Some Reflections

Did you even keep a diary, a journal when you were younger? I did. It was easy, and satisfying, a quiet time in the evening to document the day’s events. I did it for 12 years, and then I got married.

It seems to me that we work so much of our lives for sustenance, for a home, a family, security and the means to enjoy things, to travel some, to learn. And in all that, we scarcely have any time to document what we’re experiencing, what we’re learning. That is, until retirement.

Ah, retirement. Welcome for some, a thing to be feared for others. Of course it’s a fearful harbinger of gloom for those who lived most of their lives as “We are what we do.” It seems that they’ll totally lose their identity when they can no longer “do,” because the question arises… Okay, I’m finally retired. If I’m “not what I do” anymore, then who the hell am I?

In my case, I was a musician, so now I was simply a retired musician. But what did that mean? Who was I now? Just a tired, retired musician? Hell, a retired anything sounded exceptionally boring to me, and fairly meaningless. A little strange, those thoughts, that feeling, as I’d always had hobbies, always had things I’d wanted to do, if only I had the time. Well, here it was, “retired musician.” Suddenly I was “just a guy.” Here was my chance to actually do all those things!

Yeah, well… right, I guess, except that I hadn’t figured on this one little caveat – around the same time that we retire, we suddenly find ourselves without the energy we need to do “all those things.” Living an energetic, full life seems to speed that process along, if you’re a man. I know a woman, however, a spry and lively 85, who is still going as strong as ever. I live with her, so I know.

Little Debbie


Iron Jack & Little Debbie at Sureshot Lake

Once I divorced, retired and moved back to Montana, I began getting familiar with retirement and life without deadlines, with the help of some of my camping trips. I had bought a little camper trailer, named it “Little Debbie” and pretty much toured the back country of SW Montana with her for several years. At first I was camping in a tent, but after a bear walked past my tent in the middle of the night at the Cliff Lake campground, growling as it went, I began looking for something a bit more substantial for my Montana outings. A fine friend accompanied me on several of those outings, and later on my sweet Betty, but for those first years I usually sat quietly, on my own, in front of a crackling fire, brandy in hand, contemplating and enjoying my new retirement status.

The first vestiges of peace, contentment and quiet reflection slowly began seeping into my consciousness on those camping nights. “Its just you and this world, Hulse… you and this beautiful world. You can still make of it what you want, or you can sit here with your brandy and philosophize it to death. Hmm. Not a bad idea.”

Anyway, the first 10 years of my retirement were busy, and creative. I still did music for a few special friends. The far corner of my cabin turned out to be a fine little recording studio. I built a downstairs bedroom of sorts in the cabin, and made a big, functional work space in my garage, including a new front door. I learned to snowmobile and cut my own wood for the first five years. I played jazz with my Helena pals several times a month and still had plenty of energy. Guess I thought it would always be that way.

But it wasn’t “always” that way. I pretty much ran out of gas at 68; moved to the state of Washington with my new love, Betty, and ultimately sold all my toys and my Montana cabin. It was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. A little bitter/sweet, but what the hell… isn’t that a part of life?
Anyway, this timely demise of one’s energy seems kind of cruel, doesn’t it? But actually it’s just one more of nature’s ways. Though I held out for those first 10 years after my retirement, I had finally lost all desire to do that stuff that might still be sitting in my bucket list. Oh, my lady and I still did quite a few things together… bought a cute little cottage on an island north of Seattle, traveled parts of Europe 3 different times, explored the state of Washington, built a model railroad layout together in the garage. It was all fun, of course… but it kept becoming more difficult, too, until I was 78, and wanted no more to do with anything that challenged my lack of energy.








This is Betty & me, enjoying a little wine in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, before attending a Mozart concert there. What an evening!

If this is sounding like a sad story, well, it isn’t. It’s simply a short story about the slowing down process, of being able to do less physically, but perhaps more mentally. If we’re lucky, our brains will be the last thing to desert us… and if that’s the case, then there is still so much to do, to share, to love and to enjoy.

And Finally, Simplicity!

We get to experience, perhaps for the first time, the beauty of simplicity! With life experiences we learn the value of simplifying our daily existence, enjoying the simpler pleasures of things and events that used to appear meaningless to us. Funny how time changes our perception of things.

As a younger man, I used to occasionally read books and quotes of Eastern philosophy and think to myself, “Ah, I don’t need that shit… that’s for old people.” Yeah, and strangely enough, in my gross ignorance I was right! For now I’m old and I get all that Eastern stuff I read so many years ago… it was for me, after all! I just had to “live” into it, to understand its real meaning, its real value.

And as a younger, energetic man, I occasionally wished for and stole a too-short snippet of what I considered “peace and quiet.” Usually it came after months of madness in my workplace and in my life. Back then it was always a “recharging” of my energies, before once again bolting back into the raging fray. My Montana cabin was the perfect calming refuge.

I had no clue that there was another step, a better, deeper step I would finally take as an old one… that of solitude! You see, for me, “solitude” is peace and quiet, sure, but with wonderful additional attachments… those of time without deadline or measure; of worry-free contemplation; of restful musing and gratitude for this great new span of time we’ve finally discovered, ending, sometimes, with a refreshing nap at the end.

Wait – “a great new span of time?” That’s right. You probably think that because we’re now old, we’re running out of time. Nope. We’ve always had exactly the same amount of time each day, that we have now. Oh sure, we had a bunch of potential life still ahead of us when we were young, but that’s all it was… potential. You get accidentally hit by a speeding taxi at a crosswalk when you’re 25, now where’s your long life?

Here’s a quote I can relate to – “While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist; obscurity is dark, ample, and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful, he alone is at peace.”
— Virginia Woolf

I don’t like this next saying, but perhaps it holds a certain truth… “Too soon old, too late smart.” I’d change it, if I could, to, “Lucky to be old, luckier to also be wise.”

“Too soon old” seems to be true for us, as we mercifully forget portions of our lives that were difficult, painful, too challenging, sometimes heartbreaking. This is especially true if one had to go to war, then fight off those memories for the rest of their lives. Our limited memories give us the illusion that life is short… but it isn’t. If we’ve managed to live to an old age, we’ve lived every day of it, even thought we don’t remember much of it. And if you don’t believe me, than ask your body, for it damn sure knows, and will tell you, if you’ve lived longer than you can remember. 

As for the “too late smart” part, my god… however smart we were is what has gotten us to this point in our lives, right? Are we now sitting around regretting most of those youthful decisions without the wisdom we now hold, or are we shaking our heads in disbelief that we all turned out as well as we did? And even better, do we still remember some of those crazy antics well enough to share with our friends?

I would guess it turns out that we made a lot of great decisions back then, without really knowing why or thinking them through… or being able to understand those decisions on the level we can now. Nevertheless, the result was probably the same, either way.

Whatever wisdom we gather along the way always comes, finally, to define us. In that light, to me it’s totally unrealistic for us to indulge the idea of living our younger lives with the smarts, the wisdom of an old person. As attractive as being wise at a young age might sound, it’s an almost impossible concept, except for a very select few, who seem to hold some special understanding of life itself.

Oh, I guess I would have liked to be “wise” through my younger years; yet that doesn’t make any sense either, for I would wish to be no different a person, at no better place, than I am at this moment. Each day is still occasionally challenging and difficult, beautiful, soft and deep, now and then mean and shocking… but always with time for reflection and gratitude. And after all, isn’t that what life is, and always has been?

Here are my final thoughts on all that, with a tip of the hat to
Theodor Seuss Geisel 

Steve Hulse

He chased his wants
He chased his needs
He gathered his wants
And he satisfied needs

Yes, he chased and he gathered
Through all those years
Through successes and failures
Through good times and tears

He worked and he played
And he hated and he loved
And he finally escaped
From that “god above”

There were so many things
He wanted to know
And he tried to know
But he didn’t quite know

So he traveled and read
And slowly he grew
Into knowing the truth
Of how little he knew

Then he lived and he lived
And he lived and he lived
’Til the day he had nothing
Nothing left to give

Nothing left to need
Nothing left to prove
Nothing left to want
Except solitude

Steve Hulse

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