When the last breath of the last Woolly Mammoth rose into a leaden sky, did the universe notice? Was there a pause or ripple across the reaches of space? When a species is gone, I think it leaves an imprint, a ghost of itself on the fabric of time, keeping the record honest and the world from flying apart.
“Hot flashes?” my friend said. “They don’t bother me. They’re mostly gone now anyway. And the other stuff—dry skin, weight gain. What can you do? No one stays pretty forever.” She paused, frowned at the drink in her hand. “But the thing that does bother me? Loss of libido. I gotta say, I have a grudge against that one.” She looked at me. “It’s excessive, don’t you think?”
I blinked at her. I knew what she meant. Of all the subtractions that come with menopause, loss of desire has to be the saddest. “Makes you realize what biological beings we really are.”
She nodded. “It does, doesn’t it?” She was a silent a moment. “You know, I don’t think I miss the sex so much as I miss the need for it, the appetite. Why should that get taken away, too?”
“Maybe it’s a kindness,” I offered. “Maybe we lose our desire because we’re no longer desirable.”
“Well, that’s brutal,” she said. “But you’re probably right. Nature thinks of everything.” She looked up into the tree that shaded our table. “Damn men. All they lose is their hair. Bill still wants sex—not as often, but it’s there. It’s retrievable. For women it’s like a door slamming shut.”
No, I thought, not slamming. More like closing, quietly, so quietly you don’t notice. One day it occurs to you that sex has not occurred to you.
You might chide yourself, resolve to put mundane matters aside and focus on love. The problem, you think, is fixable, laughable, temporary. There is the destination, clear as day—all you need to do is show up. Only you can’t. You’ve lost the map. Occasionally you forge ahead, determined to prevail, and occasionally you do, arriving at a finish line barely worth the effort.
I do know of one woman, 84 years old, who claims she is still interested in sex, who would jump in the sack “in a hot minute” if she found an appropriate suitor. When she told me this, I laughed. “I’m not kidding,” she said flatly.
“Lucky you,” I replied, wondering if having a sex drive in your eighties is a lucky thing. Finding a willing and able partner would certainly be lucky.
This woman is exceptional—most of my female peers have shed their amatory lives and moved on. Yoked to the plow of destiny, we have found other ways to entertain ourselves: birding, gardening, charity work.
“The Change,” people used to call it, ominously. It was an event discussed in whispers, a bane that befell our mothers and aunts. I wasn’t sure what it meant, only that I didn’t want it to happen to me. Odd that the transformation still came as a surprise.
Focusing on the compensations can be helpful, like my newly-sprung ability to notice the ways I’ve been blessed or spared. I can tell you that most everything I see now has significance, that I ache for this beleaguered planet every day, that I can no longer regard a caterpillar on my cabbage without considering its right to be there. Each day I can feel the thrilling edge of something I have yet to learn.
Still, I mourn my libido. The loss of it, after all, is a sort of death, an ash-filled urn in the top of my closet, alongside those size 6 jeans I will never wear again. I am, as nature would have it, changed. What is there to do but shove on my sunhat and go out to the garden, tend to other lives as assailable as my own.
Bonded to a boulder, living on air and random rain, a forty-year-old lichen claims a thumbprint of space. Centuries from now it will be the size of a dinner plate, will still be young when the millennium turns– not that age applies to a thing designed to override death.
Maybe this doesn’t sound like much of a life: stuck on stone, nothing to do but make more crust. Or maybe it’s a thrill a minute, living up to all that potential.
I would like to find out, to lie on a sun-warmed rock and give myself up, to become with steady assurance all I was ever meant to be.
Have you ever wished there were a way to find the best books on a particular subject? Welcome to Ben Fox’s Best Books series, a website for finding and discovering stand-out works on a delightful variety of interests. Many thanks to Mr. Fox for including my book, Survival Skills, in this amazing project, along with five other outstanding works sure to please animals lovers everywhere.
For all you nature lovers, the Kindle version of Strange Company, my collection of nature essays is on sale at Amazon. This is a light-hearted look at some of our most curious beasts, a cozy read for these cold winter months. Here is an excerpt from “Consider the Sloth.”
“The two main emotions in life are love and fear, and certainly there is ample evidence that animals feel both. I imagine that when the shadow of a raptor passes overhead, a sloth cringes in fear. What about the lesser emotions, the ones that don’t serve us—like worry? Does a sloth, with all that time he has, worry about eagles and jaguars? Or does he have more productive thoughts, which part of the tree he’ll dine on that night? Or is he, in some deep animal way, simply enjoying himself, his mind a movie screen of pleasant images: leaves, sky, dappled light. When thoughts are not needed, maybe animals are not burdened with them.
It is estimated that people have sixty thousand thoughts a day, a figure not as impressive as it sounds. These sixty thousand thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the same ones we’ll have tomorrow. In our day-to-day lives, we are not much good at thinking out of the box. A sloth hangs in one tree all its life and has no company other than the mate it couples with every fourteen months or so. With this scant stimulation, I wonder how many separate daily thoughts a sloth has. One hundred? Twenty? Three? I would trade my sixty thousand for a glimpse of them.”
Some days I don’t notice the nuthatch climbing the cinnamon scales of a pine tree, or the honeybee paused on the edge of the birdbath, drinking. Some days I see only the skim of a hamburger wrapper floating in the bayou, a chain link fence studded with plastic bags, a still gray form in the middle of the road, justifying despair. I lose some days entirely, as if this world can do without me, as if the way back is not just a few feet away, where a lime green katydid the size of a staple is waiting for my astonishment.
Many thanks to editor Corey Cook for publishing “What Is Wild” in Red Eft Review. Several of my poems have been featured in previous issues of Red Eft Review, and I am grateful and honored to be part of his fine journal once again.
I wish to thank D. Ellis Phelps, editor of the new anthology Purifying Wind, “an anthology of poetry to honor the vulture, many species of which are declining or in danger. Book represents the work of forty-three poets from six countries, many of whom are prize winning and Pushcart nominees. Poems enter the realm of many subjects including wonder, desire, love, aging, memoir, death and birth, and the natural world, to name a few. ”
I am delighted to have my poem “The Natural Order” included in this inspiring collection. Here is a video of me reading the poem. You may watch others authors reading their work on the Purifying Wind page on Amazon.
Hello again. Time to post a few more pictures. These are all done in acrylics and on natural wood, mainly pine. You can check out our Etsy site to learn more. Art is how we how we come together, and how, in these strange times, we heal.