Today is the last day I get to be "up to speed" (55 years old)--tomorrow I start exceeding the speed limit when I become a tetrahedral 56. I have a lot of friends who feel a bit sobered around their birthdays, thinking about growing older and all the things we lose with age. And thoughts of impending mortality loom for many people around the time of their birthdays.
I can appreciate that at many levels, but I'm like a little kid when it comes to my birthday--I'm always excited anticipating November 11! And for those of you who are younger than me, dreading the very thought of the fifties, it really isn't so bad. While I was 55, I camped with Photon by ourselves in the Wichita Mountains and had an absolutely splendid time. If I couldn't keep up with the athletic and youthful Joe Grzybowski as he climbed the rocky hills like a mountain goat doing his Black-capped Vireo work, well Joe's youthfulness is clearly not a matter of age since I'm pretty sure he's a bit older than me.
This year I got to go to two national wildlife refuges that I've always yearned to see but had never been to before--the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. During this past year I've also gone to Costa Rica and Guatemala.
I got to meet and spend time with my biggest fan in the universe. And (thanks to that dear, dear Bird Chick), I have a photo of the wonderful Scott Weidensaul holding my book! And I've a whole collection of dear friends holding it, too!
Of all the many wonderful things that happened this year, perhaps the most humbling and treasured moment was when Daryl Tessen called me and told me I was to receive the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology's Bronze Passenger Pigeon Award for "significant contributions to Wisconsin ornithology." I'm still floating on a high from that!
Of course the year had some very difficult patches--what year doesn't? My family woes have multiplied, but my dear sister Mary, who has been battling breast cancer for a decade now, is still on the planet. She and I came through plenty of disasters this year pretty much unscathed, and that's saying something. And fortunately, Russ and my kids are all doing well and we're doing a way better job of being a family than the one I came from. Russ's mom, my beloved mother-in-law, broke her pelvis a few weeks ago but she's home, walking with a cane now (and not putting much weight on it!) and recovering splendidly.
It was harder than I can say to give up my job this year--losing the income has been more difficult than I expected, and even worse was leaving a job I so treasured and which gave me such an outlet for sharing everything I love about birds. If not for that job, I'd have never started photographing and digiscoping, and would never have had a chance to get to know a lot of wonderful people, or to take some wonderful opportunities like my Guatemala trip. And some of my most treasured friendships today came about because of that job. For quite a while I despaired of ever finding anything again that could be nearly as wonderful an opportunity.
But guess what? You know that aphorism about when one door closes, another opens? It looks like a BIG door might be opening for me--a door that could easily make the coming year the best year of my life. So far.