Thoughts on turning sixty

I am discretely tucking this away as an additional page to the birding blog as it will probably simply induce a yawn in most people … read or ignore as you wish, assuming that you find it at all.

This week (it is earlyish September 2008) I am having to face up to the fact that I am now statistically past the halfway mark as I reach the age of sixty. Twenty and thirty didn’t count, forty was a small bump in the road, fifty mostly passed under the radar but this is going to be a big one. Still fit enough to pursue the things I enjoy and bright enough to continue my profession but that won’t last for ever I suppose even if it does, one hopes and earnestly expects, last at least another twenty some years … having seen elderly relatives lose their faculties, I have no wish to follow them.

Life lessons learned No. 1 : Cats are good, have lots.

I earn my living in a very abstruse and rarified branch of the biomedical sciences but I still think of myself as fundamentally what I started out as – a biologist. Consequently, I am acutely aware of the very obvious fact that large swathes of the planet are disappearing under glossy condo units while the atmosphere thickens, habit destruction reduces places for critters to be critters and the wildlife that I took for granted as an enquiring kid in fifties England (when the sun always shone, right?) is getting harder to find almost everywhere. I have little faith in the people who run this world to do anything to stop the decline other than mouth platitudes so I am just happy to say that at least there were still some birds around while I was here to enjoy them.

Life lessons learned No. 2 : Don’t be boring.

Why no faith in things being turned around? Two reasons; firstly that people are still breeding like rabbits despite the limited resources available to support us and show few signs of stopping except in those societies where people tend to be wealthy and educated at which point they turn their energies from breeding to conspicuous consumption. So we need less people – and soon. Barring a couple of wars or plagues it won’t be soon enough. Secondly, I have been listening to an interview on the radio with a leading primatologist who has concluded that in all primate species studied, even the kindest, gentlest, most caring alpha-males occasionally need to throw their weight around and beat up someone further down the totem pole – even if they have done nothing to deserve it – just to show the group who’s the boss. Primates are, he says, hard wired to do this and we are primates too. Bush, Mugabe, Harper and Putin – what else need I say?

Life lessons learned No. 3 : Get over it.

All of which is really rather depressing. We “old” guys naturally want to leave some sort of legacy and regretfully mine will be pretty small. I don’t intend to be hypocritical because I am honestly not going to give up too many of the comforts I have worked long and hard to aquire in order to offset the greater sins of, to take a couple of egregious examples, the profiteers of the Alberta oil-sands, the wannabe-drillers in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the stupid, stupid fools in Malaysia who destroyed their mangrove swamps to create rice fields and were then (surprise!) swamped by tidal surges … etc. Make your own list. I haven’t had kids, though, that counts quite a lot on the ledger.

What I can do, however, is to keep gardening and growing stuff that atttracts birds and butterflies; keep watching wildlife and enthusing about it to everyone who shows a glimmer of interest; not voting for politicians who think every wetland is a prime site for a high-rise waterside development with lakeside views and generally thinking good thoughts. There are organisations out there who fight the good fight – The Canadian Nature Conservancy and the RSPB in Britain, for example. Habitat destruction is the enemy, that’s why a significant chunk of whatever is left of my inheritance will go to groups that can buy-up sensitive land and keep it out of the hands of the bad guys.

Life lessons learned No. 4 : Time spent watching birds is never wasted.

Finally, a quote I recently came across is apposite. It was attributed to Maurice Chevalier who simply noted that getting old is no fun until you think of the alternative.

Enough. Life is a lot of fun yet and Canada is the best place we have found to live it … so long as they don’t cut down too much more of the boreal forests.