Curiouser and curiouser

It is almost three weeks since I've written here, a long time in the busyness of the world and its constant push for doing. For us it's been a period of doing too—though at a slower place—and much has been accomplished. We crossed the mountains for a visit because it had been almost a year since we'd set foot on Willamette Valley clay and we were curious to see what had changed. It's very odd that here I seldom think of the valley, our home for almost 40 years, and when I do it seems far, far away. In fact, it's only a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

We had promised to visit friends we had known in other lives, people we felt the need to touch again. But as usual we waited too long to make arrangements. One was on her way to Australia, another had the flu and a third had moved to Salem. So we dutifully drove to Salem and had a good visit with our former neighbor, a strong and healthy woman of 87. Emily was always active, in politics, on boards, and as a volunteer. Ray and I managed her first campaign for city councilor in 1978 (she won) and talking with her again felt much the same. Yes, she's slowed a little but her voice is strong, she still perches on the edge of her seat, ready to leap to the fray; still tilts her head, birdlike, when she talks. She's active, still driving, still curious.

In Tangent we enjoyed a stay with good friends Jo and Seaton. Jo's mother Trudi lives in what our English friends would call a bed-sit attached to their home. Trudi is 95, and like Emily she still drives, still attends book club, occasionally swims, loves to read and enjoys her family.

From Tangent to Portland, where we stayed with our daughter and family for a few nights. And visited 89-year-old Marianne. Marianne is the liveliest of the three, flitting between three homes (one in France) and various grandchildren who always seem to be celebrating milestone events. Her travel schedule for 2013 rivals that of many diplomats. In May 2014 she'll be taking 19 family members to Costa Rica to celebrate her 90th birthday. She confessed that she is thinking of selling the French house "in five years." This made us sad because we love her French house. But her unabashed optimism made us happy.

Thinking about these aging-well women—and about the one who had flu and is 85 and still attends board meetings and arranges events and makes everyone snap to attention—I realized that, though living disparate lives they have much in common. All are strong, independent-minded women who cared deeply about the work—paid and unpaid—that filled their days. All have well-funded retirements and family who can be counted on. And all retain their curiosity, a trait that opens our hearts and minds to the world, with all its glories and despite its shortcomings.

It is the latter characteristic I find most interesting for I seldom hear it mentioned in discussions of aging. We all know curiosity drives invention but it also leads (or pushes) and teaches. It often results in laughter. It is a trait that can keep us going when our bodies are too tired to move, requiring only a bit of concentration and a willingness to open a book or tap on a keyboard to explore the universe.

I confess I have little patience with the incurious, but some sympathy too. It takes guts to move beyond the confines of ones beliefs and it can be scary out there. But my guess is that curiosity is a powerful motivator that keeps at least some of us living beyond our allotted time. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but lack of it makes for a very dull Jane. And maybe a shorter-lived one too.

As for the rest of our month, it was devoted to medical procedures and doctor visits, all preparing us for a healthy and active year ahead. We're hoping some of our valley friends will be curious enough to find their way to our door this year and we're certainly curious about some of the landscapes and trails here we've yet to explore.

I'll keep you posted. If you're curious enough to come back, that is.