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, August 2, 2015

Lammas 2015

From this Wiccan website
When August begins, we reach the season of Lammas, or Lughnasadh (in Celtic), the festival of the first harvest. Traditionally, the first grain of the harvest is baked into loaves. Here in my little corner of Bellingham, we had a garden party yesterday, and some of the people who labored in our garden celebrated Lammas with a wonderful little gathering. One person brought a potato salad made with little red potatoes from her plot; another shared a fabulous blackberry cobbler made with blackberries picked from the bushes on the side of the back yard. I didn't cook but provided cold beer and rose lemonade all frosty cold from my new cooler. We feasted and laughed and made plans for next year's garden.

Keith provided two large tents for shade, which were perfect for the hot sunny day we had. The other thing that Lammas marks is the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. That means the days are getting shorter and soon we'll have some respite from all this unaccustomed heat. Seattle has already had 12 days this summer at 90 or above, breaking the previous record of 9 days for the entire summer. Everything in my garden is pretty much done, except for the tomatoes, which are just beginning to turn! I've never been successful at growing tomatoes, other than small cherry tomatoes, but this year... I will have so many ripen all at once I'll have to figure out what to do with them all.

Lammas is also a time of reflection, when one realizes that everything changes and moves on. The days are perceptibly shorter, and I for one will be glad to see the endless sunshine and heat begin to moderate with fluffy clouds and some rain. I've definitely become a Pacific Northwesterner and feel irritable and uncomfortable with this hot, dry heat I associate with the desert. I keep looking at the forecast and every time there is a possibility of some precipitation, it dissipates as we get closer in time. But then again, heat is relative. We are not quite reaching 90 degrees here in Bellingham, and I read that in Iran this week the heat index reached an incredible 165! That is a temperature of 115 with a dew point of 90 -- off the charts. At least it cools off at night here to a tolerable level, which is not happening over there.

Okay, enough about the weather. It's on my mind a lot because I'm such a wimp about the heat. There are other things going on. Last week I went to Seattle to see the Broadway play Wicked with my friend Judy, and now I've started to read the book on which the play is based. So far I am enjoying it even more than the play, and I did enjoy that very much. It's based on a different view of the world of Oz and tells much more about how the Wicked Witch of the West got so, well, wicked. The book supposedly gives the reader some perspective on the nature of good and evil. I've only just begun.

I like to think of myself as being a good person, and I try to live my life that way. But I know that when I read about someone who is really evil, I can easily get into that headspace and understand why someone might be twisted by circumstances and is really no different from me at all. But I do believe that when confronted with a situation that gives me a choice to make, I'll choose the path of the least harm to me and those around me. Is that my nature or am I conditioned by my past experiences? I get angry sometimes, but I realize that I don't naturally take it out on others. Some people seem to need to externalize their anger onto those around them. I try to stay away from that sort of person, but sometimes we cross paths.

Is the world becoming more angry in general? I know that as an American, I  am dismayed by the bellicose stance we seem to have taken in much of the world these days. It wasn't always that way; I remember when we were coming out of World War II it seemed like Americans were the good guys in everybody's eyes. But that was more than half a century ago, and things change. We move on from who we once were into who we are now. Once upon a time I was a young woman with my whole life ahead of me; now I look at the world knowing that there are not many more years when I will be around. My mother used to say that she was glad she was old because she wouldn't have to experience the worst effects of our present trajectory. I'm beginning to understand what she meant.

Sometimes I am dismayed by the news of the day: climate change, water shortages and drought, floods and tornados wreaking havoc, and worst of all, shootings and bombings of innocents by extremist elements. But then I realize that our media considers all that stuff to be the only newsworthy information to be shared. Surely all over this planet there are good stories to balance all that negativity. But perhaps that's not considered interesting. Well, I certainly seek out stories that uplift me rather than bring me down. Sometimes I take a news fast, which seems to be the only way I've discovered to help me gain some perspective. For the next few days or so, I'll be lost in the world of Oz and contemplating the nature of good and evil, it seems. I'll check the weather, hoping for rain, but otherwise stay away from news shows. Do you have a technique for attitude adjustments?

At the beginning of this harvest season, I've got a smidgen of optimism that fall is not that far away, and that a change in the weather will bring a change in my outlook, knowing that I will move away from pessimism and once again enjoy the beauty of life, my surroundings, and especially my network of friends and family. There is so much to be thankful for, and all I need is to count my blessings, right? Let's see: I'll begin right here, with you, my dear readers, and I am looking forward to reading your comments and enjoying the company of the blogosphere.

I have never met most of you, but you have definitely taken residence in my heart. I look forward to your blogs, seeing what you're doing, what is on your mind, and taking a peek into your world through your writing and pictures. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found you, and I open my Reader wondering who I'll be visiting today. After I finish this post, I'll take a look. I wanted to get this written before I did anything else this morning. And what do you know? It's done! Be well and take care until we meet again next Sunday morning.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sleeping on the ground

My tent without the rain fly
Last Wednesday night I was reminded of an adventure I used to enjoy, before I started skydiving and everything else faded into the background. I was a backpacker and explored many Colorado trails, both with others and also by myself at times. I even had a five-day solo trip I took in the summer, packing in over a pass and making a loop, coming out over another pass. It was around forty miles in total. These days I wouldn't even think of doing something like that, but it was long ago.

It had been so long since I camped out I didn't even remember how to set up my old tent. Frankly, I have forgotten when or where I bought this tent, but it's a good one and has been used many times. With Carol's help, we figured out how to set it up, and as we worked, it all came back to me. I didn't put the rain fly on it (it's that blue plastic lying on the left), because I wanted to see the stars and let the air flow through as well. Since we were car camping, I could take whatever I wanted, so I brought along an extra blanket in case my sleeping bag wasn't enough. I didn't need it, but that teddy bear doubles as a pillow for me, and I put him in the front window to guard everything from intruders. Linda and Ward's dog Riley was a little wary of him.

The orange thing in the middle is my inflatable Therm-a-rest mattress. Back when I bought it, they came in long or short versions. This is the short one, since I was looking for the least weight to carry. It's only inflated a small amount, just enough so that when you lay down on it, it conforms to your body's contours and keeps you from feeling the ground. They don't even make these any more, but I find it to be the lightest and most comfy (that's a relative term) pad I've used over the years. I wasn't sure that it would be appropriate for a septuagenarian, but it was. If I were starting over and not needing to worry about backpacking it in, I'd buy one of their suspended ultralight cots like this one. But it makes little sense for me to spend a couple hundred dollars on something I will use so seldom.

But who knows? Now that I've stopped skydiving, maybe I'll take up car camping and explore the wonderful wilderness campgrounds in this part of the country. It was my first time in one of them last week, and I was very impressed with how well kept the campgrounds are, and I realize that there really is nothing to keep me from it. I was quite comfortable last Wednesday night, and I slept like a log, waking a couple of times during the night but once I turned over I went right back to sleep. One thing I noticed is how quiet it was. Although I am not conscious of all the sounds you hear inside a house, once I was disconnected from any electronics, it was incredibly quiet. At least until the birds began their morning songs at 4:00am. It was fun.

The routine of breaking down the camp the next morning, after breakfast but before our hike, brought back many memories of times and places where I'd performed those same rituals. Once I started skydiving, I would go to many week-long events (known as boogies) where skydivers from all over the world would gather to jump together, with lots of specialty aircraft as well as the two most popular ones, Twin Otters and Skyvans. The Skyvan has a rear exit, so that instead of climbing outside the door to exit, you just jump off the end, like you were jumping into a pile of leaves. But instead of leaves, you jump into the air and then you play around until it's time to separate from your friends and open your parachute.

I would set up my tent in the designated area for tent camping, and then I'd spend the entire day jumping with my friends. They would have organizers to get people together to make skydives, and I'd make five or six in one day. I paid for a professional packer so I didn't have to pack up my main parachute each time, or I would be limited to maybe three in one day before I'd be worn out. They have showers and places to eat right at the Drop Zone, so I'd spend a week without ever needing to leave. It was glorious, and just thinking about those days brings back such memories.

One day right at sunset, I was packing up my tent at the end of the day, feeling a little sad about the boogie being over, having made thirty or so skydives and now it was time to leave, when I heard a low rumble in the sky. Oh! It was the flyover! Far off in the distance low on the horizon, I could see them coming: five aircraft, with the largest (a DC-3) in the lead, Twin Otters and Skyvans in formation beside it. And they flew right over my head at a VERY low altitude, the Drop Zone's way of saying thank you for a wonderful boogie. With the sunset in the background, and the planes overhead, I could not have been happier. That memory flooded back when I folded up my little tent last week, reminding me of days gone by.

Today I will join my friend Judy for a bus trip to Seattle to see Wicked, a Broadway play that is making the rounds in some of the larger cities this summer. Today is the last matinee performance before they pack it all up and head elsewhere. I'm looking forward to it very much. It's not like my life has become any less full because I've left skydiving behind, but it's different now. Everything has a time and place, and I'm rather proud that I was able to make the decision to stop on my own without it having been made for me, through injury or worse. I'll always have those 4,239 skydives in my logbooks to peruse if I need to be reminded how lucky I am. And I've still got my tent for new adventures.

Now I'll get up and start my day before driving over to Judy's to enjoy her company for the day, and a marvelous play as well! I'll let you know what I thought of it, next Sunday when we meet again. Until then, I wish you every good thing and loads of your own adventures. Sometimes I need to be reminded of how really fortunate I am, and when I think of you, my dear friends who are reading this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Be well until next week.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My sister Norma Jean

Norma Jean Stewart
I recently sent my sister Norma Jean a birthday card to celebrate her upcoming seventieth birthday. Before I write here again, she will join me, her older sister, in the dubious honor of marking the beginning of her eighth decade of life. I had found the most perfect card for her, which said that there are worse things than having a birthday: your mom could still be cutting your bangs! I looked for this picture but couldn't find it, so I sent one with my own bangs cut similarly by our mom. When she received the card, she sent this picture to me, saying "is this the one you were looking for?"

Norma Jean has always been blond. I love the way her braids and bangs are multicolored from the sun. She is wearing a coat and hat that Mama had made, one for each of us, out of burgundy corduroy fabric. I can still see those coats clearly in my mind's eye. Back in the days when we were small, we were often dressed alike, and it has always made me curious about whether it was just the times we lived in or whether Mama actually enjoyed dressing up her little girls.
Norma Jean and me
I know we were always together, even though two-and-a-half years separated us in age. And we have always been very different people. Recently I read an article disputing the adage that birth order affects siblings in a predictable fashion. (I just tried to find it but was unsuccessful.) I've often wondered if being the older sister made me naturally protective, or whether it is the reason I seem to be naturally bossy. I know that I have always been a risk-taker, and Norma Jean is naturally risk averse. That comes from our very different personalities, I think, nothing to do with birth order.

Nobody, least of all me, could have predicted our lives as they unfolded. Norma Jean met and married her husband, had two children, a boy and a girl, and stayed married until Pete died in February 2011. I also married and had two children, two boys, but both of them have died and I had three turbulent and rather disastrous marriages, before marrying again successfully at the age of fifty. Norma Jean has two grandchildren and I have none, but I enjoy hearing about their exploits from her, and I love to be around small children when I can give them back after awhile. My coffee shop buddies includes little Leo, who is now six, and I see him several times a week. He's not a morning person, though, and sometimes these days he doesn't want to talk or visit with me, but other times he's very gregarious. When he was younger, we played together daily.

I have other siblings, but because we were so close, I consider Norma Jean to be the sister of my heart. When her husband Pete died, I flew to Florida and spent three weeks with her, and at that time I realized that if life had turned out differently, we could have been the kind of sisters that end up together after our children and husbands were gone. Instead, I have a wonderful relationship with Smart Guy, my partner and life companion for the past quarter century. I visit my sister and we use video chat for a few hours every month to keep in touch. Her son Peter lives with her now, and just in the past few weeks her daughter Allison has moved nearby. This means that Norma Jean will see her grandchildren often. I'm sure that when I visit I will also get to spend time with them. Her life is full and she no longer needs any sort of protection from her big sister.

It's interesting to see how the tables have turned: I now get very anxious when for some reason we don't get to have our usual two-hour video chat. That family connection I derive from her is very important to me, and it's a rare day that I don't spend some time thinking about her, whether it's a memory from the past, or wondering how she's doing with various projects she's got going. Our connection fills a very definite need in my life. I'm so glad to have my beautiful sister in my life, and now that she is also turning seventy, we have seven decades of shared memories together. She has never known a world without her big sister, and I don't remember my world without her in it.

We now have the opportunity, I sincerely hope, to be old women growing older and sharing the trials and tribulations of aging with one another. She is as active as I am, swimming a mile five days a week, vigorous walking if she doesn't swim. She also takes one day off from exercise, as I do, unless of course she ends up playing golf with some of her friends in the 55-and-older community where she lives.

She is an avid reader, taking after our mother in that respect. Mama would go to the library and check out a box of books (a BIG box) and read every single one. Norma Jean reserves books online from the library that she wants to read or she downloads them to her Kindle. One of the things we both do is watch for books that we think the other would enjoy. She reads mysteries, which I don't, and I read science fiction, which she doesn't. But there have been many books over the past few years that we have both enjoyed very much. Right now I seem to be into memoirs, a genre we both enjoy. Finding a book to recommend to her is a pleasure. I wanted to give her one for her birthday that I particularly liked, but she told me to keep it, since she doesn't like to have actual books cluttering up her home; these days everything is either electronic or borrowed and returned to the library.

I realized just now that I am pretty much the same these days. I ordered and downloaded a book to my Kindle and have five books checked out from the library sitting next to my favorite chair. The only reason I have so many right now is that I put a hold on them and for some reason many of them will arrive at the library at the same time. Even my favorite independent bookstore, which I make an effort to support, now offers books electronically. They are a little more expensive than getting them from Amazon, but it's worth spending a little more to keep that store around. I had to download their electronic reader but it works quite well on my Kindle or iPad. How times have changed!

I marvel at how different the world will be for today's young ones who have never known a world without electronic gadgets. I do hope that actual books and libraries will survive this period, because there is nothing quite like holding a book in your hands, turning pages and getting lost in another place. But our world will continue to evolve and change. I just hope that I get to share it with my sister Norma Jean for a long time to come. Happy birthday!

And for the rest of you, my dear readers, I wish you a very full and happy week until we meet here again next week.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Learning to deal with loss

A type of spiraea flower, taken last Thursday
Although right now our forests are abnormally dry, there are still many beautiful flowers for us to enjoy, like these spiraea blossoms on the Yellow Aster Butte trail. If I hadn't seen this same trail many times before, I don't think I would recognize the extreme dryness that shows in the flowers or the trees in the distance. This is the third day since our heat wave broke, and the temperatures here in the lowlands have stayed in the normal category, in the low 70s. It's such a relief. But it's not even the middle of July, which begins our hottest time of the year. I feel such a sense of sadness that so many different places are feeling the effects of extreme weather. We have just been officially declared to be in a severe drought. I wonder how wildlife manages to cope with it. They must travel long distances just to find water sources.

There are several reasons that I decided to start with this topic: loss. The first is that yesterday I got on Facebook and learned that my nephew Joseph (he's the son of my late sister PJ) went to his father's home because his dad wasn't answering the phone and he got worried. He found his father lying on the kitchen floor, dead. Ken and my sister PJ had been divorced for a very long time, but I saw him last at PJ's memorial service last year. He looked the same, only much older.

For Joey (as he will always be known to me), he has now lost both his mother and his father before he turns fifty himself. I'm glad he is surrounded by family and friends who care for him,  because he will get over this with their help, and time. It's pretty shocking to discover someone you love who has died unexpectedly, I'm sure. It's never happened to me and I hope it never does. But I sure know how to deal with loss, which comes in many shapes and sizes during our mortal lives. Just getting older means having to deal with the loss of our youth, our mental and physical faculties, and as we age we deal with the loss of our parents and other older relatives. That's just in a normal life, but sometimes we must find ways to recover from other, more unexpected loss.

Last week I wrote about the importance of our social circles, the people we love and who love us. The downside to that is caring about the welfare of so many people, because they will continue to grow old, sicken and die, just like we will. I suppose that one reason why some of us decide to limit our interaction with other people is to minimize our losses. Then as we try to insulate ourselves from loss, we close ourselves up and make our lives miserable. I've seen that happen more than once. No, it's better to just take the pain and suffering, which is part of living anyway. I wonder if that is where hypochondria has its roots: hoping to be vigilant enough to catch something going awry in our body before it goes too far. Or maybe it's simply a way to occupy one's mind.

Dealing with loss is never something one gets good at, even though we have so many chances to practice. I am learning to find other things to do on the weekends, when it occurs to me that I would normally have been driving down to the Drop Zone. I realize that it was definitely the right time by the contentment I feel with my daily life, in spite of having quit that activity. I'm learning to take care of myself in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, back when I was a youngster of 65. There are times when I catch my reflection in a glass and don't immediately know who that person is. Time goes by, and those little imperceptible changes accumulate in a single instant of recognition.

There are even harder losses to deal with than those that come with the passage of time: loss of reputation, for instance. When someone does something despicable and thinks he got away with it and then is discovered (I'm thinking of Bill Cosby here), he must deal with the aftermath for the rest of his life. I am amazed at how some powerful people believe that they are above it all and can do what they want to others. Well, his legacy is gone forever. How very sad, all of it. Every one of us must find ways to deal with the loss of loved ones, but not many of us will walk in his shoes, thank heavens.

I saw a movie yesterday that got me started on this track, I guess: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It's a movie about a high school senior (Greg), his best friend Earl, and Rachel, a girl who develops leukemia and how Greg's mother forces him to become friends with Rachel during her chemotherapy treatments. It's an excellent movie, and there are plenty of laughs and poignant moments to appreciate. I walked out of the theater with tears in my eyes but so very glad to have seen it. I may watch it again. It's based on a book, so my next step will be to read it; I've put a hold on it at the library, but I'm #15 in line so it will be awhile. Often I do this: put a book on hold and then when enough time passes, I cannot remember how I heard of it. It's kind of a nice way to be surprised when I get a notice from the library that I've got a book waiting for me. And I usually enjoy them and even if I don't, I can just return them to the library unread. I do that, too.

For whatever reason, I'm filled this morning with rather strong emotions, feelings of loss and the passage of time, of those I have loved who are gone. I realize that their memory still lives within me, and thinking of someone I haven't laid eyes on for decades does not diminish their importance to me. In some ways, they are even more present. Sitting with an old picture and remembering when Mama and Daddy were young and vibrant, when I was a child, can feel joyful, if I let it and don't try to hang on to what was.

Mercy! Another post got written while I wasn't looking. Another Sunday has begun, and I have fulfilled the first task of the day. All is quiet outside; for some reason I don't hear any birds singing (oh, there they are), and I notice that we once again have overcast skies instead of unrelenting sunshine. It's not quite 7:00am in the morning, and this habit I have of sitting in bed while my partner sleeps next to me is so familiar and reassuring. I am remembering to notice all this, because there will be a day, hopefully far in the future, when this will be a memory, too. Until next Sunday, I wish you all happiness and that you, too, will be smiling many times between now and then.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Holiday weekend and friendships

Me, Carol and Linda cooling our feet
Some Sunday mornings I wake with a good idea of what I want to write about, but not this one. I slept fairly well, after listening to the booms and whistling of firecrackers for what seemed like several hours. It started around 9:30 and went on until around midnight. Somewhere in there I fell asleep and only woke a few times afterwards when a stray boom jolted me awake. It's all quiet now, and the sun is just over the horizon on this soon-to-be sultry Sunday.

My habit in the morning is to get up and make myself a cup of tea and bring my laptop back to bed in order to read the news of the day. I think this is the first time in many years that I have woken the morning after the Fourth and not seen several pictures of exploding fireworks. Not on the Bellingham Herald site, the Washington Post, or even Yahoo News. It must be because it fell on a Saturday and Sunday's papers usually have a broader perspective. I'm not sure why, but I noticed the difference. I was going to snag a picture of fireworks for my picture, but instead I used this picture of the three waders from last Thursday's hike. It makes me thankful for my friendships.

Friendships. I have to say that as I have grown accustomed to becoming a retired skydiver, I still gaze at the pictures of my friends in freefall and enjoy the excitement of the sport on my Facebook page. Probably a hundred of my Facebook friends are skydivers from around the world, and I notice that I'm glad for the opportunity to stay connected to my old buddies and see what they're up to. But I also notice that I don't seem to have any need to join them; my appreciation for their happiness is not diminished by my decision to retire. I'm getting used to this idea of letting go of activities that filled me with such delight not so long ago. The activity is not less enjoyable, but the need to participate as I once did is fading away.

I realize how fortunate I am to have established the circle of friends that sustain me. My friend Judy, whom I met at the Y, is my go-to-the-movies pal, and she and I will travel together later this month to Seattle to see Wicked, which is coming there for the month of July. I've gone to numerous movies with her and we've dined at our favorite places for the past seven years, and now she feels like family.

The friendships I've formed from my Thursday hikes are also around seven years old now. I started hiking with them in 2008, after moving here when I retired from work, and I would never have guessed that my days would be so enriched by this activity. We meet every Thursday; nobody has to say ahead of time whether or not they're going, so the people who show up vary from occasional hikers to regulars. I'm one of the regulars, but I also made a decision after last week to skip those difficult hikes when we have such hot weather. I just don't have nearly as much fun when it's so hot and I feel my strength draining away as I struggle to keep up. I'm happier in cool or cold weather, which is one of the reasons I moved to this part of the country.

Two of the long-time hikers in the group encouraged me to join their walking group on Saturday mornings. It took me awhile before I did join them, but I finally started walking with them at Lake Padden on New Year's Day 2010. One of the nice things about having a blog, I can look up the date since I wrote a post about it. I never expected it to become a regular thing, since I spent summer weekends at Skydive Snohomish and didn't want to give that up. But that was then. Now I look forward to it; it's how I start almost every weekend these days.

Yesterday the walking group gathered at our leader's home (Cindy's) for our annual Fourth of July potluck. There were fifteen of us, all women I've grown to cherish as friends. As in my hiking group, you just show up and the number varies as do the people. Men are also welcome, but they don't seem to come more than once or twice and then we don't see them again. We laughed about it yesterday and figured they might feel intimidated by all of us. We also discussed books we've enjoyed, and Cindy talked about how next year will be her tenth anniversary of having started this group. She'd like to do something special, so we'll try to think of some ideas. They also feel like old friends after five years of walking together. After the walk we usually go out for coffee and chat. It's a really good group.

I'll bet you know about the other group that gives me such pleasure, don't you? You should, since you're part of it. There are probably two dozen or so fellow bloggers whom I have come to care about (and worry about), and we write posts and comment back and forth to each other. I thought briefly about listing some of my blogging family, but then I realized I might forget somebody who is crucial and then I'd feel bad about it, so I'll just say how much I appreciate my online pals. Who would ever have guessed a few years ago how the blogosphere would become such a significant social outlet? Not me, that's for sure, but I am eternally grateful that it has. And this October, I'll join five other bloggers for our third annual gathering on Vashon Island, staying at the wonderful Lavender Hill Farm.

I read often about the importance of staying connected to social groups in order to improve one's mental health. My family is scattered around the country, but I keep in touch with them through Facebook, and my sister Norma Jean and I video chat a couple of times a month. Norma Jean is the sister I'm closest to, but I love and appreciate my other siblings, as well as their extended family, which is pretty large. And then there's the guy who is lying next to me, the one who shares my daily life and makes sure I have good food to eat (he's the cook in the family). Now who could ask for more than that? As I recount all the friends and family I have in my life, I realize why I'm not feeling more of a lack as I move away from skydiving. There's a hole, for sure, but it won't be there for long.

Until we meet again next week, stay safe and, if you feel like it, you might take stock of all those people who sustain you, too. Somehow since I've written all this down, I am feeling very wealthy, very blessed, and ready to start my day surrounded by love.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The day my world changed

Lauren and her new purchase
Yesterday I went to the Drop Zone to meet Lauren and see if she might be interested in buying my skydiving gear. When she walked up to me and I took a look at her, I was pretty sure it would fit her perfectly. She's a new jumper and needed to buy some good gear, and when she put this on, my heart skipped a beat because I realized it had just found a new home. Lauren has never worn a rig that fits her perfectly—until now. It looks like it was made for her. Of course, she is the same height as me and that helps a lot, but still. Good thing she likes purple.

Although we agreed on a price, the next step is for the rigger to repack the reserve and inspect the main parachute and give her the thumbs up. I left it with her, because now it's hers, although no money has yet changed hands. I also gave her my old jumpsuits because they match so perfectly and fit her also and now I have no use for them. Although there is nothing keeping me from borrowing gear and making more skydives, I really feel like I'm done. It's been percolating for awhile, but now I won't even be tempted to go out there for old time's sake. It's time.

I looked in my logbook to see what the my final tally of jumps is: 4,239 skydives over 25 years of jumping. Lauren probably wasn't even born when I made that fateful tandem jump on September 3, 1990. (I didn't ask her how old she is, but she looks impossibly young to me.) I came home from the Drop Zone with all sorts of feelings roiling around inside. When I think of my career of skydiving behind me, I am actually pretty amazed at it all. I've jumped from helicopters and hot-air balloons, gone to 23,000 feet twice for some absurdly long skydives, and taught more than a thousand students how to skydive. I served on the US Parachute Association Board of Directors for four years and met my partner for life through the skydiving world. It truly altered the trajectory of my life when I made that first tandem so long ago.

Last night each time I woke from sleep, I remembered that it's over. It feels a little bit like a missing tooth right now, but I know that as time passes that gap will be filled with life's other activities. It's not like missing a limb, which it would have been a decade ago. There was a time when I couldn't imagine my life without skydiving in it, but then again, there was a time when I couldn't imagine being in my seventies. My life is good and full and satisfying, but it's also good to realize my limitations.

It's not only that my body is more fragile than it was a decade ago, my mental processes are also nowhere near as sharp as they were. I find myself making silly mistakes and forgetting things, which is not dangerous most of the time, but when you're falling towards the ground at 120 miles an hour, there's no time for confusion. I worried about my ability to deal with a malfunction and reacting properly within the few seconds of decision time.

I remember the time when I opened my parachute and realized that it was spinning instead of gently floating above my head. Reaching for my brakes, I realized that I was already going too fast and needed to act quickly. When I reached for my emergency handles, they were not where they were supposed to be, since my harness had distorted from the forces I was experiencing. I frantically searched for the two handles, found them and pulled them in the correct order, releasing the bad parachute and deploying my reserve. I was spinning so hard that one of the disconnected risers smacked me under my chin and gave me a huge bruise. I never felt it, I was so filled with adrenaline. My reserve parachute was a beautiful sight to behold, and I landed it easily. By the time I had returned to the packing area, my main parachute and freebag had been retrieved, and I was able to get my stuff put back together before the end of the day. Although I'm not sure, I think I made another jump before the sun went down.

Just writing about that experience gives me a jolt of adrenaline, even after all these years, which must have been at least a decade ago. I've got all my logbooks and could look it up, searching through all those memories, and I might do that one of these days, but not today. Now it's time to start looking ahead, looking at what might be the next step in my journey. I can rest assured that I've made a good decision; I know I have just by the way I feel: a little pensive but not sad.

Smart Guy went with me to the Drop Zone yesterday, so he drove back home after the deed was done. In the passenger seat, I logged onto Facebook on my iPhone and posted a picture of Lauren in her new gear and wrote that it was a bittersweet farewell. During the long drive back, I kept checking my phone for the comments people made: "We'll always remember those Eloy Christmas boogie years and the many jumps with you" (from the UK). "It served you well. Seems like yesterday we met at Quincy" (East Coast). "You can always buy more gear" (West Coast). And many others, from skydivers and non-skydivers around the world. All that happened while I was sitting in my car traveling from one place to another, which is pretty darned amazing when you think about it. I think of the incredible ability we have to stay connected with dear friends instantaneously and marvel at the world we live in.

And speaking of the world we live in, wasn't it an astounding week in the US? Just like that, gay marriage has become legal in the entire country. I think of my departed friend Robert, who died of AIDS, who would have never believed it but would have been overjoyed. Times are changing, and I'm sorry for those who are unhappy over this ruling, because the world has moved on. I'm glad I got to see this and can hardly believe it myself.

On that note, I realize that it's that time again: my post is done, my tea gone, and my partner gently snoring next to me. The relentless sunshine and heat continues in my part of the world, but we'll get through it, with a little help from our friends. And air conditioning. Be well, my dear dear friends and we'll meet here again next Sunday morning.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer solstice and Father's Day

European Association for Astronomy Education
Today we in the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year. That picture above is of the sun coming up at Stonehenge, built between 3100-1100 BC for reasons that can only be speculated. But the sun coming up between those two stones right at sunrise on the solstice draws crowds of people from all over the world. Today they'll be watching the sunrise at Stonehenge at 9:38am my time (PDT).

And I will be home, or outside enjoying another day of sunshine here, with only a few self-imposed tasks to accomplish. The first is to write this post, so here I am, with little to no idea of what I want to write today. Since it's also Father's Day, my dad has been on my mind, so I'll write a little about who he was to me.

Daddy was born April 25, 1917 in southern California. He married my mom during World War II, on November 16, 1941. I was born, the first of seven children, a year later. (One sister, Tina Maria, only lived for a few days.) I grew up with six siblings as the oldest of the bunch, with twenty years between me and my youngest sister. Daddy and Mama essentially raised two sets of kids, as my sisters Norma Jean and PJ followed me within seven years, and then when I was sixteen my parents eventually had four more, starting with my brother. My two youngest sisters were born after I had left home and become a mother myself.

I grew up while Daddy was in active duty in the Air Force, so we moved often during my early life. We did spend five years in one place in Fairfield, California, and I was also born in California, so for a long time I considered it to be home. But getting used to moving everything and going from one school to another was enough to make both Norma Jean and I learn different methods of coping. For me, I didn't mind the disruption because I am outgoing and gregarious, while she is introverted and makes friends slowly. When we talk about those years, I know that she found them to be painful, while I enjoyed the adventure of moving.

I idolized my father. He was larger than life to me in many ways. There were times when he would be on TDY (temporary duty) somewhere else, and he would be gone for months at a time. I remember those times as being difficult, because all of us geared our home life towards Daddy, including Mama, and when he was gone it was like we entered some sort of limbo. Mama often didn't prepare a dinner for us kids, but when Daddy was home we always sat down at the dinner table for a full meal. I remember many times when he was gone that we would have breakfast food (cereal or eggs) for dinner.

He was not much of a disciplinarian; he left that to Mama. But when he would get mad, I remember being scared if he were angry at something I had done wrong. He didn't allow any of us to sass my mom, so we never did that in his presence but waited until he wasn't around. Then again, he was as softhearted as anybody I have ever known. Sometimes he would read stories to us (Norma Jean and I, anyway) when he was home, and I remember him beginning to sniffle when he read us fairy tales. Yes, Daddy could be very emotional sometimes. He hated to let anybody know, however, because in those days it was not socially acceptable for men to cry for any reason at all.

Mama and Daddy loved each other, and I feel very blessed that I grew up in that environment. We were a demonstrative and affectionate family. Now that I am an adult, I realize that many of my friends didn't have such role models or grew up in a family that was dysfunctional. We may have had our problems, as all families do, but mostly we had a safe haven in our home, wherever it might be in the country.

You would think that I would have had a much better time finding a husband and settling down, after a childhood like that, but no, when I left home I was pregnant by a man I hardly knew. When Mama found out I was pregnant, she arranged a quickie marriage and I learned many years later than my father never knew. Back then it was a terrible disgrace. My, how times have changed in fifty years.

And Daddy has been gone since 1979. He was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. I remember when we would linger at the dinner table, Daddy would always finish up dishes he especially enjoyed. Although he wasn't terribly overweight, he loved to eat, and Mama fed him everything he liked. Whenever I would come home to visit, it never occurred to me that Daddy was anything but the picture of health. After he had retired from the Air Force, they bought a home on Lake Worth in Texas, and the last three kids grew up in one home, a wonderful place to live. Totally different from the life that I had with the same parents.

Mama called me one day in the summer of 1979 to tell me that Daddy had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. One by one, each of us who had left home traveled quickly back to Texas. When it first happened, nobody knew how bad the heart attack was and whether he might recover. He lived long enough for all of us to come back home to see him. He was sitting up in bed when I saw him, and I noticed that his pupils were very small, which I learned later was from the morphine that they were giving him for pain. Otherwise he didn't look much different. He knew, though.

Within a couple of days his lungs began to fill with fluid, since his damaged heart could no longer function properly. The doctors put him on a respirator, and when we saw him next he was unconscious with that machine doing his breathing for him. As we waited for news of his condition, we were all gathered in one room which the hospital had given for us to use, since there were so many of us. When we heard the "Code Blue" over the loudspeaker, we looked at each other and knew it was Daddy. They allowed us to see him one more time after they had removed all the machinery and drips. I went in with my four sisters, and we crowded around him and stroked his body while we cried. He was still warm with beads of sweat on his forehead. Oh, Daddy, we love you so much, even today I miss you as I write this.

Although he didn't live a long time, he had a very good life and dispensed plenty of love to his wife and children. We all remember him fondly and tell stories about his exploits when we get together. It's been well over thirty years now since he left, but he will always be my father, loved and cherished in memory. Happy Father's Day, Daddy!
Daddy contemplating his coffee