Last week the rowing club was more adventurous than usual, traveling to a large regatta in Florida. My husband and I stayed with another club member at his mother’s house not far from the race course. She is a delightful English lady who loves to have guests and is very outspoken, making blunt remarks such as “Absolute rubbish!” when, for instance, my husband suggested that we might take our clothes to a laundromat rather than inconvenience her by using her washer and dryer.

She is 86 years old and very active, going sailing once a week and doing charitable work regularly. When the heat got to me on the practice day before the races started, she sympathized with me by saying that she recently had gotten rather dehydrated playing tennis for two hours on a hot day.

That evening I still didn’t feel quite right after rowing and being outdoors for a long time in the heat. When I got in bed, I felt as if it might be rocking gently, like a boat. That reminded me of reading Kon-Tiki as a child and pretending that my bed was a balsa-wood raft floating across the Pacific Ocean. So, as I couldn’t get to sleep right away, I decided to populate this imaginary scenario with my adventurous future self, Fannie. I pictured us looking up at the stars from a natural-fiber mat on the raft, with plenty of comfortable pillows.
 

Photo of the Kon-Tiki raft in its museum.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“So, Fannie,” I asked her, in my best faux-English accent, “would you say that the stories our culture tells about aging are absolute rubbish?”

“No, I wouldn’t actually,” she said, drawing out the vowel into an absurdly long ‘ah’ sound, “and by the way, you are rubbish with ah-ccents, and I never got much better with them over the years. So we might do better to stick with ordinary American conversation, though there’s nobody around but a few imaginary flying fish to hear us embarrassing ourselves.”

Fannie snuggled deeper into the pillows and went on to say, “Putting energy into rejecting a cultural narrative only feeds it more power. What we resist persists; that’s from Carl Jung, a very wise man. When you feel that society has you in a box, there’s no need to kick and beat on the walls. Just look up, and you’ll see the sky and feel a breeze flowing through. The box is not solid. All you have to do is step out of it. Dance and skip out of it. Do handsprings and cartwheels out of it. Oh, was there a box around here somewhere? I hadn’t noticed. Where it went, I can’t say. Maybe it’s in that field over there, behind all those tall weeds.”

“Once upon a time, long, long ago,” I said, getting into the spirit of it, “there were people who thought they had to stay in boxes; or at least, that’s what my great-grandmother told me.”

“Lost in the mists of time,” Fannie agreed cheerfully. “And while we’re on the subject, maybe instead of picturing the archetypal Crone just sitting and telling stories, you might want to invite her to play some tennis. Yes, I know you are rubbish at tennis, but the Crone hasn’t played in many years either. Of course, I’m no better at it, since I am you, so that’s nothing personal.”

I thought that I heard Fannie chuckling quietly to herself, but a fish leaped out of the ocean just then and landed with a particularly loud splash, so I couldn’t be quite sure.

This year my husband and I have been rowing singles many days, rather than only sculling in our double. We bought the singles to celebrate our 30th anniversary, which was in May. It was my husband’s idea and a surprise to me. I had suggested that he might want to look into buying a single because he had been taking a very old club boat to the regattas, and it was too big for him and poorly suited to his rowing style. I never thought about getting one for myself, though. The club boats did not fit me any better (worse, actually), but I was happy with the double, rarely rowed singles, and never had considered racing one.

Now that I’ve had a few months to get used to rowing a single that is the right size and is set up the way I like it, I’ve been starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of taking it to regattas. My husband suggested that I enter an October head race on our favorite course in Tennessee. (Head races are 5K races during the fall season, so-called because they often take place at the head of a river.)
 

One double and two single sculling boats. 

I was wondering how many women would be competing in my age group. When my husband looked up last year’s race, he told me that there was only one rower in the category of women over 50 racing a single. Other regattas that we like to attend are much the same, with very few older women rowing singles; and my practice times are competitive with their race times, despite my lack of experience.

Although that should mean I can expect to win medals, it is also a bit disconcerting. I understand that much of it is generational, in that most women my age were not encouraged to be athletic when we were growing up. A woman of my generation might enjoy racing in a mixed crew with her husband, but she is not as likely to think about signing up for individual events. Younger women often are more adventurous and competitive because the times have changed.

So, it doesn’t mean that I am now so old that my competition has started dying off. Nor does it have any logical bearing on how many years I might be healthy enough to row. The fact that such thoughts even briefly came to mind bugs me anyway, though.

Last year I began writing occasional stories about my fantastically adventurous future self, aka Fannie, mainly to remind myself that there are many other possible futures besides the usual culturally-conditioned aging scenarios. I decided that Fannie should be 119 years old, not because I expect to live to that age or any other particular age, but simply to kick all such expectations much farther down the road.

Some folks really do live that long in the present day, and it seems likely that longevity will increase as a result of scientific advances. That puts Fannie within the bounds of reasonable possibility, although I never intended my stories about her to be realistic, or close to it; they’re aimed more at liberating my thoughts from other people’s overly narrow ideas of what is or should be realistic.

In that spirit, and without making any assumptions beyond observing that the future surely holds more possibilities than we know, I’ve found myself reflecting on the ideas I had about aging when I was a teenager. Back then, to the (very minimal) extent I thought about it at all, I didn’t see myself living past 80, which seemed ancient and very far away. This morning I put a birthday card in the mail for my mom, who turns 80 next week and is generally healthy. My dad and my husband’s parents already are over 80, and whatever notions I might have had about when a person becomes “ancient” have changed accordingly.

So I’m wondering—now that becoming “ancient” seems much farther away than I once imagined it, and there is at least some possibility I could have another half-century or more of healthy life remaining—why should I feel any closer to old age (whatever that may mean) than I felt when I was a teenager?

August 7, 2018 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Last night I dreamed that I was a trucker (in real life, I’ve never driven a truck) and I had a white goat named Wilhelmina, who rode in the passenger seat of the cab, happily looking out the window and watching the world go by. I took her for a walk at a truck stop like a dog.
 

White goat standing on grass.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

I’ve never owned a goat in real life either, but I’ll guess that the meaning of this dream had to do with being adventurous—getting out and seeing more of the world. Long-haul truckers drive to new places every day. Dogs and other pets that enjoy riding in vehicles are always excited about the adventure.

Why a goat rather than a dog? Maybe just to put more emphasis on the idea of doing something unusual. I’m not sure where the name Wilhelmina came from, as I’ve never known anyone by that name. It sounds like a German queen, though, so it does add to the travel motif. Anyway, this dream gave me a bit of fun trying to figure it all out!

July 18, 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

When my husband and I have been sculling in our double this summer, we’ve been rowing briskly and then picking up the pace as we practice sprinting to the finish. That may seem like a very basic thing to do, but in past years I never could quite manage it. We learned to row only five years ago, taught by volunteer instructors at the club, and we had no proper coaching until we attended a rowing camp last summer.

So when we started going to regattas in our second year of rowing, my idea of sprinting was pretty simple—row as fast as I could and try to keep that up for the whole course (Masters sprints are 1 km). By the time we got near the finish, I didn’t have anywhere near enough energy to go faster.

Then we went to rowing camp last year, where we learned how to set up our boat properly and sit farther forward to get more powerful strokes. And this year, when we attended the camp again, I learned how to pause for just a fraction of a second after dropping the oars into the water, so as to make sure they are fully in the water and not waste my energy. That also helps us to stay better synchronized.

Although it seemed counterintuitive at first, now the boat goes faster even though I’m taking fewer strokes and using less energy. There’s a general life lesson in there, I’d say. When we take a moment to slow down and make sure we are properly situated, that can result in getting things done more quickly and effectively.

When I was looking online for a sculling photo to illustrate this post, I came across one that was taken with the Royal Dutch Mint in the background:
 

Sculler in front of the Royal Dutch Mint.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

So far my husband and I haven’t done a lot of traveling to regattas—we go down to Tennessee a few times a year, but that’s usually as far from home as we get. It would be fun to have a rowing adventure in Europe someday, though!

I’ve been getting outdoors almost every day in the warm weather, rowing and bicycling. Although that’s fun and good for fitness, both my blog and my yard are starting to feel kind of neglected. I keep meaning to sit down and write a post or a story, but then I wander off and do something else instead. My flower garden is full of thistles that grew back after I weeded last month, when I meant to put down fresh mulch but never got around to it. Thistles can be pretty in nature when they’re blooming in a field, but I would like them much better if they would stay there.
 

Thistles blooming in a field.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

If anyone happens to find my responsible grown-up self, please let me know. I’m really not sure what became of her. After all those blog posts I wrote about imaginary conversations with my younger selves, I’m beginning to wonder if I turned loose an inner child who just wants to go out and play all the time.

While it’s probably about time I lightened up a little on those self-imposed To-Do list entries, I haven’t yet gotten comfortable with the empty places where they used to be. I feel as if I might wake up one morning, with only a vague memory of strange thumping noises in a dream, and discover a mindspace like a half-empty attic where a gleeful Younger-Me has tossed dusty old boxes and furniture out the window to make room for a hopscotch grid on the floorboards, decorated in all the colors of the sidewalk chalk bucket.

I started writing this post last weekend when my rowing club went to the US Rowing Masters National Championship regatta, which was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee this year. The club has only one member who rows fast enough to win medals in such a competitive event, but the rest of us had fun anyway. My husband volunteered to tow the boat trailer with his SUV. Going through the mountains with it was an adventure; but he is a good driver, and all went well.

We have rowed at Oak Ridge before in smaller events. It is a beautiful course and very well maintained. The only problem I have is that being outdoors for a long time in the hot, humid Southern air gets to me after a while. So, while my husband watched some races on Saturday in the heat, I sat in a lounge chair by the hotel pool and stayed comfortable in the air conditioning.
 

Hotel pool and my tanned legs on a lounge chair. 

Masters athletic events are interesting because they are such an attitude adjustment with regard to society’s views about aging. Little old ladies in rowing shorts and tank tops were walking around with 30-foot boats on their shoulders. The boats are made of carbon fiber, so they’re not all that heavy; but rowers do need to be reasonably fit.

While I sat by the pool daydreaming, I thought about what the world might be like in a future where older people could expect to stay fit and healthy. By that I don’t mean some amazing new scientific discovery to prevent aging, but just incremental advances on where we are now: better nutrition, exercise, and medical care, along with a shift in cultural expectations so that older people wouldn’t assume poor health was normal and would take better care of themselves accordingly.

Like all of us, I have my share of aging myths that grow like thorny weeds in the subconscious, whispering that every little ache or twinge is a symptom of decline. In today’s culture it may not be possible to root them all out entirely, given how pervasive they are. Still, as with any garden, a thriving mix of tall flowers and thick shrubs can overshadow the pesky weeds enough to keep them tiny and insignificant.

So—what healthy ideas could I plant in my subconscious to crowd out negative views of aging? After giving that question some thought, I decided to visualize what I’ll be doing in 2083. I picked that year because it will be a full century from when my husband and I met in college. Because some people really do live that long in the here and now, it wouldn’t require major advances in longevity science.

I wasn’t composing a bucket list or anything that I really planned to do; it was just a few random, stream-of-consciousness imaginary adventures. Because I already had rowing on my mind, I first pictured myself traveling to Australia with my husband to row a new boat with the latest 2080s technology at a regatta in Sydney. Then I thought, well, this is far enough in the future that maybe we’re booking a vacation at a hotel in a colony on Mars. Or traveling to California in a flying RV. Or working on interesting projects that involve very cool futuristic technology, getting paid lots of money to work part-time hours because of the future economy’s labor shortage.

As I see it, there’s no downside to imagining myself fit, healthy, and adventurous many decades from now. Maybe it won’t happen, and instead I will have been in the grave for a long time by then; but if it turns out that my imaginary adventures were too farfetched, I don’t suppose my ghost will care.

August 22, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

I went rowing with my husband during the eclipse, along with a few other people in the rowing club. That made it feel more like an adventure. We brought our eclipse glasses into the boat and, as the light faded, we stopped rowing from time to time and watched the eclipse’s progress. it wasn’t total where I live, but it got dark enough to look almost like nightfall was approaching. There will be a total eclipse in this area in 2024, so we’re saving the glasses.
 

Two pairs of eclipse glasses on a wooden table. 

On the river, we had a great view of how confused the wildlife got during the eclipse. Birds flew up to trees and wires to roost, cicadas started singing, and ducks and geese climbed out of the river and started waddling off to wherever they go at night. Then the light started coming back and many of the birds just flew around in circles looking totally befuddled. Their little bird brains couldn’t deal with the fact that it had been getting dark, but all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.

As civilized humans who spend most of our time indoors, we don’t have that sensitivity to the natural world—at least not consciously. If we hadn’t known there was an eclipse, we might easily have looked out the window and assumed the dark sky was just some clouds blowing over. Then we’d have gone back to work and thought nothing more about it.

I wonder, though, if maybe there’s a primitive part of our brains that gets just as confused as those birds about all the unnatural things in our modern environment. Maybe our inner troglodyte peeks out every now and again, muttering to itself in a very worried tone, “Hey, what are all these bright lights in the middle of the night when it’s supposed to be dark? And why are we all staring at little glowing screens instead of looking at normal stuff like trees and fields? Eek! Too freaky! I can’t cope!”

Of course, there are many other reasons why we have so much anxiety nowadays. Mainly I think it’s because the world has been changing so fast that it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on around us, whether natural or otherwise. More time spent in nature surely would do us all some good, though.

July 31, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This post got its title because it grew out of random thoughts, wandering from one subject to another, which started during a conversation with my husband at the river on Sunday afternoon. He was talking about modern technology and how everything changes so fast, people don’t even know what they are missing when they haven’t kept up with the changes. Meanwhile, I was looking at some wildflowers growing in the mud next to the dock and wondering what they were. My next thought was that I could post a photo on my blog and ask if anyone knows the name of these flowers.
 

Wildflowers on the riverbank. 

Then I agreed with my husband that today’s world gives us many options we never could have imagined if we hadn’t seen them. In the ancient pre-Internet world, maybe I’d have gone to the library and looked through a book about wildflowers. I probably wouldn’t have found those particular flowers, but I’d have learned a few interesting random facts. Sometimes when I was a child wandering around in a meadow looking at wildflowers, I just made up names for them because that seemed like more fun anyway.

I have to confess, it took me a while to decide what tag to use for this post. My blog does not have a “Nature” or “Wildflowers” tag because I haven’t taken many nature photos. That left me with a decision—should I create one or pick an existing tag? While looking at the list of tags from my previous posts, I noticed one called Adventures, which hadn’t gotten much use.

Although looking at flowers on the riverbank might not be all that exciting to a grown-up, I would have thought otherwise in the days when I was a child inventing names for wildflowers and fanciful stories to go with them. So I decided to use the Adventures tag and to put the word in the title as well—just to remind myself that in a good life, there should always be time for adventures.

This week’s rare February warmth made it possible to get an early start on the rowing season, so my husband and I made plans to meet at the boathouse after work. The weather didn’t turn out to be as warm or sunny as the forecast had predicted, but it was still fun to get back on the water, clouds or no clouds. Although the water is still cold and there is bridge construction going on nearby, I didn’t mind—that made it more like an adventure.
 

Double scull at the dock on a gray February afternoon. 

I must have been secretly longing for some bright sky after the cloudy winter, though, because the picture that I put on my art display today is a photo from Sri Lanka. Next best thing to a real tropical vacation.
 

Trees at the shore and golden clouds in Sri Lanka. 

Don’t the colors in that sky look yummy enough to eat?

September 26, 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Over the weekend, my husband and I drove up to Toledo to row in the Frogtown regatta, named for the city’s location on land that historically was a frog-filled swamp. We didn’t see much wildlife when we put our boat in the river, probably because the windy and choppy conditions on the Maumee River were so bad that even the frogs ran for cover. Most of the small boat races were cancelled for safety reasons; and in those that weren’t called off, some of the entrants took one look at the water and decided to just go back home.

We decided to go ahead and be adventurous, so we struggled along with only two other mixed double crews that braved the course. They were much more experienced and finished well ahead of us; but we got bronze medals anyway, which we felt like we deserved just for not being chicken. (Or perhaps frog, which they say tastes like chicken, but my bravery does NOT extend to eating it, so I wouldn’t know.)
 

Bronze medals from Toledo Frogtown regatta. 

Though I’m not likely to make a habit of doing daredevil stuff and would rather have rowed on nice calm water instead, sometimes having an unplanned adventure turns out to be fun anyway. After all, life would get pretty boring if everything went exactly as planned. Unexpected events every now and again make things a lot more interesting!