A writer finds that retirement life can be very busy — and adventurous
By David Figura
A good friend once told me the only thing you can be sure of is today.
My decision last fall to retire as outdoors writer for The Post-Standard, Syracuse.com and NYUP.com at age 67 followed months of contemplation and angst.
I loved writing stories about everything from birding to bear hunting, along with meeting countless interesting and passionate outdoor enthusiasts across the state.
For 15 years, it created a unique identity for me, a fun-filled last chapter to my newspaper career that spanned four decades and included reporting and editing at six different papers in Southern California, the Catskills and Upstate New York.
But as my wife, Laura Downs, who had retired in late 2019 from Hillrom (formerly Welch-Allyn) kept telling me, “You’ll know when it’s time.”
There is no one scenario for deciding whether it’s time to retire. Some do it early (before 65) simply because they can, with good finances and access to health insurance. But burnout from one’s job and stress can also come into play. One’s health or the health of one’s spouse is another reason. Getting laid off is another.
Others find their job emotionally and financially satisfying and just continue with a “steady as she goes” philosophy and keep working. And some, regardless of their health or job satisfaction, have to keep working for financial reasons.
For me, a handful of health issues emerged, including AFib, sleep apnea and a hip replacement in September. The latter left me inactive and home-bound for nearly eight weeks. Prior to that, I felt a growing stress level at work with added duties that weren’t part of my beat, coupled with feelings that I was losing my edge, my enthusiasm.
More importantly, there were things I wanted to do apart from work — things I wasn’t getting to. Things like working on my second book, traveling more, spending more time with family and friends, getting out more to fish and hunt.
Last summer, I shared with a friend my concern that the clock was ticking on my life.
“It’s not a clock. It’s a freaking hour glass,” he said. “Yours has been turned over and the sands of your life are running out as we speak.”
Another buddy, a former retired coworker at the paper, challenged me.
“Why not retire? What are you afraid of? There’s no greater feeling than waking up and knowing you don’t have to chase the almighty dollar,” he said.
Everyone I talked to offered the same advice. “Once you retire, be sure you have something to do. Something to give your life structure, relevancy, a schedule,” they said.
So, prior to pushing the eject button, I sat down and compiled a list of what I planned, or would like to do in retirement. The list filled 1 1/2 pages. It amounted to rewiring my life.
So, how is the rewiring going?
It’s going fine. A half year later, though, I’ve yet to settle into a routine or rigid schedule. I wake up every morning, pour myself a cup of coffee, give thanks for my health and review an ever-changing “to do” list.
Traveling and enjoying the outdoors have taken up much of my time so far. I’m not very handy and must admit I’ve been lax about doing chores and minor repairs around the house. But with the warmer weather, that will come. (At least that’s what I keep telling my wife.)
For years, I’ve said that my outdoors writing job will give me a head start to my latter years. The job made me aware of many of the best fishing and hunting spots in this state. I’ve already started to cash in on that knowledge.
Meanwhile, it’s turning into a busy year. My daughter got married in January in Mexico and my son is getting married in the Mid-Hudson area in September.
Following my daughter’s wedding, Laura and I traveled to Florida to visit friends for a week. Among our outings was a visit to the Crystal River area, where we hired a guide, donned snorkel gear and swam with manatees.
In March, we took a three-week road trip to visit in-laws in Charlotte, North Caroline, and coupled that with a drive to New Orleans to visit my daughter and her husband. In addition to eating some great food and taking in some awesome live music in The Big Easy, I kayak fished for largemouth bass in the Bayou St. John, which flows into the northern part of the city.
In early May, we took one item off our joint bucket list with a 12-day trip to South Africa that included a six-day photo safari. We saw lions, leopards, giraffes, water buffalo and hippos, among other animals. Quite a treat for an outdoors writer.
Back at home, I’m taking guitar lessons. I’m in a men’s book club and a low-stakes, men’s poker group, both which meet once a month. I started playing pickleball at the Skaneateles Y.
In addition, I’ve started inquiring about free-lance writing opportunities and mulling whether to take on a part-time job of some sort. I feel like being retired doesn’t mean you should stop trying to make money.
Bottom line: I’m doing my best to keep busy, trying new things.
However, the X factor is my health and the health of my wife — all which could take a negative turn and send my best-laid plans into a tailspin.
Poet Robert Frost once wrote, ‘The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
That’s food for thought.
But so is the expression, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years.”
David Figura is a retired outdoors writer for The Post-Standard, Syracuse.com and NYup.com, is working on his second book, “Nobody Likes A Whiny Man,” about guys handling life in their 60s and 70s. His first book, “So What Are the Guys Doing?” covered how men deal with middle age.
Photo: David Figura with a lunker smallmouth bass he caught and released recently while fishing off the Skaneateles Village Pier. Photo provided.