I have officially crossed the Rubicon into old age.
I have a pair of reading glasses in every room.
I lecture the clerk at Home Depot on how to do his job.
I worry if the house is clean enough for the rescue squad.
And I wake up early. So early.
In the summer it’s okay because the sun is up. These days, when I open my eyes at zero-dark-thirty, it’s dark and the dog is still snoring. And be clear that when I say wake up, I’m not talking drowsy turn-over-and-hit-the-snooze button awake, but full-on, let’s-party awake.
So, I lie in bed, reading the news on my phone and biding my time until it’s light, then lace up my sneakers and head out.
I love these early walks because the day still holds all its possibilities. I have yet to misplace my car keys or hurt anyone’s feelings. The traffic on Route 6A is light, mostly pick-ups headed to work sites, coffee still hot in the drivers’ Dunkin’ Donut cups. I can walk down the sidewalk without pulling up my mask and pretend there’s no pandemic.
Once I turn off the main road, it’s a nature documentary. A deer stops and stares at me, stomping his foot over and over, signalling her alarm that I’ve invaded her space. A red-tailed hawk flies at my head. I can hear the turkeys cackling in the bushes.
At the beach, the tide has frosted a new landscape each morning, washing away the old footsteps and debris and preparing for the new -- as if it were obeying a classic metaphor. And I take pride in being the first footprints below the wrack line -- a mighty explorer tracking into the unknown of the day.
But the other morning on the flats, there was already a pair of footprints headed west, although no one was in sight.
I don’t like being beaten. So I followed the tracks, keeping to the dry sand as much as possible but then feeling that first ooze of cold water soaking through my sock. And then the next. But so far, pretty good.
I followed the steps to where a small creek empties into the bay, where they stopped. Clearly whoever it was didn’t have the stomach for fording the creek.
Wimp, I thought, and plowed on.
Now, if you’ve ever walked near a bayside saltwater creek, you’ve encountered mud. It can be deep enough to suck off your shoe. And on the last step before leaping over the creek, I sank up to my ankle, which necessitated using the other foot as leverage to pull myself out -- and then both feet were sopping. At that point, I just had to give into it. So I pulled myself out and splashed through to the other side. I had only my own hubris to blame.
But on the other side, mine were the only footprints. I was the first and only human on a freshly groomed, narrow spit of sand on Cape Cod Bay, watching as the gulls went after the green crabs and a heron fished the shallows. I had persevered into the new day, despite old age and wet sneakers that squished with every step.
I delighted in this small victory. It’s hard to grow old, not just inconvenient. Aging is a continual ricochet from loss to recovery and back again -- the loss of physical ability, the loss of personal importance, the loss of friends and family. It’s exhausting.
I’d like to think my early morning wakefulness is the universe’s gift to make up for the hard parts.