Intimations of mortality

You can have it all. You’d just better be prepared to work very hard.

Clouds over Teslin Lake, Yukon Territory, by Carol L. Douglas. We did some icy camping here.

I recently was rejected from a residency I really wanted, in Gates of the Arctic National Park. (Rejection is how these things roll, so don’t worry about my feelings.) I’ve spent three months doing intensive training to ensure I could backpack my gear in the mountains. While I don’t think they discriminated on the basis of age, I will always wonder if it was a factor. Sixty-year-olds, in conventional wisdom, are not fit enough to climb mountains north of the Arctic Circle.

My physical therapist saw no reason I couldn’t meet the demands of the residency, as long as I worked hard, which I have. Not being chosen changes nothing in my fitness routine. Two of the other residencies I’ve applied to are also remote and arduous. And I have plans to paint in Scotland in May and in Patagonia next March. I don’t want my body to be a barrier to success.
This is the northernmost place I’ve ever painted, just a few miles from Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Meanwhile, I watch with some stupefaction as some of my peers move to senior living, take early retirement, or capitulate to the crippling disorders of a sedentary lifestyle. I feel good and I’m not bored. Why would I not want to keep rolling?
There have been at least four times in my life when I’ve been closer to death than I am today. (If I’m wrong about that, enjoy a hearty laugh at my expense.) The first was as a teen, when I did something so monumentally stupid that I could have killed both myself and my horse. The second was when I had an undiagnosed cancer that metastasized. The third and fourth times were when I hemorrhaged after surgery.
Another friend is 52. She’s stuck working because she’s an indispensable cog in the family business. When I said I had no interest in retirement, she was gobsmacked. “But why?” she asked. “You only have two more years!” (Actually, I have almost seven more years until I can take so-called “full retirement,” but that’s irrelevant.)
Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. This is at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery until May 24.
It turns out that she doesn’t really want to retire; she wants to write books instead of keeping them. That’s a career change, and it’s something I heartily endorse.

Young readers, you’ll reach not one but many forks in the road. At each juncture, you can choose between security and risk. If you’re not courageous enough to take risks at 20, 30, or 40, when are you going to develop courage?

Choices don’t end when you enter the work force. I know many fine artists and musicians who combine their work with careers and/or child-rearing. Sometimes, however, people can only make drastic changes after their pension kicks in.

I have a student right now who is a retired Army officer. She went to art school in her youth but chose a military nursing career. Since retiring, she pours her energies into being the best painter she can be. Because she’s dedicated, she’s succeeding. And I bet it keeps her young long after her peers have subsided into their final rest.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas. This is at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery until May 24.
I have two paintings in the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center Residents Exhibit at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, 97 Main Street, Belfast, ME. The show runs until May 24, with artist talks on Friday, May 24 at 5 PM. I hope you have a chance to stop and see this work.