a good eleven feet, on average, from the surrounding ground, and the grass that covers it is kept well mowed by somebody.  On either side of the path is cleared land.  Beyond that is dense New England forest – and an occasional house or two.  The ambience is different from the rail-trail – there’s no shade to be found from an arboreal canopy.  We are definitely exposed.

Waldo gave Phyllis a vigorous welcome when we first piled out of our cars, but now he walks along, doing his Waldo thing and pretty much ignores us.  So, I leave Waldo to his own devices and focus on getting caught up with Phyllis.  We talk about all manner of things, as we are wont to do, but some it involves discussing Phyllis’s experiences with her recently deceased husband, Lee, and how’s she’s now coping with the loss.  Outwardly, she seems to be doing quite well, but I know it’s not easy for her and we try to focus on other things to give her some reprieve from her grief.  She’s burying herself in all kinds of activities (Christine likes to call her “The Energizer Bunny”).  For the longest time, she was totally absorbed with taking care of Lee in his last days and now she has a big hole to fill.  She’s doing a good job of it – she’s going on a biking trip to France the end of September and is training for it by riding her bike as much as she can between now and then.  She has other trips and activities planned and that all takes up a lot of her time.

For my part, I’m planning on getting back to Switzerland and I’m studying French again.  We talk about how learning another language is difficult, especially in your seventies, and I mention how I had a breakthrough while working in the ER.  I’ve spent a lot of energy, over the years, trying to learn many languages — Italian, Portuguese, Swahili, Amharic and Spanish, as well as French.  I always had difficulty picking more than one word out of the many when listening to others speak.  Then I had some kind of transition.  I don’t know how or why, but while listening to translators tell my patients what I wanted them to hear, I developed the ability to get enough of the gist of it to know when I wasn’t being translated correctly.  I couldn’t hear anywhere near everything that was being said, but I could understand enough that I could tell when what I heard wasn’t right.  This has somehow carried over to French.  Now, in my learning, I use an app whose focus is on speaking to me and prompting me to speak back in the language.  It’s not as good as being immersed in the language, but it’s not a bad alternative and the app has helped me a lot.  Phyllis hears me out, but doesn’t seem convinced that she can learn much French before she gets to France for her biking.  She’s undoubtedly right.

Eventually, we come to a place where the aqueduct disappears into a hill.  The path just runs into a sloping, boulder-strewn wall and ends.  I suspect there was a tunnel in there once, but there’s no evidence of its prior existence – just a pile of dirt and rocks.  I can see, on the top of the hill, a space between trees where a powerline runs, but I don’t think the aqueduct was ever above ground there.  That would mean there’d have to be a waterfall somewhere to get the water down to where the trail ends.  Alas, it’s yet another piece of Massachusetts to explore further at some future date.   We have come four and a half miles and it’s time to turn around and head home.

A total of four hours after we left, we’re back at the cars.  It seems like so much less.  We talked about a lot of stuff, yet I don’t think either one of us feels like we have made a dent in the number of things to talk about.  I miss our walks with Phyllis and Christine and I know Waldo does too.  Maybe next time, the four of us can venture out once again.

There will be a next time.


This use to carry water from the reservoir to the water treatment plant and then on to Boston. Now it carries Phyllis, me and Waldo.

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