One of my favourite things is watching Ruth Goodman on TV. She's the kind of person I want for a friend. I want to work with her. She has taken the ordinary bits of history, the small things that make up regular life, and made them fascinating. I watch these shows or I read books about the last half of the 19th century and I feel almost as if I've come home.
I don't have an idolized view of that time period. I know it was hard labour, without the medical knowledge we have now or the conveniences we've come to see as necessities. Women were often isolated and overworked and undervalued. But there is something so appealing about it at the same time---working with your hands, connecting with the earth, providing your own basics, focusing on needs instead of being distracted by wants. You can sit down at the end of the day knowing you have accomplished something useful and of worth. You can see the connection between your labour and your life. Right now all I do is push paper around all day and sometimes I can't see the use of it all. Yes, I get a pay cheque, but I am not convinced it contributed anything worthwhile to the universe. I'm removed from any good I might be doing.
On the other hand, there is a back-to-the-land movement going on right now that rivals anything in the 60s. This time I think the movement is more thought-out and organized and will be more permanent (because it has to be, I think). Young people have an ideal that really is doable and based on values, not just a reaction to the dominant culture. I look at the great ecological projects and communities that are arising, and I want to be a full-fledged part of it. This is just what I've planned and prepared for all my life! Finally I find like-minded individuals. Except I'm getting too old and creaky to labour that hard physically. I'm closer to the sitting-by-the-fire period of my life than the go-into-the-woods-with-an-axe period.
The other day I was reading an article in the newspaper about a group of young people who are tackling the problem of the urban tree cover and forestry in general, and the thought came to me that the future is in pretty good hands. The younger generations have an interest in this stuff, some of them feel a calling to address environmental issues, and there is an awareness and will among them that is less visible in my generation.
The idea also occurred to me that these young people have a lot of knowledge and resources at their fingertips. People my age and older have put a lot of their knowledge into books and YouTube. I have learned and studied all my life, but the younger generation can learn from the same sources I did. They don't need me specifically in order to carry on. Which means I can sit by the fire and leave it in their hands with confidence. I don't know if this is a sad thought or a comforting one.
Then I catch myself thinking like this and tell myself, "You're 49, not 79. What's the matter with you? You still have 40 years left!" Except it doesn't feel that way. It's getting harder to get out of bed and get down the stairs every morning. Sometimes when I've been lying on the couch I can't sit up and stand; I have to roll off onto my hands and knees first and pull myself up to stand. There are days the dogs tow me around the block and I can hardly keep up with them, and I tire out before they do. But, granted, there are also days when I feel fine and get a ton accomplished with hardly a twinge. Those are the days I browse the real estate ads looking at acreage and daydreaming.
I guess I have to approach it with a different mindset. Sometimes there are days (not periods) for sitting by the fire, and there are days for plowing fields. And that's okay. I can feel good about both.