When I was a child, my sister Julie and I had a storybook with a darling illustration of a plump, smiling white-haired woman sitting in a rocking chair, eating bonbons and holding a fluffy cat in her lap.
Julie said that was going to be me when I got old. I must confess that I did love pets and bonbons and preferred to stay inside and read, rather than run around playing sports.
Some of our preferences never change, but often our lives veer off in a direction we never expected. I still love animals, and like to stay inside and read — away from the biting bugs and stickers that define our life in Cambria’s backcountry. However, I did not get old like the cute lady in the storybook picture. I got old more like the disbelieving child of the suburbs who became the wife of someone who has always embraced ranch life more than life in the “burbs.”
It’s probably just as well, because I actually love it here. But!
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Living in the remote backcountry presents many challenges for the elderly. When my husband John and I moved here in our mid-60s, we knew we had to consider the future in every decision we made about our living space. We wanted a small house to take care of instead of a large house and a single story instead of multiple stories. We wanted easy access to the outside from at least one door, in case we needed to install a wheelchair ramp at some point.
When we first moved here, we even begged the county to issue us a simple address, in case we became unable to recall a complex four-digit address and needed a friendly policeman to bring us home. We requested 9000 San Simeon Creek Road, but the county nixed that and gave us 5775 San Simeon Creek Road. We’re okay so far, but please keep our address handy, in case you see us roaming around town, looking bewildered.
Even though we knew we’d be living off the grid, we wanted as low maintenance a lifestyle as possible. Whoa! Hold the phone. That was the moment when our unrealistic “want” list first went off the rails.
A solar-powered electrical system, spring-fed water system, septic system and wood-stove heating are not self maintaining. They require constant monitoring and sometimes have issues we are unable to resolve on our own.
It is quite the challenge to get anyone way out here to repair anything, so we are fortunate to have our friend and mountain neighbor, Doc Miller, who can come to our rescue. For anything he cannot tackle, we have to try to find people from town who are willing to make the long trek out here, hoping they won’t have to drain our bank accounts for the inconvenience of driving so far.
So, scratch the low-maintenance thing.
We also wanted easy access to medical care, for the obvious reasons. How unrealistic was that? Of course, in some Alice-through-the-looking-glass perspective, I suppose it’s possible that medical providers will one day decide to build a clinic on our road. For the time being, we are keeping our fingers crossed that necessary treatment for any sudden illness or injury will not require too short a lead time, since the nearest doctor covered by our insurance is currently in Templeton, an hour and 15 minutes away.
At 74, I still have a percentage of my original memory and other brain cells, and although I can’t dance as fast or as long as I once could, I still have my “zip around” moments. Going forward, John and I hope we have enough of the toughness of the pioneers who originally settled the West to go gently into that good night without having to leave our mountain home for the ease of condo living — even though some family and friends frequently suggest exactly that.