This summer I’ve had a recurring dream: I’m going to college but never make it to class. I’m not keeping up with the assignments. I don’t even know what they are! This is a cause of great anxiety, and at some point, I learn that my professors have, in fact, noticed that I’m not showing up. I’m failing. I will be expelled. But how can I start going to class now after I’ve missed so much?
It’s pretty clear where this dream comes from. After 50+ years of reporting every day to school or work (or both), never taking more than a couple of weeks off, I am officially retired. I am off for the summer and not going back. But deep down I guess it’s hard to believe that someone isn’t going to start noticing that I’m not showing up.
It’s not that I’ve been slacking off. We’ve had a million projects here at our summer cabin in Maine. The paint was peeling all over and needed scraping, sanding, and a new coat. We built from scratch a dining table, bookshelves, a closet, and a rack for our kayaks. We cleared out piles of old lumber, donated old furniture, and cut back the encroaching forest. We’ve had family and friends visiting nearly every week we’ve been here.
We’ve also been busy planning for our next destinations and all that entails. Managing our finances now that they have to support us for the next 30 years (we hope!). Decluttering our bank and credit card accounts, figuring out how to store our car while we’re out of the country, learning what we need to do to establish residency in another state, now that we’ve sold our primary home (and this one-season cabin doesn’t qualify us for Maine residency). Rachel’s been taking Spanish lessons and practicing with her Dad nearly every day. And in truth, I’ve been keeping my toes in the work world still, doing a bit of consulting this summer, joining a few Zoom calls, and preparing for a larger consulting role in Australia, in case that comes to pass.
There are so many things we haven’t gotten to—updating our music playlists, listening to those podcasts everyone recommends, drafting our end-of-life plans (tell the truth—you keep thinking you should do that some day too, right?). But there are also plenty of things we have done that we might not otherwise have found the time for.
We’ve read books on the dock, paddled a canoe into town instead of driving, and gone for cooling swims after our sweaty chores. We’ve gone kayaking up lake at 6am to see nesting eagles and our friendly neighborhood loons. We got up at 2:30am to lie on the dock and watch the Perseid meteor shower against the backdrop of the Milky Way. Many nights we’ve just sat still on the porch, watching what we call our favorite TV show: the light changing from dusk to dark as the lake ripples its reflection.
Having the whole summer here at the lake has recalibrated us. We’re more in sync with the rhythms of nature—they simply matter more now then they did in the workaday suburbs. The amount of daylight affects our sleep. The weather affects what we do more than someone else’s artificial schedule. We’re more attuned to the world around us: we hear bird calls and see movement in the trees and on the water we might have missed.
This morning I went for a run and then a swim—my new usual routine and my favorite way to start a day. It was foggy and still, and the lake was quiet. As my head came to the surface of the water, I turned and saw two loons not 20 feet away. They seemed to accept my presence in the lake with them, and even came closer. They weren’t especially curious, nor at all concerned. I began to appreciate how naturalists who embed themselves in wilderness areas feel that the animals begin to accept them if they show that they are there over time, in peace.
There is something to learn from those loons. I need to simply accept that I am here, in peace, in this time and place, a part of it, not looking elsewhere—and lucky to be so.