“Well, aren’t you a vision! You look beautiful hiking!”
I met them coming up the trail yesterday: mother, father, teenage daughter. They were perky and fresh, I had been hiking for hours. Mom, second in the line, made the exclamation; daughter, behind her, nodded in enthusiastic agreement. I loved that she said it, though I was quite sure it was a kind reference to my age. I waited until they were out of sight then took a selfie. I wanted to see what they saw. It is what it is.
As I started out on the trail at 6:30, I was thinking about the fact of it being the last day of sixty-eight. Ten years ago I was beginning to seriously think about making a huge change in my life. I had told no one at that point that I was probably going to leave North Carolina and thirty-six years in the Southeast—my whole adult life—and return to the Pacific Northwest. I was a year away. For my sixtieth birthday. That was the plan in my head. It had been been in my head for the preceding four years. I remember thinking that fifty-nine seemed so much younger than sixty. I had loved turning forty and then fifty, but I was uneasy about sixty. And my sixties did have a a rocky beginning.
While I was looking forward to being back in the PNW, it would come with a price: I had to leave the best friends I’d ever had, my favorite-ever house (of eleven since I left childhood), my family across the state, and my income. And I was returning to my hometown, and my childhood bedroom. And I would be living with my mother, a prospect fraught both with memories of adolescence and the surety of watching her decline up close and personal. Would it be worth it? I didn’t know. It was a risk I was willing to take. Or at least I was going to take.
The first six years of the decade were as challenging as I expected. But I had the sure knowledge that I was doing a good thing, being a good daughter. Not every hour of every day by any stretch, but the best I could. (Maybe often not the best.) And there were two new grandchildren close by. And I began to get acquainted with hiking and camping and my increasing physical abilities and courage.
Now, in this last year of my decade, I have fallen deeply in love again with this beautiful corner of the country: the mountains, the trees, the blue sky, the rain, the smell, the cool mornings. I am stronger in every way than I was a decade ago. I made the right choice. And at just the right time, not too soon, not too late. Theoretically, I am well into early elderhood, but my earth mystic friend Joanna Powell Colbert, says life stages are fluid and different for each person. “Metaphorically,” she says, “we can tap into the energies of any life stage.” I enter this gateway year energetic, strong, and excited. Ready to explore what I want to do, what I can do, and to let fall away whatever needs to.
The past year has been some kind of interesting for all of us. I spent it, as you know if you land on this page regularly, not in the isolation I am accustomed to, but with family living with me. Not detached, but engaged. It was an experience—like living with my mother—that was both challenging and fulfilling. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
As things settle back into the cadence of solitude and self-determination, I’m preparing for another deep dive into a new challenge, much as I was ten years ago: the publication of my memoir about life with my mother. I got my official publication date from She Writes Press last week: November 15, 2022. Along with the welcome from my project manager, came two lengthy documents of questions to fill out. They are not easy questions. Like this one, for example:
Long Book Summary, the more detailed, the better. Please provide a solid description of how the book starts, the most important characteristics of the middle, and how it ends.
Make a list of five adjectives that describe your book.
The responses are to help a publicist market the book. I’m not planning to hire a publicist, which the publisher will not like, but I have spent quite enough of my inheritance on this project with a hybrid press. A hybrid press makes it easier to get published, a vetted, higher quality product than self-publishing, and with the services of a traditional press; but it’s expensive. You have to really believe in your project, and I do. (I am planning a Kickstarter campaign to hopefully recoup some of the expense.)
I think, however, deeply pondering the questions will help me be my own publicist, and I’m both excited and terrified to dive in. And this will be the easy part. In the first year of my eighth decade, I will need to ask to be on podcasts, and do book talks, and be creatively proactive. This year will be introverted preparation for the extroverted year to come. Again, excited and terrified.
Completing my memoir has just been one of two accomplishments in the pandemic year. I also completed my epic family history project, again as you know if you been here at all in the past few weeks. It has been a massive legacy project and I can’t begin to express how happy I am to be sending my family’s story out for the generations—those who were there, those who descended from those who were there, and especially those yet to come. I’m gratified by the interest of those other than family who have ordered a copy. To have finished a 1500 letters project—75 years after they were written—during our own “gap year,” when we too have been separated from loved ones and dependent on our own form of remote communication, has been surreal. I daresay there will be no letters to pass on from 2020, but there has been and will be much written. (Someday I will print out my blog posts, but that is a bigger project than one would imagine.)
Today (or tomorrow) is the deadline to order a copy of the book! Just let me know if you want one!
I’m thinking of my father today—who left twenty-six years ago tomorrow—and the years we celebrated my birthday and Father’s Day on the same day. I’m sure he got short shrift many times in my childhood; but in adulthood, especially in his absence, I feel very close to him on this day every seven or whatever years.
I went for an early morning walk in our woods today, celebrating my dad, celebrating the sun, celebrating me. I am also celebrating you. FaceBook is being very show-offy today with so many greetings from those along the many trails I have walked through my life from grade school to today. It is FaceBook being its best self. Thank you. I’m also aware of the trails not represented, relationships lost but not forgotten. I mourn the severing, but am grateful for good memories.
I love being alive in this place at this time. Onward! This is the youngest I will ever be! Here’s to the sun.
My morning: fog, flowers, early woods walk, solstice yoga on the deck. And summer on the longest day.