So much emphasis is put on staying young in our culture. People reach age milestones and they panic because they feel they are getting old. They search for the fountain of youth and products to make them look and feel younger. What ever happened to aging gracefully and enjoying our golden years?
In the past couple of years, the area we live in and the home we live in have reached milestones. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th anniversary 2 years ago. The Blue Ridge Parkway celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, and our home, The Windover Inn Bed & Breakfast had its 100th birthday. This year it’s the 75th Anniversary of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in the Pisgah National Forest and a century since The Windover Inn’s first guest! These milestones reminded me how seldom people want to celebrate their later year milestones. It’s made me take stock of what my own aging means, and to notice how much alike the aging process and it’s impact is for all living and even nonliving things.
For example, when I take in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains and their forests, I can’t help but think of how it was almost bare in the 1930’s when logging companies had stripped the mountains and how it’s now lush with a whole new generation of forest. The natural cycle of life is very visible in the forest, especially this time of year with less foliage to hide its experiences. You can see new saplings growing everywhere among the thick rugged trunks of strong, massive trees, and the trees that have fallen to the ground, not strong enough to withstand the storms because they’re old and brittle, or weakened by disease. As you walk through large rhododendron canopies along trails, you’ll see some vibrant green plants with buds waiting for Spring to release their beauty, some others budless, but still standing tall in their duty of shading the trail, and some skeletons of what they once were bending over 3 feet high specimens almost as if to welcome the new plants that will take their place.
When I think of our house and its history, it seems like it too has a cycle of life. Almost torn down in 1981 after over 5 years of being empty and uncared for, it had a rebirth when it was revived by the Steffens, and after further aging and weathering, underwent more cosmetic surgery inside by the Ferrees and outside by us within the past 7 years. It’s original strong foundation helped it survive, but hard work and TLC is what has kept it alive.
As I garden, I see new shoots of old plants and trees springing up everywhere this time of year and wildflowers never planted adding beauty and color to the landscape. The new growth sprouting out of the old, fallen willow tree we thought died last year, may be a sign she had other plans. I’ve been witness to how with the right medicine some of our hemlocks are now free of disease and healthy, while those too weak to fight lost their battle. And once in a while, I’ll even find the sprout of something found nowhere else in the garden, maybe a gift from a bird in flight, or mother nature’s winds, that reminds me the garden will go on with or without me – just differently.
Is our aging and weathering much different than the forest, our home or the garden? As I’m slowing down, all around me I see my children blooming, our grandchildren sprouting. A strong foundation of a healthy lifestyle in mind, body and spirit helps me to adjust to the weathering that could make me more brittle and vulnerable in a storm. And yes, none of it comes without hardwork and TLC. But most of all, I find comfort in the examples of how the forest and our old house were able to be restored, and how the life cycle continues on without us – just differently.