When you’re under 20, you think you’d rather commit suicide than get old, partly because you can’t imagine how you’re going to cope with looking wrinkly and grey, and partly because you have no freaking clue how much it actually hurts to croak. Since you also (usually) have no idea what the hell you’re going to do with your life, it’s hard to imagine that you may have another 80 years to do it.
Mercifully, your perspective changes as you get older. Your attention turns outward, you realize you’re part of a bigger picture, and you have friends, family, hobbies, and goals. It’s not the same for everybody, of course. Some people go through a midlife crises that causes them to try, in vain, to recapture their physical youth. Others are fortunate enough to realize that older people actually do have something in common with very young people. Our perspective is changing along with our bodies, very much like theirs is. Call it reverse puberty. Though you’re going out instead of coming in, the feelings you have are actually quite similar, and it seems as if you’re on the verge of an exciting, wide, mysterious world.
For me, those feelings became very apparent when I went on the road trip to Utah I wrote about in the previous two blogs. But it became even more so when I was hiking with my husband Ernie on my 50th birthday. I had forgotten it was my birthday, we were hiking simply because we had the day off. And we were excited about trying a new trail, Peralta Canyon Trail in the Superstition Mountains. It’s a gorgeous trek through a hoodoo-haunted canyon shaped by running water through breccia (volcanic rock consisting of broken rock fragments and volcanic ash) and welded tuff (super-heated ash and debris) from volcanic explosions millions of years ago. Since Arizona was underwater for a few hundred-million years, and featured lakes and rivers afterward, there is also some sedimentary rock to be seen. The water only runs after storms these days. The lower part of the canyon features a variety of lower-desert flora, including saguaros that must be at least 300 years old (it takes them 70 years just to grow arms). Since it was April, those old giants were blooming as we picked our way up the trail.
We were experienced enough by then to know we needed a gallon of water each and some nuts and Fig Newtons. And we took plenty of rests, mostly because I continually stopped to snap pictures. The hike should only take four to five hours if you’re just in it for the exercise – for us it would turn out to take seven. We climbed steadily, toward the upper-desert terrain at the end of the canyon. About halfway there, we stopped and surveyed our destination, then looked back the way we had come. Spectacular views both ways. And then it hit me. "Ernie, today is my birthday!"
The symbolism wasn’t lost on either of us. Halfway through the canyon and halfway through my life, I loved the view. And I was still climbing, still setting goals and trying new things. My mother has always done the same thing, and she’s 88. If anyone could get to 108, she could. This spring, she’s coming with us on another Utah road trip, and she plans to hike with us and see places she has only driven past before.