It has taken me a while to get used to the fact that Shirley’s sister has passed on, and that the home on Furnace Brook in which she lived for so many years, is now occupied by someone else. I am beginning to become reconciled to the idea that one of our last connections with the Vermont which has been a part of our very identity for half a century, and which has drawn us back there annually, has all but disappeared. What awakened me in the middle of a fitful night just days ago, was the thought that my walk on Furnace Brook Road in the Autumn of 2013 – an act which has been for me a yearly rite of reawakening for half of my adult years and one that has capped off eleven months of intense and happy anticipation – may in fact have been my last walk along that fabled Green Mountain waterway. Similarly, and for an associated reason, I have probably made my last trip on the motor vessel “Hardy III” to Monhegan Island, watched my last sunrise at Pemaquid Point and eaten a final lobster on Shaw’s Wharf in New Harbor.
I recently marked my 83rd birthday, and a middle-age friend asked me what it was like to be an octogenarian. That is a difficult question to answer; at least to the satisfaction of someone who is still a long distance away from their own encounter with such watermarks. But I will try.
Just the other day, I spent my afternoon walking the aisles of a well-known sporting goods store, marveling at the selection of outdoor items which make a guy’s heart skip a beat. I reveled in the sheer variety of hunting, shooting, fishing, hiking and camping gear crowding every square yard of floor space and filling shelves and display cases. I touched the things which were touchable, spent time reading specifications and checking out prices. I talked to store clerks, asking many questions, shaking my head in agreement with recommendations and “shop talk”. I checked out much later with no more than a current copy of OUTDOOR LIFE magazine under my arm, my bankroll regrettably intact. That is part of my answer to the question, “what is it like to be over 80.
Each time I visit my own basement I pass by the fine fly rods and favorite ORVIS reels which, along with reloading gear and rappelling equipment gather dust, and mock me with their silence. And I make myself promises I know I won’t keep.
On a regular basis, Shirley tells me I should give up on garden beds, orchard and greenhouse, whose promise is annually nullified by unfettered wind, unforgiving sun, rodents with voracious appetites, and all manner of unidentified blights. And she is probably right. I am running out of time to find answers which remain tantalizingly just out of reach. It is getting late for “trial-and-error” gardening. Things which I thought would never change have changed.
Not long ago we attended the funeral service for a dear friend, who – with her husband – launched us on a fifteen-year mini-career as tour guides; they “forced” us into that inaugural New England pilgrimage in 1994. Since that time, a small legion of travel companions has gone into our personal memory book, and our shared adventures have been the genesis of extraordinary friendships. “Touring” is one of those things we turned out to be good at, but as endearing as those successes may be, the truth is that the adventure of 2007 will doubtless turn out to have been the final one. I didn’t realize it was really over until recently.
And while my digital BLOG has had nearly 100,000 visitors in 100+ countries, I don’t really know how many more Monday radio shows, Friday newspaper columns and freelance essays are left in me.
We live in a society in which “seniors” are expected to be in a state of decline, and so what some may think is no more than making allowances in the way they relate to their “senior” friends and loved ones, comes across as an affectionate tolerance and even a hard-to-hide patronization. When you ask me what is the most troubling aspect of “being over 80”, it is this loss of perceived relevance where you least expect to find it. It is so easy to misconstrue a faltering physical agility with a diminution of critical thinking skills or to mistake a momentary confusion about surnames for an indication of approaching senility. Being treated with respect – while important – is not the same as being seen and treated as an equal.
Being who I am is more important to me at age 83 than at any previous demarcation point, and the journey which has brought me here is a source of considerable pride and satisfaction. Along with a certain hubris that comes with the secret sense of triumph I allow myself to take refuge in while those around me find humor in my seeming indifference to Ipads, blackberries and even the simplest cell phone, I nurture not the slightest envy of their technological prowess. After all, I have known and touched shoulders with giants, and witnessed the greatness of America, and marched in a parade of people and events which will never pass this way again. And in the most important of life’s pursuits, I think I got it right. And I am content – even prideful – of being un-cool!
But I sit alone here in the duskiness of early morning and I quietly welcome the tears that glide so easily down my face at the knowledge that I have probably taken the last walk on Furnace Brook Road.