Days before my birthday, sitting at the kitchen counter over a cup of coffee, this is what I said to my wife.
“I want to do something . . . epic.”
I was turning 65. One of those significant marks in your life, we’ve been told to believe. And I had thought about what this meant to me. I wasn’t sure. But I was certain I wanted to mark it somehow with something grand.
“Like skydive or something?”
No, not skydiving. I wanted something more emotionally satisfying.
“Would you hike the perimeter of the Isle of Wight with me?” I asked.
My wife appeared perplexed. What would that mean? Backpacks? Hostels? She wondered aloud that if we traveled to Europe, to the places I had hoped to go to connect with ancestral ties—Ireland, England, especially the Isle of Wight where family once lived and some are buried—wouldn’t we want to see several places, spend time on more than the Isle?
She was right. I had hoped to also travel to Wales and see Dylan Thomas’ writing shed in Laughnare. I’m a bit of a geek about places where writers wrote, painters painted, musicians played.
“Yeah, I understand,” I said, “but just going there is not necessarily, you know . . . epic.”
People do silly things when they hit those noteworthy ages. The kids are older, maybe you have more time and money, and you head out to, well, skydive. Some take on other unusual activities, or luxurious vacations, or purchase things that scream I’m getting old—the Porsche at the midlife crisis, for one. And although my wife had a point, I didn’t want to simply travel. That, too, without some deeper weight seemed to be only a notch above a vacation.
“It’s about 70 miles of walking. We would do it over several days. Stay in little towns,” I said, offering details of a journey around the Isle.
No decisions were made. My wife had stated her case, and it was a good one. In the end, I wanted her to believe in my plan, whatever it turned out to be, and hoped for her to be part of the decision, not to just agree to satisfy an old man’s longing.
A few weeks later, close to midnight, sitting alone in front of the television watching Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary, I was reminded of Paul McCartney’s retreat to a Scottish farm sometime in the late 1960’s. High Park sat at the top of a hill near a small loch. It was remote, rundown, and glorious. The three-bedroom stone home was far from fancy or lavish. Still, it served its purpose—his hippie retreat where he lived in peace, grew marijuana plants, wrote music, and cared for sheep. He and Linda McCartney spent more and more time there as the Beatles dissolved. Why Scotland? Why not Ireland? Why not England? Some say it was for tax purposes. Some say he thought the views were more incredible in Scotland. Some believed it was an ancestral pull. Although it’s unclear, it’s thought that McCartney had familial links to Scotland and maybe, because of that, it was simply genetics, the tug of ancestral DNA.
Later that night, I watched YouTube videos of McCartney on the farm. My, my, I wanted to be there. The land, the seclusion, the simplicity. I listened to the song he wrote in 1977 about the place, his small summit of land, the “Mull of Kintyre.” I watched the video, McCartney playing acoustic guitar near the loch and the land sweeping out before him. I found online the home videos of McCartney tending to farm animals, riding horses, walking the land with his children, holding their hands.
McCartney certainly had the means to do anything he wanted when he bought the the Scottish property. Not the same for most of us, of course. Still, he acted. He had said he always wanted to live on a farm, and so, he did. He didn’t wait. He didn’t mark it by holding off until a significant age—say 30— to make a shift in his life. The time was now. He was in his late 20s when he bought High Park Farm, and it was time to make the change, to see life differently, and age had no significance in the decision.
Next year in 2022 McCartney will be 80. What a baby I am at 65.
The next morning, after sleeping on the dreams of a remote Scottish farm, I thought again about the Isle of Wight, the hike around its coast, my ancestral links, how time and age are unstoppable, how in the larger picture, believing that doing something “epic” at one of life’s markers is a foolish enterprise. We have little control of our fate, how things will flush out, what will happen. Time may be running out, but age, the timepiece to the years we’ve lived, should not be our only impetus to do the things we have wanted to do, have needed to do. Don’t wait. Don’t settle. Embrace what propels to you beyond time and space. McCartney knew it was the time to run away to a simple Scottish farm. Maybe it’s my time. Not to run to Scotland, but to act more deliberately, as he did. At 65 I will continue to write stories, write music, sing, walk, read the poems I have never read, pet the dog, find solace in wide spaces, find beauty in simplicity, travel to those places that pull at me. At 65 I will be everything I have always been and everything I want to be. I will grow as I did at 25, and now, hopefully, with more wisdom. And although I will likely never own a ramshackle farm deep in the Scottish countryside, I know that I can discover my own kind of “farm” in what remains of this life.
We all have our own Mull of Kintyre.
Photo by Krivec Ales
Coming January 14th to Substack, a new serialized novel: RAINBOW MAN by David W. Berner.
Now at 81 I do what I have always done but more and more mindfully!
"Mull of Kintyre" may be my favorite post-Beatles Paul song. Great piece, David.