Today is the vernal equinox and my 58th birthday.
I have spent the past few days trying to get my head around being 58 and it’s discombobulating. I suppose I had vague expectations about what it would be like. When I was 25, I anticipated that my pigtails would have turned white by now. But they have not. My hair has lost its red-gold brightness, and is a few shades darker and duller. Curly white hairs are liberally threaded through, and there are silvery streaks at my temples and hairline. When I was 40, I figured I would end up leathery-faced with interesting lines from many seasons of fieldwork. But thirty-five years of consistent moisturizer and sunscreen use have saved me from complete leatheriness. There are fine lines around my eyes, the flesh of my cheeks and jawline have sagged, my mouth has thinned, but there are still freckles. I recognize me as me. There are other symptoms of wear and tear that modern medicine has been able to repair–that floppy ankle that had rolled too many times, cataract surgery which made it possible for me to do close work without glasses, a thumb tendon that is just now healing from a minor fix. Being post-menopausal means I’m no longer lean and muscular, but there is still strength and stamina under a comfortable layer of fat. At least that’s what they tell me when I go to the gym. I am “highly functional” for my age.
Nope, what’s weird about being 58 is putting a number on how I feel. I’ve been throwing away mailings from AARP for years, because I don’t see myself and my concerns reflected in their magazine and website. I can’t afford to retire. It’s strange to think that I qualify for the senior discount at places that offer senior discounts. Me, a senior? How can that be?
But there’s evidence–I have decades of memories of being an adult. Decades of perspective on the living that I’ve made and the work that I’ve done. I’ve learned some hard lessons, integrated some hard experiences. I’ve watched other people’s children grow from infants to adulthood. Most people seem younger than me now. I’ve been in Ramekin Cottage for thirteen years. Henry the big gray cat is twelve and a half. I’ve been divorced for almost as long as I was married and have no regrets at all.
What the hell did I expect? Maybe that’s the thing–I was so busy living that I forgot to have specific expectations of being an “old” person. Perhaps age is relative.
What I do know is that today is the first day of spring. It has been a beautiful warm sunny day. There are just a few scraps of snow lingering in the shady part of my garden. Crocuses are blooming. As I poke around in the flowerbeds, I see all sorts of shoots and sprouts including some beloved old friends. Winter is over and it’s time to clear the fog from my brain. Overcome the inertia that has settled upon me. Thinking about being 58 helped me to realize that I’ve stopped doing a lot of things that stimulate my mind, give me joy, help me feel connected to myself and the way I want to live. I stopped writing this blog. I stopped drawing and I rarely paint. I let my job suck my soul dry, and I stopped going to the woods on my own time because it reminded me of being at work and having to face masses of people as a uniformed ranger. I have been hiding in plain sight.
I don’t like how I feel. Sour, resentful, fat and sloppy. Where is my zest for life? What happened to my sense of wonder? What happened to gratitude? Is this how I want to spend the rest of whatever time I’ve got?
The answer is a resounding NO. I have decided: this blog will be revived as a way to document a renewed quest for wonder in every day life. There will be more small expeditions with sketchbook and camera in hand. There will be more noticing and less numbness. There will be observation and reflection on the human condition, as in “I wonder why…”
Today was a tiny start. It was a perfect day for sorting the beehive–rotate the brood boxes, scrape the burr comb off frames, clean out the honey super, add the queen excluder. I saw that many of the foragers were packing pollen back to the hive. Wonder where they’re finding that? It’s a good sign, since pollen provides the protein the queen needs to lay eggs and increase the colony. I had big plans for a hike, but by the time I finished with the bees it was too late to go to the place I had in mind. So I grabbed a small sketchbook and drove to a place where I knew I would find a few spring wildflowers. I left all digital devices in the truck and walked up the hill, stopping to look at the shiny yellow petals of sagebrush buttercups and the whiskered faces of sagebrush violets. Meadowlarks sang, my first hearing of their clear notes this year. When I saw the elk on the skyline I stopped and went to ground. We were all taking advantage of the mild day to soak up some sunshine on a south-facing slope. I idled for awhile, peering at small leaves emerging from the soil and the rounded stones left by the glacier that created this ridge. Wondered if the ticks are out and felt slightly crawly under my clothes. The sound of the interstate washed over me and I separated myself from the irritation I feel at the fossil-fueled busyness and noise of life in the 21st century. If I looked up, I could see the light blinking on top of a nearby cell tower and the spinning white blades of wind turbines. If the elk could exist with all that human junk, I reckoned I could too. On the way down I stopped to sketch one violet flower, really giving it my full attention and falling into the familiarity of making marks on paper. It was fine. I can do this.
This is the start of the “Wonder Challenge”, which will last one year. I will post on the blog at least once a week to document what I discover. I don’t know how this will turn out. But I have to try.