How does one age gracefully?
I am currently very much trying to find some answers to this question. And while I'm happy to say I have a handle on the process, putting it into action or, rather letting it fall into place is another story.
Outside my window I have a hanging bird feeder. We put it up this springtime and it's been both a wonder to behold and a royal pain in the ass.
The birds love it and they come in droves. But the squirrels also love it. They love it so much, it seems, that I'm constantly on alert for any one of the nearly (to me) identical greedy little monsters who live in the trees to start running up the pole onto the feeder and begin furiously stuffing his face full of the fatty seed we bought for our little feathered friends.
I'm sure anyone who's ever put up a bird feeder has had this problem. The squirrels seem to be able to climb anything, anywhere, anytime and under any conditions in order to steal the bird seed. There are even bird feeders out there that are supposedly "squirrel proof." Some send a small electrical charge to the squirrel; some have a perch area that starts to spin around when the weight of the rodent is felt. It's big business.
We don't own any of those kind of things, but in an effort to "save the seed" we did buy a small, clear, rectangular feeder that attaches to our window with suction cups. We put it in the very middle of a large plate glass window and thought "let's see a squirrel try to get to that!"
And, of course, they started jumping from the ground four feet into the air.
And when that didn't work they started jumping off of the roof. They jumped right off the roof five feet above and landed smack dab on top of the feeder! And this feeder being attached directly to the large pane window does not give the average squirrel much room to perch. It basically allows the little monster enough space to hang his head and hands over the edge of the flat plastic roof while keeping its feet and hind quarters flat up against the window, providing a highly unnecessary, close-up, anatomical view of what nature provided for the fluffy-tailed rat. This is occasionally interspersed with a full-cheeked wide-eyed stare back at the strangers of another species on the other side of the glass, hands-on-head and yelling in an unintelligible language generally making quite a dramatic fuss. Jodi even constructed a cone made with discarded yogurt containers and clear tape to try to keep them from being able to perch. And while this did seem to work in the short term it ended up getting dirty and kind of fell apart and the squirrels came back, the seed disappeared, and we were back to square one.
But it's funny how we think.
It's interesting that we feel we can say who the food is for.
It's so intrinsically human that we really think we can possibly say to the squirrels "that's not for you that's for the birdies!"
And we think if we scare them away from the feeder by banging on the windows enough times that they'll learn the food isn't for them. And moreover, we hopelessly think that eventually they'll understand and accept this arrangement and find somewhere else to go.
Because really, what have we done? We put a big plate of food in the middle of the yard or in a trough attached to our window. And for reasons only humans can hold dear we did what we did with the main intention that food was put out for one species amongst many.
But we're humans and we do a lot of weird stuff.
We try to control things.
We pretend we have special powers.
We think we're smarter than nature.
But we're just humans and we can only do so much.
I'm smack dab in the middle of my 43rd year on earth. It's a daunting age. This month my high school class of 1988 is having its 25th year reunion. I'm not going to be around for it, as much as I'd like to go. But it's so foreign to think that I've been out of high school as long as it takes the average human to be born and get through a few years of grad school.
My hair is starting to argue with me. In fact some of it is so mad at me that it's decided to sleep on the couch . . . or, rather sleep in the sink.
I have more moisturizers now than I ever had even just a few years ago. I put some on before I go to bed and hope that they stave off early wrinkles.
I'm thinking of keeping my eight year old Subaru and buying a sports car.
I'm fighting with my squirrels.
And right now is the time where it all seems so new to me. I've always felt rather young. Certainly a man who thinks he can down a fifth of vodka a night into his late thirties like I used to must not have a real handle on how old he is. But as I've gotten into my forties I've started to see the real signs of age both visible and non. I forget plenty of things, but at least I can't blame them on my lifestyle anymore. My wrinkles are showing up a little clearer these days, almost as if my mirror's contrast level has itself turned up without my knowledge. And though I have a handle on my weight (finally) it's still a constant struggle to stay where I feel comfortable, both for my outward appearance and also so my size 34 belts still have a mostly functional use.
And I try to not let the days going by one after another let me slide into a maelstrom of despair. It is so easy to slip into an ever present worry that I haven't done enough, said enough, traveled enough, played enough or lived enough.
But then I'd just be fighting with my squirrels.
Time takes our seeds away one by one just like the squirrels do. It takes our seed and stuffs its face with it. It comes after us--each and every one--and it doesn't learn we don't like it. It sees there is food and it picks through it to find the tastiest morsels. It can jump from the rooftops. It can run up a pole. It can stretch its body longer than anatomically possible. It is determined. It is unidirectional. It is intense. It is undeterred, unflinching, and it does not care we didn't invite it. It is smarter than we are. It can find a way up, around, and over any wall. It can look us in the eye while it feasts or it can turn over and show us its backside. It takes what it wants and then it goes to digest for a while.
We throw open the door and yell at it, shake our fist and scare it away every now and again.
And then it leaves us be for just long enough to think that it has forgotten about us.
And then we wake up, walk downstairs and draw back the curtains and scare it off the feeder for just long enough for us to walk to the breakfast table.
But time can only take as much as we are willing to call our own.
Time can only rob us of that which we are willing to say it can't have. Because if we portion it off then we are consciously counting it as our possession . . . and that's the only way we could ever notice that some of it is missing.
So we can either learn to live with this arrangement and let the squirrels take what they want from the platter, or we can spend our days forever yelling out the window at something that couldn't care less.
Of course, one can choose to not hang a feeder at all. But life is and will always be full of choices.
As I'm writing this I'm looking out at the feeder swinging in the pre-winter wind.
The squirrels seem to have eaten all the sunflower seeds that they prefer and left the rest for the birds. Maybe it's getting too cold for them to expend as much energy as they did over the summer. Maybe they're all next door where the food might be better. Regardless, the birds seem to like it here no matter what. It's nice to be reminded that life is all around us.
I'll keep filling the feeder all winter long because it's such a simple thing to do.
And I suppose whoever would like to perch on it and say "this is mine right now" has every right to do so.
I'll just sit on the couch and enjoy the time that's mine today.
Thanks for reading,