The snow started falling at twilight, so densely that the air was as white as the ground soon would be. I stepped outside for a moment and stood under the cottonwood tree in the courtyard, sheltered by the thick bare branches. I had run out without stopping to put on a jacket or shoes, and the tree kept me and my slippered feet dry.

What has always drawn me outside into snowfalls is what can’t be experienced while sitting cozily inside looking out. It’s the sound. It’s like no other sound. It’s both cosmic and intensely intimate. I waited for my ears to acclimatize to the silence, in the same way I wait for my eyes to accustom to darkness. And then there it was: the sound of snowflakes falling through air, accompanied by the sound of them landing on the branches, the rooftop, the ground.

I’m in Taos for the holidays, lovingly welcomed into the bosom of my son-in-law’s family. When the snow began it was just me and my daughter Kate and her husband Brendan in the kitchen. I sat at the counter with a glass of wine, watching them cook dinner for us all.

I love watching them cook together. They carried on a lively conversation with me as they worked, about our families, about books and movies, about trips we’d like to take. And all the while I was mesmerized by the way they moved together around their work space, so freely and gracefully, never bumping into each other. They fell into their different tasks with little or no discussion. With a smile and a nod they expressed appreciation to each other for the perfectly diced onions, the carefully peeled mushrooms, the taste of the simmering soup, the shininess of the risotto, the perfection of the pies.

The food carried us through an evening of talking and laughing together in the candlelit dining room. There are eleven of us gathered here from far and near, immediate family plus a few in-laws, lucky me. During the day we go our separate ways in various combinations or alone, reading, exploring Taos, walking up the mountain, meeting by chance in the kitchen. But every evening we all gather in the dining room, and I, who grew up not in a family, bask in the extraordinary connectedness of this family.

Yesterday afternoon all eleven of us drove in a caravan of cars to a house already filled with Christmas cheer and Taos natives. As I made my way slowly around the rooms, meeting everyone, I suddenly realized that I was the oldest person there. It was one of those aha! moments when a sharp zing of understanding hits.

For the year and a half since I turned 80, little zings like that have been making it increasingly clear how different this decade is. I can now report with absolute assurance: Old Age is a completely new stage of life. That term “Old Age” has not a whiff of negativity to me any more. Since it comes after “Middle Age” it seems accurate and descriptive. I feel proud and even somewhat triumphant to be 81, and I find myself telling my age even to people who haven’t asked.

Now I’m not saying it’s easy. I often hear “aging is not for the faint of heart,” but for me it seems more accurate to say it’s not for the lazy. I weaken and stiffen at a noticeable rate, but with enough exercising, almost each and every day, I manage to stay upright and functional and without pain.

A few times I’ve gotten just plain pissed off at all the time it takes to do all that necessary and boring exercise, and I’ve gone on strike for a few days. It felt naughty, like playing hooky, and I enjoyed that too. But boy oh boy, I paid for it by becoming quickly weaker and stiffer than I ever thought possible. I had to sit up and take notice and learn from the experience, and that pissed me off too. But there was nobody to argue or barter with about it, so I simply had to accept that if I want to remain limber and not dodder, I have to put in the time, no ands ifs or buts about it. Damn.

I think a lot of people don’t learn to accept that. They lose heart and just give up, and then they become poster boys or girls for the prevailing view of old age, sitting all day in pain, complaining, waiting to die. Or maybe, more likely, it’s just plain old laziness, and I can certainly understand that.

That inclination towards laziness feels almost like a rip tide that pulls me, not out to sea, but down into my chair. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to fight it, and I’m always glad when I do. But sometimes I just say Screw it! I’ve earned the right to be as lazy as I damn please. If I want to walk on level ground and not climb mountains any more it’s nobody’s damn business.

I looked around at all the wonderfully quirky, smart, talented Taos people, all younger than me. I felt a sense of separateness, I felt the difference in where we are in life. And it was a pleasurable feeling. I was deeply experiencing reality, and I was a step further along on one of the major quests of life: know thyself.  And I was grateful that I still can hear the sound of snow falling.






Cocooned in a fluffy white blanket, marooned on my pale yellow couch, a cool silk eye pillow soothed the pressure inside my head. I had caught The Thing that was going around.

I wasn’t terribly sick. I didn’t have a fever, I wasn’t nauseated. I had a cold, a cough, and I ached dully from head to toe. It was the fatigue that rose from the depths of my bones that nailed me to the couch.  I slept and slept, in and out of various levels of consciousness, all day, all night. I felt I’d been drugged.

I see by the calendar that I lived that way for six days. I would easily believe six weeks.  Time stopped, the world shrank to the parameters of that couch, the tea kettle in the kitchen was an orbiting moon. In my memory there was no light during this period, only darkness, even when I took off the eye pillow.

Illness alone is quite different from illness in the company of a mate. Not only the obvious things, like having to get up and make my own cups of tea. Actually, that turned out to be a benefit in the long run, it kept my muscles from total atrophy.  The thing I was most aware of was the aloneness. I wasn’t lonely, but I felt I was far from any other humans anywhere. During my days on the couch I was unaware even of the occasional car driving by, or the dogs that bark in the distance. The silence felt enormous. My couch and I drifted in a vast black emptiness.

Strangely, it was not an unpleasant experience. Had I had obligations, I probably would have suffered. But since I’m retired and nobody depends on me for anything, I was able to give in and give up for those six days. I didn’t even try to fight it. It was a bizarre vacation on a faraway island.

At one point I found myself looking back, from a far distance, at my life – my loved ones, my  past, my present – with a strangely detached emotionless eye. I even wondered, with calm curiosity: Is this what dying is like?

And for a moment that got me laughing, remembering an evening long ago, full of hilarity, with two of my daughters. We wondered whether I’d still be watching them after I died. We set up a complicated system of signals for me to give them, should the answer turn out to be yes. I can’t remember the signals. I think one had to do with a light switch, another with a curtain.

The one thing that now and then would draw me back into the real world was a phone call or an email from a friend. I was surprised at what a difference even a brief exchange of words made. I would suddenly be right back, feeling like myself again, though sick. I’ve made a note to myself to call or email my friends now when they’re sick, and not just leave it up to them with “Be sure to let me know if I can do anything to help.”

Had someone been in the house with me, I think the sound of their footsteps or a cough or even the turning of a page would have kept me anchored somehow to the world. As with almost all the differences between living alone and living as a couple, I see them as differences, not as one being better or worse than the other.  My six days on that couch were an unusual experience. I don’t often feel so very disconnected from the familiar. so constricted to such a tiny space, floating alone in the cosmos. An exotic experience, full of interesting details.

On the seventh day I leapt up, full of energy.  I was back.


Last night, the moon didn’t rise until almost 9 pm, which meant I had a couple of hours after dark to see the stars in all their glory. This campground is many miles from the nearest little town, on a bluff over a lake in a canyon, surrounded by mountains. It sits in a field of waving golden grasses, with large junipers providing ample shade everywhere. In the five days before all the campers arrived for the weekend, there were only two couples here, and I settled in a site so far from them that I couldn’t see or hear them. Not even their goddam generators. I was alone in the world, in this idyllic spot, unsullied by a single whiff of human civilization. No wi-fi, no phone service, no radio, and best of all, no news. Pure bliss.

I haven’t seen stars like this since I was in Death Valley. I took a blanket out into the middle of the field, hoping there were no chiggers or snakes, but quickly deciding it was worth it even if there were. Funny how in an instant we can make these life-and-death decisions. I found a place with not too many stones, spread out my blanket, lay down, looked up, became one with starry eternity. And the Milky Way! A statistic jumped into my mind: I read somewhere that 87% of the people who live in the U.S. have never seen the Milky Way.  That brings me to a halt every time I think of it. The ramifications of that must be huge, though I’m not at all clear what those ramifications might be.

I think back to all my years of children and cello and school and making a living and in general leading a very demanding life. During those years I was now and then startled to realize that most of the time I didn’t know even what phase the moon was in. Would I or my life have been different had I been more closely connected to the sky? I wonder if astronomers differ from the rest of us in some deep and interesting way.

It was these same stars that bound me to my first husband, the father of my three daughters. We met in the woods on the California coast one summer afternoon. A group camping trip. By the time evening came we were aware only of each other. We spent the night lying side by side in a clearing we found, in a field very much like the one I was in now. We talked and talked and in the early morning, before sunrise, we fell asleep, still lying side by side, holding hands, our faces still turned upwards. When I awoke, I knew he was the one.  After all, I had slept on it.

And here I was now, again in a field looking up at those same stars. And when I turned my head, there was that same young woman, me, also looking up at the stars. Between us lay my entire young adulthood and middle age, over half a century of living. Infinite space above me, a vast lifetime stretching out beside me.

An owl called from a nearby tree, and it was at that moment I saw the first peek of the moon over a distant mountain. Instead of watching it as though it was rising, I felt myself being spun – so smoothly! – by this planet. I viscerally felt the earth rotating in space as we, the earth and I, turned, so that minute by minute, more of the moon could be seen. I felt gravity rooting me to my blanket, keeping me from flying off.

I slept deeply last night, in my cozy little Scamp. Maybe that’s the difference:  astronomers sleep more soundly than the rest of us.


Driving home from a meeting this morning (Citizens Climate Lobby – check it out if you’ve been looking for a way to do something useful about the world) I feel a sudden pain in my abdomen, about an inch to the right of my belly button. In all my years I’ve never felt pain in that spot before. What could it be? What’s inside me right there? Is it an organ? a muscle? How can I know so little about my own body?

As I drive, the pain increases. Is my appendix about to burst? Has a tumor grown big enough to bang into something else in there? Should I turn around and go to Urgent Care? If I lose consciousness will the car smash into a nice soft saguaro? If I’m killed will my daughters suspect suicide?

Who can I call? My daughters all live far away. My close friends are all out of town, every one of them.

I turn my mind to fantasy: my imaginary soul mate is now the one driving the car. I keep him at the ready for moments like this. Yes, the pain is bad, but I’m no longer worried. He’s in charge, he’ll take care of everything. And because he’s perfect (of course) he does it all with grace and charm, and even makes some terrific black humor jokes that get me laughing and feeling suffused with love.

But then the pain ratchets up another notch and I’m all alone in the car again. I start imagining my death.

As usual, it’s not actually my death I imagine, it’s my daughters’ reactions to it. The first time I did this was years ago. One morning I opened my underwear drawer and saw it from their eyes. I saw that everything looked gray and shapeless and sad. I tossed the whole drawerful out, and have been wearing bright-colored scanty little things ever since. When the time comes, I’m sure they’ll stand looking into this drawer and be filled with pride that they had such a cool mother.

I now have imaginary conversations with each one of them and even imagine their responses. We say long deep goodbyes and I find myself all choked up, tears streaming down my face, as I drive through the desert and mountains on this beautiful shiny day. A car passes me – oh god, could they see me through the tinted window? Is it someone I know? – and I’m brought back to the here-and-now with a jolt. Has this pain turned me into a crazy batshit old lady?

I sit up a little straighter (ouch) and turn on my rational brain. Now come on, Liz, it may be nothing. Just stay calm, get yourself home, make a cup of tea and see what happens. Expecting the worst isn’t helpful.

Well, wait a minute. Maybe not helpful, but I must say it is entertaining on this long drive with nothing good on the radio and nobody real to talk to and a pain to worry about. A bit of fake real-life drama to fill the time. Look at that: I’ve had emotionally intense conversations with each of my daughters, and even a flash of warmth with my imaginary soul mate.

But enough is enough. And anyway, here I am at home.

I make that cup of tea, I go sit out under the hackberry tree and get absorbed in the novel I’m reading (Penelope Lively’s How It All Began). When I come up for air, the pain is gone. And it has stayed gone.

What happened to make that pain? What made it go away? I’ll never know. But I think if brain studies were done it might be found that there’s a specific part of the brain that grows huge and lights up in people who live alone, a part that probably doesn’t even exist in the brains of people who have been coupled all their lives. Or maybe I am well on my way to turning into a crazy batshit old lady.


“Getting old is the pits, it’s all downhill.”  Whenever I hear someone say something like that I get so mad. I’m mad at whoever is saying it for being so stupid, and I’m mad at all the zillions of people over the years who’ve made us think that way.  I want to yell back, “Just shut up and pay attention to what’s really going on.”  I’m no Pollyanna, but the truth is this: Getting old is up-hill.  Yes, I said up. And in so many ways. And when you start getting near the top, if you’re paying attention at all, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Yeah yeah, we’re not as strong, we’re slower, we look different from young people, we think about death a lot, things are happening to our bodies. But so what? Those things are all workable, they’re just changes, differences. We’ve got to do some changing too. And what’s so bad about that anyway? We get to be middle-aged long enough.

Old age is getting such a bad rap. You’d think that once we see our first gray hair we’re looking right down into the depths of Hell. We’ll just shrivel up in misery and ugliness, there’s nothing left. How did that happen?  Old used to mean wise – where did that go? We used to get lots of respect, and our wrinkly faces used to be beautiful. But damn, that’s all gone down the drain.

It sends me into conniption fits when I see a woman looking sad and she’s saying something like, “Oh god, look at my neck! Oh the wrinkles! What’ll I do?” Well here’s a suggestion: stop looking in the mirror and go do something useful or interesting or fun. For godsakes, get on with your life.

Don’t get me wrong: I know just how she feels. I used to be afraid too. I was hit by all that ballyhoo about getting old, just as much as everyone else. And there wasn’t much to counteract it. My mother was useless: she’d never say boo about anything personal, not ever. Her body got all gnarled up with arthritis but she pretended nothing was happening. She wouldn’t even own up to one single little twinge of pain. Now some people might find that admirable, but me, I wanted to know what was up ahead. I wanted some straight-shooting talk about what old age is really like. What else is it that happens, besides our bodies changing? That’s what I wanted to know. I couldn’t believe it would be just misery and nothing else.

So why do we buy all those lies that are dished out to us? It’s not only because almost all you see in movies, magazines, TV, is young people. No, it’s something more. People start feeling ashamed when they start getting old, it’s like they’ve broken the code, they couldn’t keep up. Some of them lose their jobs, their spouses, nobody listens when they talk, nurses pat their heads and baby-talk to them. And they give up, they just sit in their living rooms all day watching TV and feeling achy and sad. The power of advertising – they don’t even stick their necks out to see if maybe they were sold a bill of goods.

And don’t get me started on the “Active Senior Communities.” They’re for the people who have the money to keep themselves looking middle aged (if you squint at them from a distance). In the pictures they’re always laughing away and carrying a tennis racket, and they’re thin and you can tell they’re moving really fast to get to that tennis court, laughing and laughing, like they’ve beat the system, they’ll never get old. God almighty.

Me? I figure the day I turned 70 was when I first stuck one foot into old age, just testing the waters. I’d been middle-aged so long it was quite a surprise to me. I felt a little tremor and knew an earthquake was close behind. The tremors came faster and faster, and I had to do some serious shifting and changing. Mostly my attitude. By my 80th birthday I was able to pull my other leg in and bingo! I was now officially in Old Age. And I was ready. I felt celebratory. I knew I was in a brand-new kind of age zone. I knew things were going to be different from now on. No, it’s more than that. It’s me that’s different, how I feel about things, how I see things. I’m finally really myself. Like everything that came before, my whole life, it was all leading up to this, the real me. And it took 80 years to get here.

Actually, I’ve been here a number of times before, each time feeling that I’ve finally arrived, I’m finally fully grown. Ha! I’ve been wrong every time. One of the things about Old Age is that inner and outer begin to separate from each other, go their own ways. Physically, I’m afraid there’s no other word for it but deterioration. My body is wearing out, no matter how hard I work to keep as much as possible, as long as possible. But everything else – my mind, my spirit, they fly so fast and light now that all the unimportant details that have weighted them down drop away, and I see that so many things that mattered for so many years just plain don’t anymore. What freedom.

I want to scream when I hear someone moaning and groaning about how they couldn’t remember why they went into the other room for something, or how it takes a while to remember a simple word. Their whole day is ruined cause they’re sure dementia is coming at them, and they just stop in their tracks. Yes, of course dementia looms before us like the worst monster from the underworld. But we don’t all get it. What we do get is change in our brains, along with all the other changes. The spaces between the neurons up there get wider, so it takes longer for a signal to make that jump from one to another. I don’t know that that’s accurate, but I do know it helps me not spend my day fretting about what might be up ahead.

And what is up ahead? Behind me lies the vast expanse of 81 years. Now and then I turn back to look, to remember. When I turn to look forward, my nose now almost touches a fog so thick I can’t see through it to whatever’s beyond. I stand rooted on this tiny spot, right here, right now, knowing that at any moment a sudden gust of wind will blow me off, straight into that thick fog. It does take courage, but when I’m able to not give in to that fear of the unknown, when I’m able to look around me and take in exactly where I am, it’s bracing. It makes me snap to and get on with my life.


There are things about this aging process that are so interesting that I wonder why so much of the writing about aging centers around all the things we lose as we get older. Certainly those things are noticeable, things like strength, memory, youthful looks. But what I find much more interesting are the subtle changes going on constantly in the subterranean regions of our minds and emotions. They indicate how fluid and ever-changing we humans can be, no matter how old. I’m often reminded of this in unexpected ways, and recently one of those ways was my curtain sewing project.

I’ve always disliked curtains. They block out part of the views that windows provide, and let less light into every room. Many of them look silly, especially if there are ruffles, but we’ve become so used to them we don’t notice anymore. They’re magnets for dust and scorpions. Yes, they’re good for privacy at night, but even better are window shades. Shades have evolved over the years, from those flimsy always-curling-on-the-edges things we had in the ‘40s and ‘50s to elegant performance pieces that now can even be activated by a mere touch of a button. They disappear at the top of the window during the daytime, and subtly transform a room in the evenings.

I don’t have curtains, and for years I didn’t have shades either. My house looks down on my neighbors’ roofs, so I felt plenty private, until a friend stayed in my house once when I was off on a trip. He was freaked out by how exposed he felt in the evenings. When I got back I tried to imagine what that felt like for him, and my imagination was so vivid that soon, after ten years of living happily with bare windows, I was sure eyes were looking in at me every night. I immediately ordered shades.

It’s in my Scamp that I’ve had to revisit the whole subject of curtains. It wasn’t until after I got home from my first summer trip with the Scamp, back in 2014, that I discovered that the curtains that came with it were see-through. I had spent four months exploring mountains: the Sierras, the Tetons, the Rockies, a crescendo of mountains leading up to Glacier Nat’l Park at the Canadian border. Almost every night on that trip I would close the curtains, turn on a light, heat a pot of water, take off all my clothes and voila! a delightful sponge bath. I still do that, and I’m still ecstatic with the luxury of it all, after all my years of tent camping.  But that first trip, at night, with the light on and the curtains drawn, anyone could see clearly everything I was doing inside. What can I do but laugh ruefully, thinking of the entertainment I provided in each campground during those mountain months? How is it nobody told me?

For the next two summers I just folded an extra layer of material over the curtains every night. It’s surprising how annoying such a small task can become, but I tried to think of it as just part of my bedtime routine. This spring I decided to find someone in Oracle who could sew opaque curtains for me, but after many phone calls I was unable to find a seamstress to do the job. I researched blinds for trailers, but they are too expensive, and many comments online told of frustrations with them. One morning I heard myself say “Then I’ll do it myself said the Little Red Hen, and she did.”

So I did. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole process of making those curtains. It began with looking for just the right material. I hadn’t been in a fabric store for years, and as soon as I walked into the first one I was pulled back into memories of the 1950s when I did most of my sewing.  I remembered poring over the pattern books – Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s, Vogue. I again let my hands brush over the edges of the bolts of cotton fabrics lined up on the shelves, the material pulled tight and smooth, always looking so full of potential. I was riveted by the huge rainbow of colors that the spools of thread made. As I made my way through these fabric stores I saw them as colorful hotbeds of possibility. Everything in them is in a dormant state, waiting for someone to bring them to life.

When I didn’t find anything that met my Scamp needs in any of the fabric stores, I started in on thrift shops to look for an opaque bed sheet. I would go directly to the linens department of the thrift shop, find all the sheets that were a neutral beige, hold them up to the fluorescent lights on the ceiling and see if they were completely opaque. It was weeks of tenacious looking before I found exactly what I wanted.

In the meantime I had become overwhelmed by my online research into sewing machines. The last one I had used was in the 1950s, when I was a teenager. It had been left in the old barn of a redwood house that we rented in Santa Barbara from 1949 until 1955. The sewing machine, a Singer, was probably made in the 1930s. How I loved working that treadle, the feel of it under my foot, the whirring sound it made, the trembling of the old house’s redwood boards when I got going really fast. I sewed clothes for myself and shirts for my boyfriend. I could make buttonholes and put in zippers. Luckily, curtains don’t require any advanced sewing technique, only straight seams.

I was able to give up trying to choose one machine from the zillions that showed up online, when I discovered a store in Tucson that sells only sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. This store should be the model for all small businesses. They helped me choose the most basic machine, and then spent an hour with me, showing me everything about it. Later that week they had their monthly sewing class, so I went to that too. I was the only person who showed up, so I had a private tutorial. A week later, when I couldn’t figure out how to unscramble the bobbin, I took the machine back to them, and again they spent time with me, explaining and fixing.  What a difference it makes to have a store stand behind a product like that. The people who work there are mostly middle-aged women who all seem to have a lively sense of humor and a true desire to help everyone learn to sew. I keep hoping I’ll have another problem so I can go back again.

It wasn’t until after I had bought my lovely new sewing machine that one of the thrift shops had exactly what I was looking for. And it was a king size sheet, so there would be plenty of material for mistakes and do-overs, if needed. It’s a neutral beige, it’s a thin material that I can pull back from all the windows during the daytime and they won’t be noticed, and best of all, it’s completely opaque, even with all five lights turned on inside the Scamp.

I got all set up on my dining room table, cut out the curtains, and with great excitement started to sew. I made every mistake that can possibly be made with such a straightforward, simple job, and all the hems look as though I suffer from palsy or was sewing during an earthquake. But finally they are all sewn and hung up in the Scamp. They look just fine, and I know that in a while I won’t even notice them. They’re just curtains, and they’re good enough.

I was surprised by the sense of potency this small project gave me. At this stage of life, retired from my work and no longer playing the cello, I don’t often get that sense, the feeling that I still have agency in the world. I wanted more of that feeling. So, after my curtains were finished, for the first time in years I vacuumed my house. For over 25 years, it has given me a luxurious feeling to hire someone else to do it, but I think maybe I’ve had enough of luxury. Now a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, is more satisfying to me.

I find that my needs and desires continue to change. Old age is definitely not a static end zone, a passive waiting for death. It’s quite possible that I’ve changed more since I turned 70, eleven years ago, than I did in many previous decades. The changes all feel like real growth to me. I understand so many things more clearly now, including myself.

From my little curtain-sewing project I’ve learned that for me, at this age at least, feeling useful outweighs comfort and luxury. I’ve seen how stimulating it is to challenge myself to do new things. I’ve seen also how easy it is to fall into a rut, doing the same familiar things over and over, never daring to strike out in a new direction. While figuring out all the details of making those curtains, my brain felt livelier and more interesting. It wouldn’t surprise me if I even stood up a little taller and straighter, and maybe even walked a little faster.


On the Line

(This was written for, an activist group in Amsterdam)

In 1961, one year after I’d moved to Berkeley, I met the man who would become the father of my three daughters. He was a lawyer and a Marxist, deeply involved in radical politics. For our third date he invited me to join him in front of the Atomic Energy Commission building (now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to protest the nuclear bombs being tested in Nevada.

When I arrived, there were only six people walking slowly in a tight circle in front of the main door. My heart pounded as I joined them, I had never taken part in any political action before. I was giddy with excitement at seeing again the man I had already fallen in love with. But my heart pounded also for another reason: I had learned early in life to keep my head safely down, to silently and without complaint do whatever was asked of me. I was naive to a fault, and the idea of walking in front of a government building carrying a sign saying Ban the Bomb, No More Hiroshimas, or Down with the AEC, seemed not only impolite but downright dangerous.

Our little circle was so meek that when someone went in or out of the door, or when people walked by on the sidewalk, we moved aside to let them pass.

As the hours went by and nothing dire happened, I began to relax. I began to feel that we were the only thing standing between the AEC and total nuclear annihilation. I stood taller, my steps became firmer, I started talking earnestly with passers-by. I became suffused with a sense of power, the likes of which I’d never before experienced.

When my oldest daughter Kate was two weeks old, I carried her in  the crook of my elbow on a march in Vallejo. It was a warm sunny day, full of joy and optimism. We marched on the side of the highway, where the trucks carrying napalm to be shipped over to Viet Nam rolled by. This time there were about twenty of us, there to support the four brave souls who actually lay down across the highway, risking their lives to stop those trucks in their tracks.

In just one year, political protests had developed into actions of danger and sheer courage, secretly organized by small groups, designed to cause unexpected disruption. By the time the police showed up, the napalm trucks had come to a complete standstill, we protesters were marching all over the road and in between all the trucks, the place was a confused frenzy, and the police were faced with a brand new kind of traffic problem to solve.

A hostile group had formed on the outskirts of all this mayhem, shouting at us that we were “UnAmerican,” “Bolsheviks,” “Dumb Hippies,” but the most fervent name-calling was directed at me: “Go home!”  “Take care of your baby!” “Evil mother!” “You belong in jail!”  It was a relief to hide in the car every now and then when my baby needed to nurse.

I continued to march and demonstrate throughout the 1960s. By the time all three of my girls were born I was adept at carrying one on my back and fitting the other two onto one stroller. Throughout those years my sense of political power continued to strengthen and was interwoven with my strengthening sense of the power of love, learned for the first time in my life as I became part of the family that was growing around me. My inner and outer horizons were expanding simultaneously.

This past January, I took part in the Women’s March on Washington, with Kate by my side. She and her husband are spending the winter with me here in Arizona, and we joined the march in Tucson. My other two daughters were marching in their homelands: Susan in Amsterdam, Emily in New Zealand.

It was thrilling to be surrounded by 15,000 other marchers. The atmosphere was cheerful, the crowd well-behaved, the side streets cordoned off, the police smiling and some even wearing pussy hats. Though we were all drawn to the occasion by a shared horror at what lay ahead after the elections, the march’s purpose lurked deep below the almost celebratory surface. The fear we all felt erupted only occasionally in angry shouts and on banners and signs.

Marching along with such a huge crowd of like-minded people made me forget, for the moment, the utter helplessness I had felt after the election results were in. In that crowd I felt again some of the power, the potency, I had first encountered in front of the AEC building in 1961. But the feeling was short-lived, it dissipated as soon as I was alone again, reading reports of what was happening in Washington, DC.

In the 1960s we were small in numbers, our actions unpredictable and threatening to those in power. With the Women’s March it was the opposite: huge numbers, orderly well-publicized action, with little lasting effect. But now, small isolated acts and large marches are no longer enough. In response to the radical changes taking place in the White House, new methods of political protest are evolving, and the heroes at Standing Rock make clear that it will be increasingly dangerous and more difficult than in the past. Yet it is more urgent now than ever before that we take action. At the very least, we can make our opinions heard by our representatives, we can vote, we can march.

I turned 80 this year, and to celebrate I gathered my three daughters from the far corners of the earth, along with one son-in-law, the two oldest grandsons, and one dog. We lived together in my Arizona mountain house for a few weeks, an unprecedented togetherness for us all. After dinner, we sat outside around the camp fire, talking and laughing, passing the guitar around and singing together, long into the nights. The world around us, explored each day with gusto, shrank at night to only as far as the firelight glowed. I looked at our faces, held in the fire’s orbit, shining with love and happiness, and we seemed an entire universe unto ourselves.

This is the universe that we fight for when we put ourselves on the line, when we fight for what is right. This is what will help us maintain a steady moral compass as so much crumbles around us. It is for this that we must be willing to risk everything.