I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Living large and living small

The view of Mt. Baker from my living room
Yesterday I was looking out my front door when I saw this contrail cloud pointing almost directly to the tiny little view I have of Mt. Baker from my living room. After two years in this apartment, I've grown very accustomed to the variety of looks the mountain has. When I can see it, that is. It's much more likely that I look out my front door and see grey skies, maybe with a bit of moisture. In this part of the country, I've heard people say "the mountain is out" when referring to Mt. Rainier showing its face from Seattle. Well, for me it's Mt. Baker, and the mountain has been out much more this summer than I remember from years past.

I've been thinking about what it means to "live large," hence the title of this post. If you look up the definition, it refers to being wealthy and using that wealth in extravagant and ostentatious ways. But there are many ways to look at what it means to live large, in my opinion. Maybe it means using your wealth to buy multiple homes and houses and needing to have all that money to sustain your lifestyle. Those who let their needs mushroom along with their money never feel wealthy, but just stuck in the need to acquire more and more stuff.

For one thing, if you don't have your health, it doesn't matter at all how much money you have, since you don't enjoy it. That's one thing you can never buy, that and peace of mind. It seems to me that having too much money can be counterproductive to happiness. And after all, isn't that what all of us really want? To be happy? The consumer culture that permeates our lives here in the United States, perhaps everywhere, makes us want what someone else has. If I had that new car, the big house filled with the latest appliances, I would be happy then, right?

I don't think so. But then again, I'll never have to worry about having too much money. I've never had the acquisitive gene, and I was fortunate to marry someone who has even less of it than I do. I may not acquire expensive and fancy things, but I tend to hold onto things I don't need or use any more for way too long. Smart Guy, on the other hand, regularly purges his closet to rid himself of those items he doesn't wear or use any more. He also does the same thing with the food in the refrigerator. Before I met him, there would be little containers of leftovers in there that I would finally throw out. He doesn't allow that to happen, and if there is something I don't remember I left in there, he strategically places it in front so I can't help but see it. He's thrifty, and I guess you could call that living small.

Although I don't have much money, I feel as though I live large, since I always had enough of everything I ever wanted to have. I remember years ago when I first went to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It was in 1979, and I considered myself to be a hippie, back in the days when we were ubiquitous, and the only clothes I owned were jeans and t-shirts. Fortunately for me, there was no dress code at NCAR, so I didn't need to change my clothing habits to work there. The other secretaries dressed up much more than I did, but even they didn't seem to mind. In fact, I realized that the PhD scientists dressed just like me! It was only the female hourly wage earners who looked well put together.

When the weather turned cold, I went to Goodwill and got myself a down jacket, which didn't look all that good, and my boss decided I needed a better looking jacket and gave me a purple down coat he didn't wear because of the color. (It was perfect for me, though.) That began our relationship of him giving me things he no longer wanted. I was always happy to receive them, but that old habit I had of accumulating stuff required me to begin to give away things to others. It worked well, and I still get a great deal of enjoyment by giving away something I don't use any more to someone else who needs it.

I suppose if I were to win the lottery, I'd be forced to change my lifestyle. Or would I? Could I still be happy living the way I do if I had millions of dollars in the bank? I recently learned that Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest people on the planet, still lives in the same house he bought in 1957. He also once said that his children will not inherit great sums of money when he dies, because he wants them to have enough to believe they can do anything, but not so much that they believe they don't need to do anything at all.

When I am feeling good, the world looks bright and filled with promise. There's that same old problem of health being more important, at least to me, than any other kind of wealth. When I'm feeling sick, or start to worry about my health because of some new ache or pain, it wouldn't matter at all how much money I had in the bank: I'd be unhappy. So, therefore, it makes sense to me to concentrate first and foremost on doing everything I can to keep my physical and mental self as healthy and happy as possible. Of course, we all get sick, we all get older and more and more infirm. It's the way of things. And that doesn't change with money in the bank.

The most amazing thing has begun to happen as I get older and begin to feel my age: I'm beginning to accept it all, in ways I could never have even imagined when I was fifty, or even sixty. There is some kind of gentle tolerance that comes to me sometimes, and I think about how fortunate I am to be in my seventies and able to indulge in so many activities that give me pleasure. I can still skydive, although I choose not to do it for much longer. I go hiking with my senior buddies every week; I walk and read and have great conversations with my friends and family. There are many things that have fallen away because of age, it's the way of life. But I'm still living large, to me, and I've been blessed with relatively good health, a good mind, and people who love me and who I also love.

The brilliant sunshine just began to pour into the room as the sun rises, reminding me that it's getting to be time to get out of bed. My partner still sleeps beside me, although I see some stirring. My tea is gone, and my post is almost written. It's not what I thought I was going to write about, but it almost never is.

I'll pull out my skydiving gear and head to the Drop Zone today for another chance to jump out of perfectly good airplanes for no reason at all except that it's fun. And I will wish you, my dear reader, another satisfying week before we meet again.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Taking risks

Crossing a stream last Thursday
Last Thursday, I went on my usual hike with the Senior Trailblazers, and we knew that we would have to cross several fast-flowing streams to get to the great view of the glaciers on Mt. Baker. Once we got to this roaring stream, Al, our leader, tried to cross first. (There were ten of us.) He thought it was possible to get across without falling in or getting your feet very wet, and he did it. I did notice as I watched his crossing that his pants had gotten wet almost to his knees from the splashing water, but his waterproof high-top boots kept his feet dry as he picked his way from rock to rock. Then several of the others went across with varying levels of success, and I hesitated, unsure of whether or not to try it. The water is not only crashing over the rocks, but the current is also very strong and the chance of getting hurt high, if I slipped and fell in.

Al came back over to talk with those who were unwilling or reluctant to cross, and gave them a walkie-talkie; they backtracked a short distance to an alternate route to a nice view without having to cross the stream. While they were talking, I decided to see if I might be able to make it, and Mike snapped this picture of me as I carefully made my way across. My waterproof boots and gaiters kept me dry, and I was very pleased with myself for having done it. Actually, little Noriko, one of the hikers who is shorter and smaller than me, had gone across easily, and that was enough for me to give it a try. Nobody fell in, although not everyone's feet were exactly dry.

This has caused me to ponder the differences between people, with some being risk-takers and others being risk averse. I think we are born with tendencies one way or the other. My sister Norma Jean has never been a risk taker, while I have always been willing to try new and exciting adventures. Our entire childhood growing up together, we functioned as a team, with me charging on ahead and her offering reasons why we shouldn't rush in. There were times when I listened to her, and other times when I would convince her to give something new a try.

Since my father was in the Air Force and we moved frequently, I was often having to start attending a new school, most often in the middle of a school year, rather than at the beginning when many other children would be new. I remember having to stand and introduce myself more than once to a classroom filled with strangers. As an extrovert, I managed it much more easily than my shy and introverted sister. But it was still not an easy task.

As I became an adult, I went through some pretty harrowing experiences as I lost my little son and went through a terrible divorce, and then another. I found employment over the years, because I was a skilled secretary, a position that was ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. It stuns me to realize that there are fewer and fewer jobs like that these days. Times have definitely changed.

As the decades passed, I had many adventures with friends. My sister married, had two children and was living in another part of the country, and we lost touch for many years. I knew that she had settled down in Michigan and had no desire to move any more, happy to be stationary. At the same time I was still a wanderer, first living in California, then traveling for a couple of years before discovering Boulder, Colorado. It was the first time I had found a place that I wanted to make my own home town. I ended up living there for well over thirty years and had finally settled down.

But I still found ways to take risks. I met some people who loved to climb fourteeners (peaks in the Colorado mountains that are at least 14,000 feet high) and ended up climbing 26 of them, sometimes more than once, over the years. I fell in love with the mountains. There were many harrowing experiences, close calls, and chances of getting hurt, but I had learned a few things from my sister and often thought of what she would do. Other than a sprain or two, I never got injured.

And then 24 years ago last week, I made a tandem skydive that changed the trajectory of my life. Before a full year had passed, I had made more than 300 skydives and spent every waking moment lost in the thrill of becoming a proficient skydiver. That thrill lasted for thousands upon thousands of skydives. I became an instructor and over the next twelve years taught more than a thousand students. I met my husband in 1992 through skydiving, and we were married in freefall two years later.

And now I am living in the Pacific Northwest as an active senior, having become a septuagenarian almost two years ago, but still looking for ways to take risks and enjoy myself to the fullest. This year I've almost stopped skydiving, with the weekends more likely to take me outdoors in all kinds of weather than traveling 75 miles south to Skydive Snohomish. That Drop Zone has become home to me, the place where I like to play in the air with a few good friends. I suspect that by the time the new year rolls around, my skydiving years will be behind me.

But the risk-taking aspect of my personality is still intact. I guess it will always be that way. I realize that the thrill I get from accomplishing a stream crossing or traversing a sleep slope with lots of exposure is as familiar to me as breathing in and out. As I age, those challenges will still be there, but they will be pared down to be more in line with the ability of my body to take me from one adventure to another. And there are the challenges of aging, which some wag has said "ain't for sissies." Finding ways to deal with staying active in the face of old knees and other well-worn body parts is challenging in itself.

I found this quote by Hunter S. Thompson, who lived his life to the fullest. The sentiment is dear to my heart and he deserves to be credited for coming up with this philosophy.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!"
I'm working on it, Hunter. I hope that this week finds you, my dear readers, in a good place, surrounded with whatever joys in life give you happiness, whether it be outdoor activities, reading good books, or your children and grandchildren. I will never have that last particular joy, but I've found plenty of others in my life. Sending you blessings from the vantage point of a risk taker.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mulling over the long weekend

Coffee art
One of the baristas at the coffee shop made this lovely design in my coffee the other day, and I had to memorialize it before taking a sip. Tomorrow is Labor Day, the first day of September and the last day of the unofficial summer season. Although we have a few more weeks before we reach the equinox (September 22, to be exact), at this latitude we are losing almost three and a half minutes of daylight every single day. It doesn't take long for that to begin to be noticeable. The trees are turning color and leaves are beginning to fall.

I'm very sad about my downstairs neighbor having to move out, with her cat that has become my friend. She is being evicted because of lying about having a pet, and she must be out today. And she still doesn't have a place to move, so I am anxious for her, as well as for the cat. Although he's going to be okay, since he has me and another neighbor who will care for him, she won't be coming to get him and take him to his new home until she has one herself.

She had found a place that she thought would work for them, but yesterday she took me over to see it, and it's really awful: a room in an unfinished basement (there is a small room that is finished) with only a tiny little window. She wanted to know what I thought about the place, and I told her it's really not suitable, and she was relieved that I thought so too. There is another place that might be available in a week or so, and she's hoping that she will be able to move there, taking over a lease. But nothing is for sure right now, and all her stuff has to be put somewhere by the end of the day.

I know it will work out somehow, but I couldn't help but be upset for her and spent much of last night worrying. I know that doesn't help anybody, least of all me, but I really don't know how to stop. And who knows who our next downstairs apartment dwellers will be? We have lived in this apartment for two years and whoever they are, they will be the fourth tenants in the apartment during that short period of time. It's going to work out, and I of course will make sure that the cat is fed until he has a new home with Gretchen, but still I feel helpless.

Moving on to other matters that occupy my thoughts these days. When I think of the sheer numbers of displaced people everywhere on the planet these days, there are times when I simply cannot cope, turn off the news and try to bury myself in books or other escapist entertainment. Today I'm going to the movies with Judy to see a movie I didn't think I would ever consider: Guardians of the Galaxy, billed as Marvel's "action-packed epic space adventure." I doubt that I will be thinking of anything very weighty as I watch it; my sister saw it and enjoyed it very much, so I suspect I will, too.

And tomorrow? Well, my entire routine is disrupted by the holiday. The gym will be closed, there are no buses running, and I am not sure what I will do for exercise. The weather is supposed to be iffy, with a chance of rain. You know I don't allow weather to get in the way of going outside, but I am a social exerciser, and I don't usually just head off on my own. I might be forced to do that tomorrow, however. Fortunately by Tuesday my routine will be back to normal. I've got a pile of books to peruse, but nothing that entices me all that much. I finished a good book yesterday, and now I wish I had made it last a little longer. Do you ever re-read books? I've got a couple that I might do that with, since I know they are good and there they are, right on my bookshelf gathering dust.

My left eyelid problem is not solved, by any means, but it's much better than it was. If you don't remember what it was, about a month ago I began to notice that when I wake in the morning, that eyelid doesn't want to open. I went to the doctor and had a CT scan, and everything is "normal for my age," so I started using artificial tears before I go to bed, and then again in the middle of the night if there's a problem. Last night I woke to find it was sticking closed, but a dose of tears helped. There is no "gunk" in the eye that is causing it to stay closed, so the cause is a mystery to me. I was encouraged to find that several of my commenters have experienced something similar. I had never heard of it and now I put it down to another of those things that happen to us as we age. It was terrifying to read up about it on the internet; I read about people who have to pry open both eyes with their fingers before they can see! Being internet-savvy has its downsides.

That reminds me, a friend of Gene's has started coming to the coffee shop. John is a big old farmer who wears Bibb overalls every day and looks to be around our age, a little on the rough side. At first I had a hard time talking with him, but he bought himself a Samsung tablet and brought it into the shop. He asked me if I would be willing to help him learn how to use it. I helped him get connected to the wifi in the shop and how to check his email, which he already had but didn't have any way to read it. (Mail from his relatives and a few spam emails were the only things in there.) But he was very pleased to get that far. I thought I might enjoy teaching someone how to get connected, but actually it was hard to maintain my equanimity. After several tries, I was tempted to do it myself, but that wouldn't do. It would be easier if he knew how to type, or if he weren't so hard of hearing.

However, John has been grateful for my help and sent his daughter an email telling her he has a coach to help him through the rough spots. And he took a picture with his tablet and sent it to her. It worked, and you would have thought that he'd just written a successful novel, he was so pleased.

Gosh, where has the time gone? When I began this post, with no idea where it would go, it was dark outside, and the sun came up while I was composing. I knew I would be writing about my neighbor, but everything else was tenuous. I sometimes find this activity to be easy, and other times it's a chore. But when I'm done, I always feel better, more centered, with a clearer idea of the state of my internal life. I always hope that not only am I chronicling my week, but that I am reaching out to you, my reader, with hopes that we can connect. I look forward so much to the comments, as they help me to gain perspective.

With that final thought, I wish you a good holiday weekend, and a satisfying week ahead.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer is winding down

Heading back down after our hike to the top
There's something about this picture that I really like: maybe it's the angles and the bit of red color, the pink flowers in the sunlight while everything else is shaded. Makes for a very pleasant scene, and I find myself looking at it, remembering our time in the wilderness last Thursday. I put it on my desktop so I can see it more often. I really do enjoy taking pictures.

Here it is Sunday and I'm still a little sore from that hike. We went more than nine miles and up and down almost 4,000 feet of elevation, one of our more strenuous hikes of the season. The flowers were simply amazing, and I realized that this short season when the snow is gone and the flowers are out... it's almost over. Although we'll continue to spend time in the Mt. Baker wilderness for the next two months, the flowers will be gone and the fall colors will emerge. I enjoy all the seasons up here; in the winter months we sometimes come up to snowshoe, but this is my favorite time, late summer, so I'm going to enjoy every last little bit of it.

Both days this weekend are good for skydiving, so today I'm going to travel south to jump with my friends. That's another activity that is winding down for me, with two more months left in the season. It's been a perfect way for me to let go of it: going now and then and not trying to cram in as much as possible before stopping. And I also realized lately that if I choose to visit southern California and make another skydive or two in the spring, there's nothing stopping me. This is a choice I've made for myself, although as the moment gets closer it feels exactly right. I'm the only experienced skydiver at Snohomish still jumping in my seventies. At least in southern California I can spend time with my peers, but here I'm the oldest by far.

I remember a time when I wasn't the oldest: when I started school, my birthday was the cutoff date for first grade, so I was the very youngest child in the class. Since my dad was in the Air Force and I changed schools often, I remember that I was always feeling a little intimidated by the older kids in my classes. Back then, however, there was nothing like the bullying that I've learned takes place in schools today. I did get in a couple of scrapes with some other girls in my early teen years that I still remember vividly, and that was bad enough. Whew! I wonder where that memory came from; I haven't thought of that in years.

As I've said before, memory is a funny thing. Last night my dreams were filled with struggles: climbing hand over hand up steep hillsides and holding on to keep from falling, trying repeatedly to dial a number on the phone that wouldn't go through, and losing a favorite earring, searching for it without success. I also woke in the middle of the night (not an unusual occurrence) and spent some time thinking about that CT scan I had last week. Although the doctor sent me an email telling me that it was normal, I was able to see what the radiologist reported about his findings on my PeaceHealth website. All my test results are available almost immediately, which is great. No more waiting for the doctor to get back to me.

It was interesting that although my results were normal, it turns out that they are normal for my AGE. There were signs of white matter changes in my brain that are possible signs of cognitive decline. Yes, while the results were "normal," I don't have the brain of a young person any more. And because of the internet, you can bet that I researched everything mentioned in those test results. This can be a good thing, but it can also cause a person like me to second-guess those results and wonder if there is anything I can do to slow down the process. I found this page which was very helpful in putting it all into perspective. I am at a slightly higher risk for stroke.

This shouldn't surprise me, since my father had several strokes before his final heart attack. I remember him telling me that he couldn't differentiate between the sizes of coins in his pocket any more, and I found that strange. It was the result of a stroke, I know now. My mother was convinced that he had many that he never complained about and managed to hide from everybody. He carried nitroglycerine tablets in his pocket that he would use when he was in distress. Nobody realized how much he was using until after he died. He was only 62, and he had severe cardiac disease but, as I've observed in many men, he would rarely go to the doctor. If he had even considered bypass surgery, he would have lived much longer, but he wouldn't go check it out. He knew, however, that his days were numbered.

Now here I am ten years older than he was when he died, and I'm also aware that my days are numbered. You can eat right and exercise, do everything right, and still we all end up with a day that will end the dash in our life span (as in 1942—??). The older I get, the easier it is to think about that day with equanimity. But I'm nowhere near as laid back about the prospect of losing my mind, let me tell you! It seems terrible to think of being alive and not knowing who I am any more. I guess maybe it's time to start doing those brain exercises. You know I am a believer in the ability of exercise to keep the body fit, and I've considered that Lumosity app that is currently being pushed aggressively in the online world. Does anybody know if those things help? I'm curious now that I realize I might actually benefit.

Well, that's about it for this morning. I've got lots of getting ready for the day to do. I'm up to 15 repetitions of the Five Tibetan Rites. I think I will stick with 15 for awhile before moving up to 18 and then finally, 21. It only takes a few minutes in the morning and it's a nice way to start the day. It's almost 7:00am and I've been awake for two hours now. Time to get out of bed! I hope you have a great week and enjoy the last unofficial week of summer.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thoughts on how we change over the years

From Mother Jones interview of Ellar Coltrane
My friend Judy and I went to see the new movie Boyhood yesterday, filmed over a twelve-year period and directed by Richard Linklater. The young man who grew up right in front of my eyes was played by Ellar Coltrane. You can see his evolution from a cute six-year-old to a young man  in that series of shots. The movie is long, almost three hours, but it flew by as I was engrossed in the film and all that it evoked in me.

The link under the picture is an interview with Ellar, and it's very interesting to learn how different the life of Mason (the boy in the movie) was from Ellar's. What got me, however, is how closely the story of Mason's mother followed my own: his mother divorced his dad and then got involved in a series of unfortunate liaisons, as I did. However, the movie ends on a high note, and the sold-out audience applauded as the credits rolled.

Twelve years is both a long time but in the span of an entire life, not all that long. Nonetheless, the period between being a cute kid of six and becoming an adult (if eighteen can be considered adult) is incredibly fraught with change. I have been fortunate to have met young Leo at the coffee shop when he was six months old, and in a few months he will turn six. He's at about the same age that Mason was at the beginning of the movie. I can't help but wonder what kind of an adult he will be, although I probably won't be around him at the time to find out. I might still be alive (and 84), but who knows where he or I will be in twelve years?

It was twelve years ago that my son Chris died in Germany. I could not have anticipated that, or the trajectory my life would take. Outwardly, not that much changed; I continued in the same job and lived in the same town during those years. I was already married to my life partner, and he helped me through that awful period where I would wake every night, crying, unable to believe Chris was gone. That seems a long time ago now, but I still think about him and wonder how he would have matured into a middle-aged man. It's startling to realize how old one's child is getting to be. My sister is going through that now with her son, who just turned 48.

But inside, I've changed a lot in those twelve years. I loved my job and felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to different places and arrange conferences all over the world. There were days when I'd arrive at the office before 7:00am and not leave until ten hours later, and I'd be totally engrossed in my work and not notice the passage of time. And then on the weekends I would dash off to the Drop Zone to teach a First Jump Course and spend that day and the next skydiving with students. I was really, really busy all the time. It was rare for me to take a day off, and I would realize I didn't know what to do with myself if my busy life changed for some reason.

But that frenetic pace began to wear on me as I grew older. It wasn't easy to decide what needed to change, but I was fortunate that my partner and I were able to communicate our wants and needs to each other, and a plan for retirement began to emerge. In 2006, two years before I retired from my job, we took a month-long road trip from Colorado to the west coast, to decide where we might want to live next. We had researched several places on the internet and were curious to see if Bellingham looked as good in real life as it did electronically. And yes, it did. We decided to use it as our "jumping-off place," and once we had actually moved away from Boulder, we could move again if we felt like it, and it wouldn't be nearly as wrenching as the first time.

We are still here, and my life has settled into a very satisfying routine. I have had the chance to slow down, read more, and spend quality time with my friends, much of that outdoors in the very different environment of the Pacific Northwest. I've grown familiar with all the different kinds of rain we have here: from a light mist to a downpour. We don't get a drenching rain often, but it does happen. Moving from the semi-arid landscape of Colorado to the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest has been a delightful learning experience. And it's changed me in some concrete ways, too: I have grown accustomed to milder temperatures, and when it climbs above the high 70s, I begin to feel too hot. I like the indoor temperature to be much cooler than I once did.

I no longer own any dress-up clothes, and the cargo pants look suits me just fine at this phase of my life. When I dress for the day, I realize I've grown fond of vests and wear them year round. Every pair of shoes I own are functional ones with low heels. There was a time when I loved to dress up and apply makeup, giving myself an entirely different look. These days makeup makes my face look a little strange (to me at least), although when I was working I never left the house without it. More habits changed without noticing, and suddenly I'm a different person than I was, much like those pictures of the boy morphing into a man. But it's so imperceptible, day to day, that one doesn't much notice the procession of years. It's usually a picture from the past that will remind me how much change has taken place.

As my outward pace has slowed down, my internal life has grown larger. The time I spend thinking about things, about life, about writing in this blog, for instance, takes more of my focus than it once did. The blogs I follow, with the lives of my virtual friends giving me a different perspective on life, are incredibly important to me. I learn how others are coping with change in their lives, and it gives me ideas and thoughts I would not have had access to otherwise. I am a very plugged-in senior, and I like it very much.

It's almost 7:00am and my tea is gone. Partner still sleeping next to me, and the sun would be up already if it weren't overcast. I hear blue jays scolding outside the window and the occasional call of a crow. All the songbirds I heard earlier in the spring and summer seem to have diminished to just a few now and then. I guess it's getting to be the time when they look towards the cooler weather and find other places to hang out. Today I'll take it slow and easy, and enjoy the book I picked up at the library yesterday. Maybe go out for a walk, or maybe not. I've exercised every day this week and could probably use a break. But I always feel better, more centered, when I've had at least a nice walk. Whatever I decide, it's really nice to know I've got the choice, and that everything in my body still works pretty well, for now at least.

Be well, my dear friends, and I hope you will enjoy your own life as it is right here, right now. For it will definitely change as time goes by. Until next Sunday, then.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Going skydiving today

Me under my pretty parachute
Last weekend one of my skydiving friends, Cindy, finally got recurrent for the season and sent me an email, asking if I would be interested in skydiving this weekend with her and her husband Dave. I said I definitely would, although it's not the same without my friend Linny. She has made only two skydives since she got whiplash from a hard opening last September, and I suspect she may not continue.

In a way, the few jumps I've made since returning from southern California in April has been a good segue into my desire to stop skydiving after this season. Rather than just driving down the 75 miles to Snohomish to get my knees in the breeze and jumping with anybody who might be around, I've begun to focus on other activities. That's not to say I won't miss it, I know I will. But things change, and we grow older with every passing day. Acknowledging change is important.

When I moved here six years ago, part of the reason I wanted to leave Colorado was to get away from the teaching aspect of skydiving. For the previous twelve years, I made well over 200 skydives every single year (unless I was injured) and taught numerous First Jump Courses to new students and took them out skydiving. Every weekend I made six or eight skydives with students, sometimes more during the long summer days. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I knew that skydiving would become seasonal, and that was all right with me. It was a good way to point my interests in new directions and discover what this new environment had to offer.

Much has changed in those six years. When we first moved here, there was a Drop Zone in Vancouver, BC, managed and owned by an old friend. Because of access issues, that skydiving venue closed down a few years ago. We stopped going north of the border to skydive. Then because of his shoulder injuries, Smart Guy stopped skydiving, and I knew that the time was coming for me to think about stopping, too. Last October in southern California I re-injured my left knee, which had ACL replacement surgery back in 1994. I wasn't really wanting to acknowledge how much I had hurt it, but as the weeks and months passed afterwards, I knew it would never be back to normal.

In that twenty-year-old injury, I had a good bit of meniscus damage, and the doctor told me that the knee would eventually develop arthritis, more than likely. I've been spared that, but the alarming popping and clicking that has become a daily occurrence tells me I've got to be careful not to let it get any worse. I started wearing a brace on that knee when I go hiking or walking, and miraculously the knee pain has diminished to almost nothing. Although I can no longer sit back on my heels (because of pain in the left knee), I can now do pretty much everything I could do before the October injury.

My Thursday hikes are very important to me for many reasons, not the least of which is because of the incredible beauty that I get to enjoy when I'm out in the wilderness. The friends I've made over the years, and the ability to stay fit are also important aspects of those hikes. When I first joined the group (six years ago), I figured that a group of hikers organized at the local Senior Activity Center would be easy and probably not much of a challenge. How wrong I was! I well remember that first hike: it was in September, and we went up to the Mt. Baker wilderness to hike the Chain Lakes trail, around seven or eight miles and up and down more than 2,500 feet of elevation. I was the only one in the group of twelve or so that didn't have trekking poles. I had never used them before, and I thought they were not very useful.

That day we had everything except a view: it rained and hailed and the wind blew us sideways. We kept on trudging, and frankly I was impressed with the hardiness of my fellow hikers. I had what I considered to be adequate rain gear and clothing, but by the time we reached the end, I was soaked through. And that was also my last hike without trekking poles: the next week I borrowed a spare set of Al's and the week after that I had my own. I am on my third set of poles already. They make an incredible difference, partly because of the balance, but mostly because it gives me a way to take the majority of the weight off my knees on the downhill sections. I don't think I could do without them now.

I also learned from my fellow hikers how to find a pair of waterproof hiking boots. I love having dry feet while tramping through puddles and crossing streams. That took a good bit of trial and error, but I found a brand of boots that fit my feet and keep them dry and comfy (Lowa's, if you're wondering). They are not cheap but they last for several years if I take good care of them. At first I didn't and found that leaving them, wet and covered with mud, in the trunk of my car after a hard hike was not a good idea. These days I bring my precious friends inside afterwards, take out the insoles, and clean them up. It's worth the effort.

One of these days, I won't be able to do the hard hikes any more; just like skydiving, it takes a certain amount of fitness, and abilities change over the years. But that's not today, and I don't intend to do anything that will keep me from enjoying the outdoors here in the Pacific Northwest for many years to come. Of course, life itself is not guaranteed, much less the ability to run and jump and play. One of the things that this blog gives me is some perspective on my life, on how the years follow one after another, and small imperceptible changes can be noticed.

One thing I realize as I sit here, tea now gone and my partner still asleep next to me, there's a feeling of anticipation from just thinking about a day of skydiving that I don't get from a hike. A flutter of anxiety in my stomach, not only from the thought of skydiving but also driving 150 miles (there and back) on the freeway. Although I'm careful, there is no way to anticipate accidents, just pay attention and be cautious. But there's no way I would stay away because of what might happen, so here I go, off into my day, filled with joy and gratitude for what these old bones still allow me to do! Please take good care of yourself, and until we meet again next week, I hope you will also be filled with joy and happiness. That's my wish for all of us.
The flowers on last Thursday's hike

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunshine and reflections

Mt. Shuksan
I took this picture as I was struggling my way up to the summit of Yellow Aster Butte last Thursday. Any chance I had to stop and catch my breath before trudging on behind my fellow hikers I took gratefully, along with a sip of water. I drank two liters of water during the six hours we spent out in the sun. I was also slathered with sunscreen and wearing my Tilley hat. The next day, Friday, I was tired all day and any upward exertion, such as walking up a flight of steps, reminded my complaining thighs of their earlier hard work.

By yesterday, Saturday, I was not only fully recovered, but the almost six miles we Fairhaven walkers covered at a brisk pace seemed, if not easy, at least nowhere near as tiring. Of course, the difference was that although it was sunny, it was also early in the day, and we had plenty of shady spots and it was a mere hour and a half. Not to mention with iced coffee at the end, along with lots of animated conversation.

My faithful readers know that I am definitely addicted to getting regular exercise, and I wrote last week about having discovered the Five Tibetan Rites while reading a book about Olga Kotelko. It's been a couple of weeks now and I've done them every morning and definitely can feel a difference in the way I approach my day afterwards. I read yesterday that Rian from Older But Better has started doing them, too. I'll be curious to learn if she notices anything after some more time passes. They are purported to be ancient rites that balance the body's vortexes, practiced by Tibetan monks long ago (and maybe even today). I downloaded the 1939 book that was first written about them and learned that it's a good idea to work up slowly to performing them 21 times each, even if you're able to do it easily. Well, of course yesterday I decided to try all 21 but won't do that again, after having read that it's not a good idea. So I'll stick to 11 for awhile, although while I don't think it would hurt me, I also don't want to burn out on them too soon. They are interesting.

I've been spending my summer days reading a good deal, too. I finished The Boys in the Boat, which I loved, about a rowing team from the University of Washington that went to the 1936 Olympics and won gold, against all odds. Fabulous book, available on Kindle for $2.99. Then yesterday I finished a book that had been recommended by another blogger, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, written in 2011 and awarded the Booker Prize. I've read other Booker Prize winners that I didn't enjoy, but this book really captured my attention. I woke last night thinking about it. It's too close to some of the things I've written about here, the feeling of shame I carry for things I've done in the past. As an old man, the book's protagonist is confronted with a letter he wrote when he was young that altered the course of several lives, and he didn't even remember writing it.

That's happened to me, too. It makes me realize that my selective memory tends to think of my character today as having been the same throughout my entire life, but it's just not so. When I was a crass youth, I often said things that hurt others, and I often did it only because I told myself it was my duty to be forthright and "honest" with them. Humph. Now I see through my younger self as simply desiring to be the center of attention and possessing information that another person might think was proprietary. I was never very cognizant of the sensibilities of other people when I was young, but my sister Norma Jean was. I think now that she might have been the only reason I wasn't more destructive in terms of the feelings of others. Do you remember the "Peanuts" cartoon character of Lucy? I think that describes me pretty well: talking poor Charlie Brown into kicking the football she's holding and pulling it away right at the last second.

I'm not sure when I became aware of the hurt that can come from unthinking words. See, that's where I'm different now: I think before I speak, rather than saying whatever comes into my head without filtering. It's also possible that the simple fact of getting older, having experienced so much more of life, has made the biggest difference. I also like to think that the younger me wasn't doing what she did out of malice, but because she just didn't know any better. The bull in a china shop syndrome. As hard as I've tried while writing this morning, I can't think of a single event that stands out that I might use as an example. Probably because I really don't want to; it's still painful to look too hard at the Lucy side of my younger self. I'm just grateful that I have changed.

Now that isn't to say that the hurtful thoughts don't still pop into my head, they do, but they stay there, and I don't feel that need to let them out. It makes me wonder, when I sit sipping my coffee at the coffee shop, watching the people in line as they wait, if they too have volumes of unspoken conversations going on inside their heads. Do you sometimes read a book that will remind you of yourself when you were young and thoughtless? Or is it just me?

I suspect that getting older and more circumspect has much to do with the internal changes we experience as we age. That mellowing is real in my own life, that's for sure. That, and the ability to write down my feelings and ponder what my life is all about has helped me to find some understanding of how much I've changed over the years. Memory is a funny thing: I can remember something that happened decades ago as if it were yesterday, but yesterday's events blend together with nothing much standing out. In the 1980s I kept a journal and have those 16 books sitting on my bookshelf. Sometimes I will pick one of them up and open it at random and read what I wrote long ago. Although some things are embarrassing, other moments I see the person I am today coming through.

Just for grins, I went over to the bookshelf and pulled out one of my old journals. I opened it to a page and found an interesting piece from July 1982. It reminds me that I have been addicted to exercising for many years. At the time I wrote it, I was on a four-day-long solo backpacking trip into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. It astounds me that I have forgotten how long I've been enjoying the outdoors. Here's a nice excerpt to tie together all the threads of this post.
The sun has finally made it over the ridge and in walking around, feeling the joyousness welling up in me for this lovely place. I decided that it is not only possible, but desirable, to do nothing today. Now I wish I had brought my camera, to capture some of the zen scenes: trees growing right out of the rock, tiny trees with great root systems to weather the storms and wind that hit this place all year round.
These days I am rarely without a camera. And I don't go out on solo backpacking trips any more, but that was more than thirty years ago! I'm still enjoying being outdoors and transporting my one and only body from place to place. From the past to the present moment, I'm enjoying my life and continuing to grow and learn. I hope you will find some peace and contentment in your own life between now and when we meet again next Sunday. I'm wishing that for myself, too.