. . .
I was not feeling well on my actual birthday. (1)
But Jerry and I went for a lovely drive: up to Roughlock Falls, where we enjoyed a picnic, and then walked the fenced sidewalks to look, with hordes of other tourists, down at the falls. As is my habit when visiting the Falls, I explained to Jerry (quietly, so no one else could hear) how George had showed me how to walk behind the falls the first and every time we visited there. (2)
We sat on the benches at the top of the falls, feeling the spray on our faces, while Jerry smoked a cigar. I watched people arrive, peer over the edge for 30 seconds, and leave. Some took pictures. The longest anyone spent looking at the falls was less than a minute.
Back in the car, we drove for several more hours on well-maintained gravel roads, looking at the cows grazing on the national forest, mostly alone with our thoughts and the scenery. Sometime during the drive, I began to explain to Jerry my concept of the Birthday Week.
I believe this to be a unique idea (3), based on the fact that age encourages us to a deliberation in our actions. We are not merely slow because we canít move faster; no, we are often contemplating the feeling of every move, what it will mean to our bodies. Perhaps we are remembering past experiences. Hmm. That leap hurt. I wonder if it will hurt that much if I do it again. I used to be able to jump that far a hundred times a day.
In order to properly celebrate an important milestone such as a birthday, particularly after more than six decades of birthdays. one cannot be limited to a mere 24 hours, or the much shorter span of twelve hours during which most of us are awake. Even the twelve hours is frequently interrupted by a nap or two, so our time to celebrate our natal day becomes even more brief.
In addition, of course, few of us in our sixties are willing to celebrate quite as vigorously as we did at younger ages. I like to do something special, see friends, call more friends, dine well, open gifts-- far too much excitement and activity for a single day.
For that reason, then, Iíve begun to introduce the concept of a Birthday Week. You will notice that the week of my birthday was tentatively blocked on the list of "Available Retreat Dates," so we would schedule no retreats during that time. Weíd planned a more extensive trip, but when that didnít work out, I chose to celebrate in smaller increments.
The drive on my actual birthday was terrific, a restful day of enjoying the Black Hills at its most beautiful and serene, since it was a week day. I wasnít feeling well enough for much dinner, but managed to scrape up the energy to open a lovely collection of presents. (Among other things, Tamara gave me potting soil, walls of water, and mystery books; Jerry gave me tomato cages and 8 pounds of salt water taffy. Jerryís folks gave me a gift certificate to a gardening catalog: do you see a theme?) I spent the day after my birthday quietly but the sense of relaxation allowed me to search some storage and finally find the letters Badger Clark wrote to me in 1957; more on that in a later blog.
Then on the third day of birthday week, I called a friend my age and we chatted for an hour about our lives, including recalling our friend Winston. Her father raised Winston, a beautiful Hereford bull, on his ranch near Newcastle, WY, and his children rode the bull the whole time he was growing up. By the time my father bought Winston, he was a massive breeding machine, with the white curly face and immense circle of horns that mark a true Hereford. I loved taking my friends to the corral to see him, and then casually climbing on and riding him around. Naturally, like the self-centered little monster I was, I allowed my playmates to think I was responsible for the bullís kindness, but his innate Hereford gentleness kept him calm.
That afternoon, Jerry and I continued our policy of getting acquainted with the near neighborhood and I took him to see the Norbeck Information Center in Custer State Park, an incredible building created by the Civilian Conservation Corps out of native rock and ponderosa pine. We dropped into Coolidge Inn, and I signed copies of my books for sale there, though the clerk was not at all sure I should. Then we dined at the Game Lodge. Sadly, the kitchen couldnít manage to cook my buffalo steak the way I wanted it, so Jerry ate most of it.
On my fourth day of birthday week, I went to 4 garage sales and an auction/estate sale, spent $1.36 and acquired enough pots and peat pots to fill my greenhouse needs, possibly forever. Then I had lunch with good friends and lots of laughter, and sat in on a private showing of the recent paintings of my good friend Tom Thorson.
As the sun was casting long shadows, a UPS truck roared up the driveway bringing the complimentary copies of the newly-issued paperback edition of No Place Like Home. The cover has been made darker and more dramatic, the spine is a prairie-sky blue that makes the title stand out, and the back cover features my photograph plus the usual collection of great things said about the book. In this case the quotations are from Judy Blunt (whose book Breaking Clean is great writing about ranching) and Booklist.
To top off the day, we got a cooling trace of rain. Now, on the fifth day of my birthday week, Iím going to till the garden; celebrating my birth also means proving I can still do some of the work I love. I plan to call another old friend today for a long chat, and have lunch with a high school classmate next week, just before my birthday week officially ends.
I might note that oneís endurance also builds as one ages, so a week of celebrating a birthday becomes possible. One does not, however, celebrate with the excessive consumption we might have achieved in our younger days.
Calm, quiet delight in living is the theme. May you all experience the same, aging happily.
Footnotes to Birthday Week:
(1) I have reluctantly concluded that the reason for the illness might be because I ate a large quantity of raw red onion in a tuna salad sandwich the day before. The discovery that eating something in particular causes heartburn and a sleepless night is one of those things about aging that nobody ever mentions when we are young. I now know why some of my relatives wore those twisted smiles when I chomped onto a hamburger with raw onions when I was about nine.
(2) I wonít detail the technique of going behind the falls here, lest I encourage some reading daredevil to do it and draw down some official wrath on their heads. A few people walking under the falls didnít seem to hurt the falls much, but if one person were seen to do it, others would surely follow and someone might get hurt. George and I were doing this before Political Correctness started trying to make it illegal to do dangerous things. And it wasnít really very dangerous. Standing under the falls, out of sight of all but the most alert observers above, was incredible. Leaning back against the damp walls, I could feel the thunder of the water pouring over the edge above us, feel the chill of centuries in the wet sand under my feet. I know I started a poem about it, but donít believe Iíve ever finished it. I'm glad to have had the experience and perhaps enjoy the fact that few others will.
(3) I thought Iíd invented the birthday week until I received my annual birthday call from my friend Suzan, who has been my friend for about 50 years. "Humph!" she said. "Iíve been doing that for years. Birthday Eve, Birthday Week. Lately Iím plugging for a Birthday Month!"
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