In this photograph (above) illustrating an article of mine published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette in October, Alia Starkweather, then 82, was leaving her clapboard cottage in Belchertown to embark on a new and exciting life on the road. She purchased a 1987 Toyota Minicruiser and set out on her own after Thanksgiving.
I met Starkweather while writing an obituary about her former husband, Llan Starkweather, who passed away in June. I was struck by her tenacity for life and wrote myself a note to follow up later.
Her intentions reminded of the oft-quoted poem about aging by Dylan Thomas “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Thomas writes, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Starkweather’s story exemplifies that sentiment.
I selected this photograph because it fully captures Starkweather’s ambitions: Barefooted and unburdened of any possessions, she walks alone away from the camera toward the camper. She reaches for the door, open to a dark interior — the unknown. On the gravel rests a broom and a vacuum, symbolizing the challenges she overcame — selling her home, cleaning the RV, planning her trip. A bicycle leans against the truck, and to the right, sunlight brightly illuminates the open road — her freedom.
At one point or another, everyone (including myself) has dreamed of packing up their earthly possessions, buying an RV (or converting a school bus) and living on the road.
Her story also highlights the isolation that often comes up in interviews with elders: As our world becomes more global, family members move away in search of jobs. And while technology can connect us instantaneously to those we love, it’s not a substitute for human touch or face-to-face interaction.
One day, when I’m Starkweather’s age, I hope that I’m also brave enough to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Below are a few more photographs (taken at some point within the last year) that I find to be particularly meaningful.