When I was young and invincible I saw an old farmer sitting on the tailgate of his pickup counting out ears of fresh picked sweet corn. We made small talk, and I remember him saying he still worked just as hard as he ever did but didn’t get nearly as much done. I’m not sure why his comment stuck with me but it has, and now decades later I can totally relate.
Lee and I have been busy this spring with a long list of chores and have actually made noticeable and satisfying progress. On any given day we start when we’re ready and quit when we’ve had enough. The hours we spend are a fraction of what we once put in but we’re okay with it. We feel no pressure to maximize productivity, our health is good enough, we have each other, a fine property. Who really deserves something this good? Regardless of how hard a person works and plans there is no shortage of ways to see a lifetime of effort snuffed out and what you have in the end boils down to luck, good or bad. We try to shift the odds in our favor but never is there an iron clad guarantee.
Retirement is a uniquely human experience. The vast majority of animals never get a taste of the golden years. Those raised as livestock are often taken out in their prime, and their wild counterparts are weaned from existence at the first sign of weakening. Even the most long lived wild species are never absolved of their responsibility to fend for themselves, to find food and suitable habitats. The family dog is an exception, if it finds itself in a loving home. A dog is essentially born into a splendid retirement. It only needs to adhere to a few basic commands to be showered with love and praise, fed religiously, provided health care, released from domestic responsibilities and forgiven a host of transgressions. It lives the good life from day one.
We had freakish weather around Earth Day, dangerously cold for emerging plants. We went to some effort to cover and insulate strawberries in full bloom and numerous vegetables that we should have waited to plant. Some things, like a giant peach tree ablaze with pink flowers, we could do little for, so we waited and watched for the certain damage that would follow two successive nights of temps in the mid 20’s. But incredibly, the flowers were unscathed. The delicate petals survived by adjusting their solutes, proteins, and membrane lipids to withstand desiccation and ice crystal formation, or were witness to an act of divine intervention, or a bit of both.
I opened the door to a mid April morning and was greeted by a fresh snow covering and abundant bird song. A bit of inclimate weather fails to overrule the influence of swollen gonads and the urge to establish territories. The machinery driving natural processes is not easily altered or interrupted. It takes something big like an asteroid impact or massive volcanic eruption to shake things up on a broad scale, and these things happen, but rarely. Or the same life altering disturbance can occur insidiously over a couple centuries, driven by something subtle, say a small shift in atmospheric compounds.
Earth Day came and went with many of the same declarations and warnings that have been aired for decades. This year, on the day we celebrate our reverence for the planet, there were, give or take, 150 species of plants and animals lost to extinction, over three billion tons of glacial ice lost to melting, and over 80000 acres of rainforests intentionally burned, all while we emitted over 90 million metric tons of CO2.
Life goes on, and lucky people and lucky dogs retire while millions more work and plan and look to find hope in a better future. And many find hope has to be rooted in action, that demanding change is the only way hope can exist, that persuading others to recognize, support, and contribute to remedying the climate crisis reigns supreme. Relying on luck assures a bad outcome, and everyone has a role, even and especially those of us beyond our most productive years, those responsible for the mess, who did not follow through on Earth Day proclamations in the past. We can still get it done.