Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The lure - an invitation to join an outdoor adventure trip and kayak, canoe, and raft on three lovely Massachusetts rivers, with a little mountain climbing on the side - was so irresistible that I bit like a trout.

I was so delighted that I forgot an essential point: I can no longer read without my glasses.

As everyone who gets to a "certain age" knows, eyesight is one of the first things to go.

It isn't too much of a problem at home. You have three choices: buy a cord or chain and wear reading glasses permanently around your neck, keep them pushed up on top of your head, or scatter them around the house like wildflower seeds in Spring.

That's what I do. Since my ever-diminishing eyesight remains in the over-the-counter, inexpensive drugstore range, I keep a pair of glasses handy wherever I tend to read: There's always one in the bathroom, for example, and another by my armchair in the living room. There's one at my desk, and one in the kitchen so I can read recipes and the small print on labels. I stash one in a case in my pocketbook, and another in the glove compartment of my car.

These are simple survival techniques, like printing out directions in 18-point type so you can read them while you're driving. Or keeping a pair of glasses with your gardening tools, so you can read the little sticks that come in the plant flats. That way you know that calendula, which can be grown in sun or part shade, will reach a height of between 24 and 30 inches if you remember to water it. (Memory is a subject for another column.)

But who knew you needed reading glasses to go white water rafting? Where do you put them in a wet suit?

We were at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, Mass., on the lovely Deerfield River. The guides there inspire confidence, and I'd trust them with my life. But still, to get on the river, I had to sign a waiver that said, in part, "I acknowledge that my participation in outdoor adventure-based activities such as river rafting ... entails known and unanticipated risks which could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to myself, to property, or to third parties."

Having left my glasses in my pocketbook in the van, I couldn't read the waiver. Someone handed me what they said was a large-print copy, but the print wasn't large enough for me. Having someone read the whole thing out loud would have taken too much time. So I signed it blind and still had a wonderful time.

But it made me start to notice some other things:

  • Picnicking in a beautiful meadow, I couldn't see if the little packets were butter or margarine.
  • Climbing the Old Indian Trail on Wachusett Mountain, I managed to get myself lost. Even though I had a trail map stuffed in my back pocket, I couldn't read it. Finally, a ranger came after me and I made it to the top, where there is a spectacular view.
  • The sign on the spa wall at the Wachusett Village Inn said in large letters, "Do not enter the hot tub if the temperature is over 104 degrees." But I couldn't read the thermometer. The water, however, was just what my aching body needed after the Old Indian Trail.
  • Searching the hotel's store for bottled water, I couldn't read the small print. Because the shape of the bottle looked familiar, I ended up buying something sweetened, flavored, foul and undrinkable.
  • And of course, I had to fish out my glasses to read menus and figure out the television remote controls.

Even though I was having trouble with life's small print, it didn't stop me from doing what I wanted to do. My body has changed, but my mind hasn't.

Little Feat's "Old Folks Boogie" reminds us: "How do you know that you're over the hill? When your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill." But that's just the young smirking at their elders, and as many of us know, the young have quite a few limitations of their own.

Aging seems to be a matter of determination, resourcefulness, compensation and self-knowledge. Asking someone to read the small print when you haven't got your glasses. Knowing that sooner or later, the ranger (or another hiker) will come. Going to the hot tub while the rest of the group, after climbing the mountain, goes off on a two-hour bicycle ride up and down every hill in Fitchburg, followed by rock climbing. And trusting that you're smart enough to get out of the hot tub if the water is too hot.

Aging has nothing to do with age. There are 78-year-old women who can ski me off a mountain. And on this particular trip, one member of our group, who at 58 is only two years younger than I am, led the mountain climbing, the bicycling and the rock climbing.

It's mostly a question of knowing what kind of shape you're in, and also of working to keep yourself in the kind of shape you need to be in to accomplish whatever it is that you want to accomplish.

Aging also seems to be about recognizing that life is a never-ending course of self-knowledge, and about comfortably accepting the limitations this self-knowledge brings.

I will never stop adventuring. But maybe, if life stops being a cabaret, old chum, it will become a hot tub before it becomes a grave. And that will be fine with me.

Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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