“Crowds are like broken glass in my head”
It’s 3:30 AM when my alarm goes off and I still haven’t decided whether to hike today. I lie quietly as my mind goes through the pro and con list:
On the one hand, I love early morning drives, I’m re-listening to a life-changing audiobook (more on that later) and I need to walk every day.
On the other hand … people.
I rise and get moving. Very little can stop me once I consider starry skies, alpenglow and good mountain air. That stuff is in my DNA. Not even the beginning of a long, end-of-summer holiday weekend can dampen my enthusiasm.
Sunrise, here I come.
I start my day at “the bench” on Sourdough Ridge and follow along the ridge nature trail towards Frozen Lake. There are two couples near me as I approach the lake and I wait to see which trail (of the three at the junction) they will choose. One couple chooses Fremont Lookout, the other pair head up towards Burroughs Mountain. Easy. I choose the third, Berkeley Park. Perfect. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s really just that I don’t like hearing constant conversation that doesn’t include me. Mostly these days I am here for the solitude.
Berkeley Park sits in a valley between Fremont Lookout and Skyscraper Mountain. I walked down to a beautiful “sit spot” and had my breakfast. It’s a moderate climb back to the junction and I take the Sunrise Camp/Shadow Lake trail back to the parking lot. No bear or fox today but I did happen upon several marmots, a kestral hawk, an orange-crowned warbler, dark-eyed juncos and an American dipper. I followed a mountain goat out onto the Wonderland Trail for awhile, but he seemed to disappear over a hill before I could get glass on him.
9.8 miles of total deliciousness.
I have been re-reading (listening) to a book by Katy Butler called The Art of Dying Well. (I think I’ve written about it before or at least mentioned it). I get it. People don’t want to talk about planning for illness, old age and death. It’s a hard title to recommend, but most everyone over 50 or those caring for a loved one, would learn so much valuable information from this book.
I would call it The Art of Living Well. It is as much about living your best life as it is planning for a good death. It is so odd to me that talking about the only real certainty we all have is so wrought with fear. She talks about the history of death-culture and the drug culture that has grown inside of it. A culture that assumes we all want to extend our lives as long as possible without regard for the quality of our lives.
I don’t want that.
I also don’t want to leave that decision for anyone else to make. There are a hundred things I could be doing right now at 60 that will ensure a more peaceful passage for me when it is my time. Most of my doctors are in the city I worked in for 30 years. It’s a fact I am quite aware of as I plan for my future. I am actively seeking new care providers closer to home. I am becoming mindful of building a network of friends … a tribe of like-minded others … to walk with me into the next phases of my life. And I will be there for them too.
I’m (slowly) learning to be more thoughtful about sleep and nutrition and exercise. The goal is to make choices that minimize the use of drugs and other artificial means to achieve a better quality of life. I lean into nature to help me. Katy Butler suggests “doing what requires the most of you and the least of medicine”. She goes on to say: “Given that our bodies age in more than five thousand cellular ways, there’s little point in strengthening physical muscles without developing the spiritual and social strength to cope with the inevitable loss of powers, and with death itself”.
This book is so good. It’s like a map that identifies the destination along with the many paths to get there. It’s like a self-guided journey, helping us arrive safely at the doorway we will all inevitably pass through. It has been a gift to me. I bought the paperback so I could highlight the passages that mean the most and to create an actual list of the things I can do now to live a more fulfilling life.
She reviews by chapter the different stages of our lives. Whether you are fifty or eighty, healthy or ill, this book can help navigate the road ahead. If you have read it or plan to, I would love to hear your thoughts. We can’t predict the future, but we can minimize some of the uncertainty that comes with aging and diminished health to more fully inhabit our one precious life.
Although the Wind …
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house
I never take my morning walks for granted. I’m grateful every day that I can rise and get outside to breathe. It won’t always be this way and I am determined every morning to say the only prayer that really matters: