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Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 3 comments

May 04, 2021

The trees are still naked.

 

You carry Mother Earth within you.  She is not outside of you.  Mother Earth is not just your environment.  In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The days have lengthened and warmed to the low sixties.  Waldo and I can start our daily six-mile walk as late as four o’clock and still make it home before dark.  During the winter, I don’t need to carry water for Waldo as it’s cool enough that he won’t need it.  Now, even though it’s not that hot for me, Waldo does need to drink after four miles or so.  If we walk more than ten, he usually drains both of the liter bottles I bring for him.  It’s not so hot yet that we have to leave before dawn to avoid temperatures higher than 75℉, but that time is coming.  Spring is here.

The oaks on the rail-trail have small buds at the ends of their branches.  They’re getting fat and have well-defined leaflets, although they are still all well-furled.  The maples have tiny red flowers on the tips of their limbs that make them appear vaguely rosy, when seen in the distance, as if they were bathed in a veil of sanguine mist.  Pussy willows have their distinctive puffballs poofed out in the air and quaking aspens dangle small, pinecone-like pods from the ends of their twigs.  Rhododendrons are all green with uncurled leaves released from their wintery desiccation and have huge buds ready to burst forth.  Most of the other undergrowth has started to green-up with small lime-green leaves and some bushes have already burst forth in pale, vibrant yellow inflorescence.  There are tufts of green blades of grass, here and there, thrusting up amidst the yellowed and brown, still slumbering, sod alongside the tarmac.  It won’t be long now and Waldo and I won’t be able to see more than a few tens of feet through the burgeoning verdure.

The tops of the trees, still bony and emaciated, sway gently in the breeze, dancing to Mother Nature’s sibilant windy song.  Birds chirp in a soprano lilt and squirrels and chipmunks occasionally add in a chattery alto chorus.  It’s still too cool for the baritone buzzing of insects, although I do notice an occasional gnat flit about my face.  My steady footfalls provide a percussion rhythm-section, accompanied by the blood beating around my ears.  All this is syncopated by the in and out of my breath, as steady as my pace.

Even though I am seventy-two years old and will not see youth again in this life, I can’t help but be enlivened by the resurgence of the life on the trail.  I empathize with the celebratory reawakening, the eager reanimation of the plants that surround me as if I, too, knew the joy of yearly rebirth.  After all, I have seasonal rhythms too, they just aren’t as dramatic as those in the great outdoors.

I can’t help but feel that I’m not out in Nature, as if Nature was something distinct from what I am.  No, I’m part of the nature I see, hear and feel around me.  After all, the particles that make up my physical existence are the same that make up all matter in the universe.  The physical laws of nature apply to me as much as they do to everything else.  The energies that pulse and throb through the natural world around me also hum and beat through me.  Mother Nature pushes against me with heat and light from the sun, pressure from the wind and support from the ground.  I, in turn, absorb and reradiate light and heat, breathe the air in and out as I push my way through it, and stomp on the Earth beneath my feet.  I hear sounds and I make noise.  I am a part of what’s going on, not an independent observer who can pass through this life without being affected by his surroundings, nor without having an effect on everything through which I pass.  If the universe were an ocean, then I would be a drop of water in that ocean.

Although Waldo lives in an apartment, I don’t think he fancies himself to be something outside of nature.  Like the trees, bushes, grasses, birds, squirrels and insects, he is perfectly content to be an active part of the dance that’s going on around him.  The smells, the sights, the sounds, not only make up his experience, they make up who he is.

Waldo showed me the Tao of walking.

 

Things are starting to get greener.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 27, 2021

Nice day for a walk in the woods.

 

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.

-Dalai Lama

 

I’m walking along on a footpath through the woods.  Waldo’s up front with my companions, Christine and Phyllis, and I bring up the rear, breathing the piney forest air, listening to squirrels and chipmunks chatter and the birds sing.  The cloudless blue sky above is punctured by the scrawny, bony fingers of leafless deciduous trees.  Here and there are a few scattered old-growth large-bole conifers that provide the only green to be seen.  On the ground, a thin blanket of tawny, rotting leaves swathe the bottoms of the tree trunks in a thin blanket.  Underfoot, the well-aerated soft earth cushions my step and sounds soft and hollow as I plod along.  The temperature is in the mid-fifties and I am quite comfortable in shirtsleeves.

It’s still early spring, but, looking closely, I see buds on the trees, bushes and weeds.  Some of the buds even have tiny, but recognizable, leaves sprouting out into the sunlight.  The color of the twigs and branches has changed from their wintry anemic grey to sanguine green, deep browns and even some red.  I can’t help but wonder how different this forest will feel when all leaved out.  The world will seem closer and smaller, sound won’t carry as far and the air will be much fuller with the odor of life and the buzzing of insects.  This is a great time for a walk in the woods.  The snow and ice are gone, the ground is dry (for now) and it’s neither too cold nor too hot.  Instead of looking for shade to cool off, or wanting to curl up in a ball to conserve body heat, I can relax into my surroundings and physically open myself up to the ambience.  I can’t help, in the process, to also open up psychologically and experience the moment as it is as it happens.

Today, we are on the second leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  We started out from where we left off in Rowley and followed surface streets until we got to Prospect Hill.  There, we passed a big concrete water tank and, at the top of the hill, there’s a cell tower.  From then on, we are lovingly embraced by the Willowdale State Forest until we end in Ipswich on US Rte 1.  The trail is not well-marked and we get lost in the woods at first.  We soon see our error and retrace our steps until we are back on the right track.  The trail is a footpath at this point, but there are old carriage roads in the forest in some places that provide wide avenues to hike down.  None of the trek is paved.  A number of paths branch off to one side or the other, but we are able to stay on track by watching for the Bay Circuit Trail logo that some kind soul posted on trees indicating the way to go.

You know, it might be nice to get lost in here – if we didn’t have so far to go, that is.  To be lost, but unworried, and just open to your immediate surroundings.  To let go and not try to follow any particular path, not try to control what happens, but just wander down this path and then that.  Take in the forest as it reveals itself to you.  Breathe the fresh air, smell the dusty earth, listen to the chirping birds, feel the sun and shade as they wash across your skin and look at the slumbering life as it slowly awakens.  There’s no way you can stay lost, even if you tried.  All you have to do is just keep walking down a trail, it doesn’t matter which one, and sooner or later, you’ll come across some piece of civilization that will reorient you.  There’s just not that much wilderness in these parts.  If I have any worry about getting lost, it’s one of having to trek too many additional miles to get back to the car because we went off-trail.

Waldo, he doesn’t care.  I think he’s always lost on these walks of ours.  He relies on me to get us home.  Nose to the ground, ears perked up, eyes front, he just takes life as it comes down the path, without trying to force it to be, or not to be, something that it isn’t.

He just might be the most found of the four of us.

 

In some places, the trail is as wide as a road.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 20, 2021

 

 

Shucks, this don’t look so bad!

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.

-James Russell Lowell

 

There are times when Christine, Phyllis and I go to the web to find new trails to walk.  For me, it’s an urge to explore my surroundings, to look for new places to experience the outdoors.  Sometimes, these trails are easy to find and, sometimes, not so much.  I stumbled across a reference to a trail that runs from Marlborough, starting not far from where I live, to Waltham, not far from where Phyllis lives.  In the middle is the city of Wayland.  The Wayland to Waltham part is paved and Phyllis knew it well.  The Marlborough to Wayland part, neither of us knew about and we decided to find out what it was like.  Christine was busy and couldn’t come with us, so it seemed like a good place to venture forth.

We started from the Marlborough end at a wide place in the road where we could park one of our cars.  It served as the trailhead for the “Old Concord Road.”  The path is packed earth and not wide enough, bounded by trees and undergrowth, for two horse-drawn buggies to pass.  I couldn’t help but imagine that we were walking there in the 18th century, making our way to Concord and then, perhaps, on to Boston.  The temperature was 22℉ when we started and I was glad for the gloves and parka I decided to wear.  Phyllis, too, was dressed warmly, and Waldo enjoyed the cooler temperatures as he charged ahead, looking for and acquiring his ubiquitous sticks.

It didn’t take long and we came across parallel rusty iron rails in the dirt – the Central Massachusetts Branch, now defunct.  The rails ran off into the woods, still separated by old rotting wooden ties, mostly buried in dirt and weeds, heading more or less East.  It was rough, as far as most rail-trails go, but easily passable and we walked leisurely down the tracks toward Wayland.

After a mile or so, we came to Union Street in Sudbury and things changed dramatically.  For a good two miles, the path was overgrown by bushes, trees and weeds, still skeletal from the winter.  There were trees whose trunks had grown over the rails, incorporating them into their flesh.  There were trees growing between the rails and the leafless stems of weeds, taller than we were, poking up into the air, grabbing for our clothes.  Some of them had thorns that lashed out at us, forcing us to make blood sacrifices in order to pass (Waldo’s fur seemed to protect him from this).  Every few yards, fallen trees blocked the rails completely, giving us no choice but to climb either over or under them.  Waldo wrapped his leash around clumps of bushes and weeds and had to backtrack to get himself untethered.  It was hard work and I could only imagine how much worse it would be when everything was completely leafed out.  Once the temperature climbed to the mid-fifties, Phyllis and I were both sweating in our winter clothes and Waldo was panting.  We doffed our coats, rolled them up, attached them to our packs and gave Waldo plenty of water.  We were in our shirt sleeves as we bushwhacked our way along.

At one point, we saw it would be easier going off to our left, where there was manicured grass and a driveway.  Leaving the railroad temporarily, just for a respite, we sauntered along on the lawn.  We didn’t go very far, though, and the rails diverged from where we were and we had to fight the hibernating flora to get back to the “trail.”  At another spot, I saw power lines converging on our intended path.  I knew the going would be better under them so we took another detour.  We followed the power lines until their path became coincident with the old railroad bed.  Once they converged, the walking became trivial – someone had cut the weeds, grass and bushes down to the ground.  We knew the worst was behind us and we high-fived.  It wasn’t long after, around 6.5 miles from where we started, and we were on paved rail-trail for the rest of our trek to Waltham and the car we left there.  The total trek was 12.5 miles long.

I suppose, if we had been on a deadline, this trip would have seemed a burden.  But, as it was, we were exploring, nature placed obstacles in our path and we overcame them.  There’s not just a sense of accomplishment in that, we also enjoyed being out in the wilderness, Mother Nature as she is, reclaiming what man has left behind.

And Waldo, he had lots and lots of sticks.

 

I think we’ve been suckered!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 13, 2021

Waldo, let’s talk about this…

 

Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.

-Ken Liu

 

Three days ago, on the Marlborough rail-trail, the high temperature was 65℉.  This morning it was -2℉ with windchill.  Waldo, in his ever-present sable coat, is more comfortable down around the -2℉ than the 65℉ or above.  I know that to be true by his behavior.  Especially when it gets above 70℉, he pants, soaks up water like a dry paper towel and lies down in the shade often.  When it’s cold out, he trots along without interruption, doing his Waldo thing.  Today, he pauses only for a good sniff at something that appeals.

Waldo also knows things about me.  He knows when I am going to leave him in his crate.  I don’t even have to tell him to go there.  When he sees me go through my pre-leaving routine, he just walks in and sits down on his bed, looking up at me with an expression of forlorn expectation.  His ears are down, his head sags and his tail wraps around his butt so the white tip sticks up between his front legs.  He knows what’s coming.  There is definitely communication between us that is more than the sounds I make (Waldo seldom makes any).

For communication to take place, there must be some common ground between those who are trying to communicate.  When Carl Sagan and Frank Drake were thinking about what messages to send to extraterrestrials from Arecibo in 1974, they considered this carefully.  In order to communicate with any aliens who might find these spacecraft, common ground first had to be established.  It was decided to use binary mathematics to describe the molecular structure of life on Earth, among other things.  Binary mathematics is universal and maybe the building blocks of life is as well.  If an extraterrestrial intelligence could decode this message, there would be a basis for communication.  So, I can’t help but wonder, what is the common ground that Waldo and I share?  It certainly isn’t an understanding of math and biochemistry.

Some of it is obvious; we both need to eat, sleep, pee and poop.  We both are genetically social animals, so we also share a desire for communication, play and affection.  As we go through life, we both make allowances for each other, either separately or together, so that those desires are satisfied.  The one big difference between us is that Waldo depends on me for everything, whereas I get some of what I need from others.  I keep this in mind and try to include him in what I do as much as I can.

Humans also have commonality with other species who aren’t as social as we are.  I once raised a cheetah in East Africa when I lived there.  One might not think so, but they actually make great pets.  They were trapped and used by the ancient pharaohs as hunters, much like falconers use their birds.  Yet, cheetahs are very solitary animals in the wild, ranging alone over many square miles of savannah and adults only get together in pairs for a brief period during mating season.  Yet my cheetah was as bonded to me as Waldo is.  So, there must be something there that is common between animals and humans more than just a desire to congregate in social groups, because cheetahs don’t have that desire.

And take birds.  Harvey, my yellow-naped Amazon parrot, is a member of a taxonomic class that is the closest living thing to a dinosaur.  The ancestors of birds and humans parted ways many hundreds of millions of years ago and we have evolved separately since.  Yet there are African Grey parrots that can carry on meaningful oral conversations with people when they are trained to do so.  Detailed communication that is much more than just the aping of the sounds they hear people make.  And they, too, enjoy affection and getting attention from people.

The Buddhist in me thinks that what this commonality that all animal life seems to share, at least among those with some baseline level of intelligence, is a deep feeling of compassion, an appreciation for the life energy of the other, and a recognition of the loving magic of being alive.  Maybe that comes part and parcel with consciousness and is the deepest expression of the essence of what all of us are made of.

I am reasonably sure that to be true of Waldo and I, at any rate.

 

Fort Meadow Reservoir on a cold, clear day.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 6, 2021

On the beach — Plum Island.

 

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

-John Muir

 

Phyllis, Christine and I decided that this year, we would walk the Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) around Boston.  Waldo happily went along with the idea.  The trail is not a single trail and it isn’t contiguous.  It’s a serpentine collection of trails, connected (at this time) by streets and highways, running in, more or less, a semicircle around Boston.  In some places, it’s unpaved, narrow, not well-marked and it can be easy to lose your way.  In others, it is paved, broad and easy to navigate at night.  It was first conceived in 1929 as a “outer emerald necklace,” a greenbelt surrounding Boston, and has yet to be finished.  The trail(s) run in a long serpentine arc some 230 miles from Plum Island to Kingston Bay.

We start our new trek at the northern tip of Plum Island, Plum Island Point.  This is about a mile from the official trailhead, but parking is hard to come by and there is a public lot at the Point.  Besides, we’ve all, with the probable exception of Waldo, gotten tired of trudging around in snow and ice and long for warmer temps and the beach.  Today’s forecast is for temps of about 54℉.  That oughta melt some of that ice we’ve been sliding around on!  We head from where we parked our car east to the beach.  At the top of the coastal dunes, we can see the Merrimac River to the north and west and the broad Atlantic to the south and east.  There’s about a ten mile an hour breeze that drops the effective temperature a good 10℉ and I’m glad for the light jacket I decided to wear.

Waldo is ecstatic as we head south in the sand.  I have to keep him away from the water, since he likes to drink the stuff, but, man, he really, really, really wants to go into the light surf.  I think it’s the constant motion of the water that attracts him, but who knows.  He digs in the sand, prances this way and that, and is having a fine old time.  There are very few people out on the beach, something that will change dramatically in the next months as temperatures rise and Covid restrictions ease.  There are plenty of footprints in the sand, though, bearing witness to the recent passage of many others.  Our going is slow in the loose footing and it works muscles I’m not used to using that much, despite walking in snow for the past too many weeks.  But it is so very nice to be on a beach again, watch the surf coming in and smelling the fresh ocean air!  Both Phyllis and Christine say this was just what they needed to alleviate the winter Covid blues.

After a little over a mile, we’re on the streets again.  There are trail markers every so often on telephone poles and trees, but we have to be alert not to miss them.  Eventually, we veer off the streets onto a narrow foot path covered in ice, water, mud and undergrowth.  This path is not at all well-marked and not used enough for it to be obvious where it goes.  We’re still within sight of the street and, due to inattention, we lose our way and get caught up in branches and mired in mud.  We backtrack and Phyllis finds where we got off-trail and we continue on.  Shades of Mirkwood for sure!  Didn’t see no stinkin’ big spiders in there, though.  Waldo is exploring around, getting his leash all wound up in the undergrowth, tail wagging, nose to the ground, truckin’ along as if he knew where he was going.  In fact, now that I think about it, we were following him when we got lost!  About a mile or so from where we left the street, we come to another street and continue on.

There are a handful of such paths on our route, but most of this part of the trail is on car-carrying tarmac.  Using the BCT website, I tried to find a stopping point that was about 10 miles from where we began.  Their numbers must be off, because when we finally get to our second car, 13.5 miles have elapsed, it is full-on dark, and the temperature is dropping to something uncomfortable in the light jackets we wore.  Except, of course, Waldo isn’t cold.  He loves the cold.  We’re tired, sore and hungry when we get back to the car.  But we’re also refreshed and invigorated after spending some six hours outside, exercising.

Our next trek on the BCT looks from the map to be mostly footpaths through forested areas.  The trails seem to offer up a lot of variety which is welcome to all of us, not the least of whom is Waldo, I’m sure.

For now, it’s home, eat, rest and prepare for our next jaunt.

 

Lost, off-trail, in Mirkwood.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 30, 2021

 

 

Wet pavement.

The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.  With each step, the wind blows, a flower blooms.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Today, I decide to park in the parking lot across the street from the beginning of the Waldo rail-trail.  It belongs to an abandoned building that sits on that corner, so no one plows there.  The snow has been too deep for my little Prius to venture forth there without high-centering and getting stuck (I know this from experience).   We’ve been parking in a municipal lot about one-eighth of a mile from the starting point that provides parking for people who want to use the trail.  It is plowed, but not paved.  End result, in the warming temperatures, it gets muddy.  Which, of course, ends up in the car.  I’ve been keeping my eye out on the abandoned lot and there are now places that are snow free.  Problem is, there are also drifts that are too deep for my little car that separate those spots from the street.  The drifts have been shrinking and today, I decide to risk powering through them to get to a dry spot.  The car fish-tails, but I have enough momentum that I can blast through them without getting stuck.  We get out of the car — it’s so much better without the mud.  I lock the car and we’re off.

The temperature is ranging around the high thirties, the wind is still and the cloudless sky is a chilly shade of blue.  The deciduous trees thrust fractal-like fingers into that blue as if grasping beseechingly for the spring that is not yet here.  There is still plenty of snow on the sides of the path, but the tarmac is clear of the stuff.  There are a few shallow puddles here and there, from the melt draining across the path.  They can’t be more than a quarter of an inch deep, but they’re around four feet across and I can see in them a perfect reflection of the tree tops and sky.  Birds are singing, not so many as during the spring and summer, but they’re there.  I haven’t seen a rabbit or a squirrel around here for many weeks, but today, I do get a whiff of skunk.  Charming.

I quickly set my pace and put my gait on a mental subroutine that requires no attention.  One foot follows the other, I feel the muscles in my legs contract and the solid Earth pushes up on my feet as I put my weight down.  My quads and calves feel strong as they rhythmically force my mass forward and the going seems effortless.  The air is cold enough to numb my cheeks, but not so cold as to freeze my fingers in their gloves.  My torso is warm in my parka and I know that after two miles, about the time we hit the unplowed Hudson part of the trail, I’m going to be sweating.  It’s harder going there.

Waldo, he’s out-front, trotting along with nose less than an inch above the ground.  He forays off to the side and grabs at a stick in the snow, only to find that it is still firmly attached to the bush to which it belongs (the connection being covered by snow).  He goes back to lead position and continues on.  Before long, he veers off path again, this time deep into the surrounding woods and I have to call him back.  I have no idea what attracted him to go that way, but the suddenness of it speaks of something enticing.  I can see nothing that might have seduced his interest.  One thing is for sure – the temperature is made for a Waldo-walk.  No panting and no need to stop for a drink.  I don’t even bring any water for him.  If he gets thirsty, he just grabs a mouthful of snow.  He prefers that to water anyway.  The entire time we’re out, Waldo is in tune with the nature around him.  Except, of course, in those moments when we pass another human or dog – he has to try to say hello to everyone.

It’s not too long and we’re back to the car.  I put Waldo in the passenger seat, then I rest my now weary butt and back in the driver’s seat.  I can’t help but sigh at the relief of taking the weight off my feet and Waldo curls up next to me and quietly waits until we get home.  Another charge through the snow drifts at the parking lot and we’re on our way back to warmth, snack and rest.  Until tomorrow when we’ll do it all over again.  It’s never dull, never boring and never the same, because we’re never the same and neither is Mother Nature.

It’s a kind of meditation on the hoof.

 

Walking along, taking it as it comes.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 23, 2021

The snow is still deep in places.

 

Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.

-Lovelle Drachman

 

Here in New England, we get most of our snow in January and February.  This year was no exception.  On the Marlborough rail-trail, there are deep heaps of snow along the sides where the tank-like snowblower threw it.  In many places, it is still two to three feet deep.   I walk behind Waldo, at the anchor end of the leash, as Waldo marches down the trail, then suddenly shoves his head into the drifts, up to his neck.  It reminds me of a video I saw, showing foxes hunting.  They jumped up, completely out of deep, fluffy snow, and dove headfirst into the pristine whiteness, so hard they nearly disappeared.  They would come out with a mouse in their mouths, ready for dinner.  Waldo comes out empty-mouthed, and, I suspect, if he was able to find something in there, it would be a stick, not an animal.  I’m not sure why he does that; maybe he’s just playing in the stuff.

Sometimes, Waldo climbs up on the snowbanks and trots along on top.  The snow is packed up there and he doesn’t sink in very far.  He’s not the only dog that does that.  I know because there are puppy tracks that he’s following.  Other times, he’ll be scampering along and suddenly veer off at a right angle to the path, jumping through piles of snow and into the bushes.  Something has caught his attention, but I can’t tell what it is.  Maybe he’s just off on an adventure.

Maybe that’s an apt descriptor for what these walks are for Waldo — an adventure.  They are for me.  Webster says an adventure is, “an exciting or remarkable experience,” or, “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.”  They excite curiosity in me and leave me feeling enlivened.  The danger is muted, but it’s there.  I could slip, fall and sprain an ankle, or break something.  Waldo could get hit by a car as we crossed a street.  I never leave the house thinking that something bad could happen, but, hey, stuff happens.  You never know what’s out there, ready to grab you.  Every moment is new, risky and unknown.  All life, from the day you’re born until the day you die, is an adventure.

What would it be like if you approached every moment, thinking of whatever you were doing, whether it’s going to work, washing dishes, or walking the dog, as an adventure?  What if you thought of it as a probe into the unknown, risking your well-being, exploring what is possible in that moment?   Surely that’s all true.  Life itself is the greatest of adventures, even though the end-point is well known.  What happens in between birth and death is totally unknown until it’s in the past.  But it is the stuff of which adventure is made, no matter what you fill the time with.

I’ve always been an adventure junkie.  Sometimes my adventures have been relatively mild, and sometimes kinda wild.  But they’ve always been interesting to me.  Throughout my life, I couldn’t go an entire year without doing something off the reservation.  It was sometimes flying small planes in Australia, Africa or Mexico just to explore.  Sometimes, it was going on a trip to Brazil, just to see what the place and people were like.  Sometimes, it was going on a canoe trip on the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, just to see what it was like to live a week in the wilderness.  Sometimes, it was flying a light plane to Mexico to help out in medical and dental clinics, talking care of the needs of the poor people there.  And sometimes, it was taking up aerobatics just to see what it was like to dance in the sky.

Only now, in my later years, have I come to understand that every breath I take is an adventure.  All I need to do to live it is to open myself up to the moment — listen to the birds sing, insects buzz, and the trees whisper.  All I have to do is look at the universe around me.  To really see the trees around me, how their leaves change with the seasons, how vines wrap themselves around their trunks, how they provide habitats for many different animals.  All I have to do is be in the moment, be curious and full of wonder.  And, of course, watch Waldo.

Waldo is really good at showing me how to see every moment as an adventure.

 

C’mon! This way!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 16, 2021

Stuck in a polar vortex.

 

Climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now.

-Barack Obama

 

Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and I have put our longer walks on a temporary hiatus.  It’s cold and wintry out, but that’s not the reason.  We just don’t want to traipse around in deep snow and most of the trails available to us are unplowed.  Snow storms, a couple of weeks ago, left a good two feet of snow on the ground.  Since then, it has settled somewhat and, in places, been stamped down into an uneven track that’s difficult to walk.  For short distances, they’re tolerable, but for our longer treks, not so much.  The Marlborough Rail Trail is the only exception I know.  They plow it shortly after every storm.  So, Waldo and I have someplace to go to put in our six daily miles.  That does require about a 1.5-mile unplowed walk on the Hudson part of the trail, but that is something we can usually do.  With effort.

Today, we’re in the middle of a polar vortex.  That’s meteorologese for very cold weather coming down from the Canadian arctic into the lower contiguous 48 states.  Because we’re so near the ocean in Massachusetts, which moderates temperatures on the land nearby, it’s not as bad as further inland.  Texas is getting particularly hard hit.  They’re having single digit temperatures in some places!  Not being used to such frigidity, they are not prepared.  Here, the temperatures are dipping down into the low double digits, which is plenty cold enough, thank you very much.  It is believed that the frequency and severity of these polar vortices is due to global warming.

The argument goes that the jet stream keeps the arctic cold up north.  Global warming has weakened the jet stream and that’s the reason the icy air migrates south.  The fact is, due to the average temperature of the atmosphere increasing, more energy is being dumped into meteorological systems.  That energy has to be dissipated, which means we have more frequent violent storms and storms that are more violent.  All that energy makes the atmosphere swirl and rage in ways we’re not used to.  Hence, we get Texas turned into an icicle.

Waldo loves going out to the rail-trail.  He never tires of it.  Always sniffing and searching about for entertainment, he always finds it.  For example, he can sniff about on the surface of the snow, then plunge his nose deep into the white stuff and come out with a stick.  Me, I look out over the forest, fields and fens alongside where we walk and I see a white blanket with bare poles and sticks reaching skyward.  It’s a world in hibernation, waiting for warmer temperatures to be reborn.  It’s waiting to explode in verdure and inflorescence.  Like a sleeping child, it has a beauty all its own.

I look up at the sky above the trees.  Blue, with white puffs of moisture, it hangs there as if it is vast and limitless.  But it’s not.  I’ve been to the top of Kilimanjaro, 19,341 ft above sea level.  At that altitude there is very little air to breathe.  The little blanket of air surrounding our planet is only one thousandth of the radius of the Earth.  Seen from space, it’s a thin veil that provides us with the gaseous elements that we need for life.  And at over seven billion, there are so many of us dumping the waste of our vast energy consumption into the environment that we are slowly making it impossible to live on the Earth.  In 2017, it was estimated that 32.5 gigatons, that’s 65,000,000,000,000 pounds, of CO2 were pumped by us into the air.  We are killing our planet.

It is time that we step back from our industry, our commercialism, our consumption and look at what we are doing.  We don’t live in big modern buildings of hundreds of stories in height, we don’t live in cities the size of small countries, we don’t live in cars, buses, trains and airplanes, we don’t live in luxurious palaces of brick and mortar, we live in Nature.  We live in a world of trees, bushes, flowers, grass, weeds, squirrels, rabbits, birds and insects.  Those other places are just sites where we spend some of our time.  We live in Nature and we need it, all of its trees, bushes, flowers, grass, weeds, squirrels, rabbits, birds and insects, and the air we breathe, to survive.  And we are killing our planet.  It’s up to us to stop it and stop it now.

Waldo and I, we’re going to do our part and decrease our carbon footprint.  We’re going to walk more and drive less, for one thing.

And we’re going to enjoy Nature while we do it.

 

Cold? What cold?

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 09, 2021

I could play in this all day!

 

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human.  The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

-Edward Hoagland

 

I look up from where I am ensconced in my comfy recliner, legs all stretched out, and see a pair of black eyes staring unblinkingly at me.  Waldo is as still as stone and I get this feeling he’s repeating over and over in his head, “You wanna go for a walk.  You wanna go for a walk.  You wanna go for a walk.”   One thing for sure, I could never win a stare-down with this dog.  Some dogs will whine, or scratch at the door, or pace nervously about the room to let you know they want to go out, but not Waldo.  No.  He goes for the old mind projection thing of “If I concentrate hard enough on it, it will happen.”  It’s as if he’s trying to bore his thoughts into my head — which maybe he can, because I get it.

Once I get out of my chair and start to dress for the wintry weather, he gets all excited and starts running in circles.  After a few circuits, he goes over to something that will make some noise if he paws it, like his aluminum dog dishes.  A couple of swats and spilled water later, he goes back to spinning.  I’m trying to tie my boots and he comes over and sticks his nose and tongue in the loose laces, trying to lick my fingers.  I do battle with his gooey, slimy, pink thing, doing my best to keep his parts out of the knot I’m tying.  He then raises a paw at me swipes at my pant leg as if to say, “Come on!  Let’s go!  Let’s go!”  Only once I’m all together and I stand does he attack the door, lunging at it with 50 pounds of puppy power.  I have to tell him to sit so he’ll calm down enough so I can get the leash on his collar.  Once that’s done, I open the door and swoosh, he’s racing down the stairs (a far cry from when I first got him and I had to carry him up and down the stairs).  He gets to the bottom and stares at the outside door, again trying to exercise mind control, and bolts out into the snow as soon as it opens.  It doesn’t take him long to get to the extreme end of the leash and we’re off.

Over the past week or so, Mother Nature has seen fit to grace us with a good foot or more of snow.  Property management has plowed the sidewalks, streets and parking places quite well, but our path usually takes us over where the grass is buried deep under the cold, white fluffy stuff.  Over many treks down the same path, we’ve worn narrow deep canyons through which Waldo charges as if he’s in a rush to get to where they lead.  But he’s not.  He’s just antsy, anxious to get out and run off his border-collie energy.  He sniffs about, his proboscis radar on the lookout for a buried stick, or pee-mail, or any other interesting odor lurking about.

The going is uneven and I’m struggling to keep my balance which slows me down.  Waldo has four smaller feet, walks a lot closer to the ground and doesn’t have to work so hard to keep his footing.  He’s faster than I am and often finds he has to stop and wait for me to catch up.  Sometimes, the path diverges in a “Y” and Waldo takes a wrong turn.  “This way!” I call and he porpoises through the deep untrodden snow between the paths, leaving deep footprints about three feet apart separated by undisturbed snow.  A gazelle couldn’t do it better.  He loves this stuff.

After a quarter mile or so, Waldo finds a place to squat.  He does what he needs to and then goes a little ways and stops, waiting for me to pick up what he has deposited.  Once done, I say, “Okay,” and he continues on his way, doing his Waldo thing.  I stumble along behind and watch him being a dog, enjoying the outdoors.  And I can’t help but share in that joy.  Although we are separate beings with our own individuality, we are also something else, something shared, something somehow merged, acting as a unit.  A part of each of us has met somewhere in the middle ground between us and formed something non-dog and non-human, and yet both dog and human.  Waldo and I, we have become a couple.  A couple of what, I’m not sure.

But we are a couple.

 

Ah! Nothing like freshly fallen snow!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 02, 2021

It is cold, but at least it is plowed. In Marlborough anyway.

 

Attachment is the source of all suffering.

-Buddha

 

It snowed a few days ago, not much, only about 3 inches or so.  And then it got really cold, down to -13℉ with windchill.  I don’t own a pair of long underwear, but when it gets that cold, I do increase the number of layers.  T-shirt, shirt, fleece jacket and down jacket and gloves for the hands, are my standard go-to dress when it gets really cold like this.  My legs usually don’t get that cold, but I add rain pants over them that keeps the heat in just enough that I don’t get a cold rash on my legs when the temps go below 10℉.  The cold doesn’t seem to bother Waldo in his sable birthday suit, although I do keep a close eye on him to see that he doesn’t exhibit behavior that would suggest he’s cold.  The only such behavior I’ve ever noticed is that when it gets below zero and he’s walking on ice, his feet get cold and he’ll lay down and lick his paws.  When this happens, we go home.

Today, I’m waiting for the hottest hours which are after noon.  I momentarily toy with the idea to take the day off because of the cold, then I look at Waldo and those thoughts are gone.  He needs to get out.  Subconsciously, I brace for icy air on my face, cold that penetrates my fingers until they hurt, and the fear that I will be miserable.  I take a deep breath, a decision is made, and just like that, the fear goes away.  I put the leash on Waldo and we hit the rail-trail.

We start out and I can feel the cold.  It bites my nose and cheeks and gnaws at my fingers through my gloves.  I’m dressed heavily enough that the rest of me is quite warm.  When the wind blows, the skin on my exposed forehead starts to ache.  I pull my neck gaiter up to cover my lower jaw and chin, which helps that part of my face, and carry on.  Waldo, he hits the snow at a trot and snuffs around in the stuff.  Soon, somehow, he’s found a stick and he’s prancing down the trail, tail held high, waving that stick back and forth with pride of ownership.

After the first half-mile, I settle into my pace, one foot going in front of the other with an automaticity that requires no thought.  I settle into the sensation of having part of my body feel like it’s going to grow icicles where there shouldn’t had oughta be any, knowing full well from past experience that I am in no real danger, and I relax.  The mild pain in the parts of my face that are freezing just becomes another sensation like any other sensation, like the firmness of the ground that I walk on.  I rotate the leash from hand to hand as my fingers start to ache, putting the idle one in my coat pocket to warm it up.  This all becomes routine as well and I am soon opening myself to my wintery gestalt.

The air is clean and fresh, almost odorless.  I feel its icy tendrils probe at the insides of my nose, only to be warmed and integrated comfortably with the air in my lungs.  I see the white pines dotted along our route that give a pale green tinge to the otherwise white and tan palette of winter.  It is so quiet out here, there’s not even the sound of wind sifting through the leaves that abound in other seasons.  No constant buzz of insects, and any animals, including birds, that are around must be snuggling in their respective nests because they are making no noise.  No whistling, no chattering, no squawking, nothing.  I wonder of they’re peeking out of their doorways watching the icy day that I’m a part of.

And then it occurs to me.  The anticipation of coming out here is so much worse than being here.  Like so many things, the thinking of doing a thing is often so much worse than the actual doing of it.  My hanging onto the desire for warm comfort caused me to resist going for a walk in the cold.  My fear of being miserable put barriers up in my mind to getting out here.  But, once being here, I relax my grip on those things and just melt into the moment, tasting whatever happens without judgment.  And I am quite comfortable, I have no fear, it is, in fact, enjoyable.  How we torture ourselves, grasping for things that are not real.

Waldo, he just prances along, pleasuring in what he can find where he can find it.

 

Come on! It’s only snow!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments
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