Monday, July 27, 2009

The ageing gardener

I’m at the age where it’s probably appropriate to start to think about the disposition of my goods so-to-speak. And while I don’t expect a precipitating event to occur any time soon, my sense of what old age really means has changed a lot in recent years. By “really means” what I mean is the distinction between being alive on the one hand and on the other hand being a full participant in life. Although from a perspective which takes into account only health issues, there is every reason to believe that I’ll live a lot longer, I now realize that simply being alive does not count for all that much. I’m paying a lot more attention to the lives lived by otherwise healthy older people lately, and the one thing I notice is that we experience a huge drop off in physical activity as we age.

Should I live a long time longer, and should my mind still function reasonably well, I probably won’t be doing much but sitting and reminiscing. Evidently, even for those lucky enough to retain their memory, the process of recollection even slows down. I remember hearing someone on the radio describing the adaptations needed to deal with an elderly parent: the one which fascinated me the most had to do with recall. The speaker told the story of visiting her elderly father and, at one point in the conversation, asking him a question. He did not answer. But the next day, when she was visiting him again and having another conversation, he unexpectedly and spontaneously blurted out the answer to her question of the day before.

This elderly person gave on the first day the impression that he had lost his memory. But it was not his memory which was faulty, it was the recall process. And it was not really faulty, it had just slowed down. The data were still on the disk, but there was so much else on the disk that it took longer to evoke it.

So what does this have to do with gardening? Well, for one thing, I’ve collected a lot of plants and a lot of books over the years. If I wait too long to disperse these, it will never happen with my participation. So it has occurred to me that the time to do this is before I lose both the energy to do it and the wit to do it gracefully.

That’s in another forty years, right?

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