We’re Still Learning
Last weekend, Tim and I set off on our annual ski weekend to celebrate my birthday. Typically, no matter how early we plan to leave, we’re rarely out the door before the crack of noon. For perhaps the first time ever, we allowed ourselves a slow start on Saturday and managed to be on the road just past eleven.
I chalk up our timely departure to a sign of maturity: by giving ourselves permission to take our time, we were able to pack up more efficiently than when we work under arbitrary pressure. It’s taken almost forty years of cohabitation to figure this out. We’re still learning.
Cash: As Out of Fashion as We Are
Our relatively early start allowed us to stop at the Dartmouth Outing Club for a quick ski in Hanover, New Hampshire. When we presented ourselves in person to purchase trail passes, a grumpy man at the desk told us to buy them online.
“We were told we could get them here. How much for two seniors?” Tim asked.
Tim pulled out two twenties.
“We don’t take cash.”
Tim fumbled with his wallet for plastic.
The man at the center—probably not much younger than us but clearly feeling his relative youth and displaying unmasked annoyance, said, “Oh, just go!” He dismissed us with a wave.
After skiing, we stopped for hot cocoa at a café that didn’t take cash.
“Is cash over?” I wondered.
In December 2022, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s signature began appearing on US paper currency. That same month, the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed over fifty-seven million-six-hundred thousand (57,600,000) one dollar bills, thirty-eight million-four-hundred thousand (38,400,000) tens, eighteen-million, two-hundred thousand (18,200,000) twenties, and seventy-three million-six-hundred thousand (73,600,000) hundreds. It’s the most-used currency around the globe except, perhaps, in Hanover, New Hampshire.
I acknowledge that my reluctance to use my phone to make purchases is partly due to security concerns, and partly due to the trouble I have keeping track of my phone, which may be age-related. So be it.
On to Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art, which doesn’t charge admission in any form. We hadn’t been to the museum since it underwent an extensive expansion and renovation just before the pandemic. The new interior was unrecognizable until we reached the staircase from pre-renovation days. There, I found my bearings.
Change is Constant
We’re both used to orienting ourselves to current places by identifying what remains from the past, as if the landscape has become a palimpsest— “writing material . . . used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased” (Merriam-Webster). Hanover is like that for Tim. Only a small part of the hospital, where Tim was born and where he received his medical training, remains; the first house he lived in does not. The shop that now houses J. Crew used to be a clothing shop owned by a schoolmate’s family. Dartmouth Medical School, where Tim did his medical training, is now the Geisel School of Medicine, and so on. When you live a long time, you learn to accept that much of the world was once something else. Change is constant.
Antiquated Technology in Modern Times
We headed to Hardwick, where we were returning to the Kimball House B&B, the lovingly restored Victorian home of Sue Holmes. It had been a few years since we’d stayed there (that pandemic), so I checked google maps. No service. Lucky for us, we old fogies keep paper maps in the car. Sometimes, seemingly antiquated technology comes in handy in modern times.
Kimball House is still what a B&B used to be: someone’s home. Sue left a note on the door, saying to let ourselves in, she’d be back late. When she did return, it was a love-fest, catching up on the loves, losses and changes since our last visit. What hadn’t changed was Sue’s warmth, eagerness to accommodate us, and charming home. We reluctantly said goodnight at ten, so we’d be in fine form to ski.
A Blessing of Growing Old(er)
At the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, the cross-country trails looked familiar, but I struggled to get my bearings according to what I remembered, which did me no good. I gave up living in the past and just skied. It was snowing, quiet, pristine. I skied well, without urgency, loving the landscape, the cold, the muted pallet of the gray day. I was pleased with my newfound stamina, thanks to my efforts at the gym, and happy to be away from my work and our homestead for a bit. As I skied through the woods, I experienced a contentment of which I was rarely capable in my striving days. This is one of the blessings of growing old(er).
Ellie Lemlire says
I enjoyed reading your writing Getting Old(er). Your reflections about change hit home with me. I am going to be ninety years old March 20th and often think about how much has changed in all my years. Ken and I spent many an evening recalling the changes in the towns where we grew up and how happy we are with some and not so much with others.
Growing older (old) is a challenge for us. Not being able to do what we used to do and think we still can is sad and sometimes funny. We both still try to all we can and are happy to accomplish.
Your ski weekend getaway must have been so much fun. Visiting at all the places you remember and then having the lovely B&B to go back to. Very nice.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Thanks for your kind and wise words.
In ninety years, you must have seen so many changes across the board: technology (television to internet! toaster ovens to microwaves!), culture, the politics and nature of Vermont from an isolated, conservative backwater to its current, progressive status, including its Republican governor, our complete dependence and on automobiles . . . the list goes on and on.
It’s a challenge to see the changes here and not feel “oh, it used to be better in the old days.” But just being alive, seeing the snow this morning, the squirrels running up and down the trees—the things that don’t change—are worth staying alive for, even if the price is old age.
My love to you and Ken.
Eve Damien says
I, too, can really relate. I’ve finally returned to hiking after a series of injuries and a forced multi-year hiatus to find that not only have the trails changed, but so have I. I returned to the woods with more patience for myself and more comfortable expectations. Sure, I’d like to move a bit more quickly but know that will come with time.
As I’ve become reacquainted with my favorite trails, I’ve gradually identified where they have changed. I especially miss the way one trail used to climb up, over and around the roots of a grand oak tree. The soil was compressed between the roots creating a steep, stair-like formation and offering sure footing regardless of the weather. I never failed to run my hand along the bark of that beautiful, strong tree as I passed. Now that trail has been re-routed and I wonder how many hikers remember the original. I will keep that memory but look forward to finding other favorite trails and trees.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Love this description of the oak tree! Thanks for sharing it!