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Old Age is Not for Sissies

A page from my sketchbook

When I young, too many years ago, I would occasionally hear one well-matured person or another comment “old age is not for sissies.” I heard it more often as my own mother struggled to retain her independence.

          These days I find myself muttering the same words, and also those of Dylan Thomas who wrote: Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage at the dying of the light.

          I’ve worked hard at keeping my brain sharp and up-to-date with what’s going on in the world today. And I joke that my third-floor apartment. with no elevator, and a dog to walk five times a day, are my fool-proof exercise plans.

          That’s all good, but my recent inability to take a small step down on uneven ground, because I was afraid I would lose my balance and fall, had nothing to do with stairs or walking.

          “Try Tai Chi,” my former journalism colleague Charlie Trentelman, told me.

          So, I ordered a digital video copy of Tai Chi lessons that focuses on balance for older people. I participated in the first class this morning.

          In it, we beginners got to hold on to a chair, or even sit in it for some exercises. Piece of cake, I thought, as the demonstrations began. Ha! I had to sit out a couple of the exercises because I pooped out. I was straining muscles I didn’t even know I had.

And when it came to the point in the video where the instructor said we could end our first lesson here if we were tired, or continue on, I opted to halt the video.

          I’ll try again tomorrow. I’m not a sissy.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Imagine: A World at Peace

From my Sketchbook

          Fifty years ago, just before we got out of Vietnam, pretty much the same way we got out of Afghanistan last month, and how England got out of Afghanistan in 1842, John Lennon sang a song that brought tears to my eyes every time I heard it.

          It did the same again this morning as I listened to it on my car radio while running an early morning errand.  The song is titled Imagine, and it’s a call for world peace and brotherhood, and asks listeners to imagine what that would be like.

          As my tears flowed once again, I tried hard to imagine such a world, and also thought of Peter, Paul and Mary’s words of 50 years ago as well.  “When will we ever learn …” they sang.

          Lennon was denigrated because Imagine asks that people imagine a world without religion, without heaven and without hell. But looking around, one can’t help but see how religion has created wars, not peace.

          Just as an example, I recall one of my favorite childhood hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers.

          Lennon’s song doesn’t ask for us to imagine a godless world, at least as I understand the lyrics, just that it not be an organized thing in which everyone is expected to believe the same thing – and if they don’t, they’re bad.

Lennon ends Imagine by singing that he may be a dreamer, but that he is not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.

           I admit it. I’m a dreamer. And thinking about the possibility of world peace makes me cry. I know I’m not going to see it. But it sure would be nice if my great-grandchildren could.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Goose Head Rock: One of my favorite Mount Lemmon hoodoos.

          Monday my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn took me for a drive up to the top of Mount Lemmon. I’ve made the drive a dozen or more times since moving to Tucson in 2013, and always found it enjoyable. This day was no exception, except the passing landscape was greener than I had ever seen it, thanks to the fact that this year the Sonoran Desert got its summer monsoon season back.

          It was so dry last year that part of the mountain areas suffered wildfires, some of the worst in Arizona’s history. The three of us got to see some of the devastation caused by the blazes from one of the upper overlook pullouts.

          The 25-mile drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway winds upward from mile zero at just about 3,000 feet elevation to more than 9,000 feet at its end. Six life zones are crossed along the way. We lost the saguaros at 4,000 feet and were into Douglas firs by the time we reached the top.

          As an avid birdwatcher, I took along my binoculars, but the only birds we saw were a raven and a turkey vulture, and one unidentified small black and white bird that flashed past us as we were driving.

          Partway up the mountain, we stopped at one of the pullouts where a short trail skims along a canyon ridge, below which flows a small mountain stream. The girls went right on an unpaved section of the trail and I went left, partly because the trail here was paved and I’ve reached a stage in my life where my legs aren’t always stable, but also partly because I simply wanted to be alone for a few minutes in Mother Nature’s company.

          The pavement ended quickly but I decided to venture a little farther, deciding I could handle the unevenness of the rocky path. I did quite well, and was proud of myself. On the walk back, however, I came to a spot where, while I had easily made it up the rocks, I now felt I would fall if I tried to step down them.

          I was frustrated but tried to take it in stride until my granddaughter came along and gave me a hand down. What goes up should be able to come down – or not, I laughed. That was good, not all that many years ago I had cried when my old broad’s body couldn’t handle a much harder spot on a trail without help.

          This day, having finally begun to accept the consequences of being 82 years old, I pushed the incident out of my brain and went on to enjoy a marvelous day on Mount Lemmon with two marvelous companions.

Now if I could just push the image of that unidentified black and white bird out of my brain … maybe it was a downy woodpecker – or not.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusstic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Gender Bender

Butterflies have invaded Tucson. I love it.

        

Poet and Novelist May Sarton believed that the best artists were androgynous, and that it was the masculine in a woman and the feminine in a man that gave creativity its spark.

Coming across that idea while reading Journal of a Solitude this morning, at a point in life when so many new terms for gender identity are being tossed about, brought my reading to a pause for a brain-think.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to ask a gay granddaughter and her wife, who were treating me to lunch at a downtown Tucson restaurant, what the waitress meant when she asked what pronoun we preferred. He/She, Him/Her, They?

“She/her,” my granddaughter had replied.

Back home, I did a little gender identity research on my own to reinforce my understanding of the issue. The research added the term non-binary to my brain cells. That’s the “they” of the waitress’ question. Some people, I learned, didn’t identify as either male or female.

Being as I’m 82 years old, and was quite unworldly until I was well-past 30, learning about differing sexual realities of humans was something that came late in my education.  Fortunately, I had a good teacher, a gay journalism colleague who struggled with sexual discrimination back in the 1970s.

He was a religious person, and we were good enough friends that I asked him how he felt about religion’s stance that being homosexual was wrong. His reply was: “God made me this way, so who am I to disagree with him.”

I agreed, and never had a problem from that point forward with accepting people for who they were. The only thing that matters to me is whether you are a caring person who does no harm to other people.

But what stopped me while reading Journal of a Solitude this morning was thinking about what May said about creativity. While I’ve always been thankful I’m female and not male, I’ve often thought that I also have what many might consider some strong masculine traits.

I think that’s true. And I think they have served me well. Perhaps it’s time to simply let people be who they are without any judgment. What do you think?

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Stupid Birds … Or Not

I sketched this red-winged blackbird on an outing to Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake on one of bird outings.

An old friend, whom I often dragged on many of my bird outings, told me that he only liked seeing the big birds. Translated that meant such birds as great blue herons, tundra swans, bald eagles and double-crested cormorants, all frequent sights around Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Bear River areas where I frequently used to go to watch birds.

His comments were also a gently hint to me that he didn’t enjoy standing around for hours trying to get a glimpse of and identify any small bird that preferred to stay out of sight – like the tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that never stopped moving as they flitted between thick tree foliage, or the marsh wrens that sang duets from their hiding places in a patch of phragmite or cattails.

I thought about that while reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude with my morning coffee. She was an avid gardener and also one who kept a supply of seed on hand to feed wild birds. But for this April day entry, May had noted that there were only starlings, red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds at the feeder. “Too stupid,” she wrote.

Now as much as I’m a May Sarton fan, I think she misspoke here. I think her disgust was not because these are stupid birds, but because they are some of the birds that everyone can see almost daily in this country, from ocean to ocean and border to border.

 Here in Tucson, I have three bird species that I see every day: house sparrows and mourning doves when I take my canine companion Scamp for his first walk of the day, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that tries to guard the nectar feeder hanging on my balcony every day from all intruders.

 When I also catch a glimpse of a bright yellow and black American goldfinch, or a Cooper’s hawk skimming overhead, my morning walk seems more special. Like this morning when a broad-billed hummingbird visited my balcony feeder. While the broad-billed is not as brightly colored as the Anna’s – the male of which has brilliant magenta head feathers – I was more thrilled because I don’t see this species every day.

 We humans are a funny lot. Perhaps we are more stupid than the birds. For sure we’re not so fond of the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And just what does that mean anyway?

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

A page from an earlier journal containing quotes from another author.

I’m listening to Madeleine Albright’s Hell and Other Destinations, and finding lots of wisdom, humor and thoughts that I want to add to my journal. It was my book of choice with morning coffee today.

One incident Madeleine, who narrates the book, said, had me laughing. So, I turned off my Kindle and wrote down what I recalled about it. I wrote: “When a woman asked Madeleine if she were proud of herself for not getting a facelift, Madeline said she wished she had asked the woman if she was proud of the results of hers.”

The quotes indicated the exact words I wrote in my journal. After turning my Kindle back on, and relistening to the incident, I realized I hadn’t quoted Madeleine correctly. Here’s what she actually said about the incident.

“When at a party, a woman, half socialite half journalist, told me how brave she thought I had been for not getting a facelift, I was tempted to comment on the courage she had shown in dealing with the results of hers.”

I relistened to the recording several times to make sure I finally got it correct.

This incident brought up one of my former journalist mantras. “Just because you heard what I said doesn’t mean you heard what I said.” Much less understood what was said.

It also reaffirmed my understanding of why the stories of my five children, who all participated in the same activity or incident at the same time, varies in five different ways — and all five are different from mine.

It’s a miracle the world is not in more chaos than it is.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Refinding My Mojo

Watching — and drawing — birds is good for my mojo. Art by Pat Bean

          My mojo is in the toilet because of Covid isolation – for the second time given the Delta variant going around strongly here in Tucson. Because I’m 82, even my good friends and family, who are daily out in the world –including one who is a teacher and had had six students come down with Covid within a week of school starting – are staying away from me.

          I’m a social person and it is getting to me. And then there is what’s going on in the world with war and politics. Keeping up with current events is a downer, but closing a blind eye is not an option for this former journalist.

          Ok. Enough is enough.

It’s time to start counting my blessings. That always helps.

          Beginning with the basics: I have a comfortable roof over my head, more than enough food to eat, air conditioning to keep the Sonoran Desert heat at bay, money enough to at least buy a book when I want it, decent health insurance, and I’m loved.

          I have a fantastic canine companion, beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, heated water for a bath every night, internet access to the world, birds to watch from my third-story balcony, and an inquisitive mind that usually keeps me from ever becoming bored.

          I’m the last person in the world who should be feeling sorry for herself.

           Even isolation hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me time to learn how much I do enjoy my own company. I just don’t want it to go on forever. Plus, I still believe in silver linings.

          One has to be out there — somewhere.  

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

An up close look at a pair of Eurasian Wigeons. — Wikimedia photo

          I was a reporter following former Congressman Jim Hansen around for the day for a newspaper story back in the early 1990s, during which we stopped for lunch at the Bear River Duck Club near Northern Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

          As Hansen and I stepped outside to take in the birdy wetlands view after our meal, a number of nearby members of the club — locally known as the Millionaire’s Duck Club because of the status of its members — suddenly became animated and excited. One of them, looking in our direction, shouted: “Hey Jim!  There’s a Eurasian Wigeon among that flock of ducks out there.” It was a quite rare find for Utah, I was told.

I took a quick look, and noted it down in my notebook for possible inclusion into my story.

Some years later, April 1, 1999, to be exact, I admitted I was addicted to bird watching, and started my life list of birds. The list began with the birds I saw on an outing to Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. But then I remembered that day at the Duck Club with Hansen and added Eurasian Wigeon at the end of that day’s list.

It was an addition that I soon regretted. I could only identify an American wigeon with a field guide handy, and wouldn’t have recognized a Eurasian species if one stood two feet in front of me.

This early episode in my birding adventures was brought to the forefront of my brain while reading the latest issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. There is an article in it by Dawn Hewitt called The Curse of the Least Bittern, in which she writes about adding this particular bird to her life list on Dec. 31, 1982, at a pond thick with birdwatchers. Someone yelled out “Least Bittern,” and while Hewitt says she has no memory of seeing the bird, she added it to her list.

Not sure why either of us didn’t later just scratch the dubious birds off our lists, but we didn’t. We both went on a hunt to actually get a good look at our respective birds. I was the luckier of the two, I spotted the Eurasian Wigeon five years later in a group of ducks at Yellowstone National Park. It took Hewitt 22 years for her to get a good look at the more secretive Least Bittern, which by the way is not one of the 700 plus birds on my current life list.

Hewitt and I are alike in another way, too. We both remember the sighting of that first bird on our lists. Mine was an American Avocet and hers was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Guts and the To-Do List

The Cacti are blooming in Tucson on this overcast morning. Photo by Pat Bean

What would you do if you had the guts to do it?

          That was the question I read a couple of days ago. It gave me a pause that tickled my brain. If I had been asked that question when I was younger, I could have easily come up with a list of exciting ideas.

Come to think of it, I even followed through on a few of them, like taking up skiing when I was 40, rafting quite a few wild rivers, doing a 20-mile day hike with a physically-fit boyfriend when I was 50. I survived – both the hike and the boyfriend. I even skydived on my 70th birthday and got a tattoo on my 75th.

 But when I think about guts these days, as an 82-year-old whose body, if not mind, is winding down, it has nothing to do with physical accomplishments.

My guts these days tell me only to live each day to the fullest in whatever way I can.

          Poet and novelist May Sarton talked about this idea of planning a day when one doesn’t have a job or commitments. It’s not easy, she wrote, in Journal of a Solitude.

          I agree.

          So it is that I start each day with coffee, my journal, and my to-do list, beginning it with the top priority for the day — which can be anything from write a book review to clean the toilet — followed by things I simply want to do. The guts come in when it gets down to the doing.

          Some days I succeed – and some days I don’t.

          Today I succeeded. The first thing on my list was post a blog.

 Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Scamp, all zonked out after a round of ball chasing

Like Dorothy Martin’s cats – I’m currently reading her take on life in the cozy mystery Trouble in Town Hall – my canine companion Scamp makes sure I lead a balanced life. I thought about that this morning as we took our 6 a.m. walk around my apartment complex.

Scamp is an almost three-year-old Siberian Husky/Shih Tzu mix who is finally learning my only speed these days is slow. I make up for it by extra walks and lots of soft-ball throwing down my hall, lasting until he gives out and doesn’t retrieve the ball.

Scamp’s the most social dog I’ve ever owned, and a handsome fellow who charms almost everyone he meets here in my large apartment complex. Most of them stop to say hello and give him an ear scratch, which makes his day. Some even carry treats especially for him.

Because of Scamp, I’ve come to know a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

 I also have to get up and get dressed to walk him every day, whether I feel like it or not. By the time we get back from our walk, I’m ready to face the day.

If I didn’t have Scamp, I would probably sleep in and stay in my pajamas all day. Sounds lovely, but I think taking a walk, enjoying the birds and flowers, and smiling at my neighbors is much healthier for this old broad.

Later, when Scamp curls up in my large recliner beside me while I read, the human need for touch is fulfilled. They say petting a dog or cat reduces blood pressure, and since I’ve had to take high-blood pressure pills for 40 years now, this has to be a good thing.

My vocal cords also get daily exercise because I talk to Scamp. And he never disagrees. He simply tilts his head and gives me a questioning look, as if to say: Oh. I understand.

And sometimes I read out loud to him – like Qwillian does with Koko in Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who books.

Come to think of it, a lot of fictional characters have pets that make their lives better: like Tank, in Tinker Lindsay and Gay Hendricks’ Tenzing Norbu’s murder mystery series; or Nick and Nora Charles’ dog Asta in Dashiell Hammet’s Thin Man novel; or Little Orphan Annie’s dog Sandy.

I guess you could day Scamp and I are in good company.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.