The Lure of Deeply-Grooved Wrinkles
Copyright 2019 by Lori-Ann Willey
Growing up on a dead-end dirt road in a family of “I’d rather be outside” type people, there is no wonder why Ima Nature Nut. Daily living meant learning, not only about life as humans, but life as insects, animals, weather patterns, the land, and the freedom of self-expression and encouragement. Plain and simple, I was what most would consider, a “Tom Boy”. I never scrunched my nose at the title. I embraced it. It meant I was strong and tough. It meant that I was not singled out as a “girl” that was supposed to be inside learning how to cook, clean, and doll up my face, body, or hair. It meant, instead, that I could learn to be who I was as an individual. I loved that freedom. It is the same freedom that I love today, too.
When a topic comes up, I often hear the voices of my parents. The educational discussions that were as natural and forthcoming as the weather. I learned so much from them. Even today, I still reflect upon those conversations. Truly, my childhood outside the classroom was not only in experimentation, learning by observing, but I always learned from my parents, too. Excellent teachers in both forms of the word, “natural”. Our son always told me that I was a “natural teacher”, but in reality, I am much like my parents and every conversation is a learning opportunity.
Always as a child, I listened intently to the stories told by others. Captivated by every word, tone, facial and body expressions that made their stories come to life for me. Embedded in my brain until they slowly slithered away into the Land of the Forgotten. Man, I so wished I could remember every story I heard growing up! I truly miss what I cannot remember if that makes sense. Thus, why it is so important that I write down my own experiences and memories in life.
I remember well when my mother spoke of someone with deeply grooved wrinkles upon their face. He or she, “had a hard life”, or “they’ve spent most of their life outside”. With each, she told of what she knew about that person and their “history” as she knew it. It wasn’t gossip, it was factual and conversation-based with a lot of appreciation and respect behind her words. Often, if a sad story, her eyes would water, and her voice would quiver in the retelling of what she knew. I am so much like my mother in that way. Empathy was/is great within her. Always.
There was this one woman who became a family friend. She became so close to our little family that I considered her an aunt and trusted her as much as I trusted my own parents. Her name was Noreen Catlin. Her husband, "Alphie" called her “Reenie”, but to our family, she was always, “Noreen”. Those who read my books, know her son as Steve. Noreen was a tomboyish older woman with short, near black hair that was always parted on the side. Despite the aged look upon her deeply grooved and wrinkled face, she always claimed she was 39 years old. Said with a wink, of course. Her skin, very dark, so I presumed, as a child, she must’ve had a good portion of Native American within her, though I don’t ever remember that topic arising. She hunted. She fished. She drove a truck. Quick to fix anything. Quick to help with anything, too. Though I never knew her story, I knew she loved to garden, and be outside all hours of the day if she could. A woman I greatly admired.
You may be wondering why I’ve written all this above? I can be a bit long-winded, but I get my stories and memories out in my own way …all to often, the lengthy route.
I’ve been an outside girl all my life, so when Paul and I visited the idea of living off the grid back in 2005, it was not a new concept to me. Though I never officially lived off the grid growing up, I did live without running water, which meant lugging water throughout the year. It also meant using an outhouse throughout the year, too. I didn’t mind that in the least …neither one, though modern life indicates it is an inconvenience. People have often wondered why we chose to live off the grid when we are set financially, have a beautiful and large house on the grid. Why would we choose such a different lifestyle? A harder one? Why not? I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m knowledgeable more than most on how to live without modern conveniences. I have the will. I have the want. I have the ability. Fortunately, Paul has all that, too. However, as it must, his health dictates.
For many years, we did not have a mirror at camp. My “mirror” was my own reflection in a pane of glass or upon a stilled water surface. We’d go for months without seeing ourselves in a real mirror. When I did step in front of one in a public restroom or when we went home or visited someone, I’d often not recognize the woman staring back at me in the mirror. “Woah! Is that really me?” I looked different. I had aged. I had developed wrinkles that I had not watched grow. I had graying hair that I did not see emerging. My face had changed shape, too. I looked 10 years older than the last time I saw myself, and I couldn’t help but just look at myself from side to side in awe.
Then, I instantly thought of Noreen and I caught myself grinning into the mirror. Wrinkles were more plentiful. I had aged, and I hadn’t had a clue. Life off the grid is hard work. It is exhausting, even. Yet, I love it. Despite being overweight, I hadn’t ever been stronger, healthier, happier, or more fit in my life, except for when I was a little girl living at the end of that dirt road. Then, the town’s people called my family “Hippies” ‘cause we ran around barefoot. We all did except for my father. Unless I was injured, and I’ve had some wicked doozies in here, I never became lame, no matter what the hard task or for how long. My muscles were well tuned …right down to the tiniest fibers. I could work like a horse, move and lift heavy objects from one end of the camp lot to the other and never feel so much as fatigue in the end. What about that doesn’t say, “fit as a fiddle” or “strong as an ox”? Lame? What does that mean? That is me living off the grid.
Due to Paul’s health, and as you know, we are not able to winter off the grid this year. It is the first winter since 2005. Paul’s health must come first. Though it is a challenging lifestyle transition, I’m very thankful that we have a home to retreat to until his body and his medicines are figured out for safeness of off the grid living again. At camp, I was wicked active just in every day living. Here, not so much. I mean, the house is big, so to get from point A to point B is at least movement. With hunting season over with …and I hunted both rifle season and muzzleloading season, I’m not very active here physically. But that is about to change. We have an exercise regime set up, but now we’re recovering from the flu so that has been put on hold for a few more days.
I feel very lazy here. Very unproductive, too. Labor here is sweeping and mopping the floor and very little snow shoveling. Though it takes me 45 minutes to sweep the downstairs with a push dust mop, I do not consider that exercise! I’ve become soft and I feel my muscles melting. I need to change that, ‘cause I need to feel at the top of my “game”, too.
Since we’ve been home, we’ve met up with a few people we know (unfortunately, they are death based gatherings) and several that we don’t know. “You look great!” is the comment mostly heard. Another is, “You look quite a bit younger than you do in your pictures”. I kinda smirk without understanding their meaning. I’ve become a “Fair-skinned Lady”, apparently. Not being outside for hours a day in the sun, winds, and/or freezing temperatures, my skin has softened, as have my wrinkles, too. Those, to me, are droopier, but others say, they are far less pronounced in person as opposed to pictures of me a couple short months ago.
My mother’s words rang through my brain and I had to smile. I’m 52 years old and I’ve come full circle. Though life is challenging for so many people, we all have days when we feel tired. When we all feel old. Off the grid, I was so active. I felt young, fit, and alive. Here, on the grid, I feel very old, tired, and lazy. Why my face doesn’t look the part is because it is sheltered now from the outside elements, the elasticity is returning to my skin because it is not destroyed, slowed, or altered by the harsh elements of off the grid living and daily outside chores and doings.
Though many would be appreciative of a soft, younger, easier to gaze upon face, I am not in appreciation of it. To me, it does not show my true character, my experiences, or my preferred lifestyle. It shows one of protection and easier living. I don’t like it. To gaze upon a well-weathered face of an older person who has lived a life in the outdoors is the look I want. It is the look I’ve always loved, always appreciated, always respected. The stories they tell …each deeply carved line has a history -a story- and I want to hear them all.
Life on the grid is an adjustment for me. Life IS easier in many ways, but my love is off the grid, outside, aging with nature. Once this flu-bug is out of our systems fully, I will be spending time outside with my cameras again. Hopefully, soon, we can get back off the grid sooner than later, but for now, I guess I can wait until I once again look like an older woman with lots of stories to tell.