When all your Facebook friends are wishing you a happy birthday, there’s no point in denying it. Today I start a new decade, enough said on the actual number. I’ve been anticipating more than dreading this day for quite a while. Maybe it’s because I still feel 12, hopeful, scared and open to a brighter future. Not that the past decades have been dim. But I definitely don’t feel old. Yet. And I don’t want to.
Ten years ago, I was still working at my university job, wrangling recalcitrant professors, and had barely started blogging. Twenty years ago, I had just arrived in Utah, and had not yet been to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Japan, Australia, Argentina or the wilds of the Northwest Territories. I hadn’t paddled a kayak. Thirty years ago, I didn’t have a clue. I have reinvented myself from a Californian to a Texan to an expat-in-Utah, from a bureaucrat to a photographer and writer to a start-up, value-added farmer. And I’m not done yet.
Today, I know some things, and one of them is knowing better than predicting what the next ten years (if I am so blessed with them) will bring. It will take ten years for some of our apple trees to start fully producing, for one thing. It’s not like I planned to have an apple ranch in southern Utah. If it had been according to my vague idea, it would be a cottage on the shore, and look at what I would have missed.
I want to know what native bees will come back to our land, how to finally knit a properly fitted sweater, how to back a trailer. I haven’t yet witnessed an animal give birth, or made a bottle of cider. I want to safari in Africa, to see the northern lights, the fall colors turn at Denali, and walk from pub to pub in Herefordshire.
Harriet Doerr, Titian, Isak Dineson, Burt Munro, Alvin Batiste: these are my role models and heros going forward. These folks only started revving their engines at my age. And then there’s my grandmother Rosemary, twice-widowed, who at age 50 decided to chuck her job as a doctor’s assistant and became an L.A. County social worker. I still have a hard time imagining my Nana going into Watts during the turbulent 1960s, but that’s what she did. Did she see that coming when, more than a decade earlier as a young widow with two kids, she sold everything one autumn and moved to California because she couldn’t take one more winter? I kind of doubt she ever imagined where Route 66 would eventually lead in her life.
There is a river guide who carried me safely through the Grand Canyon and the Tatsenshini by the name of John. He introduced me to Bill Tilman, an English mountaineer and adventurer who . John loved to quote Tilman’s reference to a saying by the Buddha: "Strenuousness is the immortal path; sloth is the way of death." No whining on the hiking trail with John! But I need to engrave two other Tilman quotes onto my forehead for easy reference as I venture onward:
"Any worthwhile expedition can be planned on the back of an envelope."
"Put on a good pair of boots and walk out the door."
Enough navel-gazing; let’s get going!