The other day I received a catalogue in the mail with the number 40 predominating its cover. The cartoon numerals were snow-capped. A skier slalomed down the slope of the 4. Below, the year of my birth appeared. A jogger squeezed between the 9 and the 7. For a split second, I wondered—how did they know? How did they know next week was the big Four-Oh? The big Four Oh-No.
But of course this was British Columbia, and the catalogue was none other than Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s (MEC's) anniversary catalogue. The Final Catalogue, it proclaimed. I learned that during the year of my birth not only was MEC incorporated, Jim Morrison was found dead in his bathtub, Pierre Trudeau said "Fuddle Duddle" in The House of Commons, astronauts drove an electric car on the moon and Starbucks opened in Seattle. Apparently it was the year "flower power" began to wilt. I'd just made it, as rock drowned out folk, as wide ties replaced tie-dye.
Today, I do a little research of my own and learn 1971 was also the year Walt Disney World opened and Charles Manson was sentenced to death by gas chamber. It was the year a tsunami killed 10,000 in the Bay of Bengal and a movie ticket cost $1.65. The Microprocessor and floppy disk were invented. The women of Switzerland were granted the right to vote. And a baby girl was born in an Ottawa hospital. She had a club foot. Her mother was twenty-one and broke and had decided to put her up for adoption. Before she left (for Prince Rupert, or Santa Fe, or maybe it was London?), she called her Annette.
Annette became Angela. Ottawa became Oshawa. Four decades later and I am sitting on the other side of the country listening to my Italian husband play scales on his saxophone. Soon, I will turn on the opera to drown out the noise. Soon I will be fifty. Sixty. I will remember this as the year the niece I once pulled around the backyard in a plastic sled posed as The SUNshine Girl wearing black fishnet stockings. The year I laid down my axe and left the archipelago of another, gentler, world. The year Shauna gave birth to Neve. It was the year I looked out the window of a small bedroom and watched mist rise from the mountains. It was 6:09 pm. and had rained all day. It smelled like spring.
At the age of thirty-five, Annie Dillard managed to describe the phenomenon of aging. In her essay "Aces and Eights," she listens as her daughter rides a bicycle uphill. She listens as playing cards slap against the wheel spokes. She writes:
You are young, you are on your way up, when you cannot imagine how you will save yourself from death by boredom until dinner, until bed, until the next day arrives to be outwaited, and then, slow slap, the next. You read in despair all the titles of the books on the bookshelf; you play with your fingers; you revolve in your upholstered chair, slide out of the chair upside down onto your head, hope you will somehow damage your heart by waiting for dinner in that position, and think that life by its mere appalling length is a feat of endurance for which you haven't the strength.
But momentum propels you over the crest. Imperceptibly, you start down. When do the days start to blur and then, breaking your heart, the seasons? The cards click faster in the spokes; you pitch forward. You roll headlong, out of control. The blur of cards makes one long sound like a bomb's whine, the whine of many bombs, and you know your course is fatal.
As winter blurs into spring, I am finally aware that my course is fatal. I only have to look at the cover of the MEC catalogue to remember. The snowcapped peaks of 40 are clearly melting. But there is a stream below, filled with ducks. A salmon jumps. A deer readies to drink. It would be easier to relinquish my hold on time and join the canoeists who paddle towards the bottom of the page. They're smiling. They even wear flowers in their hair.
Thank you for reading.