I turned 69 on February 25th. If that’s hard for you to believe, it’s way harder for me to comprehend!
Such a milestone calls for reflection from this Scottie writer–reflections on what it’s like turning 69 inside my skin.
My first and somewhat startled reflection is there must be a miscalculation somewhere in the great calendar in the sky: it can’t have taken me 69 years to get here! How could there be that many years behind me? Where have they gone? … and how did the 29 years from age 40 till now go by so quickly? Just yesterday I was a kid-in-dreams. Today I’m 69 … and my back turned 92!
Reflecting on my years, and especially the countless building projects in recent memory, it’s clear to me there is a disjunct between my ‘mental age’ and my ‘physical age’ and it’s been widening for 30 years. Mentally I think of myself as 42. But I remember during the grunt-work of constructing a large-scale bridge at Las Golondrinas, my back and every other muscle in my body disabused me of my illusions. I was on top of my ice pack stretched out on the living room floor on my back … and I knew I was old as dirt.
Looking back on 69 years it’s clear to me now that life is a lot messier than it appeared in the blush of youth. Relationships are much more complicated because people are much more complex and life itself has a way of bouncing more like a football than a baseball, taking off in unanticipated directions. I began life determined to be bigger than Billy Graham and so to save the world … now at 69 I realize it’s more than I can do gracefully to save myself. My horizons are no longer grand but I’ve found peace in “going to the dogs.”
My most prized discovery–relatively late in my life–has been my initiation into animals as friends. I was born into an extended family of hunters and fishermen, was given my own custom-sized .22 rifle on my eighth birthday, and until I was around 40 hunting deer and other large game was a passion in my life. I lived for autumn deer hunting season and the lure of being silent in the woods as a bow hunter. Today, the thought of killing a buck deer or bull elk for sport evokes only negative response. What has changed?
My late-wife’s father, Floyd, used to refer to animals large and small as “our little friends.” Today at 69 I know what he meant, largely I think due to the ‘conversion’ work in my life accomplished by remarkable Scottish Terriers. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve learned to see my Scottie companions as ‘persons’ of enormous dignity, intelligence, and character, and this discovery has changed fundamentally the way I now see myself. I’ve found in their eyes deep truth of brotherhood in the circle of life and that makes me relate to both myself and all living things differently. In addition, I’m learning daily the meaning of what Wes Jackson calls “becoming native to a place,” this place of the heart where I commune with donkeys and goats, cats and dogs, koi and crows, this physical place in the high desert of New Mexico I’ve chosen as my own and to which I’ve surrendered myself allowing it to own me.
Perhaps that’s what the road to 69 is all about: becoming native to a place and, more fundamentally, to oneself, such that we replace restlessness with roots and find peace in knowing who we are and where we belong.
It is said that by my age each of us has earned our face. I’m not worried about my lines and wrinkles. I only hope those who see me will think, “He’s looking more and more like his dogs!”
Joseph Harvill, publisher of Great Scots Magazine