Turning sixty-five? Get outside!


A 65th birthday sunrise

Somehow I hadn’t realized that turning 65 years old is a milestone until my 65th birthday was just a month away. I had no time to make elaborate plans, but since I totally missed doing anything on my fiftieth, I felt that now, fifteen years later, a nod to the passage of time was in order.

It was a little late to plan a trip to the 65th parallel, which just occurred to me, and as a seeker of cold this would have been a perfect destination. In fact, I really love this idea and wish I had thought of it a year ago. There are a number of enticing destinations on the 65th parallel north, including Nunavut, Canada and Trondheim, Norway. As a naturalist, journalist, guide, and hiker, these destinations excite far more than the splashy cocktail party my husband began to hint at.

A few weeks before my birthday he started asking me questions about how to contact my friends, and if I could give him my sisters’ phone numbers. At that point I said “Please, please, no surprise party. I don’t like surprise parties.” His reply was, “Well, if it’s not a surprise for you it can’t be a surprise party.” There is logic there but since he doesn’t really know how to plan a party that had to be nipped in the bud. We compromised with a small dinner at a nearby inn looking out over the water, where someone else did the cooking and the cleaning. While I looked forward to this as a lovely evening with friends, my idea of milestone celebrations involve being outside, traveling, learning something new, or trying something daring.

Since there are no rules on how one celebrates 65 years on this planet, I decided I could take the whole year to get to the 65th parallel for my 65th, but my birthday  was still rushing to greet me and I wanted to do something special on the day itself.

Wolf's milk slime

Wolf’s milk slime, looking more like wolf’s blood here. Lycogala epidendrum

I did a little research to try and find out what others have done on this milestone, and most of the information I got involved Medicare, not exactly celebratory or uplifting. So keeping the 65th parallel in the back of my mind, what could I do and plan in less than a week?And why is it such a milestone, anyway? It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. My 50th had caught me by surprise. I didn’t think things were going to change very much and all of a sudden my body started playing games with me. I went from still feeling I was 27 to menopause and osteoporosis and periodontal problems. Good Lord! But I got through that. And now here’s another milestone. What other aging perils are lurking out there?

I am thinking maybe 65 isn’t about physical stuff, it’s about what’s in my head. I have a new and unexpected urge to jettison everything. I have always loved being materialistic, even in the 70’s when it was frowned upon. Having enough dishes for a gathering of 18, art I love by people I respect on my walls, jewelry for every mood and occasion, the cabbage slicer from my grandmother, my dad’s kayak paddle, and things filled with significance and memories on every shelf gave me deep pleasure. I have boxes of vintage postcards and cool tools for pitting cherries and a real beaver top hat. There are elegant sterling shrimp picks I never use and candle holders in a variety of styles. I have an ink well, and a View-Master® with a dozen image reels. Stuff, stuff everywhere, and I have no idea how it is possible to say this, but I want it gone. I want it to go to a good home, however. No way I could send this to the dumpster. Afterall, I have spent over 50 years in carefully curated collecting. These are treasures! But I am no longer addicted to collecting. Now I drive by estate sales with simply a lingering glance. It is just habit. If I look a bit too long my car tells me to put my eyes back on the road and I gladly obey.

At 50 my body went amok and now at 65 a long history as a devoted thrifter and used book hoarder is going to be history. I look at all my treasures and wonder what will happen to them. And find I don’t really care. I want to get rid of everything I spent a lifetime collecting. I try to match things up with friends, and so far most have professed delight when I show up at their homes with a book carefully selected for them, or a piece of jewelry or obscure kitchen gadget. But my house seems just as full as before. Stealth may be in order. Many of my friends have homes as full as mine. I am thinking with each visit I can slip a few books onto their shelves or maybe tuck a vase or bowl into the dark corner of a cupboard. I imagine the little perplexed frown as they try to remember where that bowl came from, or if it was a gift whose giver they cannot recall.

A page from my journal with 65 species for turning 65 years old

Turning 65 years old is surprising me, not with ailments, but with this desire for passing things on. I was not going to celebrate this milestone just by getting more stuff. Since 65 is really just a number, I decided to count. On my birthday morning, after the birthday eve dinner party with friends, which was indeed delightful, I got up, packed a thermos of tea, donned my loupe for looking into the private parts of plants and took my journal into the field. My goal was to record 65 species, plant or animal. I slipped out just as the day was lightening the sky, and was outside which is where I like to be, and learning something, which is what I like to do. I had my journal divided into alphabetical sections, and every time I made an entry I numbered it. I like the morning before the sun is up, it is light enough to see, and feels calm. I went to an ocean path near my house, and just stood in one place noting familiar plants and watching the sun come up. I walked a loop around the coast, (White spruce, picea glauca; Elderberry, Sambucus nigra) and passed through a small boggy area which helped me fill my pages (Round-leaf sundew; Drosera rotundifolia, Bog cranberry, Vaccinium oxylocus). I had 65 species recorded before 8:30am. I capped my pen, stretched my morning sun salutations, and headed off to work. It was a good start to this milestone year. I like the concept of counting. 65 species on my birthday, why not 65 adventures for the year?

But I still have a house crowded with things–a battery-operated martini mixer, ceramic egg coddlers from England, and a pair of ivory opera glasses. If you want some cool stuff, swing by and make me an offer.

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.