The weather has been strange this summer. In July cold fogs came down in streamers of chilling mist, and between were sudden shots of hot sun. The ferry fog horn would sound most of the morning and the island felt eerily isolated.
August has come, the weather has actually become hot; that is, of course, a relative term. By noon the temperature is around 80 and the afternoons stay in the 80′s range. I go out daily to groom my container plants, fighting biology. The plants want to make seed — that is their biological function — to stay alive long enough to reproduce. I want them to keep blooming so I snip off their fading flowers and seed pods; then they frantically bud a few more flowers. In the end I lose. Seed is made and once made the plants die. Next year new flowers will grow, either from seed or from the old stock — or both.
Jerry is now be 80. Diane and Mike had a terrific party for him on the 3rd – the very day he became 80. We were a few good friends who all knew each other well. We ate shrimp and steak and blueberry cake and ice cream and drank a lot of wine and champagne. We laughed a lot. We told stories of our youth, and some of our old age. I’m glad he is now the same age as I. He never lets me forget my 5 months of seniority.
When you are 80 you know that you don’t have many more years to enjoy life and living. You have long since fulfilled your biological imperative. People tell me I don’t look a day over 60. Well, that’s nice, but I see what isn’t immediately apparent to others. Not long ago a large bruise appeared on my inner thigh. I showed it to Jerry. He asked me how it happened. I had no idea. Don’t remember any bumps or bangs. It just came. After a while the bruise faded away. A few days later when I woke up in the morning I looked at my hand and saw that a bruise covered about a third of the back of it. Most of the time I forgot about the bruise on my inner thigh because most of the time it wasn’t visible. The one on my hand I see a hundred times a day. And it reminds me of the disease my aunt Clare died of: an autoimmune disease that destroyed the stem cells in her bone marrow that make platelets (blood clotting particles.) When she died her whole body was covered with bruises.
The other night after our daily walk Jerry told me he felt “sweaty”. I said, well it’s muggy out. He said, no, it wasn’t the weather. It was an “incident”. He took his blood pressure; it was normal. But he has had a heart attack and has 3 stents in his heart. Although he is a person of calm and even disposition, not at all prone to anxiety or sudden bursts of emotion, feeling sweaty or dizzy alarms him.
Sometimes we defy biology and pretend we can do things as we did them when we were young. Jerry finished splitting the fir and the birch that we had Mike take down. Then it had to be stacked in the woodsheds. I help with that job. We stack the wood in the back of the pickup truck, drive it up to the woodshed which is attached to my studio and unload it from the truck to the wood-bins.
I do most of the stacking except for the logs that are too heavy for me to lift or the bit that is too high up for me to reach. The bin on the patio requires that I unload the wood from the truck into the wheelbarrow and trundle it through the gate to the little shed on the patio, then stack it there.
It took us almost a week to move all that wood, and it seemed that every muscle and joint in my body ached. I won’t be able to do this many more years.
When we had finished stacking the wood the patio bin was not quite full. Jerry decided to take down a spindly (about 6 inch diameter) alder near the workshop. It had broken sometime last winter and was leaning against other trees but still partially upright. I came around the side of the building just as the tree was slowly beginning its fall. I saw that was twisting and I quickly got under the eaves of the shop to avoid getting hit. It came crashing faster and faster down through the brush and as it landed I saw Jerry on the ground on his back using many words that I couldn’t use here. I rushed over to him and saw that the tree had taken much of the skin off the top of his head. It was a close call. He now has thick scabs on his bald head, but there was no swelling and not much bruising. The blow was glancing. If it had been a direct hit he could have been seriously injured or killed.
Every day we walk the same route, down Granger Way, along the water in front of the Granger’s house on Nugent (with a view of Mt Baker and Sisters on a clear day), up the hill to Legoe Bay Road, past the fire department, around the corner along the top of Granger Way overlooking Legoe Bay where we can check out the passing ships and ferries and, at this time of the year, the reef netters’ boats out in the bay, then back to our house just past the crest of the hill.
Granger Way used to be named Hilltop Road, but the name was changed to honor the island’s principal residents, the Grangers, a family that owns a lot of land on Lummi Island. The land my house is on was originally owned by the Grangers. Earl Granger is the family patriarch. He is almost 89 and he is dying. Every day we pass in front of his house and wonder whether the time has come. There is a parade of people there, many cars in the driveway. Grangers have come from all over the country — or at least all over the west — to pay their final respects. Three weeks ago we saw Earl out on his riding mower. Two months ago he was still rumbling his backhoe along the road, bucket precariously raised, smiling and waving to Jerry and me and the poodles. But his cancer was getting him and everyone marveled that he was still out and doing.
We have been studying history together. Every night we watch one or two of a long series of lectures on American history by the teaching company and then when we get in bed I read to Jerry from the biography of John Adams by David McCollough. We are learning a great deal about the beginnings of our country and how it developed and grew. And we are learning, as if we didn’t already know, how ephemeral life can be.
Jerry and I both know death is coming in a way that we didn’t when we were young. This morning he tells me he feels a bit jittery and not very energetic. Today, as I finish writing this post, I feel young and fit. It’s morning, my best time of day. By evening, when I am finishing cooking dinner, washing up, feeding the dogs and getting ready for the evening walk I’ll know full well that I am 80 and time is running out.