“You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes if you’ve lived your life properly.”— Ronald Reagan
In a few days I will have reached official geezerhood. I remember that in my younger years I would sometimes think with amazement about living until the turn of the century; anything past that was veiled in uncertainty and mystery. Now that I have attained my dotage I know the only certainty is this minute, and mystery is the best part of all the rest. My Thesaurus defines a mystery as something which baffles or perplexes. Bafflements and perplexities are what keep our minds ticking; mine, anyway.
I grew up being mystified by the magnitude of Nature and all of her accoutrements. As a consequence, I have spent the entirety of my adult life studying, living with and enjoying the furred, feathered and scaled. I have made a passing acquaintance with creepy crawlies and vegetation in the process. I don’t know that this preoccupation with observing the complexities of living things has been of benefit to other people. I hope it has. I do know I have made the difference between life or painful death for quite a few wildlings and that is a comforting thought. My greatest pleasure, though, is the knowledge I have gained. For with each piece of information gleaned, there is a new mystery to be solved.
The past 50 years has been a time when answers and technology have transformed all life dramatically. The things we take for granted in our lives today were the stuff of science fiction when I was 15. When I was 15, an electric typewriter was a wonderful machine. Television was served up on tiny screens in black and white and any automobile worth its salt was about three blocks long and sported fins above its taillights. When I was 15 “fast food” meant canned soup and crackers. When I was 15, any girl with pierced ears was from another country. As for boys or other body parts — perish the thought! When I was 15, dinosaurs were huge, colorless creatures that could barely support their own weight and had died out completely millions of years ago. You get the picture.
Today, what I type appears on a colorful screen and I no longer hand deliver it. It gets transferred to the editor’s screen with a few magical clicks. This same screen allows me to read newspapers from all over the world every morning while drinking coffee which I brew by pushing a button. Fast food can mean semi-edibles from nearly every country on the planet. My ears are pierced — with extra holes. (As for any other body parts, the very thought makes my eyes water. But, this is about being old.)
Today we can contemplate both tiny and huge dinosaurs, which were fast-moving, colorful and warm-blooded. And we know they didn’t leave us completely. We can delight in the myriads of multi-hued birds, their bodies throbbing with dinosaur DNA. Oh, how things have changed! Though we can be certain only about now, I’d put money on unimaginable changes in the future. Is all of this change good, or is it a bad thing? Who knows? All we can be sure of, is that it IS. When I was 30, I was skeptical of just about everything. The older I get, the more I’m willing to believe. Today, I believe just about anything!
When one is my age, many experiences are not new. However, sights, sounds and scents produce vivid memories, bringing fresh nuances to the past and present. One recent morning, as I filled the bird dish with seed, the deck was very cold and icy. I had not, before that moment, realized how pungent wet and icy wood can be. I was instantly transported back to a time when I was about 14. At that time, I figure skated regularly at a rink in Hollywood called The Polar Palace. For a few minutes I was, once again, that young girl removing her wooden blade guards, anxious to step out onto the ice. I was surrounded, not only with the odor of ice and wet wood, but the delicious smell of hot dogs on the snack bar grill and the anticipation of a freezing and fizzy Pepsi when it came time for a break. Quite a payoff for merely filling a bird feeder, huh?
I believe I am a crepuscular creature. Crepuscular animals are most active and alert at dawn and dusk. Those are my favorite times of the day. As I’ve mentioned many times, I wake very early, well before light. I love these quiet hours, alone with my animals, coffee and newspapers. I do not know what the day will bring, and age has taught me not to place too much value upon what I think will happen. Often, I get more done in the early morning hours than many folks accomplish before noon. On days when I am not expected at work, there is a motive in my madness. The motive? Afternoon. For me, afternoons are meant for reading and lolling around; perhaps a few desultory passes at weeds, broken up by frequents cups of tea in winter and glasses of the same substance iced in the warm months. Whoever invented the long siesta was spot on.
In the past few weeks it has been my pleasure to note how, with each passing day, the light appears over the orchard a few moments earlier. As I go out to feed the barn cat Annie and the two ravens, a new sound has joined the insistent crowing of my neighbors’ roosters. Male turkeys gobbling loudly in the trees below the pond. A sure sign that a new generation of these huge and bronzey game birds is in the making. As the day lightens further, I notice the sound of other birds, who are trickling back from their brief winter sojourn.
One early morning, as I was doing a little ambitious dusting and vacuuming, the sun sparkled through the dining room windows. In the corner of one, was a large and complex cobweb. As I moved to attack it, I was stopped in my tracks. In the brilliant light, it looked like a piece of golden lace. On closer inspection, I spotted the weaver of this marvel. She was stretched between two delicate threads and was so small and dainty, I would have missed seeing her entirely if the light had not been so strong. She, too, shimmered like gold. I have never seen another spider like her, though I’m sure her kind have been here far longer than I. The empty carcasses of many equally tiny insects lay at the base of this amazing web.
It seems impossible that something as small as this arachnid could produce all of the silk in that homemade mist net, but it is a fact. Needless to say, the web is still there, indeed, it has grown larger. Experience has taught me that someday, not too far off, the web will become tattered and dry looking, and its golden occupant will be gone. In the meantime, who will care if I spend a few minutes each day enjoying a visit with her? Visitors to my house know my oddities of behavior well. Love me; love my cobwebs.
Late afternoons and evenings, for me, are for thinking over the day’s events and contemplating what to fix for dinner. I love to cook; I like to think about food and ways to prepare it. I especially take pleasure in finding new recipes to try. I am completely incapable of actually following a recipe, but I find inspiration in them. I’m always learning something new in the kitchen, my favorite room. As my kitchen window faces a bird-friendly side garden, where I have hummingbird feeders, I have learned much about avian behavior over the years — merely by chopping and slicing and looking up from time to time. A therapeutic classroom, my kitchen.
Late afternoon also means a visit from my three does, two of them heavier in the middle now. Scar, the beautiful doe with old wounds on her shoulder, has been gone for several months, but Mausi, the bat-faced fawn from last year has taken her place. As I open the sliding door onto the deck, I am so happy my “girls” have visited once again for their chopped apple. Their gentle eyes, as they look up in anticipation, tell me they are also pleasantly disposed toward the daily routine.
These February evenings are softened by the scruffy almond trees, which have again frothed with pale pink blossoms. All over the hillside and marching down the paths, the daffodils are strutting their stuff.
Hugo, the dining table bat mug, has a magnificent “hat” this evening. It is comprised of daffodils, blue-blossomed rosemary spikes and bright coral quince flowers. Hugo wears a perpetual grin, but this bouquet makes me smile as well.
So, here I am, having officially joined the ranks of older folks. I have survived a young adulthood fraught with serious physical problems. I have come through two marriages, one good, the other the stuff of nightmares; I can still laugh and stand tall. I have all of my teeth and fairly good eyesight. I have a wonderful loving family which lives close-by. I rarely fuss over minutiae that aren’t up to my expectations. In my youth, I would often say I wanted to spend my later years in redwood country. Wonder of wonders, not many giants are left, but I’m here. I can still walk two brisk miles without being winded, and on warm days those redwoods smell sublime.
I used to say I wanted to visit the 3 “A’s” before I die. They are Africa, Australia and Alaska. Each of them a wildlife lover’s paradise. It looks as though Africa and Australia will have to wait for another life, but Alaska is not yet out of the question for this one. You know something? I think I could get pretty good at this geezer thing. Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise.