20121106-092331.jpgMARY’S MORNING REGIMEN

The other day Mary spoke of going through an “unsettled” state of being since returning from our two-and-one-half month bicycle ride. She has been caught off guard by the absence of a pre-determined agenda for each day. When you are riding from coast to coast you live the experience 24 hours per day. Almost everything you do is directed at the task at hand – making your miles. Once you reach your objective you are suddenly set free of the obligations and requirements that making your miles entailed and if you’re not careful that can feel like being adrift. Call it post-traumatic-ride (PTR) syndrome. I too know the feeling although not in this particular case. You see, I underwent extensive pre-retirement training on how to productively utilize free time when I was self-employed over the last eighteen years. As Rockman I worked like a demon during the summer and not at all during the winter. I became quite proficient at cultivating hobbies and outside interests. Mary, on the other hand, is only a year into her retirement and is a novice at this sort of thing.

There is nothing unusual about this shock of liberation from duty. Most retirees experience it in one form or another. What Mary is experiencing, however, is the double whammy of retirement and PTR syndrome. The reason so many us are caught off guard by retirement or PTR is our stubborn insistence in believing that there is some thing out there that is the answer to all that ails us. Once free of the drudgery or demands of a steady job, we imagine, life will be perfect. I call this the folly of the banana tree. It is a lesson that I have had to learn over and over.

As a small boy I lived on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. I must have been about five years old when I saw a television show that featured two young boys in India. I know I couldn’t have been older than five when this occurred because our family left the farm when I was five. Anyway, these two boys were having a conversation when one of them casually reached up and plucked a banana from a nearby tree and proceeded to eat the banana as the two talked. This scene is burned into my memory because at that time bananas were a rare treat in our household. I loved a good banana. Whenever my mother gave me a banana I yearned for more bananas. Watching those boys on TV was a revelation of sorts because I had never realized there are places in the world where bananas grow on trees and all you have to do to get a banana is pluck it from the tree. I remember sitting on the dock on the pond in front of our house that day formulating a plan to ask my father to plant several banana trees amongst the apple trees on our farm. I was convinced that I would be the happiest boy in the world if only we had banana trees from which I could eat my fill of ripe, bright yellow bananas.

Of course there were several obvious flaws in my childish wish, not the least of which is the unsuitability of banana trees to New York’s climate. But the most significant flaw in my thinking was the idea that any single thing would make my life perfect. Over the years I have replaced the banana tree with any number of false idols: a new bicycle, a high-school girlfriend, a cabin in the woods.

Believing in panaceas isn’t all bad. Having goals to strive for gives purpose to your days and keeps you out of trouble. The problem arises when you allow yourself to believe that reaching a particular goal is going to result in nirvana and it never does.

A cynic might conclude from this that there is no point in setting goals or even that life is meaningless. I emphatically disagree. Many goals I have pursued and after considerable effort attained – a college degree, marrying Mary, being self-employed, building my cabin in the woods, riding a bicycle cross-country – have produced long-lasting and significant returns that have greatly enhanced my enjoyment of life. But none of them has supplied the final solution, the end-all-to-be-all answer to my existence that I imagined that banana tree would. And that is the folly of the banana tree – banana trees like that simply don’t exist.

So while Mary grapples with PTR syndrome, I remind myself to keep my goals in perspective and harvest whatever I can from the day’s activites. Take this blog for example. I have really enjoyed writing this. You may have noticed that recent posts have only been tangentially about travel despite the blog’s title of “Chelan Traveler.” We hope to set off on another travel this winter but in the meantime, I can’t bear to sign off. Knowing that a few people out there are actually reading my musings satisfies something in me. Taking a fleeting thought and reassembling it into a coherent paragraph is a lot like taking a chunk of clay and fashioning it into a sculpture.

Another small goal that I am working at is splitting and stacking that pile of firewood I mentioned yesterday. After learning that the $149 wood splitter costs $299 in Wenatchee I went with the $14 sledge and $13 wedge. I’m rather enjoying the shrinking of my pile of un-split wood and the growth of my stack of split wood.

20121106-105548.jpgLIEF PURSUES A DREAM – OF SORTS