Friday-walk's most pregnant moment came when I stumbled on a tree root. When I tried to catch myself my other foot also got caught, so I ended up flailing my arms wildly, sending binoculars, fieldguide and cornbread everywhere, and landing about as ungracefully as possible.

At age 55 I'm in inordinately good shape, yet, still, my reactions are clearly slowing down. Each year the hearing goes a bit, and now when with my right eye I watch a bird that's just a tiny speck in the sky... that speck disappears and reappears as a dirty spot flutters exactly where I try to focus. The old body is giving way. The senses are dulling. The face of the future grins at me plainly.

Yet, I wouldn't want to return to my earlier years. Maturing (as opposed to merely growing old) has its compensations equaling and possibly surpassing the delights of simply being young and healthy.

For example, sometimes during my birding walks I recall how my birding technique has changed over the years. When I was younger, before I was sure of an identification, I had to check each bird's fieldmarks as cataloged in my fieldguide. I had to see the White- eyed Vireo's white iris, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler's yellow rump and white throat. Now I know my birds by clusters of characters, seldom even needing to use binoculars. I know birds by their silhouettes, by the way they move, by what habitat or niche they occupy, and by their songs and warning calls. Friday I listed 24 Red-eyed Vireos but I never got a good view of a single one.

Thus, with my maturity as a birder, acuity of mind has displaced most need to physically track down each bird and confirm its fieldmarks. With time, I have become more effective as a birder by learning to rely on experience, practiced judgment, and maybe something extra that accrues to any spirit that evolves and grows.

Such seems to be the case in all aspects of my life. I have no doubt that as years pass my body and senses will deteriorate at an accelerating rate. However, I am also sure that while this happens -- as long as my mind remains intact -- intangible, maybe even mystical, benefits of a maturing, evolving spirit will more than compensate for those physical losses.

Friday, I stumbled. As I flailed my arms, looking perfectly ridiculous, the entire train of thought outlined above flashed through my mind in an instant. By the time I hit the ground already I was beginning to laugh, so delighted that in this blur of a life I've just lived I've had the chance to observe myself evolving from being a sensory-intoxicated and physical-world-enslaved infant to the kind of seeing-and-hearing-OK-without-good-eyes-and-ears, balding and gray-bearded stumbler I am now.