Refocusing in Retirement

Coyote in tall grass, Ridgefield NWR

When I retired last December I had big plans for this site. My delusions encompassed the idea that I would write multiple profiles several days a week, and get out in the field several days a week. For the first few weeks I was splitting time between editing and organizing photos of unprofiled life forms, and writing profiles of those lifeforms, and barely leaving the house. By the time I had organized the photos I had realized that I am too slow at writing and researching to be able to average any more than one profile per day. 

Horsetail Falls, Columbia RiverGorge, Oregon

And even at that rate it felt like a job, and I felt lazy and/or guilty anytime I wasn’t actively engaged in something site related. The whole thing felt very overwhelming. Even doing 1 profile per day it was going to take me 26+ years to hit 10,000, putting me into my late 80s! I haven’t taken nearly good enough care of this body to have any expectations that I’ll see 87, and the chances I’ll do so with my mind and locomotion skills up to the twin tasks of finding and profiling these lifeforms, are probably less than those of Adam Sandler against Bob Barker in ‘Slapshot’. 

Oregon Coast

At the same time I was feeling overwhelmed by the tasks involved in accomplishing this project I was also having something of an existential crisis, which was brought on by realizing that, even if I were to spend a lifetime studying and researching a single species, I would still not actually know even all of the phenomenal attributes of the individuals of that species, and couldn’t possibly know their noumenom (a thing as it is in itself, as distinct from a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes). You may say, as some friends did say, ‘Dude, you are way overthinking this!’, which is undoubtedly true, since I am a long term member of the Overthinkers Club. But, due to having more time to devote to the profiles, I had gone from my original goal of trying to pique people’s interest in these things I love, to trying to present a reasonably full portrait of them (and inflicting a fair amount of frustration on myself when the information I desired and the information I could find did not align), and truly realizing that, no matter how much information I tried to impart, it was impossible to accurately portray even the norms of a species, was, to say the least, dispiriting. 

Vancouver Lake Bottoms

So, I took a break. Originally I thought it would be a few day reassessment period, but there was such relief, at not having the daily burden of not only hours of research but the sometimes onerous task of summarizing all of that research, and putting it into words that were accurate, not overly technical, or pure plagiarism (along with needing to do it 9,598 more times) hanging over my head, that I realized it might be a month before I started in again. But some things came up in those first few weeks that made me wonder whether I’d ever revisit this project. 

Elk, Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area

The first obvious question was, ‘What will I do instead?’ I had always intended to revisit some of my past recreations/hobbies when I retired, so I bought a fishing license, looked into joining a rock climbing gym, and got my paints, easel, and brushes out of the attic (I am a terrible painter, with absolutely no talent, but as long as I don’t muck it up with standards and expectations, I find it very enjoyable to slap paint on a surface and see what eventuates). And, of course, having the historic attraction to fishing and the addictive personality that I do, I immediately became obsessed by it. There may be folks reading this that will be offended that I am a sport fisherman, those who agree with Jacques Cousteau’s comment that “If one enjoys the act of catching fish-sport fishing- then he is suffering a perversion”, and I am not immune to this idea. But the fact of the matter is that I do enjoy fishing, and the ‘act of catching fish’, as well as pursuing and attempting to net flying insects, and I refuse to apologize for the fact that I find these activities fun. 

Toutle River

Another set of problems I’ve encountered during this project have to do with difficulties in identification. Since I am not an entomologist, botanist, mycologist, or any other sort of -ologist, keying out specimens to species is a laborious, time consuming, and often frustrating process, often made much more difficult because I am color blind. Shortly before I took the break from writing profiles a mycologist questioned my identification of a bracket fungi, saying he’d never heard of them having any pink in them, and requesting that I do microscopy to confirm things. Now, I know he was being a good scientist, shooting for certainty by hedging his bets and not taking anything for granted, but this was exasperating for several reasons. For one thing I couldn’t see anything I thought of as pink. For another, coloration in fungi changes with age and is influenced by nutrition, and the rest of the patterning, coloration, morphology, and habitat matched very well with the species. And, not surprisingly, it turns out that I don’t have the patience, dexterity, or experience to be able to accomplish that level of microscopy. Or, more honestly and accurately, to be willing to find the patience, and develop the dexterity and experience necessary to accomplish that task. 

Icehouse Lake

And speaking of color, whilst reading some things referring to the limitations of our sensory apparatus shortly after I stopped doing profiles,  I was blindsided by realizing the implications of the fact that we only see the frequencies of light reflected by an object. This means that, in the case of the pink mushroom, it is probably all of the colors in the spectrum except pink, since that is the one that it reflects rather than accepts. Now, I didn’t immediately give up calling things by the colors my eyes perceive, but it fed directly into my philosophical conflict between perceiving only the phenomena of an object, and not it’s noumenon. 

Columbia River Gorge waterfall

This probably all seems academic, or even highbrow, so let’s put it in simple terms. My realization was that, to paraphrase my good friend Ray Bailey, I don’t know squat, probably can’t really learn much, and I’ll die wondering what anything really is. Along the same lines here’s a quote from a great book I recently purchased; “All of the information in this book is wrong. All of it. Wasps are an appallingly understudied group of organisms, to the point that even this book- the most complete visual field guide of social wasps to date- is built precariously upon the edge of a vast, unsolved jigsaw puzzle. Every illustration and fact presented here is based on the best current scientific understanding of these insects, but we are still very far from the whole truth.” (“The Social Wasps of North America”; pg 4; Chris Alice Kratzer; 2022).

Oregon Coast

But it also turns out that I enjoy sharing some of my adventures, and something about the life forms I find. So, what does this mean for this site? Well, I’ve abandoned my quest for 10,000 things, although I’m keeping the title in view of the incredible diversity in the PNW, and my hope that someone else will carry on after I’m gone. And there will be somewhat less emphasis on identification to species level, mostly because of my own laziness. But also because I had been thinking that I needed species identification to help rack up the numbers to reach 10,000, and now that that isn’t my goal I don’t think I need to work that hard. I also recognize that a fair number of my readers aren’t willing or able to dig that deep either (unless you’re an aspiring neurosurgeon or trying to publish about new species I don’t imagine that anyone finds genitalic dissection to be fun), and getting things to genus does shed at least some light on the mystery that is a living organism. Yet this does not mean that I won’t make an attempt to get to species. Just that I’m not going to spend hours and hours doing so. 

Toutle River

There will probably be fewer and less regular profiles, and slightly more emphasis on blogs and other more generalized and/or trip specific writing. And the profiles themselves won’t be as in depth. This may be hard for me to do, since that was my original idea and it didn’t take long before I was going deeper. But I do want this site to be fun for me, as well as being informative, and I’ll still be providing links to further information. I just probably won’t be mining and refining them to the same extent that I was. I also probably won’t be sharing as much on Facebook groups. Facebook has made it labor intensive to do so, and it hasn’t always been rewarding. But I will always post a link on my own timeline/wall/whatever they call my homepage on Facebook, and anyone who wishes to ‘follow’ me can always access them there. There is also a free subscription option on this website, and anything I publish will be automatically e-mailed to you. 

Icehouse Lake

I know I will probably lose readers because of these changes, but it really came down to ‘do it differently or don’t do it at all’, and I chose to keep doing it. I still hope that my words and photos will pique peoples interest in these lifeforms, and that many will click on the links and dig deeper into their lives. And I also hope that what is written here will still be at least somewhat entertaining or compelling, for my readers as well as for myself. 

Oregon Coast

62 thoughts on “Refocusing in Retirement”

  1. I have loved your posts! I learn so much! (But I suspect you could make most readers happy with shorter offerings. You do go into great depth).

    Your tale of Messy Mycology made me snort. I, too, have been working to document the things I find in our woods, and I have also been “Shamed” by more than one mycologist. The pithy words of a Snake Island Ukrainian comes to mind . . .

    Please do post when and where it suits. Who knows, you might live longer than you think — or you may pass the baton one day. Onward!

    1. Thank you Ellen! I appreciate your comment! Might I ask who the Snake Island Ukrainian is and what they said? It’s fine if they are a character you created!

  2. These reflections sound rather familiar–i.e. similar to my own.
    This all sounds healthy and I appreciate your thoughts. Whatever you move ahead with is likely to be of interest, so count me in, and thanks.

  3. Bravo! Well said. You are doing what so many of us can’t do and become frustrated and angry at ourselves for not living up to our expectations. Thank you. I will follow you with enjoyment and will always learn something and appreciate your candor.

  4. Glad to hear from you again. I will follow along as I have always enjoyed reading about the chosen life form.
    Welcome to retirement!

  5. I was wondering about the sudden stop… everything you say here makes perfect sense! I enjoyed your prior posts but I am just as intrigued by your new ideas! I have to say you write so wonderfully that any subject you pick to write about will be a pleasure to read and experience through your eyes/words, thank you for doing what you do! And I love the idea of your painting, please do show us some of your paintings if you are ok with that. I enjoy painting also and its so nice to see other painters of experiences of Nature.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Amanda! I wasn’t being humble about my painting. I really do suck😂 Almost every painting I’ve done gets gessoed over as soon as it’s dry. It’s the act of painting I enjoy, and not the results. As soon as I have expectations I lose the joy. But if this blind squirrel every paints a viewable nut I will share it here.

  6. Having retired myself four years ago I totally understand what you are going through. This is supposed to be fun for you. When it isn’t, you pivot to what is. Thank you for the wonderful and insightful information! All who wander are not lost. The joy is in the journey.

  7. Thank you, THANK YOU for continuing to give us more glimpses of our wonderful world!!! I’m as happy as a kid in a candy shop with lots of money and no concern about my weight or teeth. Bring on the utterly amazing confections of life. Please.

  8. Just glad to read whatever you share about our wonderful region, whenever you post it. It’s the attention given to each plant or creature, not the precision of the technical details that make your posts enjoyable.

  9. Hi Dan

    It’s good to have you back after this long hiatus. For my part, I’m glad you took the time you needed to recalibrate. Better that than lose you altogether.

    Regardless the terms of your return, you can count on me to check in from time to time to see what you’re up to.

    Take good care


  10. What a great post. I have learned so much from you. I can definitely relate to the “what should retirement look like” questioning. Here’s what I want to say: I have loved learning right along with you, but this writing of this post, has lured me in more than any other thing. I can say without question that I will continue to follow wherever that wonderful curiosity of yours leads. Thanks for sharing YOU.

  11. Count me as entertained and intermittently informed by your 10,000 things entries. I always took the number to be aspirational rather than a definitive goal.

    I think I am some years older than you and have gone through stages of various activities as you have. I wish you well, and hope you continue your quests in various forms. If you do, I will continue to follow as I am able.

    1. Thank you, Michael! Prior to beginning this I didn’t expect the writing to be much more time consuming than the finding, but I know better now! I hope that with the changing focus I continue to intermittently inform you through the coming years.

  12. What a wonderful description of change brought about by retirement. I am so glad you are going to continue to enrich my life. Thank you.

  13. Good to have you back and I completely understand about the shift in thinking when you actually get into your first bit of retirement. I’m not that far ahead of you and have done some serious reassessing myself. I appreciate your wonderfully informative writing while simultaneously supporting your decision to actually enjoy yourself during your retirement. Bravo. Looking forward to your future posts. I know they will be worth the read, however you approach your subject.

  14. Fantastic! You have made the right choice! I’m certain that most of the people I know who follow your postings will be just as eager for each one as they have been in the past…..or even more eager, knowing that you, too, are getting great enjoyment from them.

  15. Hi — thanks for letting us know about your evolving outlook on this project, just so we wouldn’t worry about you! I think it is always a good thing to evaluate and make changes, as needed, in any huge project like this. You are learning about life — your own, and all that is around you. I love seeing your photos of all the magnificent creatures/plants around us, so often not seen at all, not even known about. It has been a marvel to see the variety and beauty of these beings up close. So interesting! I am retiring soon, too, so I know how that is a natural prompt to think about what is important to us, for the moment, historically, and for the future, and to feel our way forward. I have loved your posts because they are about wonder! So, whatever you choose to send in the future, we are happy to receive. Best wishes to you, and thanks for starting this whole undertaking.

  16. As someone who has embarked on more than my fair share of ambitious projects, only to have to scale them back to a more realistic level, I feel this so much. I’m glad you’ve found a better focus and I’m looking forward to your ongoing posts.

  17. As a current blog writer who focuses on plants, nature, and gardening I so appreciate your honesty. It is a ton of work but like you, I do it because I enjoy it. But kudos for recognizing your personal preferences.

    I look forward to your occasional posts.

  18. Ditto to most reponses. You can paint for the joy of it, your camera is your other brush and you capture your subjects beautifully. The words are helpful but I’ve wondered how you captured such detail considering you must put many miles on the road. Unless you dictate as you drive. Keep on keeping on.

  19. A biologist friend of mine with Xerces Society, Emilie, is interested in where the mussels were found that you had great photos of. Would you let me know?

    Thank you.

    Al Smith

    1. All of the freshwater mussels photographed for the profile on Anodonta nuttalliana/californiensis (Winged/California Floater) were found just downriver from the mouth of the Kalama River. The saltwater mussels photographed for the profile on Mytilus californianus came from Arch Cape on the Oregon coast. Hope this helps Emilie out!

  20. Hi Dan,

    You do what you need to do to make yourself happy. You have already been an immense inspiration for me to start my own blog. I am a classic overthinker myself, and that can really drag me down trying to encapsulate everything. It’s impossible, and I realized I am content to wander aimlessly about, learning about the topics that I want to learn about, and then share them online. If people want to read them, great. If they don’t, at the very least I learned something.

    For what it is worth, I am a scientist with some training in mycology, botany, and entomology. I have learned over the years that identifying any organism to species is an imperfect task. They don’t always fit into neat little categories, and I am often not in the right place at the right time (e.g., at flowering) to capture all of the little taxonomic details needed to identify an organism with the level of precision that I would like. Often, I didn’t even know that there were dozens of species that look so similar that I would need to do DNA sequencing to accurately identify them. I simply don’t have the time or energy or money to do all of that. So, I do the best I can, I waffle on identification and say it is either this or that, and, sometimes I am just plain wrong. Whatever. It’s fine and I can always go back and correct something online. The point is, for me, I just enjoy learning about something new and sharing that with others. It sounds like you enjoy that to. Don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t perfect – just put in whatever ever effort you are willing and able to do, and still enjoy doing it.

    I enjoy your blog immensely. Thank you.

  21. Hi Dan, been meaning to comment on this post for a while. This from an amateur naturalist who does it ‘for the love’ and the compulsion to learn but also to as a deep part of my writing practice. I don’t see any shame at all in the need to abandon the quest for writing a literal 10,000 profiles, because each and every one of the profiles you have written is valuable in and of itself, independent of the rest. Intentionally or not you have created a go-to source of information, particularly in the way you have gathered links and life history information. For a number of my recent pieces I’ve drawn on your research (one example being birds-nest fungus; and just this week I sat down to write a brief on our three local swallowtail species to see that you were on the same wavelength with profiles of Western and Pale; you can find my work most regularly in the Key Peninsula News). I can’t counsel you on what gives you joy, but I do know that I depend upon the species-specific profiles, particularly of lesser-known beasts (I often try to communicate to the general public the fact that we know so little of the basic life history and sensory worlds of the creatures we share space with), and appreciate your all-life-forms approach. I read each profile as you publish them and hope you continue as much as you can. Thanks for your work, it is greatly appreciated. Chris

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Chris, and for your understanding. I just read your piece ‘Where Eagles Gathered’ which is a brilliant piece of writing. Is there a way to digitally subscribe so I could read your new articles as they come out? Or a day of the month when they are posted online?
      I’m really glad to hear that my profiles are useful to you! And even happier to hear that they occasionally make your task of writing your beautiful articles easier, and that in some small way my work contributes to yours. Thank you!!!

      1. Thanks Dan! Appreciation flowing both ways. My articles in Key Peninsula News come out the first of every month and can be found on the newspaper website. Other pieces are more random. I’ve been considering creating some sort of website or list serve to let folks know when I have something published—your note encourages me to pursue that. Chris

  22. I’m glad I clicked on “blogs” and found this. It’s so very interesting. Good for you for stepping back, reevaluating, and figuring out how to make this enjoyable. I think it makes more sense than the original project. I can relate to many of your quandaries and frustrations – I have a blog that’s focused on nature photography in the PNW. I have categories for types of posts and one is called “Just One.” That’s where I try to feature an informational and poetic/personal take on one particular plant (so far it’s only plants but that could change). Those posts are so much work! The research, the desire to use clear, accurate but interesting prose, the poetry part…so I haven’t done many of them but I’m pleased with what I’ve done. So you see why I can relate.
    I’m glad I found your blog, I look forward to your posts, and best of luck getting to the noumenon, or essence if I can use that word. There’s gotta be a way to perceive both. But I’m not schooled in philosophy. 🙂

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