I live in Topanga Canyon, a woodsy artsy community nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains of Los Angeles. When we bought our first house here a million years ago, my husband quipped how Topanga must be where old hippies went to die. For sure, it's a place populated by free spirits -- folks who, let's just say, didn't need to wait for Colorado to legalize smoking pot.
While nowadays you are more likely to see SUVs and Priuses zipping around Topanga, it wasn't that long ago that you'd regularly get stuck behind an old Volkswagen camper plastered with peace signs and driven by someone going nowhere in a hurry. But that doesn't happen much anymore. Even the Topanga landmark The Inn of the 7th Ray restaurant, known for rating your menu choices on a spirituality scale -- vegans were rewarded with purple enlightenment (and moral superiority), carnivores put somewhere in the black zone for food hell -- is now marketed as a romantic wedding location with prices that fit the new image. They do have lovely gardens.
But I must come clean, since people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and my house literally has a lot of glass. I admit that our reasons for buying our current house were about as un-hippie-like as they come. We moved to the Malibu side of Topanga where the houses are new and bigger and your address entitles your kids to go to the Malibu public schools, which mine do. In my current neighborhood, we bemoan how development has displaced so much of the wildlife that we moved here to live amid -- and then we rush to call Animal Control when the coyotes traipse through our landscaped yards. I tend to avoid romanticizing the past and don't begrudge progress. I have Animal Control on speed dial.
But despite people like me, Topanga has not lost all of its unique charms -- something I was reminded of this past New Year's Eve. We went to a party at the home of our neighbors Laurie and Robert, as we do most New Year's eves. We like them, we adore their dogs (two big slobbering Newfies), Laurie is a great hostess, and the importance of being able to walk yourself home on New Year's Eve can't be over-stated.
I also like that every year, Laurie arranges for a group of local musicians to perform. The musicians -- who I hope won't be offended by this description -- are all pretty much pushing 60 and are living proof that you never outgrow the love of music once it touches your soul. I especially like that the songs they play are ones people my age know all the words to. It's not Woodstock and we all keep our clothes on, but it's about as close to music heaven on Earth for someone like me who has spent the past 25 years trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be listening to.
I also love that on New Year's Eve at Laurie and Robert's, I can kick off my shoes and dance, as they say, like nobody is watching. I don't get to dance much anymore and miss getting lost in the music and experiencing the freedom I feel when I dance. I suspect Laurie feels the same, although we've never actually talked about it. I watched her come alive during "Summertime Blues" -- originally recorded by Eddie Cochran in the late 1950s and inscribed on our radar screens by The Who a decade or so later.
Dancing is one of those magical experiences that I hope I never age out of. And while appearing foolish is pretty far from my mind most of the time, my New Year's Eve dance-a-thon did get me thinking: Aging gracefully isn't simply not caring what others think. It also has a lot to do with adapting to what our bodies tell us. And, much to my chagrin, my body on New Year's Eve was telling me to sit down already.
My left knee was an unhappy camper by the time we welcomed in the new year. Not all the champagne in the world was going to silence an old ski injury that occasionally reminds me how I was never a match for the black diamond runs of Vail's back bowls. I looked over and saw another neighbor doing a little wincing of his own and wondered if he too knew the trails that did me in.
Perhaps graceful aging is about finding new things capable of bringing you as much pleasure as the ones your body no longer wants to do? Boy, I need to swallow hard on that thought because as I just told my husband, as soon as I take this ice pack off my knee, what I want to do is go out dancing. This old hippie, at least, did not come to Topanga to die.