Jim and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by taking a trip to the Pacific Northwest. We travel differently than many of our friends, avoiding cities and crowds and instead seeking out the wildest, remotest places we can find. Once there, we spend our days hiking and sitting, just looking at beauty.
On this trip, we always slept beside water, and we visited every old-growth forest or rainforest we passed. We stayed three nights in Olympic National Park lodges, then traveled by ferry to Vancouver Island. We drove to Tofino and later to Hornby Island, off the east coast of the island.
Our first two nights were in a cabin at Kalaloch. We were perched high on a cliff over a misty beach strewn with driftwood and shells. Just after we arrived, I walked down to the beach alone. The area was empty—just me and the seagulls—but as I walked along the tide line, I noticed that someone had written the word NOW in big letters in the sand. It couldn’t have been more apt. NOW is exactly where I wanted to live for the next 11 days, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but living in the senses, savoring the present moment.
The next few days we explored tide pools and found starfish, anemones, and hermit crabs. At night we’d watch the sun set over the Pacific, then start a fire in our cabin’s fireplace and listen to the ocean, which sounded ready to roll right through our open front door.
Mornings, we’d make sandwiches, fill our water bottles, and head out for an old-growth forest or rainforest. We walked for miles in dappled light, surrounded by silence and green, green, green. We felt high on all the oxygen in those forests. Over time, we learned to identify the hemlock, ancient spruce, Douglas fir, and red cedar, a sacred tree to indigenous people.
At night, we’d dine in little cafés, often outside, and sometimes by the water. One night at a café called Wolf-in-the-Fog in Tofino, I said to Jim, “We’ll never be here again.”
At the time, I meant that in the most prosaic sense. It was unlikely we’d ever be in this café in Tofino on a gorgeous September Saturday night again. But later, I realized I felt a deeper meaning in that sentence.
We’re in our mid-60’s now, healthy and happy with each other and our lives. Right now, all our close friends and family are healthy, too. Our children are in strong marriages and gainfully employed. Our grandchildren are loving and mostly well behaved. Just as that night in Tofino was golden, so is this larger moment in time.
However, we’re aging along with most of our close friends, siblings, and cousins. When we get together, we often talk of blood pressure, cholesterol, and checkups. In all likelihood, someone we love will soon have a health crisis.
Right now, the burdens of aging sit lightly on our shoulders. And its benefits are tremendous—time for the people we love, time to read and do the work we most want to do. Thoreau defined wealth as “the ability to fully experience life.” That kind of wealth comes to children and people with plenty of time to slow down. Right now, Jim and I feel that richness.
My friend Mohamed recently asked me, “What are your plans for the future?” I laughed and told him I have no plans for the future. I just try to be present for my life every day.
I turn 67 this month, and to quote actor Karl Malden, “I’ve been where I’m going.” Or to quote poet Greg Brown, “I got a tiny little future and a great big past.” At a certain age, if people are lucky, they reach this stage of life. If unlucky, the 60’s can be a traumatic and tragic decade, filled with fear, anger, and sorrow. But for us, it’s a good place, a place to rest in the late September sun before the cold and darkness come.
Illustration © Adam Niklewicz
Mary Pipher is the author of 11 books including her latest one, A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.