Blueberries: The Aging Secret

by Jan Simpson

It was one of those brilliant summer days upon a crystal lake in New Hampshire: the kayaks rested by the water; the motorboat glistened white, its leather seats hot from baking in the sun; and the lake seemed to sigh happily, sitting perfectly still beneath the late morning sun. We had arrived to the lake house just after breakfast, to visit my brother-in-law on vacation with his wife’s family.  We said our hellos, gave our hugs and kisses, and then stood aside as my sister-in-law’s elderly parents marched purposefully out the front door with their daughter, off to their favorite local farm, just down the street, where they’ve been picking blueberries for the past twenty years. He’s 99 years old and she, a sprightly 86.  They’ve been visiting this lake since their grandchildren were in diapers, and today, it was the four college-bound teens turn to do the dishes. After cleaning up the kitchen, marked by excited chatter about the coming adventures in their lives, we all went out onto the lake in their motorboat, laughing and yelling as the two oldest hopped on a tube and were dragged wildly across wakes created by their uncle who hoped to topple them, unsuccessfully.

While we were out on the water, their grandfather returned from the farm with buckets of blueberries totaling five pounds, and found a corner of the couch where he could take a much-deserved nap. Later, I chatted quietly in the living room with his wife who was sporting sunglasses in the house to protect her eyes from recent cataract surgery; seated beside a coffee table that held a Scrabble board and a pocket-sized dictionary, she clutched a half-finished paperback.  For lunch we all moved to the back deck, nestled beneath a grove of trees that cast shadows out onto the sparkling water, and over salad, fruit, steak, and lemonade, I breathed in the deep aroma of fresh pine.

Recently, I re-read “Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well-Being,” by Dr. Andrew Weil, a book about staying active while growing old and enjoying the benefits of age.  Dr. Weil has spent the past thirty years “developing, practicing, and teaching others about the principles of integrative medicine,” an approach to health care that encompasses body, mind, and spirit.  He scoffs at those who want to deny the aging process and even devotes an entire chapter to a discussion on how to embrace the benefits of being older.  He likens people to violins and wine: we become richer over time, our character deepens. He explains how an anti-inflammatory diet of few processed foods and more vegetables and fruits can extend life; how rest and sleep and appropriate exercise will strengthen and renew our bodies; and how maintaining “social and intellectual connectedness throughout life” is a chief characteristic of successful aging. It’s a great read, a book I return to when I see a few more laugh-lines in the mirror.

I don’t have to look beyond that day on that New Hampshire lake to see the value of Dr. Weil’s advice. An extended family gathered for respite and bucolic play; a simple yet delicious meal; a board game or a good book for relaxation; and an older couple who demonstrate by their presence and their determination to stay active, that one of the secrets to a long life can be found on a blueberry farm near a pristine lake on a gorgeous summer day in southern New Hampshire.

Do you have any favorite family vacation stories to share?

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