What's Tony Thinking

An Especially Happy Birthday


As some of you know, Friday August 5 was my 74th birthday. Thanks for the greetings and good wishes from many of you. As it turned out, it was an especially memorable and truly happy birthday. (That said, I confess to finding birthdays arbitrary and my age a real surprise; “I’m 74 — Egads! Can that possibly be true? Has there been some mistake made?” “No, sir, no mistake. Suck it up, you’re one of the lucky ones.”)

On August 5 I clambered out of a tent a little after six (having gone to bed at 8:00). We were camped at one of the Wallowa’s High Lakes. We being my son, Nick, and his two older kids, Levi, 10, (photo right) and Lila, 7.

It was the third and final day of our backpacking trip, one that took us into the Wallowas from the east side on the Tenderfoot Trail to Bonney Lakes, then over the 8,500′ Dollar Pass, before descending to Aneroid Lake and then back down to the Wallowa Lake trailhead and the cabin. My second backpacking trip in 8 days. Little stiff last night, but overall good.

The kids did great covering the fifteen miles and carrying their own packs, most of the time. Last winter I celebrated skiing with my grandchildren. This summer it is backpacking. I am a very lucky man.


We got back from the hike mid-afternoon. After cleaning up we headed to the best restaurant in Joseph, Oregon, “The Gold Room,” famous for its wood-fired pizza with wonderful “locally-sourced” ingredients. Levi and his younger sister, Olive (4), walked their new dog, Ruby, around the outside dining area, working the crowd with their high combined “cuteness” factor.

From there we went to the Opening Reception for the annual “Into the Wild” Exhibit at the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture. This year’s theme is “The Imnaha,” the deep valley to our east where the Joseph band of the Nez Perce spent winters sheltered from the extreme weather up above. It is a unique landscape of steep ridges and deep valleys, largely open country and grazing land.

I have two pieces in the Josephy exhibit. Some of you have asked to see them, so here you go! The first is called, “Geometries of Light.” It is based on a photo I took at the Buckhorn Lookout, looking into the Imnaha Canyon lands beyond. The sun was upper right creating bold lines on the closer forested hill, and stark geometric shapes on the ridges and valleys beyond.

The second is titled “Sunset on the Imnaha,” and is more in the remembered image category from a river-rafting trip on the Imnaha many years ago. Plus a recent photograph that prompted the memory.

The sunset colors of blue, gold and peach were mirrored in a stretch of the river below us on the drive back. This reproduction cuts off the bottom 20%. Someone smarter than me would know how to fix that.

When I “retired” (my definition of “retirement” is “when someone sends you money for not showing up”), I really had no hobbies. I had been consumed by work and family, and the latter sometime got the short end of the stick, as too often happens in clergy families.

Moreover, and truth to tell, I had been a bit judgy about “hobbies,” thinking them somehow frivolous. I could admire a model train set up filling someone’s entire basement or the fruits of someone’s passion for breeding exotic pet rabbits, but I couldn’t quite fathom why anyone would actually do these things. But I’ve been wrong about quite a few things. I recall the line of H. Richard Niebuhr who observed that, “We are generally right about the things we affirm — and generally wrong about about those that we deny.” I think he went on to say that most often the things we “deny” are because we don’t understand them. That was me about hobbies.

But something I read about retirement changed my mind. The author counseled taking up something new, or relatively so, in retirement. An activity that you could get better at, say tennis, but that you would never be the best because even if you had amazing gifts, you didn’t have enough time on your side. So you were freed from striving/ competing to enjoy the thing in itself.

I kind of happened into downhill skiing as the side benefit of buying a car. Painting and drawing I had done a bit before. I have gotten better at both. And I will never be anywhere close to great or even really good at either. But that’s not the point. The point is getting a little better and enjoying the thing in itself.

So this happy birthday, and it was one, was full of gifts: the presence of family, Linda and one of her magnificent pies, friends at the reception and sharing it all with three of the grandkids.





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