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Chop, chop

The vagaries of life constantly amaze me. The myth of self-control in your life (or any control at all) notwithstanding, our path throughout life oft times mimics an oak leaf in the late fall winds: dancing, darting, swirling, spiraling, and just unpredictably tumbling through the air, landing nowhere near where expected. And even once on the ground, capricious winds result in more time spent moving from place to place than actually resting. My take on this is that you simply cannot fully prepare yourself for life has in store.

That is not to say we should throw our hands into the air and hopelessly surrender; rather, it means we should absorb as much knowledge as possible to prepare ourselves for whatever comes our way. An example might be that if you hate the outdoors and despise the woods, and have no idea how to navigate a trail or start a fire because you have absolutely zero intent on ever stepping foot into the woods – you’d best learn at least something about it because there are even odds that life will someday stick you into that situation.

And I am certainly not saying you shouldn’t plan your desired path for your future. We need to plan, we need to dream, and we need to chase after what we want. And as random and unpredictable as life is, you have every chance of ending up where you wanted after all. But that’s not to say that you won’t take some wild twists and turns along the way! While we can’t plan for those departures, we can make sure that we have our life’s toolbox as fully stocked and ready for as many contingencies as possible. Like a good Scout – be prepared.

But that is not enough, not enough by a long shot. What is overwhelmingly more important than a fully stocked life’s toolbox is the need to be adaptable. If you are rigid – mentally, emotionally, or spiritually – you don’t stand a chance at traversing life with any level of comfort. We are all likely familiar with the tree analogy and it is, perhaps, a bit tired, but it is so valid and relevant. Some trees bend under heavy wind, bowing and bending to the force; those that do not bend, break – they snap and break due to their unyielding nature.

I retired two years and seven months ago – tentatively, timidly – hoping it was the right decision at the right time. I hadn’t even made a year before COVID hit and I have been essentially trapped since, with only intermittent respites from the repercussions of the virus. For many, the impact was far less, but with my wife having asthma, and later with my daughter being pregnant, I was forced to be far more cautious and sheltered than many others. We wiped down our groceries for almost a year. We didn’t enter a restaurant, even for outdoor dining, for over a year. We didn’t travel for over a year and half.

I didn’t lay out any hardline plans when I retired; they were all thoughts and ideas – soft plans without a schedule or agenda. I planned to hike, to metal detect, to hunt arrowheads again, to be there for my family, and to travel – at least a little. I wasn’t ever really interested in taking off for weeks on end to see this or that. But I was interested in short trips: fly to New Mexico Monday and fly home maybe Thursday; another week fly to Arkansas on a Sunday and Home on Wednesday for example. Take a train to Niagara Falls and spend four or five days there. Short hops here and there. We were already doing two- and three-day trips to the Cape and Salem so I just wanted to expand on that a bit.

 That never happened of course – COVID interruptus. And every time you think it might finally be your moment, another wave, another variant comes along. And I am tired of it. I mean I did everything I was supposed to do: wore a mask, sanitized, stayed home, socially distanced, got vaccinated, got my booster. I did it all. Yet now the latest variant has everyone in a panic once again – it’s all the news wants to talk about and the stock market is acting as if it is the end of days. All without a single case in the US yet.

Yes – I know it will come and being prepared is helpful. But this fear-mongering is getting out of control. No one knows much about it for certain yet, but turn on any news station and you will find dozens of doctors and scientists willing to be interviewed on their thoughts on how virulent this new variant is. Note: I said “thoughts”. Because without a single shred of data or research on this completely new variant, there is no shortage of media-hungry people willing to just stand in front of the camera and speak like they know something about a variant that they actually know nothing about. Ratings – commercials – money. A simple equation.

The little data emerging so far is that this variant is highly contagious, more so than its predecessors. Early data seems to indicate, so far, that it is also far less deadly than the previous variants. Time will tell, but one has to wonder what this virus will do next. We already know what the influenza-A and -B viruses have done: they mutate annually to present a slightly different variant that requires, or suggests anyway, everyone getting a flu shot every year. Rather highly contagious and relatively innocuous to most of the population, it has become just another minor obstacle in our daily lives. Of course, we have had flu seasons where 80,000-100,000 people have died from the virus in the US, recently. But we’ve grown to accept it and really pay little attention to it.

It is likely that COVID will follow suit. A virus strives to live and to replicate. So first off, every time a roadblock is thrown in front of a virus, it mutates. And one has to consider that at least some of the current mutations of COVID are due to the vaccine. It is what they do, when confronted with something that inhibits their ability to thrive and replicate, they mutate to get around it. This is not to say that the vaccine is a bad thing! It of course, is not!!

But…I believe it is the reason we are seeing all the mutations of COVID. But I also believe that each time it mutates, it loses a bit of its potency. This is not science here, merely an opinion. I have no data to support this. But I think much like influenza-A and -B, who have mutated to a tolerable annoyance to most of the world, that COVID will follow suit. And it actually makes sense – what virus would want to kill off all the hosts? That would be self-destructive behavior and quite uncharacteristic of a virus.

None the less, my own postulating along with the so-called experts aside, this new variation likely means more worry for my family’s well-being and yet another extension of moving through life with caution and restraint. And were I a majestic oak, I might have broken by now. This would have been difficult while working, but manageable. But as a brand-new retiree, it has truly placed a strain on me. Yeah, I know – “poor Bob” – retired and living well and can’t go to Salem…”boo-hoo”. I understand that this is not life-altering in the largest sense. But I worked my tail off for 45 years to reach this point. And some of that was hot, dirty, hard work while other parts of it were extremely stressful. It took a toll and I looked upon that toll as payment in full for a happy and fulfilling retirement. I am put off by this and I can’t help how I feel. But I, of course, persevere and hold hope that there is still pleasant retirement ahead in my future – just delayed a little by this virus.

In the meantime, I continue my yardwork – I split wood today for a few hours and it was quite enjoyable – far less taxing than the 80–90-degree days a couple of short months ago. The chilly temperatures (high 30’s and low 40’s) made for a slow start but I was sweating before too long and really enjoyed the exercise. And I added more wood to my stockpile. As you may recall if you are one of my regular readers, I bought a load of log-length wood a while back. I bought it for emergency back-up should we end up having a tough winter, but also because I about out of wood to cut and split, which is part of how I try to keep myself in shape.

But shortly after buying the wood, my neighbor popped into my driveway asking if I wanted some firewood. They had taken down a huge oak on her property and had left her with all the wood. She had it piled up mostly out of sight so I didn’t know she had it. Her father had come for a visit and together they cut up a lot of the lengths, which is when she decided to ask me if I wanted it. I jumped on that offer right away and hauled it all back to my splitting area (which was one heck of an exhausting day as it was over a quarter-mile trip with each load).

So I went from no wood to split to almost too much wood! (Not that you can ever had too much wood). As a result, I have all piles of wood waiting to be split. So much so that I had to get four new pallets and bring them down to where I split my wood for an overflow storage area; first time ever for me to stack and store wood down there. It’ll stay there (and grow as I split through the winter) until either I run out of wood in my two primary storage areas or until next spring/summer when it is time to restock the primary storage areas. Really, it’s all good to me.

I will admit that for a moment or two today, I began to wonder, for the first time, how long into my life I’ll be able to split wood. I am close to 66 years old now and while it is hard work, it is still enjoyable work; work I am still perfectly able to do. But a typical log of oak is, depending upon the diameter, between 60-90lbs. Each piece needs to be moved to be split, usually multiple times, so that adds up to a fair amount of lifting for each splitting session. And my splitting maul is 8lbs and that adds up fast as well. I generally don’t stop splitting due to being tired, unless it’s a 90-degree day and even then, it’s the heat, not the effort, that wears me out – not my age. But someday that will change. And when it does, I will bend as I need to so as to adapt to life. Bend, don’t break dear reader, and stay well!!

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