Jan. 31 will be an important milestone for me. On that day I will be 91. Now, I’m aware that, although it’s an astronomical age by any previous standards, 91 is almost humdrum now. That doesn’t stop it being a daily miracle for me, of course: when I was growing up in the industrial north of England people typically died in their 60s, often much earlier. If they made it to their mid-70s it was as though they had beaten the system.
Four years ago I tried to express my wonderment at becoming so ancient by writing a book, called “87 And Still Wandering About.” I’m inexpressibly grateful for having made it so much further since then. However, there is another element this year. It’s this: two years ago a title for a new book came to mind that intrigued me so much that I felt I had to write a book to fit it. I needn’t tell you this is not how it’s supposed to work. The universal law is that you write something, then sum it up in a pithy title. Logical, yes?
But the tail was so keen to wag the dog in this case that I set about writing a series of short pieces, each with a photograph, that could be brought together under one heading. And since almost every day I am still wandering about, mostly on the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains, I had a theme: the musings of an old guy about the outdoors. It had the added poignancy that year by year those outdoors, the source of some of humanity’s most inspired thoughts, are shrinking almost everywhere as the world’s population grows and living standards rise.
So I wrote and wrote, clicked and clicked, and a year ago came out with the book. Its title: “90 And Not Dead Yet.” I hope you like it. It had one obvious disadvantage, of course: it wouldn’t look good if I died within a year. Supposing all those people were right who believed human life is watched over by temperamental gods who can crush any uppityness without batting an immortal eyelid.
After all it’s not just primitive tribes who think like that: so did the most sophisticated classical Greeks. Shakespeare had a devastating phrase for it: the gods, one of his characters says, “kill us for their sport.” Even today who is quite free of crackpot superstitions?
But I couldn’t give it up. I think of it as my vote in the everlasting debate of reason versus emotion. So far, I’m pleased to report, there have been no thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus. Even so, perhaps I’d better not dig out the champagne (that’s to say, Trader Joe’s Prosecco) until midnight on the 30th.