Gregory Bald

(June 14th, 2015)

While the fish is in the oven (it was my night to cook) I'll update you on the vacation...

We hiked up to Gregory bald today. It was in full bloom. There are a few heath balds in the smokies - and this one is dominated by blueberries and azaleas. They were all exploding in color. It was like a beautiful, poorly planned garden.

Azaleas on Gregory Bald with Cade's Cove in the background.
The trail was gentle though it climbed steadily for over 5 miles. In all we did over 11 and a half before lunch. We saw deer, birds, and flowers, and a few other azalea enthusiast climbing the mountain for a view of their own. At one point we were overtaken by a man, probably a senior citizen, who was cruising rather quickly (and in good spirits) up the 3000 ft of elevation gain. Earlier in the day we had passed a younger couple who were really struggling. After we sat for an hour or so at the top we passed them again (still going up) a mile and a half below the summit. It got me thinking. Hiking, like running, will leave you surprised. You can never quite tell who is in better shape.

It also got me thinking about Elders. Some senior citizens, like the man climbing yesterday morning, are in great shape and health. And some are not. There seems to be a wide variety in the 65 and older population. I wonder where you would classify your grandparents. I wonder what you hope your elder years look like. I hope mine include a few where I can amble up mountainsides. I really hope a few include times when I can pass men in their 30s too.

Thinking back to the seniors I've know well I've had a few examples. One of my grandparents, my mother's mother is beyond amazing. At 92 she works in the garden and on the ranch, she reads prolifically, she travels internationally, and she worries that she spends too much time on Facebook. (she might even read this blog!) I hope I could engineer a future like hers. I had a great uncle I would love to emulated too. His obituary made the New York Times this year. He died at 99, working on what he loved (astrophysics) till the very end. I could also hope my future looks something like that.

My grandparents on my dad's side had much less healthy senior years, but ones full of family and love. Clearly there were choices they all made that helped lead them to these places, but there were also lucky breaks and simple genetics that shaped all of their lives. And none of them could have predicted or prepared for the twists and turns that life threw at them. Still, all of them were fortunate in many many ways.

Traffic jam inducing bear.

I have yet to mention my mother's dad. In part because I held him the dearest. And in part because his passing and his last years hurt in my memory. And I think they also shape my understanding how what senior care could be, what it should be, and what, I hope, It will be. I knew him as an energetic, incredibly fit, humorous and loving man. He was the picture of health and excitement and zest for life for many many of his senior years. And then he was struck by Alzheimer's. It was a long decline. I think his health actually made the decline longer and harder. It is very difficult to see one you love regress. And it is difficult to feel like you can not make things better. It is hard to see a retirement "home" or a nursing "home." It is harder when the one you love, and the one who so loved you, is there. We could do so much better.

Fortunately, many people are working already to completely rethink all levels of elder care including nursing homes. I can't wait to tell you about green houses and other really cool things that are changing the face of elder care. I hope you will get excited about these developments for the elders in your life now and for your future and mine! More to come soon.

As you might have guessed, H.O.M.E. is already on top of this. They provide intergenerational housing opportunities for low income seniors in Chicago. Many of the residents need levels of care that prohibit completely independent living, but the intergeneration housing enables them to avoid the sterility and loneliness of more institutional living. More about this to come soon.

PS. After one day in the smokies I already had a blister of poison Ivy growing on my skin. Today it is a large boil threatening to pop and spread. Delish!

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