Busy Being Retired

May 20, 2015

I’m only a few weeks into retirement, but people are already tired of hearing me say that I’m so busy I don’t know how I had time to work. But it’s true. For example, this week brought the highly anticipated arrival of the tomato hornworm.  Left unattended, these voracious monsters can strip the leaves from a full-grown tomato plant practically overnight. Our main defense is to pick them off by hand and feed them to the chickens. This obviously takes time, which is hard to come by when you have to go work.

I now realize what a huge hole work puts in your day.

Still, with a growing list of chores facing me at home, it’s hard not to look back somewhat nostalgically on my working days. Get to the office late, read the Internet until about 11:30, then walk downtown for a leisurely lunch.  What’s so bad about that?

But that’s not where I meant to go with this. One of the real benefits of retirement is that once you are off a schedule, time is more malleable. You can deal with something when faced with it rather than trying to fit it in around an inflexible calendar.  I mean, lately I’ve been struggling to remember what day it is. It just seems that solving a problem or answering a question is best done in the moment.

Monday morning is a good example. Sitting at the breakfast counter, we heard a familiar sound … the red-bellied woodpecker was rattling the bird feeder with rapid-fire pecks. This indicates that the feeder is empty, and indeed it was.

Now, we humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals, that is, imagine that they think and act as we do.

In my hectic work days, I had concluded that the woodpecker was chiding me about the empty feeder, and I would dutifully refill it.  This wasn’t entirely a stretch; the woodpecker had taken to sitting patiently in the tree and watching as I refilled the feeder, and would be on it within seconds after I reentered the house.  So he knew that I was the source of the birdseed. But while he strikes me as a smart bird, it was probably crediting him a bit much to conclude that he was bright enough to summon me on demand.

But on this morning as we sipped our coffee we watched as the bird moved from one hole to the next, tapping the feeder each time. This would cause some residual seeds to roll out of some nook or cranny, and the woodpecker would grab it. He was treating the feeder the same way he would a tree trunk or branch, which he taps to stir insects into action so he can grab them.

In other words, this is indeed a smart bird … but he was thinking like a woodpecker, not a human. And when I had time to think like a person of leisure, not a harried office worker on a schedule, I was able to take the time when it needed to be taken to figure this little problem out.

Tomorrow, I think I’m going to work on figuring out what is cutting those neat, mouse-size holes in the porch screen. Like I said, the list of chores is endless.

Carl Wernicke