“Well, you know you’ve passed your expiration date,” the guy I had met maybe seven minutes earlier told me.
A few years ago, I wrote about the impending disaster of entering my sixth decade of life. The column was written with irony. I had no intention of exhaling or becoming significantly diminished in the outdoor activities that had been my lifeblood.
I thought to myself that if I could follow in daddy’s footsteps and still hunt, follow a hunting dog or be outside every day like he continues to do until he is 80 years old, the atrocities of the years advancing would be barely perceptible.
The people I admired the most were the former ranchers, farmers, loggers, hunters and fishermen who continued to do what they did. My thoughts have always been to be in this business.
As the inevitable years of decline approach, one contemplates the horrors of it all without knowing how the world can radically change for the better, especially on the outside, and perhaps more particularly for its partners.
In the summer of 2019, as the Swan Lake fire tormented outdoor enthusiasts on the Kenai Peninsula, Christine and I attempted to climb into a valley that contained an isolated glacier. We had seen it from a different perspective years ago and wanted to see it from above.
As we started the ascent, we took advantage of a “hole” in the smoke that swirled through the mountain valleys that surrounded us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any four-legged companions, choosing to leave them at home for fear the smoke would cause them problems and because we would go up rather slowly than normal.
I hadn’t yet figured out the problem which eventually turned out to be a blocked artery in my leg.
I could climb, but after a short time the pain in my leg got worse and forced me to stop for a bit. Then it would get better and we would go back.
I spent the climb apologizing to Christine for being so slow and for holding us back. Somehow we hit 4,000 feet and sat on the edge, looking at the glacier which over time had receded quite dramatically.
Christine broke the silence of the moment when she said she enjoyed the climb more than the hundreds of others we’ve done together over the years.
Why, I asked myself out loud. Christine said that in the past when we were hunting or just climbing the mountains, there had always been a cloud of urgency around me. Like I can’t completely relax. She said that even at rest I seemed coiled up and ready to pounce at any time.
For the first time, this had not been the case. We just walked, enjoying the country while climbing.
It took a while for me to realize what I had done to Christine over the years. Push and press, not just get over the next hill, but get there as soon as possible. She was always the perfect partner, never complaining about anything I did, even when it became clear that she had plenty of reasons.
She suggested that I had tried so hard to prove that I was not getting old that I had started to miss the essentials, to disrespect the earth. Tricking the flowers instead of stopping to smell them, it seems.
It’s funny what sometimes resurfaces when you have to look at reality. I have always admired people who, as they get older, have adopted that measured quality that does not invite drama, worry or urgency.
Take things as they come, supported by a life of experience that brings the confidence to do so.
Reach that point where things that were stressful – mostly because of the ego driving them, like shooting well, getting game, and covering the field – no longer matter because in the grand scheme of things no one doesn’t really care, and no matter what one does well, there is always someone to do it too, or better.
I guess no one is eager to get old, but who among us doesn’t like the cranky? These people who have reached that stage of life where they don’t care much about what they say, or what other people think of them.
I feel like I might be on my way to courting, at least if the number of times Christine runs to get her notebook and pen to write something weird that I said is an indication. Most, of course, are not suitable for publication in an award-winning journal.
I have been endowed with a sense of humor that allows me to see the comedy in almost everything, even when I am the butt of the joke. So it was a surprise when the doctor told me that I was past my expiration date and found no humor in the statement.
Maybe it’s because I spent a year listening to the dangers faced by people my age and older. Maybe he’s been fighting for almost a year now of being tobacco-free and wondering why I care.
Expired. This means that it is no longer useful, like the carton of sour milk that is poured down the drain.
I may not be as useful as I used to be, but I must tell you that I have a lot more to travel the country, to hunt, to fish, to be part of this land that I love so much. I hope those of you who have expired will join me.
Steve Meyer is a longtime and avid Alaskan shooter who lives in Kenai.