The Joy of Solitude

A friend asked if I went on a silent retreat during Thanksgiving. True, I spent the week at Holden Village, a spiritual retreat center where I lived from 2011-2014. A former mining town high in the North Cascade Mountains, Holden was once described by a former director as “a retreat for extroverts.”

Holden Village dining hall decked out for the Christmas feast. (File photo from a previous year.)

I, like most people who live alone, have been on pretty much of a silent retreat since spring of 2020. I generally read during my silent, solo meals. Thanksgiving dinner in the Holden dining hall was served to about a hundred folks, all masked unless fork was en route to mouth. Masks did little to muffle the crowd’s chatter and musical laughter, accompanied by the percussion of clanging pots and pans in the kitchen and metronomic beat from the ping pong table in a corner of the large hall. Music less symphonic, more heavy metal rock to my ears. Unnerving, which is exactly why I needed to be there. Solitude had been getting altogether too comfortable. 

Last summer a few friends and I, gathered outdoors, admitted to each other that we were thriving in social isolation. We felt almost guilty, enjoying ourselves when many people are suffering and grieving. All of us in that group live close to nature. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were stuck in an urban apartment with a view of concrete and asphalt. I know I’d feel differently if I didn’t have the companionship of my dog.

“Don’t fear solitude,” advised writer Paulo Coelho. “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself. But don’t get too attached to it — it may become an addiction.”

Besides which, snarked another writer, Erica Jong, “Solitude is un-American.” Indeed, we loners are under a lot of pressure not to enjoy solitude on that thoroughly American holiday, Thanksgiving. The pressure will only increase as we move toward Christmas, a day not even Scrooge was allowed to spend alone.

Being alone does not equate with loneliness, and loneliness is not the same as solitude, noted a lovely essay in Psychology Today — in 2003! That was long before “social distancing” became common to our vocabulary.

“Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation,” the magazine explained. “Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.” 

If solitude were to have a patron saint, a likely candidate would be Henry David Thoreau who observed, “I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.”

Even during my un-retreat, in between meals and various gatherings, I’d seek refuge in the solitude of my room, curled up with a good book. Much as I enjoyed meeting up with old friends at Holden and making new ones, I’ve gotta admit: the best part of the week was reuniting with my dog (he’d spent the week at the pet resort) and stepping into my house, embraced once again by my silent retreat. 

Thank you to Maxime Lagacé, whose web site, “Wisdom Quotes,” provided a few of the above quotes. Visit the site to read more pithy observations about wisdom.  

Homelessness Is Not Hopelessness

“Mac died, y’know.”

No, I hadn’t known. Will and I were chatting in the newly constructed main room of the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelter. Will probably has an official title. I just know him as the driving energy and organizer of the all-volunteer, local effort to help homeless people.

Mac had been a regular guest during annual shelter operations from November through March, the cold months. He’d be waiting at six p.m., when the shelter opens, when I’d arrive once or twice a week with a hot casserole for the evening meal. He was eager to carry the casserole inside, eager to tell me about his efforts to find a job, eager to show me his wife’s photo — cracked and creased inside his otherwise empty wallet.

Mac taught me a profound lesson. The shelter strictly requires guests to be clean (of drugs) and sober. Guests spend the first thirty minutes in conversation with screeners before they’re admitted for the night. As far as I knew, Mac never failed the screening. 

After the shelter closed each season, I would see Mac hanging out by the gazebo in Pioneer Park, near my home. My dog and I frequently walk through the small park, which is a way-stop for homeless folks. We’re usually greeted cordially and rarely asked for money — which I never carry. 

One day Mac, alone at the gazebo, surprised me by asking if I could spare a few bucks. I assured him I don’t carry cash and continued home, troubled as I walked. I thought about Mac’s willingness to follow the shelter’s rules, his futile efforts to find work, his estrangement from family. I grabbed a twenty dollar bill, got in my car, and drove back to the gazebo. 

“I know you, Mac,” I said, “and I know you’ll spend this the right way.” 

The next day I again saw Mac in the park, drunk out of his mind. That was last spring. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’d taken the easy way out, thrown money at the problem. At the very least, I could’ve driven to a fast food joint and bought a gift card. Mac ultimately died of acute alcohol poisoning. I am sadder and wiser.

All the money in the world couldn’t help Mac, but don’t misunderstand me. It’s vital that we invest in ways to help, both through private charities and public (tax) dollars. There are no quick, one-size-fits-all solutions. Obviously, homelessness is symptomatic of deeper problems. More than a half-million people in our country are homeless any given night. Washington’s homeless population ranks us among the nation’s top ten problem states. 

Still, homelessness is not hopelessness. I’ve witnessed repeatedly how shelter guests move onward and upward — with help: help from friends or families, help from nonprofit or government programs, help from a combination of efforts, from a willingness to give and receive help. Homelessness is not hopelessness, as long as we — all of us neighbors — are willing to help.

Flood waters: A week of flow going

The normally placid Okanogan River that flows past my home decided to exert its authority this week, egged on by its major tributary, the volatile Similkameen. What, I wonder, makes a tributary a tributary, especially when the supposedly junior partner runs amok?

We on the U.S. end of these two international rivers have not been as adversely impacted as our neighbors in British Columbia. I’ve not been impacted at all other than hypnotized while watching the urgent flow of forceful currents.

Ordinarily, especially at this time of year, the Okanogan is one of the slowest moving rivers in Washington state. Its source is a series of lakes in Canada. The southernmost, Lake Osoyoos, ushers the river into the United States, after which it drops a mere 125 feet along seventy-seven miles to the mighty Columbia. Contrast that to its raucous neighbor, the Methow, which drops 1,740 feet in its final fifty miles to the Columbia. 

White water rafters prefer the Methow during runoff in spring, while the Okanogan plays host on hot summer days to inner tubers who lazily drift, often towing a floatable cooler. My husband and I used to keep a small motor boat in the river during high water months, usually April into June. At that time of year, there was just enough current to create a wee bit of white water upriver. John delighted in taking grandchildren to experience what they dubbed the “wimpy rapids.”

Canada geese scramble for higher ground as the river inundates their small island

At this time of year, the most frequent river residents are mallards and Canada geese, serenely riding the slow current. Their tranquility was rudely interrupted this week when the river began to gradually rise from its normal five-foot level. Suddenly, in forty-eight hours’ time, it skyrocketed to 15.48 feet, officially a flood.

All of this at the insistence of the Similkameen, which joins the Okanogan some forty miles or so north of my home and contributes seventy-five percent of its flow. I’ve tried to determine if there’s some kind of standard for distinguishing between a tributary and main channel. The best Google could offer was that a tributary feeds into a larger river. 

Well. The Similkameen at 122 miles has a seven-mile edge over the Okanogan’s 115 total. At their confluence, the Similkameen clearly has the greater volume, turning the Okanogan’s clear, lake-fed water muddy brown. My husband called it “Similkameen silt.” Shouldn’t this river (and the valley it created) be named Similkameen?

It’s futile to suggest. Our tourist industry, which spends beaucoup dollars promoting “Okanogan Country,” probably wouldn’t want to rebrand. Their website goes so far as to dismiss the Similkameen as a “small, scenic river,” about four miles long. Which brings up the question of where does a river actually begin, but we’ll ponder that at another time.

At least we’ve managed to retain an indigenous name, or something close to it. Maps created by early fur traders in the 1800s tried to name the river Caledonia, but the British Empire lost out. Okanogan is an anglicized version of the native term. In his book “Late Frontier,” historian Bruce Wilson tracked down fifty ways newcomers tried to spell the word that they were hearing natives speak. Attempts ranged from “Cachenawga” to “Otchenaukane.” Even the U.S. and Canada can’t agree on its spelling. In Canada, it’s the same river and valley but spelled O-k-a-n-a-g-a-n.

Similkameen reportedly means “treacherous waters” — true enough when flooding. The translation of Okanogan is “rendezvous” or “meeting place.” Yeah, probably better for tourism. By week’s end, as flood waters recede, I’m just happy to go with the flow.

One Simple Move

I moved my chair. I mention this only because you may have a chair like mine. It’s your sanctum sanctorum, your refuge dedicated to comfort, relaxation and an occasional nap. On an adjacent table you may have piled books, newspapers, magazines, beverage of choice, digital devices, remote controls … whatever sedentary activities your chair accommodates. 

Your chair may be a recliner. Mine is not. It’s the old-fashioned Queen Anne wing style with a high back so I can rest my head when I feel a snooze coming on. Both chair and matching foot stool have been reupholstered twice over their many years of service. They’re looking worn and dingy yet again.

It’s discomforting, this new location. I can’t say I like it better. In fact, I may not like it at all. Yet, there are advantages. The light is better for reading. The chair previously blocked a section of bookcase that I needed to reference frequently. I could’ve moved the books, but the chair was easier. Now it blocks a closet that houses out-of-season clothes. I’ll need to shove the chair aside only a couple times a year.

The real reason for relocating is a change of perspective. I needed a new way of looking at the world, because the world itself isn’t looking at all the same. Most — maybe all of us — are experiencing that sense of unfamiliarity. A poll cited in “The Week” magazine reports that eighty-one percent of Americans do not expect life to return to normal anytime soon. Twenty-six percent say life will never return to normal. Whatever normal was. 

And was normal all that great? My dad liked to say that “the ‘good old days’ were formerly known as ‘these trying times.’”

I can still watch the Okanogan River from my chair’s new location. At the risk of overextending a metaphor, my previous view was upriver. The current, along with occasional flotsam and jetsam, headed my way. Now my view is downriver and the flow of energy pulls away from me. I trust it won’t pull from my own energy.

Whether looking upriver or down, I watch the constant activity of wildlife: birds, ducks, geese, great blue heron, eagles returning soon, the occasional leaping fish, and playful river otters. Add to that, I now face the downriver bridge with a different kind of wildlife. It’s a busy little bridge with a steady stream of trucks, cars, and buses. From this distance, I can’t make out the people inside the vehicles. I don’t know their gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, political preferences, income level, intelligence, interests, or skill set. But I feel connected. I extend a silent blessing, because they’re people on a bridge, coming from somewhere, going somewhere.

That’s pretty much where we all are these days. On a bridge, headed somewhere even though the destination may be uncertain. Some people believe we’re headed nowhere. If that’s your point of view, it might help to move your chair.

Beyond Vanity: Admit it — You too are gifted

At the beginning of a book discussion group on Zoom, one of our members offered to sing a song he’d composed. First, he apologized, “I hope this isn’t too vain.” He’s no amateur singer/song writer, so his offer was more than welcome.

The song proved to be an ideal introduction to the evening’s topic. At the same time, his use of the word “vain” evoked a memory from my sophomore year in college. A friend had asked me to join her in visiting the family of a mutual friend. Their father had recently been killed when a shed he was dismantling collapsed on top of him. As we sat with the family, trying to share their grief, they asked me to play the piano. I hesitated. Outside of a church setting, I was uncomfortable, even fearful of “performing.” I was a victim of my own false vanity.

Nervously I sat down at the aged upright piano and played a complex piece I’d been working on. The music ended with thundering chords, after which came utter silence. I turned from the piano to see tears of gratitude on every face. The mother said simple words I would always remember: “Never withhold your gift. Always share it.”

My musical gift is relatively small. Over the years I’ve been humbled and gratified to play with musicians whose gifts are far greater. Sometimes, too, I’ve played with those whose smaller gift was enabled, maybe even enlarged, through my accompaniment.

The Bible reminds us (1 Corinthians 12) that each of us has a variety of gifts. Every one of us is a gifted individual, but gifts fall into the use-it-or-lose-it category. Gifts have to recognized and shared, or they disappear.

I’m especially appreciative of people whose hands are gifted in various ways. Too often manual labor is under-appreciated and underpaid. In recent months around my house, I’ve enjoyed watching the craftsmanship of a carpenter, the patience of painters, the efficiency of a window washer, the youthful energy of kids pulling weeds in my garden.

The joy of heaven is found on earth when we share our gifts. Back to that vanity issue, it’s a tricky maneuver, finding just the right balance between confidence and humility. For most people, honing and offering their various gifts earns a paycheck. The real reward, though — the reward that keeps our world going round — is the gratitude of those with whom we’ve shared, for whom we’ve opened our treasure chest of gifts.

This week I renewed acquaintance through email with an 85-year-old man whom I hadn’t been in touch with for more than forty years. Even then he had an uncanny gift of vision. He recognizes ideas that will impact the future in positive ways. As an entrepreneur he has launched numerous businesses and is still at it. His visionary gift has made him wealthy. More important to him, he’s created job opportunities for hundreds, probably thousands of people.

The Good Life: Making Room for Interruptions

Tuesday, according to my plan, would be a day of quiet, solitary remembrance. Then life interrupted.

A year ago, on September 26, 2020, my longtime friend, Mary Lou — more intimately known as Lou, quietly passed into her next realm of existence. She’d been a partner in music and adventure, my confessor, stalwart supporter, and exemplar of life well-lived.

As we do every morning, my dog and I greeted Tuesday by heading outside to the patio to stretch and survey life on the river. A great blue heron that had been stalking fish from the riverbank quietly lifted itself into flight. The day before it had squawked at me angrily for interrupting and flew upriver in a huff. This day it changed direction, gliding downriver, a weightless soul in the air, an invocation for this sacred day.

Thus ended my solitude and silence. The first phone call came from a friend whose widowed father had suffered two TIAs (“mini” strokes). She’s confronting the multitude of what-next questions that comes with aging parents. She doesn’t need me to tell her what to do, but she did need an ear willing to listen as she ponders her options.

Ensuing calls were less critical. The fellow who was scheduled to come last week to wash windows and didn’t show up wants to come next week. Whenever, I said. The fellow who was supposed to come last week to finish putting heat tape in my gutters and didn’t show up wanted to come Wednesday. Fine, I said. The soonest the optometrist can see me is January 13, 2022. Great, I sighed. 

An inheritance and a hug

I put my phone in my pocket and slipped into Lou’s sweater jacket. It’s a multi-colored, heavy knit, perfect for walking in autumn. She’d loved it, and her husband insisted I inherit it. I could feel the warmth of her hug through the sleeves of the sweater as the dog and I walked through the park. The trees that had been wearing a brilliant display of gold were now shedding their leaves with the insouciance of a rich woman dropping her jewelry onto the dressing table.

It was a day for homemade soup, but the black beans and rice concoction I had simmering on the stove tasted flat. I reached for “Slap Ya Mama.” Lou, a southerner from soul to drawl, introduced me to this zesty spice mixture on my first visit to New Orleans. She was, as usual, ahead of her time. It’s now available at supermarkets nationwide.

Two more phone calls. Both from fellow widows — one a few years in, the other less than a year — both, like me, figuring out where we are in life, simply wanting to chat. 

Finally, a brief visit from my neighbor and his sister to discuss the music I’m to provide for their father’s memorial service on Sunday.

By now it was past dark. I was remembering Lou’s final weeks. No matter how exhausted she was, she refused to turn away visitors. “Hey, how are ya doin’?” she’d call out cheerfully when they were barely through the door. She’d somehow muster energy her body didn’t have to chat, counsel and console. 

I thought about how she’d woven herself into the in-between spaces of a day I’d intended to be all about her. And I knew. Mary Lou wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Final Passage: Out of time but not out of opportunity

In the late 1970s, journalist Gail Sheehy helped a lot of people understand their lives with her book “Passages.” Alas, I was not one of them. I tried to read it, but didn’t get far before setting it aside for my usual fare, a murder mystery. In those years I was more into detection than introspection.

The subtitle of Sheehy’s book is “Predictable Crises in Adult Life.” She describes those crises using the framework of decades: The Trying 20s, The Catch 30s, The Forlorn 40s, The Refreshed (or Resigned) 50s.

The Library of Congress listed “Passages” as one of the ten most influential books of modern times. But that was then. A thirtieth anniversary edition of the book was issued in 2006. In the new introduction, Sheehy (who died just last year) wrote she’d been asked to address what had changed since the book’s initial publication. 

“What hasn’t changed?” she asked rhetorically. “Passages” is steeped in the culture and mores of the ’70s. An apparently younger reviewer on the website goodreads.com declared, “I’m SO glad I didn’t grow up then. [As a woman] I’m so grateful for my ‘freedom.’”

My own adult passages did not coincide with the decades but occurred like clockwork every fourteen years with a major event in my life. At age twenty-one, I married my high school sweetheart, which he observed much later, seemed at the time “like the thing to do.” The next fourteen years included an amicable divorce, much searching and discovery.

At age thirty-five I married my soulmate, John, and settled into fourteen years of maximum productivity, a full life. When I was forty-nine, John suffered a brain stem stroke, resulting in total paralysis and catapulting us both into an era of disruption and deeper discovery. Fourteen years later, when I was sixty-three, John’s death coincided with a sense of my own maturity.

Now at seventy-seven, it’s not a personal event but a global pandemic that has ushered in what is most likely my final fourteen. I don’t know if that’s fourteen years, months, weeks, or days. Google says the number fourteen in Chinese tradition means “guaranteed death.” Well, we’re all guaranteed that. 

I do know that I’m afraid, but not of death, which Jane Goodall at age eighty-seven describes as “the next great adventure.” My fear comes with the certainty that the next fourteen years are critical for the life of our mother, Earth. She and I may be on a parallel path, and her health is already more fragile than mine. Climate crisis is not some day. Climate crisis is now. As recent months proved, our four seasons now are autumn, winter, spring, and hell. Moreover, hell is sneaking across the boundaries, invading spring and autumn. 

In the darkest of black humor columns, New Yorker writer Dennard Dayle suggests, “You’re not looking at the death of the human race. Just the death of the  human dream.” I disagree. We may be out of time, but we’re not out of opportunity. And opportunity offers passages to dreams, to hope.

We have the opportunity of choice. We each make hundreds of choices every day. Many, if not most, affect the whole of creation. When we make choices as captives of a consumer culture instead of as free children of a beloved Mother Earth, we diminish the dream. Paraphrasing theosophy writer Alice Bailey: “Let Reality govern my every thought, and Truth be the heart of my life. For so it must be for all of humanity. Please help me do ‘my part.’”

Looking for love? It may just stray into your life

“RESCUED” 

Stopped at a red light, I could easily read the all-caps word beneath the license plate holder on the car in front of me. I couldn’t make out the smaller words at the top. Intrigued, I took my foot off the brake, let my car creep forward, and read, “My favorite breed is …”

I don’t know if “rescued” is my favorite, but it is the breed of my current canine companion, Tawny. I’ve lived with a broad range of dogs over the years, some with pricey pedigrees, others who strayed into my life, their parentage varied and vague. 

Tawny’s trickster grin

Tawny is the proverbial Heinz 57 dog of many breeds and everything I never thought I wanted in a dog. For one thing, he’s a he. That perpetual lifting-of-the-leg on every piece of patio furniture and shrub — ach! Secondly, he’s a short-haired shedder, depositing clouds of golden fluff everywhere and on everyone. I keep an adhesive lint removal roller near the front door for guests who arrive wearing black and leave wearing Tawny.

Some six years ago, he showed up at my door as a tiny pup in the arms of a friend. He’d been playfully chasing her while she roller bladed in the park near me.

“I’ve already got two dogs!” she pleaded. I had but one, Daphne, an elderly black lab mix. I like to overlap my dogs — acquire a young one before the inevitable happens with the older one. I never want to be without a dog. I called the animal control officer, explaining that we’d found this puppy in the park — in case anybody called looking for him.

“Nobody’s gonna call,” he responded. Yeah, I already knew that.

I chose Tawny’s name based on the color of his fur. I imagined him growing up to be an elegant, dignified dog — there was a hint of golden retriever in his appearance. I should have named him “Coyote,” based on the trickster character of Native American mythology. His wide grin reveals his penchant for playful pranks.

At about age four, he began to bully Daphne, whom he’d all along acknowledged as alpha dog. As the bullying became rougher, I decided to find Tawny a new home. I was reminded, as I filled out the four-page application to turn him over to the Humane Society, what a smart dog he is. He would surely be a good companion for someone. The application process was interrupted because Daphne required immediate attention. She had a sore and swollen paw that turned out to be an operable cancer. After it was removed, Tawny returned to normal behavior. I like to think that he was not bullying Daphne, but the cancer.

Daphne’s eventual, inevitable demise was quick. A sympathetic vet ushered her painlessly out of this life last May, just short of her thirteenth birthday. Tawny mourned with me, for a while less frisky and playful. But we worked — both of us — to establish a new, even more loving relationship. 

I’m not looking for an “overlap” dog, not yet. But I am pondering a basic question: when a dog strays into my life, which one of us is “Rescued”?

What’s Real? The Stories We Tell Ourselves

While I was waiting to get my Pfizer booster vaccine, a thirtyish woman and and her male companion entered the small pharmacy. They were first-timers, there for the single-shot Johnson vaccine.

We briefly chatted in the waiting area until the pharmacist appeared, motioning me to the curtained alcove where the shots are dispensed. He was efficient and quick. I felt only the slightest prick in my left arm.

As I settled back in my chair for the recommended post-shot wait, the woman began to murmur how worried she was about getting the shot, how needles terrified her.

“I could pinch your arm and it would hurt more than that shot did,” I tried to assure her. To no effect. She claimed she was about to have a panic attack because of her dread of needles. I suggested that she go outside, remove her mask and take some deep breaths. She agreed, and I watched through the door as she stood on the sidewalk, gasping. Within seconds she returned, although now nearly hysterical.

Soon it was her turn behind the curtain. I was astonished to hear the pharmacist say, “Oh, what’s your tattoo?”

“A butterfly,” she answered. Moments later, she emerged, glaring at me.

“That was WAY worse than a pinch!” she complained.

She returned to her chair, and I scooted over next to her.

“I’m sorry if I’m being nosy, but I heard the pharmacist say you had a tattoo. How did you manage that?”

“I was drunk.” Made sense.

“It was a bet,” she continued. 

“Did you win or lose?”

“I won,” she said. She started to explain when the pharmacist showed up with her proof-of-vaccination card. She asked where she could get the card laminated. The pharmacist replied that it wasn’t a good idea to laminate the card because he wouldn’t be able to write on it if she needed a booster shot.

“I’M NOT GETTIN’ NO BOOSTER SHOT!” she shouted as she grabbed the card and headed out the door. “I wouldn’t have got THIS shot except for [insert profanity] Inslee …” That would be Gov. Jay Inslee and his vaccine mandate. Her words trailed off as the door swung shut.

She got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. We might tell ourselves we’re deathly afraid of something and then find a way to anesthetize our way around that fear. Or we might tell ourselves that we’re victims, helplessly pitted against someone or something more powerful. I wonder if this woman’s story would include intense pain in her arm and side effects from the vaccine so severe that she wouldn’t be able to work the next day. It’s all the [insert profanity] governor’s fault.

Reality is subjective — subject to the stories we tell ourselves. You know the cliche? “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!” Yet whenever I’m feeling unreasonably angry or unreasonably dejected or just plain unreasonable, most likely the fix is not “out there,” but in my own head. The story I’m telling myself could use a rewrite.

Just a pinch?

Odometer Lessons

99,999. When I spotted the numbers on my car’s odometer, I pulled off the highway onto a rural road. I wanted to be out of traffic so I could celebrate 100,000 by honking the horn, a family tradition.

When I was growing up, my family never had new cars. High mileage — not miles per gallon but miles travelled — was the norm. Whenever the odometer was about to line up the zeroes, the driver would alert all aboard. We’d wait in hushed excitement. Time itself slowed as the odometer rolled out a perfect symmetry of ovals. The horn would honk and onward we’d travel, a milestone reached with jubilation and relief that the old sedan had managed to transport us across yet another ten thousand miles. 

I was a teen by the time my parents managed to achieve the status of actually having two cars — both used, of course — in their two-car garage. My mother wryly explained that we needed a car that started so we could push the one that didn’t. It was sometimes tricky to tell which was which.

My current vehicle — the one that just turned 100,000 — had fewer than thirty miles on the odometer when I bought it ten years ago. It’s a 2009 model, a special order that sat unclaimed on the dealer’s lot for two years. The original buyer apparently suffered an economic setback and forfeited their deposit. It still had the new-car warranty when a neighbor tipped me off that it was there.

“You’re the only person who could manage to buy a two-year-old new car,” a friend observed.

Those 100,000 miles are only a portion of my travels over the past decade. For three years I also owned a camper van in which my dogs and I crossed multiple states, West to East, North to South. What adventures we had! But like many RV owners, I ultimately decided maintaining the van was more burden than blessing. 

Down to one vehicle now, I ceremoniously honked the horn as the zeroes rolled into place. The road was quintessentially rural: a field of corn stalks growing tall and green on one side, a wooden fence looming tall and brown on the other. The fence shielded the sight but not the smell of one of Okanogan Valley’s more odoriferous crops, cannabis.

Instead of heading back to the highway, I meandered along the backroad, no particular destination in mind. The skunky smell of marijuana gave way to the pleasant perfume of ripening apples and pears. As I drove slowly alongside orchards, I thought about another measure of travel on my dashboard — the speedometer.

A friend recently remarked how time passed so slowly when we were children but races by as we age. Just like the speedometer. Drive slower than 10 mph, and you feel like you’re barely moving. But over 70? Hey, wait! Slow the heck down! I can see 80 on the horizon. 

With aging comes the dilemma of when to give up driving. I hope to see the zeroes line up at least a few more times before I get there.