A cup of coffee in one hand and my Kindle Fire in the other I sat at the kitchen table reading a novel. It's the last day of a two week vacation and I am soaking up every minute of having no schedule, no routine, and nothing I have to do. The sun is shining, the breeze is soft and warm. The novel, by one of my favorite authors, Amanda Eyre Ward, is engaging.
Suddenly, out of the periphery of my eye I see a small branch, almost a twig fall from the tree in the yard outside the kitchen sliding glass doors. Then, a second later, a squirrel falls to the ground. Apparently the small squirrel wandered out on a too small branch, small enough to break under the tiny weight of the squirrel, plunging both of them into a thirty foot drop. The squirrel landed with a loud thump on all four feet. It stood where it had landed for a couple of seconds. Then, as if testing it's legs, it did that squirrel hop-run for about four steps, then stopped again. It stood still for a very long time.
I watched and waited, wondering if the squirrel was assessing the damage or catching it's breath? I wondered if it would bound away or fall over. I could see it's chest moving as it breathed deeply and looked straight ahead. It seemed to be monitoring itself. Legs, check. Bones, check. Muscles, check. Skin and fur, yup. Eyes still in head, yes. Breathing? Yup. Okay then, good to go, and off it scampered to a different tree which it promptly climbed as if nothing had happened at all.
The house I live in sits on the back half of five acres of church property. From the kitchen and my upstairs office I can see across three acres of this land, it's quite beautiful. Tall trees and lots of grass, a labyrinth, a pet memorial garden, and the community garden frame my view. It's peaceful and serene and teeming with wildlife. Birds of all varieties visit our bird feeders and serenade us, loud enough to be heard indoors with the windows opened. Three varieties of squirrels: tiny red, common brown tree, and ground clamor for territory to call their own. I've often wondered, seeing tree squirrels perched high up on a branch, if they ever fell. Now I know.
A woodchuck has recently moved in under the deck. This displeases the dogs who don't like this invasion of their territory. They sniff the the floor boards of the deck and follow it's scent below. One dog scans the yard, wary of the intruder and refusing to go out onto the lawn. Deer visit us all winter long, and sometimes late on a summer night. We must live on some ancient walkway between woods and the nearby river. For nature loving folk like us its a delightful place to be, amusing us and filling us with awe.
Although I don't feel it (most days, anyway) I am keenly aware that I am getting old. At fifty-seven I am beginning to tell myself, and others, that I am almost sixty. The texture of my skin, even with strong muscles underneath, is slack. My hair is gray, my chin sags and I've almost lost my bottom lip. It seems to have regressed with time and disappeared. No amount lipstick can bring it back, and sometimes only serves to enhance what is now missing. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror. In six or eight or ten years I could retire. I'm beginning to prepare for that time, whenever it comes. Contemplating what I will do with myself when I no longer work full time at a church.
Few things in my life have endured: my marriage of twenty-nine years; motherhood for the last twenty-six; and being a priest for fourteen. These are the longest lasting aspects of my life. Retirement could easily last as long as any of these.
So, I as I contemplate ideas of how I can supplement my pension when I retire and what I'd like to do with myself, I also wonder which of these ideas will grow strong, what will hold me up as days go on, and which ones I will give up on and let go of. Or worse, which ones will break under the weight of time and age or strain, dropping me to the ground with a thud.
Like the squirrel, I've fallen before, and gotten back up, caught my breath and continued on. I'm not afraid. I've built my life and rebuilt it several times. But I find myself thinking ahead and wondering, dreaming perhaps. Or maybe it's the call of the Spirit working within me, preparing me for what comes next, in some unknown distant future?
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