It’s snowing. Seattle is getting hit by two storms. First there is snow, even enough to warrant midwest levels of snowplowing. Next comes wind, according to the forecast, enough wind to topple trees and snap powerlines. The worst of the sea level snow is south of Whidbey. The worst of the sea level winds are north of Whidbey. My neighborhood will get a bit of both. I mention sea level because the mountains claim the extremes. I’ve been voluntarily snowbound for three days. My mini-vacation has proved to me that I enjoy being a writer and a photographer. Such revelations can sound trivial and yet can define a life, and are definitely treasured in retirement.
I enjoy snow. I was raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Our street led up to the main road on a ridge and ended at a dead-end near the bottom of a valley. We kids learned how to push cars and how to sit on trunk lids adding weight to give rear wheel cars better traction, counter to recommended practice, proper safety, or parental approval. The road was steep enough that the snow plows and salt trucks would skip our street, though our snowball barrages may have had something to do with their avoidance. I do recall one snowball finding an open cab window during one storm. Not so nice in retrospect. At least it wasn’t me. My aim wasn’t that good. I did know that I enjoyed being in the snow making snowmen, building forts, and sledding in the backyard.
In the first few years after I graduated from college and joined Boeing’s workforce I enjoyed watching winter, but didn’t get much of it in Seattle’s maritime climate, and mainly dealt with it as a commuter’s nuisance. After going back to Virginia Tech to get my masters I returned to Seattle and found time to discover hiking and its winter version in cross country skiing. I wasn’t wearing lycra and speeding along a groomed track. I took skis and used them as long, skinny snowshoes. I enjoyed getting to the pass early and exploring untouched new snow – and when I turned around I’d find that others followed my tracks because it was easier than making their own trail. My outdoor activities defined my leisure activities and identity, and I unexpectedly met new people.
Retiring questions identity. Retiring early can result in a very confused identity. Most people identify themselves by their work. Their job title is part of their introduction. For years I was an engineer. My other hobbies might get mentioned if the conversation went on long enough, but that basic paycheck identity was my primary ID. The job label continued to stick for the first few years of retirement, but after a while it faded. Retired is a fine label for people who are over sixty, but early retirees aren’t readily given that option. The most frequent response to describing myself as retired or even semi-retired was; “You’re not old enough.” I’d rebut that retirement is based on finance, not chronology, but engrained social norms aren’t easily dislodged by simple logic.
About fourteen years ago, about the time I retired, I started celebrating my birthday by taking a ski vacation. There’s a resort called Silver Star above Canada’s Okanagan valley. They had a great mix of cross country trails, effectively two half mile mountains, and everything was ski-in/ski-out. I enjoyed it (though less every year as they turned trails and slopes into condo villages), but it couldn’t define me. Maybe if I was luxuriously retired (part of the 1%) I could have become a ski bum, but I was frugally retired, which meant one very good trip per year. Regular readers know that my recent finances (Triple Whammy) put my retirement to a test. This year I skipped the trip and haven’t even paid for the snow park pass that’s required for the local trails because I am not willing to pay the gas and ferry fees.
I needed my winter vacation though, so I decided to take a few days at home and act as if I was in the resort, without the skiing. Then the weather forecast came in. We had a storm coming our way. My excuse for staying home was buttressed by weather.
Yesterday my neighborhood had a forecast of about four inches of snow as a prelude to the storm. We got that eventually. It was also the day for a King Tide, an abnormally high tide. Washington State sponsored a King Tide Initiative that encouraged people to photograph the high tide as a baseline for tracking sea rise from global warming. I got out the camera, hit the beach in the snow and lent a hand to conservation.
On the way back I realized that I still enjoyed winter, but despite taking a day off from my writing and photography work, my first inclination was to go out and take pictures in the snow, and then come home to write about it. I did that because it was what I wanted to do, not because it was expected of me. As a friend said last summer, people know me as an artist now. I hadn’t aimed for it, but that’s where I am, and evidently it fits.
I know several folks who are retiring. Some expect to do nothing. Others are frantically reaching for new labels to wear. When I retired I taught karate, and I hiked, and I skied, and I bicycled, and took care of the house, and I took care of the investments. Eventually I started writing books and respecting my photography. Every step along that path has given me the opportunity to wear different labels. I’m glad that I didn’t tattoo any of them on my forehead. Sensei/outdoorsman became writer/photographer. Maybe writer/photographer becomes speaker/consultant. I started by doing what I enjoyed and that life continues to lead me better than if I’d aimed for where I am today.
Today’s forecast is for the main part of the storm, but it looks like the worst will hit south of here. Tomorrow’s wind storm is tomorrow’s story. It is snowing heavily enough that I can’t see the mile or so across the bay. Later I’ll go for a walk, or a ski; but swirling snow can coat lenses. It isn’t a photographer’s day. It is a good day to stay indoors and work on this blog and my next book. It is writer’s weather, and I am a writer – for now.