Like most of us out here (50% anyway), he is over 65. Actually, he is over 75. He is just entering the ‘mature’ senior cohort of the community. But, it ain’t easy even at his somewhat younger end of the geriatric spectrum. He’s still gettin’ on at gettin’ on. Plenty of time. At 85, he will then join the ‘walking antique cohort’ (WAC’d for short). We already have plenty of those!
(And finally, after that, it is just sorta ‘slow composting’, not really much of a segment. Is it? No one really considers the ‘slowly-composting stage.’)
My ‘neighbour’ ten or so miles away, living on an even more remote island than we do with even fewer people nearby (none), is seriously considering spending winters in a place a smidge more comfortable. By his own admission, “Winters are getting a bit harder.” And, of course, they are. Winters OTG can be a bit grim but it only usually takes a few sunny days here and there to make it endurable and I, personally, think a particularly sunny winter is a beautiful time. Mind you, I am relatively healthy. My friend is not.
I am telling you all this because people often wonder about us aging remote and being relatively isolated. They tend to look at the OTG lifestyle with exaggerated fears, visions of doom and they attribute egg-shell-like vulnerability to anyone over 60. “How long will it take an ambulance to get to you?” (Answer: they cannot and will not get to me. I have to go to them.) But most of what they worry about is simply not likely to happen or even totally true. We are all much stronger than our urban counterparts even when we are sometimes even weaker. Strength is really attitudinal.
But…..well……some of it is also physical. My guy had a major accident five or so years ago. He was left almost non-ambulatory. His body had taken a severe hit and every aspect of it suffered as if he had aged more rapidly than just his years would suggest. A following stroke, a few minor falls and way too many months of reduced physical activity restricted recovery and he was eventually left kinda frail. He still works but is no longer a power, physically speaking. Mind you, he is only frail for being out here where physical demands are common. If he was in the city, he would be almost normal (he still does not need regular professional care, a wheelchair or even a walker. Doesn’t need an oxygen tank, dialysis or major surgery. Not obese. Except for working hard, he is pretty good). He could physically do the Starbucks to doctor, library to friends or pub, TV and delivered pizza lifestyle so much appreciated in the city.
He is now on the cusp, on the fence, on the verge of having to decide if he can still stay out here. And he has decided that he can but just not in the winter. I think he is making the right decision. As he puts it, “Well, I can still do stuff but not so much any heavy lifting or hard work anymore. Winter time always requires hard work from wood-getting, hiking all over the forest and upkeep on the house. I am gonna have to find another way.
“But it is not just the strength required or the stamina, it is the little things like hearing, seeing and, most important, balance. I just don’t have that anymore. And, it is only awkward or mildly difficult when I am on land but, when in a boat, in a storm, in the dark and maybe encountering an accident or a challenge or even just hitting a log, well, then things can start to fall apart rather quickly.
“Last week we were coming down a narrow channel and the current was running at 8 knots or more. It was pretty hairy. Then we hit a log while going full tilt and the entire boat was tipped and we all fell every which way. I bruised my ribs. Of course, being in a small boat (14 feet) was not ideal. Had it been dark or snowing, we might have been really afraid but, as it was, I was left a bit shaken. So, we are thinking of maybe winters away”.
So, there you have it. A 75 year old (and his wife) with all sorts of disabilities hikes through the forest in the winter miles from anyone and heads out to sea in a small tin boat. But they are OK with that! It is only when they hit a log in a cauldron of sea-chaos going through a narrow pass with crazy currents (running like a flooding river) that they decide that ‘maybe’ they should ‘perhaps’ spend winters where it is less dangerous.
He wasn’t sure, tho. Key word: Maybe. They are gonna think on it some more.
I think it is all pretty fabulous. I think it shows courage and common sense. NOT necessarily for their possibly leaving but, rather, for putting that plan as STILL just an option. They are definitely NOT going anywhere this winter. They are still mulling it all over for NEXT winter.
Circumstances can kick you in the cajones, push you down a flight of stairs and then run over you with a pick-up truck a few times but, with the right attitude, all that did for them was to consider their options! That’s great. That’s healthy. There is a real pull, a real yearning for out here. That enduring love of nature, and living the lifestyle, is the real power of being OTG.
A kick in the cajones can do that to you! It must have been some kind of shock to him and his wife at least, and must have made them think. But thinking is good, OTG or not. So they are smart and considering their options. If I sometimes read how you describe the terrain on the island, stability is a MUST, also on a boat. So that must be high on the important list of “qualities to possess”. I could give them a hand with chopping wood when I am around though!
Hah! athlete-level balance is not required all the time but walking on uneven ground, going up and down hill and all the while carrying stuff is. And Baryshnikov level balance is required if you are working the chainsaw on the beach. My most dangerous work is cutting up logs in the lagoon because they are all scattered akimbo and lying on wet, slippery rocks. I sometimes end up joining them (lying akimbo) when I go do it. My neighbour (in the story) had help this year. He has his firewood in.
A few months ago I had a 30 year old kid at work look at me and moan that, “Growing old SUCKS!”
I laughed at him and replied, ” You think its bad at 30? Wait til you’re in your 50’s and all those injuries from your teens and 20’s come back to haunt you…”
I went through my litany of old injuries and their resurgence as aches and pains now…….
He looked like he wanted to burst into tears…..
I sympathize, but being older, and wiser (that supposedly comes with being older, but on a diminishing return – you get too much older and you ‘start losing it’) I have started to ponder the future. Luckily, I’m not so far OTG that purchasing firewood, split and stacked, is not out of the question. Balance is not a problem, yet. I’m still able to access the grocery/liquor store.
So what is the problem, you ask?
None yet, but as the Boy Scout in me is reminded: Be Prepared! I was NOT prepared for COVID induced housekeeping problems! They shun me like the plague!! As do I them. Knowing them preCOVID makes me a little wary during the pandemic, besides I have ample opportunity to attempt it myself. I actually used my brand new five year old dishwashing machine for the first time last week. At least I don’t have to argue whose turn it is to wash, or dry. And it turned out to be not all that difficult.
So, I think I’ll stay put, at least until post Moderna. Who knows, with sufficient Scotch in me I might be able to survive all those aches and pains.
Having a purpose! Having meaning. Having a partner. Living a full life. Keeping active and engaged. Making a home. Perhaps most importantly do no harm in word, thought or deed. Many banal things have been written about aging so…no comment.