When I was much younger, say, in my twenties or even in my thirties, I never envisioned that my husband, Clif, and I would be living the way we do now. In truth, I didn’t dwell too much on our elder years, but if pressed, I would have guessed that by the time we had reached the ages we are now—early and late fifties—we would be living in a happy little world of travel, meals out, movies, and plays. Maybe not world travel. Maybe not even cross-country travel. But I thought we’d at least be zooming around the Northeast some of the time and hitting the road in Maine a lot of the time, stopping here and there to sample fish and chips, donuts, lobster rolls, and various other Maine delicacies.
But what a difference twenty or thirty years make. Who would have thought that gas would be nearly $3 a gallon? Or that lunch at most restaurants would be well over $10 a person? Lunch! Or that in 2010, we would spend nearly as much on groceries for two people as we did for five people in 1995? And the final important piece, that salaries would not rise accordingly?
Directly related to all of this, of course, are the big problems that were simmering in the 1970s and 1980s, which have, if you’ll pardon the expression, come to a boil. Overpopulation, peak oil, and climate change are a trio that can no longer be ignored. The melting of the glaciers and the ice in the Arctic and Greenland is happening much faster than anyone anticipated. To the unhappy trio above, we can add loss of habitat, mass extinctions, droughts, and extreme water shortages. Truly, at times it makes me sick at heart to think of the world we are leaving future generations.
So, how has this affected two ordinary, aging boomers living in Winthrop, Maine? While we realize that policy changes are desperately needed, that change must happen on a global and national level, we also believe that we should do what we can in our personal lives, however small the impact. First of all, we are deeply committed to only having one car. We can do this because I work at home and live within walking and biking distance of our small town. Second, we question every nonessential trip we make, which means that most of our spare time is pretty much spent in Winthrop. Gone are the days when we flit here and there just for fun. (We make exceptions for family and friends, whom we consider absolutely essential.) Fortunately, Winthrop is a lovely town filled with lakes and ponds. Unfortunately, there are not many cultural events. But, the older we get, the less it takes to entertain us, so most of the time this isn’t an issue. Nevertheless, thank God for Netflix and the public library. I could go on about other changes—not using heat unless the house is colder than 62°F; only using the clothes dryer in emergencies; weaning ourselves from paper towels—but I’m sure you get the idea. We are certainly not the perfect “green team”—there is plenty more we should do—such as adding more insulation to the attic—but we sure are trying to live an environmentally responsible life.
With all these losses, it would be tempting to focus on how narrow our lives have become. Yet Clif and I are not doing this. (At least not most of the time.) Instead, to borrow from Rocky, a character in the Britcom As Time Goes By, we focus on what we can do. We can ride our bikes along Memorial Drive, a relatively flat road that goes along lovely Marancook Lake. We can go to the fish chowder luncheon held once a month at the Congregational Church in town. In the summer, we can sit on the patio and be surrounded by flowers and birds and whirring insects. We can host potluck lunches and movie nights and have family and friends over for brunch and dinner. I can make bread and crackers. Clif can make waffles and pancakes. We can go to the farmers’ market and buy wonderful food.
A narrow life, yes, but a strangely rich one, too. It really is funny the way things have turned out.