Some birthdays are passed in celebration, some with dread, and some like this last one, with just a nod and a shrug, acknowledging the passage of time. This birthday called for a low-key, distanced from the world, day with my honey. It’s just how I was feeling; a peaceful space between rainstorms, in between grandkid days, a day to slide into 66 without fanfare or drama or much noticing. A few texts and emails rolled in from afar felt pleasantly cheering and encouraging, and reassured me that I am loved and noticed. It was enough.
We woke early that Sunday to get to the Ridgefield Wildlife Sanctuary while the critters were lively, while the crowds still lingered in bed, or over coffee, croissants, or church. But first a quick stop at St. Honoré Bakery in the Pearl for a birthday breakfast treat, a simple way to acknowledge the day, but so good.
We hit the Carty Lake trail and were immediately greeted by a silent bunny, brown as the dirt, white tail flashing. He nibbled among the tall grasses as he kept one eye on us, stretching up high on hind legs to get what he wanted. Each time we advanced, he hopped a little ways ahead, lippity lop, then us, then him.
The walk was a comfortable way to usher in my next year after the past one that’s been a kaleidoscope of sorrow, fear, discomfort, pulling in, and also a year of exploration and depth, stretching high as I could to get what I wanted. Scrolling through my messages, I also considered how it was a year of expanding some friendships and the shrinking of others, wondering how things would change again.
We walked in a fine mist that grew heavier and closer to the ground as we went. Green fields and wetlands rolled out in the near distance amidst flapping wings, chirps and whistles all around. The red-wing blackbirds kept up a continual song and dance, swooping over and around, alighting on a slender branch nearby then taking off in a rush of ebony and crimson. Beneath our feet, fur-filled scat lay scattered on the path – some small predator had been eating well.
Some birthdays you want a raucous party. Some birthdays you want to be surrounded by people you love and who love you. And some birthdays you just want to quietly slip along into this next solar circle, contemplating and appreciating what you’ve done and where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Completely alone, we hiked along the lake – though “hiking” might be an overblown description; we meandered, wandered, sauntered, stopping often. I snapped away with my phone, and Alan with his camera, pausing to listen, peer through the mist, and gaze into the near and far distance as nature unfolded itself before us. Ducks splashed in a great frenzy while tall white egrets lingered on the shore nearby. A half dozen cedar waxwings (our first!) grazed in a tree, and we stood beneath to watch them combing through moss covered branches. A juvenile bald eagle soared overhead and perched on a distant bare tree, too far for a good photo, but to contemplate his raggedy majesty through binoculars was good enough.
66 doesn’t feel significant, doesn’t end with a 5 or 0, and I already passed the watershed moments of Medicare and Social Security. But there’s a nice roundness to it; almost but not quite the mark of the devil, and harmonious with that iconic Route that would take me across the country. It’s double Jesus’s age when he died and it’s 3 years before my own mother’s death. Just a birthday to give a passing nod, to push off from the past and move on.
Every time that wheel turn ’round,— Robert Hunter
Bound to cover just a little more ground.
While the aging process goes on all the time, birthdays are a marker, a moment to take stock; how worn down, how energized, how much suffering, how much contentment. Some birthdays are an anti-celebration, an avoidance of what’s in front of me. Why mark the inexorable decline of the body? But to quote Bob Dylan, who is now EIGHTY (yes I’m yelling), “A woman is a success if she gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between she does what she wants to do.” [gender adjustment mine] That works for me.
I admired a mysterious small swimmer in the water, perhaps a river otter; barely poking his head up, just a pair of eyes and a ripple of tail movement, leaving a subtle wake as it propelled itself across the lake.
It’s the little things isn’t it? The fine mist settling on leaves and skin, the flash of movement in the trees, the glimpse of a northern flicker flashing his spots and reds and whites. It’s the way the clouds looked the other morning lit from underneath as the sun crested the horizon, shaded slightly with a tinge of mauve, a pale tangerine, their transparency and lightness so welcome after days of deluge, rains so heavy that I had to stop what I was doing to watch the driving torrents.
These little things come as a re-centering, a shift away from thinking and doing, a reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around my busy mind, my shoulds and doubts, my worries and regrets, my desires and needs. A birthday is a reminder of the passage of time and all that goes with it, a moment to step away and regroup.
Wild roses, daisies, grasses, and blackberries in new bud sparkled with dewdrops, soaking our clothing as they brushed our limbs on the narrower paths. We made our way back to the car as fog turned to a light rain. A final farewell came from an exquisite kildeer (my first!), black and white stripes decorating her head and chest. She curtsied and spread her chestnut brown tail feathers in a fan.
One foot in front of the other, sifting through the detritus and the rich soil of my life. I try to leave behind what doesn’t serve me, and hold to this moment, the song sparrow serenading me from some hidden spot high up in the willow tree, but still close and loud and distinct.
Bonus photos from Alan, from the Ridgefield’s Driving Loop after our hike: