I marked a milestone birthday this week, one which I’ll admit loomed large on the horizon for the past year. I dreaded turning thirty much more, which was twenty years ago. That age seemed portentous; it edged the corner into true adulthood and the requirement of shouldering responsibility. We had completed graduate school, and the great wide world beckoned. Turning 50 is more subtle. It has nothing to do with the aging process, or how I feel in the morning. It has more to do with the number. It’s bigger. It seems more serious, implying I’d better start taking stock of my life, without any backwards glances, because all I can do now is move forward, to you — know — what. The birthday cards I received when I was thirty still depicted celebrations: champagne, fireworks, sparkle. When you turn 50, people start giving you black birthday cards.
Which is okay. Who doesn’t look great in black? It goes with everything. Except, I began to wonder if I should be making a bucket list.
I do make lists. Grocery lists are very important, otherwise I’d wander aimlessly around the market, picking and choosing produce and interesting looking canned goods (ad enticement is everything), ending up with nothing to cook. I’m a big meal planner, and list each week’s menu, meticulously aligning items for purchase on the reverse side of the paper. I also make reading lists, because I’m afraid I’ll forget all the books I want to read. I’ve even gone so far as to poll friends on their recommended reading suggestions, in the hope it might broaden my perspective. I could never have imagined the volume and variety of responses I received. That list continues to grow.
These lists keep me organized, and so cannot be classified as a “bucket list,” one setting out activities (usually in the range of 101 to 10,000, according to the enormous number of websites devoted to the topic) which you intend to complete before your world goes completely black.
I had always understood one should compile such a list at a time when darkness seems imminent, or at least this was the message of director Rob Reiner’s movie, so it surprised me to learn that teenagers create bucket lists, too.
We were on the road early one morning a week ago, the first step toward fulfillment of Isabelle’s professed desire to climb a fourteener before she left Colorado for college. If this jargon isn’t in your vocabulary, all you need know is that a “14’er” is either a term of awe or endearment, depending upon whether you’re hiking up one, or stumbling down its trail. To qualify, a mountain peak must measure fourteen thousand feet above sea level. There are 53 such skyscrapers in Colorado, and considering that some climbers make a sport of bagging every peak, her request for one seemed reasonable.
Isabelle and her dad had determined the relatively nearby Gray’s Peak would be perfect for a first attempt, because it was on the Front Range, eliminating the need for a lengthy drive, and is twinned by an adjacent peak, Torrey’s, which may be ascended in the same day, depending on incoming weather, and how tired your legs are. The fact that a good friend lived close by, who offered a comfortable bed the evening before, along with dinner and a well-stocked wine cellar may have played a part in the choice for Dr. K, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether grapes or proximity factored more heavily.
The next morning, armed with microwave-warmed breakfast burritos, french press coffee and a bleary-eyed outlook, off we set. Accessing the beginning of the trail isn’t difficult; it’s a quick turn off I-70 heading west. The dilemmas began after the sharp left turn uphill, where the road immediately degenerates into a rocky, chasm-studded, unpaved jeeper on par with the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. The few websites I reviewed prior to our hike advised that this road was accessible by car, stating that a four-wheel drive wasn’t required, which didn’t explain what the small automobiles we found littering the sides of the road were doing, if it was so simple to access the trailhead. One site recommended that autos take their time to pick the best line up the road, as if ascending it were a new sort of extreme sport, so I surmised their owners were merely catching their breath, until an arm reached out of a small Honda and waved frantically at us. The young woman in the car appeared distraught, and we stopped to see if she needed help. She requested a ride to the trailhead.
Half an hour later, a bit jostled and less put together than when we had set out, we had reached it, having added another four young women to the group in the Suburban, plus the mother of one of them. All five newcomers (except for the mom), as it so happened, were setting off for college in the fall, and wished to climb a fourteener before they left the state. Apparently, ascending Gray’s Peak eminently fit the bill that day in August. At that point, I learned that bucket lists weren’t age dependent.
My problem with creating a bucket list is that, if there are too many items on it, I might never get out of the bucket.
What would happen if there were no list at all, and instead, you could recall special experiences and events from your life, creating a scrapbook of memories? That might alleviate disappointment, particularly if you couldn’t complete every item on the list, or if it turned out that it wasn’t all that wonderful to have parachuted out of a plane from ten thousand feet up, not to mention the sheer possibility of curtailing other items on the bucket list in doing so.
It gets even more worrisome. If you take up a new activity from the BIG list, must you become obsessed with it until it becomes a perfected accomplishment, or is it sufficient to make that attempt before you can cross it off the list? I “played” the clarinet for two weeks in sixth grade. Does that count? You can ask my music teacher and he’ll give you an earful on the subject.
As a writer, I collect memories. The best ones come from times I didn’t plan, things which just happened, or developed without any seeming human impetus. We cannot push the perfect day into being. From those memories, those experiences, I gather concepts, assigning meaning at times, at others, simply relishing that the event occurred without anyone driving it. From these fragments, I can create other worlds.
I hadn’t looked forward to climbing a 14’er again; I’d done those in my twenties. Even so, I wanted to be a part of Isabelle’s experience. Sitting atop Gray’s Peak, all of its 14,270 feet up, I admired the undulating waves of granite, carpeted with a soft green, one valley over. Below us, there were many other mountains, many peaks which we’d driven past in our rush to get to the next destination. I felt a bit closer to them, seeing their majesty from a different perspective. For that brief spate of time, we sat, nibbling Cliff bars, saying little, enjoying each other’s company. It was a beautiful experience,
Which is why, finally, at 50, I’m satisfied and happy. I’ve found great meaning in my collections, and can only watch with anticipation as the future unfolds. It doesn’t appear black at all, only rosy-hued, tinged with gold.
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