As part of the WordCount Blogathon, all participants are invited to share their “Second Act,” a midlife transformation they have made or hope to make. My own Second Act is unusual, in that my Act One was one many people aspire to for their second: life as a successful freelance writer.
By my late fifties, I found I had achieved most of my career goals--I’d published more than fifty books, including a couple of best-sellers and several novels; I’d written dozens of articles and short stories, I’d taught writing in many different venues. The publishing world was changing, becoming more difficult for “mid-list” writers like myself (those who make a living but are not household names), and I decided it was time to move on.
About the time I came to this realization, I was inspired by our new president’s call to volunteer in my community. But I didn’t want to do anything related to writing or reading or words at all. What could I do?
One afternoon I visited Tohono Chul Park, a nature preserve near my home in Tucson, Arizona. I was impressed with the knowledge and friendliness of the docents, who guided visitors through the beautiful cultivated gardens and natural desert trails. I was reminded of my own early interest in biology, including two years as a zoology major in college.
I can do this, I thought. Even more, I WANT to do this. I signed up for the docent training and a few months later found myself in a classroom with twenty other late-life trainees. For the next five months, I studied geology, desert ecology, reptiles, birds, desert mammals, and Arizona history. I learned, on weekly field trips, to identify dozens of desert plants. I read and did written homework, took weekly quizzes, helped prepare a plant book. It was extremely difficult, and more fun than I could have imagined.
In due time I earned my name badge and docent vest, and became a docent in the Park, leading tours, helping visitors and answering questions. Today I lead bird walks and help out at the reptile show, my favorite.
I have now completed two and a half years as a docent at the Park. I’ve made several wonderful friends and have become the opposite of a reclusive freelance. Old friends are often astonished to see me approaching strangers and helping them enjoy the Park as much as I do.
As for writing, for the first two years I didn’t even think about it. Now, I realize that I just needed a break from something that had nourished me for so long. I’m working on a new novel, one that will be informed by much of what I have learned in my new role as a naturalist.
Tomorrow: Where did the fox-cat come from?