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 25, 2016

My eventful week

Yesterday's amazing sky
When I went walking with the ladies yesterday morning, we had just finished a couple of days of rain, but the day was forecast for clouds and, later, sun. I happened to look up as we were gathering and saw these interesting clouds. We had a lovely walk, all twenty of us. Last week we walked in torrents of rain, and not many showed up. Today was dry and delightful.

And then yesterday afternoon, I went to a concert that my friend Al, the leader of our Thursday hikes, had mentioned. It was a free concert at a local church, so I didn't know quite what to expect, but I was blown away by the Male Ensemble Northwest, a group of thirteen educators from around the Pacific Northwest, some local and some coming from as far away as Idaho. They get together four or five times a year to practice, and all of them teach, elementary to college level. They are good friends, and next month they will travel to Thailand for their first international concert series. From their website:
While a high level of artistry is always an important goal, the members of MEN value the professional and personal associations they have with each other.  It is important that the personal soul is fed as well as the artistic.  
 It showed in their performance: starting out with regular chorale singing, by the time they were finished they had the entire audience standing and clapping, with one song even miming the playing of instruments. One talented fellow, Justin Raffa, was able to sound like a piccolo! I sure enjoyed this, as you can tell, and if you visit their page you can also find out more about them. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, it's worth going out of your way to hear them.

Last Thursday's hike up to Church Mountain was a memorable one, too. Our first hike of the autumn season was spectacular with fall scenery, and the group size of eight made it easy to visit with everybody. We were without our leader, Al, who was a little under the weather, and I think that might be why I ended up with such sore legs afterwards. Al sets a very nice slow pace, and without him I think we climbed the incredible 4,000 feet of elevation at a faster pace than usual. Or maybe it was the downhill, who knows? All I know is that when I got out of bed on Friday morning, I hurt just about everywhere, but especially my quadricep muscles. Today, Sunday, they are much, much better. The five-mile walk yesterday helped work out the kinks, too.

I am so glad that I can still do such difficult hikes as Church Mountain, and I know there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when I'll be lucky to hike to the meadow rather than making it all the way to the top, but as long as I'm able, I'll keep going. It not only feeds my need for exercise, but my soul as well. Someone told me about the concept of "forest bathing" or the Japanese art of Shinrin-yoku. That link will take you to a Washington Post article about the practice. From the article by Meeri Kim:
A number of scientific studies emphasize that reveling in the great outdoors promotes human health. Spending time in natural environments has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory and feeling more alive, among other positive attributes.
I can certainly attest to feeling more alive after a time in the wilderness. In fact, my Thursday hikes are sacrosanct: it takes a lot for me to miss one, even in the rain and wind. We only have another month, at best, to play in the High Country, and then for late fall and winter, we'll move to the lowlands. But we will still go out on Thursdays to play in the beautiful outdoors. I do think it keeps me healthy.

One hike I'll miss will be in early October, because I'll be heading off to Vashon Island with my blogging buddies for our fifth adventure together. It's hard to believe that it's been five years already since I met my fellow bloggers for a three-day retreat to the island. We have since expanded our time together to five full days, and I look forward to it with anticipation. We will miss having one person with us (we started out as six), but she lives in Colorado and the rest of us are more locally situated. Plus the six-bedroom farmhouse we rent for the period has one bedroom that is not as comfortable as the others, so we will not have to use it. Everyone has her own room at the Lavender Hill Farm. Being surrounded by lavender fields is also a real bonus.

My dreams during this past week have been vivid, for whatever reason. I met an old friend in one dream, and she's been hanging around with me ever since. Although it's someone I had a difficult time with for years, in my dream we made up and became close again. And probably because of the concert yesterday, I dreamt last night about an old favorite song that has been playing inside my head. When I was young, my parents had a stereo system and a collection of albums (remember those?). One that I particularly liked was The Ink Spots. They were a black vocal group popular in the 1930s and 1940s. They have been a presence in my life ever since. The song that I keep hearing in my head is called "If I Didn't Care," and I found it on YouTube. Here it is, and I apologize for the lead-in commercial, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I've listened to this a couple of times now.


And with that, I've finished another post. As usual, I wish all the best to you, my dear readers, for the week ahead. Now that we in the Northern Hemisphere are in the autumnal season, with leaves falling off the trees and painting our pathways, I hope that path will take you to some walks in the great outdoors. And I always have to remember that some of my readers are beginning their springtime. What a great world we live in!
:-)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Contrasts

Beautiful Mt. Baker 
I saw this picture of Mt. Baker when I happened to turn around at the end of the long day's hike on Thursday, seeing her backlit by the sun, dark hills in front, making for a set of contrasts, which sort of defines the weather I've experienced this week.

This morning (just a few minutes ago), I woke to discover that I had overslept by an hour. Usually I wake naturally around 5:00am, which gives me plenty of time to get my tea, write this post, then get up in a leisurely fashion and do my exercises, dress and get to the coffee shop for a half-hour of visiting before heading to my yoga class at 9:00am. This morning I'm already late. For most people, waking up on a Sunday at 6:00am would NOT be sleeping in. For me, it's sleeping in. That's a contrast: usually I am sitting here contemplating the post, not thinking about what I might slap on the page to allow myself not to be late.

I really dislike being late for anything and am usually the first to arrive at any event or party. I leave the house in the morning to catch the bus so that I can arrive at the stop three minutes before it's scheduled, leaving the house at 7:06am to walk a two-thirds of a mile and arrive at 7:17. I get downtown by 7:30 or so and walk to the coffee shop (five minutes) and hang out with my friends as I drink my latte, leaving for the gym by 8:20. That gives me plenty of time to walk to the gym (seven minutes) and change into my workout clothes and get on the treadmill to warm up before the 9:00am class. That's my usual weekly schedule, except for Thursday when I hike with the Trailblazers. After the workout, I shower and dress back into my street clothes and stop at the grocery store to pick up any items I might need and catch the bus at 11:00am back home.

Am I someone who loves routine? You know I am. I've been keeping this same schedule now for years, and I watch the change of seasons as I head out for the bus in the early morning. In the summer the days are long and the early morning light is beautiful, and the birds welcome me with their song. In the winter, it's very dark out, and I wear a head lamp so I can see where I'm going and be seen by other early morning risers. My clothes also change from light slacks and shirt in the summer to warm long pants and a coat, winter gloves and a warm hat in the winter. And of course, there are those days when it's raining, and I add my rain gear (I've got lots of different coats to choose from) and a rain hat.

My car sits in its spot at the apartment complex while I walk to the bus in all kinds of weather. The worse the weather, the more thankful I am that I have a bus to ride in, rather than driving in it. You also might wonder if it ever gets bad enough that I don't actually get out and go to the gym. The answer to that is no. The only time I stay home is when I am sick. The instructors know me and if I don't come to class, I am always asked about it when I return. I like that.

This week ushers in the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and the first day of spring Down Under. One of my blogging friends in the Southern Hemisphere has been posting pictures of the burgeoning spring in her area, while the rest of us have been putting lots of pictures of changing weather and turning leaves.

Although we had just about the most perfect day in the High Country last Thursday, when that picture was taken, yesterday was the complete opposite: I woke to rain and a quick look at the radar on my weather channel confirmed that we would be walking in the rain on my Saturday walk with the ladies. When I first starting going on these walks, I would skip the wet ones, but I knew that some people would show up, no matter what the weather. The only time Cindy, our leader, cancels the walk is when it's icy. I know to check my mail on a morning when she might decide it's too risky, but that has only happened twice in five years or so. And now that Saturday walk is part of my routine. I don't miss it willingly.

And yes, we walked in the rain. We changed our destination from the mountain trek that was scheduled (see that walk with the ladies in 2014 here) and instead took a walk in the nearby park. It rained the entire time, but there were moments when it was a deluge. We didn't go very far, less than five miles round trip, but we were all so soaked by the end that we just got in our cars and went home to change, no stop for coffee. If you go to the linked post, you'll see fifteen ladies enjoying the mountain on our first time at that location. Yesterday eight diehard ladies showed up in spite of the rain. It could not have been more different than our Thursday weather. I just looked at the rain gauge and learned that we got three-quarters of an inch of rain yesterday. After I got home and dry, I was glad that I'd braved the rain.

Another contrast that I'll share with you is this post. Last Sunday I thought about the post during the evening before and woke with a clear idea of what I would write about. Yesterday my mind was a blank when I would try to think about it, and I hoped that maybe during the night something would pop into my head, but no, instead I had lots of dreams and then overslept. So today you are getting potpourri, a meditation of contrasting moments during my week.

I'm not sure why my readers keep coming back, but you do, and so I will always try to give you at least something, but it's not an easy task to write extemporaneously and be interesting every time. I write from my heart, sometimes, and there are other days like this when I write out of a sense of duty, wanting it to be good and interesting, but not knowing quite how to make that happen. Some of my followers start their Sunday with this post, and in the same sense that I don't like to be late, I also don't like to disappoint. But how can I do that? There are days when inspired words simply flow out of my fingers and I finish with a sense of accomplishment. Contrast that with today, when I hem and haw, start sentences and erase them, start over, and finally limp my way toward the finish line.

It's a strange relationship we have, me here with the laptop sitting in my bed in the dark tapping away at my keys, and you in your own respective home reading this sometime later, but somehow your presence is with me in this moment, and I look forward to reading your comments, knowing that everyone of us is connected through some unseen tenuous force, living our different lives but gaining knowledge and comfort through the connection. Most of you have blogs that I read regularly, and they are all different from each other but give me a sense of your life. It touches me throughout my day, and perhaps I'll think about a difficult journey some reader is facing and send wishes for a good outcome their way, or a blessed event in another life. Through it all, I feel your presence with me.

And with that said, I also sincerely hope that your week will be a good one until we meet again next Sunday. Who knows what will transpire between now and then? I hope you will remember to be grateful for your loved ones, and that you might include me in that number. Be well, dear readers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Alpenglow

Mt. Baker at sunset last night
My neighbor Carol is a night owl and comes alive once the sun goes down. Last evening I was sitting on the porch chatting with another neighbor, Lynn, when Carol came out of her apartment and exclaimed, "Alpenglow!" She was looking out towards Mt. Baker to the east at this wonderful view of the mountain. It only lasted for a few short moments, but I was able to capture this with my cellphone camera. The three of us shared some wine and finally I left to head into my bed, thinking about the post this morning.

It's September 11th, and we all know what that day means to most of us. I've already read several posts from my blogging friends about where they were that day, the significance of the event fifteen years later. That will probably continue for the rest of the anniversary; on this day we will be reminded once again of those planes of destruction flying through the air toward their targets. I won't be watching any TV today, because they will be showing the Twin Towers falling once again. Instead, I'm going on a journey through time.

Time isn't only linear; it can also be event-based. A few days ago, I was lying on my massage therapist's table getting a wonderful rubdown and realized that my sense of the passage of time had morphed from moment to moment into parts of my body: first the back, then the left leg and then the right, and so on. I could have been getting that massage for days, instead of just an hour. My sense of time was concentrated on the pressure of her hands, the oil. Peace and serenity were the only things going through my mind. I was in an altered state, one which doesn't always occur with a massage, but it often does.

Sarah (the massage therapist) and I didn't say even one word during the massage. She communicated with me through her hands, and I with her through receiving the massage. Afterwards, as we set up a time for the next one, I realized that my entire outlook had changed for the better. I get a massage every third Friday, and it's as important for my mental health as anything else I do for myself.

I've been getting regular massages ever since I began to recover from my skydiving accident in June 2000, more than sixteen years ago. About six months afterwards, I was pretty much over the worst of it and could walk without a limp, but the trauma was still very much in my body. My friend Karen gave me the gift of three massage sessions with her own therapist, and that's what started me seeing Melissa on a regular basis. At first I couldn't even allow her to touch my lower back or the areas where the damage was the worst. But during the coming months and years of regular sessions, I was not only physically healed but emotionally as well. Scars will always remain from our injuries, but that's different than allowing ourselves to become crippled by them.

The definition of alpenglow is the rosy light on the setting or rising sun on high mountains. Alpenglow is also very present in my own life, as I see the setting sun as a metaphor for my golden (or glowing) years. I remember well the peaks and valleys of my youth, when I could be ecstatic over a new relationship or even a new restaurant, and the valley of despondency when it ended or closed. I don't have those much any more. My peaks and valleys have all evened out to become much more neutral. I get excited about things, but not like before, and I have low periods, but they have lost much of their drama. It must be the mellowness of aging, and I have to say I like it.

Thinking of some of the high points of my life gives me great pleasure, and the memories will never leave me (at least I hope they won't). Sitting here in my bed with the laptop on my knees, I can recall any number of outstanding skydives and can almost feel the air at altitude, when the door of the airplane is opened and I jump out into space. There is no feeling like it, and even after thousands of skydives, it never lost its adrenaline rush. Just writing about it, bringing it back into my consciousness, makes my heart start beating faster.

Do I miss it? Sometimes I think about it and wonder if I would still have what it takes to get into an airplane with proper gear and jump out. But then I realize, what would be the point? It's like trying to recapture youth when you're old: it just isn't the same and you're fooling no one but yourself. No, I am a retired skydiver, left with many wonderful memories and friends for life. Because of Facebook, I still see those friends posting pictures of their latest skydives, and I'm glad for them. I was there with them once upon a time, but they are carrying on as I sit on the sidelines and cheer them on.

That's perfectly appropriate. I am sitting here in the alpenglow of my wonderful life, realizing that if it ended today, I have done and accomplished everything I ever wished to. Nothing is left undone, or untasted, that appealed to me. Next month I will be heading off to Vashon Island to have the fifth reunion of my blogging friends and a five-day writing retreat. It will be the impetus to capture these feelings and emotions, writing them down and getting feedback from the others. Of course, I get the same thing through the comments that you, my readers, leave on these posts, but the dialog is truncated because the form doesn't allow us a chance to sit down together over a cup of tea and chat.

Robert Frost once wrote, "The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected." And the evening? Well, that's the time to sit and gaze at the far-away mountains shining with the alpenglow of the setting sun. Beautiful, isn't it?

And with that, I have finished another Sunday morning reverie. I will have a latte and share a bagel with my friend John at the coffee shop before heading to my yoga class with Laifong. I just signed up for a fourth semester at Yoga Northwest and I must say, it gives me pleasure to think of that resource available to me for as long as I want. Whatever this day brings to you, I hope part of it will also be a sense of gratitude for the people and critters around you. I know I am filled with it and it's spilling out of the page towards you, my dear reader. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Labor Day marks summer's end

Heirloom tomatoes at the market
Some people might not think that heirloom tomatoes are as pretty as I think they are. They are all sizes, colors and shapes, but the way they taste is nothing like those uniform ones in the grocery store. That red one would slice up perfectly for a tomato sandwich, and I might just have to do that before the season passes away, along with the incredible harvest of this year.

I've got some pretty golden cherry-sized tomatoes in my garden, and I've been enjoying those, eaten right off the vine or slice in half in a salad. Yes, summer is coming to an end, and tomorrow is Labor Day in the United States. Do you wonder, as I have many times, just what the heck Labor Day is? Well, of course Wikipedia helped me out:
It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend and it is considered the unofficial end of summer.
I also learned from that link that Canada also celebrates Labour Day on the first Monday of September, too. We have had a three-day weekend in September for as long as I can remember, along with it also marking the start of the school year and the beginning of football season. Yes, summer is now over, and I can start to enjoy those crisp fall days when the leaves turn magnificent colors and gently descend to the ground. The autumnal equinox this year will occur on September 22 at 7:21am here on the Pacific coast. That link from one of my favorite websites will tell you what the equinox is and when it will occur in your part of the world. It's the vernal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere, when spring begins there. Basically, though, it's one of the two days in the year when the days and nights are of equal length. The big difference for us here in the Northern Hemisphere is that then the days get shorter and the nights longer.

This morning, once I finish this post and get up to start my day, will take me in just a few hours to my yoga class, with Laifong finally back from her vacation. The substitute teacher, Lourdis, was much harder on me than Laifong, but frankly, I enjoyed being pushed a little. I've also signed up for my fourth semester with Yoga Northwest, thinking that I've found my niche for the next few semesters, with one Gentle II class on Wednesday and a Level I class on Sunday mornings. You can check out what those classes are on that link, if you're interested.

I spoke with Lourdis for a few minutes after our last Sunday class, so I could thank her for her instruction. Many of the others were quite comfortable with some of the poses that stymied me, and she had to spend more time correcting me. She also told me that I did quite well and that this level is an appropriate one for the present time, and that I would be able to benefit from continuing to expand my yoga horizons. I was encouraged and will miss her, even though I'm looking forward to seeing Laifong again.

What I notice in my everyday life is that I can move more freely and feel more balanced and upright than I did before I began this yoga journey. I'm also not sure if it's the yoga or not, but my knees both feel much stronger and gave me no trouble on our last Thursday's hike, with a thousand meters (3,280 feet) of elevation gain and loss. That's not to say that my thighs were not sore for the next couple of days, because they certainly were. But today I feel strong and ready for whatever comes next.

You might be noticing that I'm casting about here for something to compose for you, my readers, and you would be right. Sometimes I will think of the regular commenters and try to picture what should be just the right post to write for all of you, but today you must be quite an eclectic group, because nothing is coming to me. Instead, I'm sitting here thinking that maybe it's time to just end it and allow myself to get up and get started with what looks to be a wonderful day ahead.

My sister Norma Jean will probably look askance at it once she's read this post and wonder why I'm so lame this morning. But she'll just have to deal with it. We are getting close to the time of year when spooks and goblins begin to emerge, from the summer doldrums to autumn's darkening days, and (horrors!) the US Presidential Election will be everywhere to scare us even more.

With that, I'll leave you with my usual wishes for you to have a wonderful week ahead, filled with everything that makes you happy. And I have a fun short little video that I hope will make you laugh as it did me. It's only one minute long but it sure is funny. Wish I knew exactly what that kitty is seeing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

MIlestones and me

A toast to summer
As usual, the first thing I did before I started to write this post is look for a picture to start it out. I found this one from a few weeks ago, where Lynn (who is smiling), my hand in the foreground, and Carol's fingers curled around her beer, are toasting our friendship. I'm a red-wine drinker; Lynn enjoys white, and Carol loves beer. There is another glass on the right, which belongs to Lily. (clink!) Four friends who all live here in the apartment complex with me.

What I really wanted to do is find a picture of Lynn, because I'd like to introduce you to her this morning. It was a year ago that she moved into the ground-floor apartment at the base of the stairs with her grown son. Although she is in her early fifties, I wondered if she was retired (not knowing her exact age) but learned that ten years ago she was in a horrific car accident, with her husband driving their motor home. She and her then-13-year-old son were in the back, traveling home from a vacation, with husband and his brother in the front seat. In the accident, both men were killed instantly, along with the driver of the pickup that struck them.

Her life changed completely from that moment on. Although her son was only slightly injured physically, Lynn suffered many broken bones, with one leg and ankle shattered, along with serious head injuries. She spent the next year in a convalescent hospital. At one point they almost amputated her leg below the knee, but instead she opted to keep it with all the metal and pain, learning to walk on it again. At first she was in a heavy boot (which she still occasionally needs to use), but when I met her last year, she was determinedly going on long walks with her cane. Not always, though: sometimes she went without it, and now if you were to see her on a good day, you'd never know about her disability.

A few months ago she joined our walking group on Saturday mornings, and she goes out for a long walk several times a week, at a fast pace and with friends she has made from the group. Lynn is one of those people who makes friends every single day with everyone she meets. She is the essential ingredient that was missing from our apartment complex. After she showed up, we began to have evening gatherings of the women in nearby apartments, all of us fellow gardeners, too.

Last month she moved from the downstairs apartment to the one right next to me. We all helped with the move, and she used the opportunity to shed some of her more cumbersome furniture. And now her front porch is the hub where we all gather. This past Friday night we enjoyed an evening visit with Kitty, who was the previous occupant of the apartment next door, along with the four of us mentioned at the beginning. They all knew I would be the first to leave, because I just don't like to stay up late, and after I left and snuggled into my bed (SG was out for the evening), I listened to the sound of their laughter until I fell asleep.

Yesterday as we were returning from the Saturday morning walk, I stopped at the local drugstore where I can pick up some wine (we drank it all the night before), and I bought a box of my favorite. While we were at the checkout counter, I pulled out my ID (it doesn't matter if you're ninety, they have to see it). The clerk announced it would cost $19.56. Lynn and I said together, "that was a good year." Lynn added, "if I had been around to see it, of course."

Nineteen fifty-six. "What do you mean," I said, "if you were around. Of course you were." She looked at me and said, "I was born in 1965." Shocked, I realized that I was only a teenager in 1956 and suddenly realized the difference in our ages. Although I know it intellectually, I don't ever feel it. I am more than old enough to be her mother. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, but that was more than half a century ago. Where did all that time go?

The incident got me to thinking of how I compartmentalize my life. When I first started skydiving (1991), my skydiving accident (2000), when my son Chris died (2002), and when I retired and moved away to Bellingham (2008) — these are milestones that give me a way to think of what happened when. The scary thing is that they all seem rather immediate when I pull them up out of my memory to ponder. Time does not follow a linear path in my mind, but has peaks and valleys. I guess that's normal. How could I already be a septuagenarian? Wasn't it just 1956 the other day?

*  *  * 

Part of the reason I forget, I guess, is that I am still able to live an active life. After I finish this post and start my day, I'll do my exercises and head off to the coffee shop before my morning yoga class. It will be the second week with a substitute who knocked my socks off last Sunday. She's harder than Laifong but I found that I was intrigued to see what I could and couldn't do. She had us in a full shoulder stand (which I didn't think I would be able to accomplish, but I did), and although I was sore the next day, I'm looking forward to what she will introduce me to today. This foray into yoga has been really good for me. I feel more balanced and confident as I move, and I'm totally convinced I'm getting taller. Last week I signed up for the fall semester, and when I sign up for the winter, I'll have been attending for a year. 

Two weeks ago as I was leaving the class, Laifong mentioned to me that she had been surprised at how well I have been doing and said that I had exceeded her expectations. That sure gave me a boost. Obviously, her expectations weren't very high, since I'd been attending the gentle yoga classes and had not been exposed to Level I, the next step up. I think I've found my current level, although it makes a huge difference who is teaching it, I'm discovering.

Fall is coming. After another three-day mini-heat wave, we had a day with the temperature in the sixties yesterday (20°C) and another to follow today. It's probably the last heat of the summer, and I won't miss it a bit. I've become a Pacific Northwesterner with little tolerance for the heat. Oh, wait: I've always been that way, which is part of the reason we moved here. Next week will also bring some chances for rain, which has also been absent during July and August. I miss the lush green we usually have, but it's coming back now that fall is righ around the corner.

And with that, I'll say farewell for today. My partner is still sleeping next to me, and the sun is finally over the horizon. Tea is gone and the day is calling. I look forward to my coffee shop friends (not to mention my daily latte) and the class that awaits me. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will stay safe and surrounded with love and light. Be well.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Remembering on a Sunday morning

Melanie took this of me at Lake Ann last Thursday
I didn't get this picture from my friend Melanie until Friday, so I couldn't put it into my post about the hike on my other blog. It's a favorite, though, so here you go, it shows how incredibly clear the sky was, and gives you a taste of the ordeal we had just accomplished to get here. A little more than four miles and much of it climbing up to this spot from the valley below, in blazing sunlight, punctuated with a hot breeze now and then.

That was three days ago, and I'm recovered from the hike, and even went on a very long walk yesterday morning with my Saturday group. This morning I'll attend my yoga class that will help me stretch out my well-worked muscles. I'm not complaining, mind you, because hardly a day goes by that I don't give thanks for the ability I still have to continue this level of activity. I do wonder sometimes how much longer this old body will last doing such strenuous hikes. Some of the Trailblazers that normally would have joined us considered the heat to be a deal breaker. It makes everything so much harder.

I've been reading a book for the last few days that has really got me thinking about life in general. I picked it up at the library after seeing an interview that told me of a young man who was given a lobotomy in 1953 to cure his epileptic seizures and lost the ability to form any long-term memories after that. The book, written by Suzanne Corkin, is titled Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient H.M. It's not the kind of book that you just can't put down, but I keep mulling over what I've learned about the workings of the brain and go back to read more.

The author is a scientist who studied Henry for many decades and became his friend, if you can call a friend someone who doesn't remember who you are. An excerpt from the above link:
Henry never remembered Corkin from one meeting to the next and had only a dim conception of the importance of the work they were doing together, yet he was consistently happy to see her and always willing to participate in her research. His case afforded untold advances in the study of memory, including the discovery that even profound amnesia spares some kinds of learning, and that different memory processes are localized to separate circuits in the human brain.
She describes the endless testing procedures that were performed on Henry to discover how the brain encodes memories, and I have been pondering the memory deficits that I experience in my everyday life. The forgetting of the names of things, an inability to recall many of the events I've lived through, that feeling of a memory almost within reach and my inability to retrieve it — all perfectly normal diminishment (hopefully) but unnerving nevertheless.

Once you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder if it's normal to forget so much, or whether it's the beginning of dementia. What I've learned from the book so far is that the brain has many pathways for memories, and they are all handled differently. Yesterday I learned that two different kinds of memories, semantic and episodic, are encoded in separate parts of the brain. Semantic memories are those that you cannot recall directly, such as when you first learned that Columbus discovered America in 1492. Episodic memories are autobiographical events that happen to us personally. In amnesia such as Henry's, he could remember semantic but not episodic memories.

The operation performed on Henry removed so much of his brain that it's amazing that he kept his intellect and, in fact, found ingenious ways to circumvent the fact that he only remembered things for thirty seconds or so. Corkin provides a fantastic account of how the research questions raised by his case developed, how the studies were designed, and how new lines of inquiry were suggested.

All this happened because of a lobotomy. Of course I had to read up about it, because I knew it was in vogue during the 1940s and 1950s, but in reading this book I've learned how many lives were destroyed because of this "psychosurgery" procedure. Read all about it here, if you're interested in delving deeper into its history. I was simply appalled when I read that Wikipedia link, because I had little idea of how many people it was performed on: in the United States alone, it was more than 40,000 people (mostly women).

If you were admitted to a mental institution during that time period, you were at risk of having it done to you, even if you were there because a disgruntled husband, for example, decided his wife was "hysterical" and had her committed. It gives me chills to think of the horrors that women endured during those times. And it makes me glad to realize that we have come as far as we have from those terrible procedures. It does make me consider what is being done to our bodies these days that will someday be looked back upon and seen as barbaric. I wonder.

The sun just came up. It's happening later and later these days, and we're losing more than three minutes of daylight every day at this latitude. We are quickly moving towards my favorite season of the year: autumn, when the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees. I saw the first signs of it last Thursday, but it was so hot and dry that fall seemed very distant. Today is supposed to be the first day of normal temperatures since our mini-heat wave, and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm also looking forward to my yoga class, which is in two hours. Between now and then, I need to get up, do my morning routine, and head to the coffee shop for my latte before class. Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you'll have a chance to enjoy this day and will store the memory of it safely away in your incredible brain. Until we meet again next week, I'm wishing you a wonderful and memorial journey. Be well and don't forget to hug your loved ones, just because you can.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Halfway through the Summer Olympics

It sure was a good latte
I like to take pictures of some of the prettiest lattes that I am served, since once I've taken a sip, the art is lost forever. Whoever came up with espresso served with steamed milk deserves a medal. I rarely begin a morning without one at my local coffee shop. Speaking of medals, the Summer Olympics in Rio are half over today, since they began a week ago. I've been following them with interest.

Swimming and women's gymnastics are my favorite events, and they didn't disappoint this time. The USA dominated both. I haven't been much of a fan of Michael Phelps, but there is no doubt that he is a very talented athlete, having competed in four Olympics and earning 23 golds, more than any other person in history. At the age of 31! And then what about Katie Ledecky? The Washington post has a great article about her, with this excerpt (by David Sheinin):
She got there, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with a dominant performance — four golds, one silver, two world records, victories by unheard-of margins of 4.77 and 11.38 seconds — that left grizzled coaches, their fingers permanently curled in the shape of a stopwatch, unable to conjure a precedent. Because one doesn’t exist.
I never heard of her before the Olympics, but she will go down in history as one of the most amazing athletes ever, and since she's only 19, I wonder where she will go from here? She looks so average, standing there on the stage at Rio, but she is anything but. I wonder how much blood they took from her looking for performance-enhancing drugs.

And of course, my favorite of all time: Simone Biles! What an incredible athlete. I've been sitting at the coffee shop watching videos of her performances with my pals as we watch her in slow motion making the most incredible flips, twists and turns with her powerhouse of a body. She's only 4'8" and perfection in motion. She's already won several gold medals and will compete in the vault today. I can barely watch them as they take off running, it's so dramatic. I found this video on YouTube that explains the physics of what she does, with illustrations and even some video of what women's gymnastics looked like before 1952.


At any rate, I've been enjoying the spectacle of the Rio Olympics, and I hope you have been as well. Now that we are through the sports where the USA dominates, I'm hoping we will see some athletes shine from other countries. It's been exciting and amazing so far, hasn't it?

Summer is more than half over, too. It's been hot here, but compared to other parts of the country, we have only been "suffering" with temperatures in the low 80s (around 23C). Of course, if we lived in some of the hotter areas, we would have more air conditioning, which we don't. We have fans and our windows open, which allows the apartment to cool down to around 70 at night. Bearable, but I sure do sleep better when it's ten degrees cooler than that. As long as I have air moving around me, I can tolerate the heat.

And the days are definitely getting shorter. When I wake in the morning, the sun isn't already up with those annoying chirping birds. I love late summer and the entire season of fall, so I've got that to look forward to. My least favorite time of the year is the hot, dry summer. Last year we also had an extended drought and hotter temperatures than this year, so I really am not complaining. After all, I'm still able to enjoy the High Country every Thursday, and with hats and sunscreen, it's pretty darn wonderful. That same terrain we cover every week is buried in snow during the winter. No, I'm not complaining at all.

What else? As I sit here with my laptop and thinking how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful life, I must also remember that even as seasons change, so do my surroundings and my own health and wellness. It's important to take stock, something I have the opportunity to do every Sunday morning with this blog, and to be grateful for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. After all, I've been here on this planet for more than seven decades, and all those tomorrows have become todays without me worrying about them. Okay, maybe a little, but I'm trying to let go and just enjoy each day as it comes. I've had plenty of practice. Somehow or other, I got old while I wasn't paying attention.

I like this Francis Bacon quote about getting old: "Age appears to be best in four things: old wood for burning, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." Age benefits some things, at least. One thing that I keep noticing as each day recedes into the past, each and every season brings its own joy and sorrow, and it does little good to try to hold on as it changes. I'll just watch the show and smile at my good fortune to be here now.

I don't have a yoga class this morning, so I can lounge in bed awhile longer before getting up and heading to the coffee shop. Even though it's only been six Sundays since I started that class, I really miss it when I don't have it. What a great way it's been to start the day. Instead, I'll go to the early movie with my friend Judy, who has had endless company and guests during the summer and finally has time for me again. We'll see that new Meryl Streep movie, which has gotten fairly good reviews.

And with that, I have written another Sunday post, and it's time to wrap things up. Right now I'm thinking about you, my reader, who will hopefully forgive me for being all over the map again this morning. When I opened my laptop, I really didn't know what would come out. Partner is still sleeping, it's quiet outside, and my tea is long gone. Please remember, as you read this, to take a look around and give thanks for all that is good and know that you are loved and cherished by at least one person: me. I'm sending you a virtual hug and giving thanks for you. Be well until we meet again next week.