No one calls us. No. That’s inaccurate. We have friends in Canada who call sometimes to touch base and one of our sons often calls us during his breaks working from home, especially while he is on a walk.
Our younger son got us each a cell phone and pays our new phone bill, so the land line became a useless expense. Even so it took us months to cancel and unplug our big landline phones. We finally did last week. We dickered about who and how to alert this change. In the end, family. We figured most everyone everyone has my email.
Retirement, gray hair, gardening, beauty and telephones in no particular order—
Last week we saw this osprey land on the snag at the headland north of our home. Usually there is an eagle there, or a raven or crow. We had never seen an osprey there and my zoom struggled in the wind, shot from the north in the next beach. She flew right over us in a long lazy turn.
We try to accomplish something each day. At the beach this might be shopping, mail, gardening, weaving, cleaning house, baking. Retirement is more fun for some than for us, I have concluded. Perhaps it helps if people did not love their jobs or make connections with people. If going to work provided meaning to life, not going to work is harder. On the other hand, these recent years have been hard times for most Americans.
Since I loved teaching, not teaching has removed structure and purpose from my routine. Even during my famous “three months off in the summer” (actually 9-10 weeks), I was always taking classes or teaching or writing or working or doing all those things at once. I needed to retire because I could not longer maintain the pace I required of myself to do a “good” job teaching English and writing. I was sick for most of the last year I taught full time. Teaching only the college classes might have worked but admin messed that up for me, moving my classroom, changing my schedule, and generally treating me as a cog in an indifferent machine.
I am not a cog.
I refuse to be invisible.
As my hair turned almost entirely gray—silvery-gray—women who dyed their own hair crossed the street to tell me how good mine looked. This happened several times. When that was happening, I was still youngish, early-mid 40s. I had dyed my hair for a while, but that damages hair, or at least it did mine. My gray hair was a different texture, actually nicer than before I had much gray, and in sunshine it looked bright and shiny.
Gray hair is still judged as old. And I am old, truly old and with no desire to pretend otherwise. (I wish it were true that dyed hair made 70-year-old people look older, as I read in a WaPo comment, but I doubt that is the perception. People are often stupid about such things.)
I will be 70 this fall. When I was still in my 30s, a wonderful woman told me, “That’s the great thing about being 70, no one expects you to look young anymore.” But, sorry to say, they do still expect us to be youthful and beautiful. Or we are invisible.
Thus, one of the challenges is feeling invisible. I am invisible to some people. While shopping in person at a favorite store this spring, I called and called to a store associate standing on the other side of a counter (yes, they are all “associates” not “clerks” these days) but it took the manager to gain the man’s attention. He was tall, young, and male. I am short, old, and female. Invisible.
The genuine challenge isn’t the oblivious clerk, but my own sense of fading. Is this the result of isolation? Even at the start of teaching high school English half-time, I saw 75 students each day. One particularly stressful year, I was teaching 205. The job was hard.
It meant that I was speaking to dozens of people each day, responding to their needs, answering their questions, reading and hearing their hard work. I was exhausted by mid-June when school let out, but antsy by mid-August to start back to school. Another recently-retired teacher warned me to get out of town after I’d retired when school started up in the fall. He said the impulse to drive to work was a killer.
So yes, three years fully retired and in my third year of only rarely speaking to to anyone and hugging only family, I struggle.
I knit a swatch yesterday for a silk noil wrap. It turned out very well, but I am not yet inspired to start that project. I do need one. I decided a few days ago to take a break from weaving. Fourteen shawls in less than seven months. Enough yarn in my stash to cobble together eight more shawls by September if I kept on, but not the colors I want. I’ve given away and sold dozens, but they fill two shelves in the glassed cabinet Gary and I put together in the condo, and I have twenty more here in plastic bins. So maybe I will knit instead.
Gardening? Our garden is beautiful in every season. It was designed that way and to be easy to care for, and without fertilizer or watering, or even much weeding. We are great fans of Gardeners World, but a recent series by one of the hosts reveals just how hard she works to make her cottage garden beautiful for most of the year. Hundreds of pots, greenhouses and cold frames. In spring all those potted tulips are stunning, but by late summer the brick paths are overgrown and her garden seems messy to us, no better in autumn. In winter, to our eyes, her garden is ugly—everything dead and waiting. This seems to be acceptable in a cottage garden. Ours was designed to be far less dramatic, but blooming almost continuously. The rufus hummers are here year around.
Below is our front yard, the one bordering the ocean.
Familiar. We go out early for our walks and try to reach the stairs (a mile) or the “headland” or the “seal rock,” or the “turnaround rock” (1.5 miles). These are our markers. On a good day, we walk clear around Hug Point (2 miles). We go out between 6 and 7am before breakfast partly because Gary has always been an early riser, mostly because we like being the first or among the first to walk tide-washed sand. That early we see locals also looking for a quiet shore and dog-walkers. Locals have their daily path. Dog-walkers are out long enough to empty their dogs.
In summer, if we stay out long enough, two hours or more, there are people with children playing in the sand. Sometimes they ask us what we search for in the rocks. Sea glass is what we’re searching for but we say rocks because that’s mostly what we carry home. Visitors and even locals most often comment on a “beautiful” day when there is sunshine. But for me, it’s any day at all. I look out over the ocean at sky. Blue, pale gray or dark, it is always sky and water. I like the water best when it is green, that particular smokey green color that shows on a bright but cloudy day. But that kiss of water to sky—that is beauty.
This morning we are not getting our walk. Gary has gone to get the oil changed in the car. I am sitting up in bed typing and considering the green silk swatch. I can hear a Eurasian dove flirting. A jay has earlier chased the doves off.
Yesterday, a former student stopped by just as we arrived home for Portland. She had tried to call but found our landline did not go through. Someone noticed! She told me about her MBA and shared news, including a death in her family from covid. But mostly she was smiling and hopeful—she was always a hopeful person. We stood in the drive and talked. I should have taken a photo, but the evidence of her life remains in me.
By the end of next month, montbrecia will be blooming bright orange. Before that, the salal will have berries so that I can make Gary’s favorite muffins. We have spotted the bat, we have seen hummingbirds, and at least four species of bee.
When people ask that most ubiquitous of questions, How are you? He does not respond, Fine. He says, I’m alive.
We’re alive and easy to find.