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 22, 2013

Autumn 2013 begins

Yesterday's sunrise from my front porch
Today marks the beginning of fall, the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The days and nights are of equal length, and from this day our days will be shorter than the nights, until we reach the winter solstice, when the light begins its gradual return. I learned another interesting fact about the equinox yesterday from a fellow blogger: did you know that on the autumnal and spring equinox the sun rises due east and sets due west? This is true for everyone on earth. I found this fascinating website about today's celestial event.

I have always loved to learn things about astronomy. Part of my morning routine is to look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and see what exciting picture is shown for each day, with explanations. Today's picture shows the progression of the sun through the year: high in the sky during the summer months and low on the horizon during the winter. Before we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had never lived this far north. The short winter days with lots of rain is one reason why people don't like it here, but I find I do just fine, as long as I can have a break sometime during winter by visiting my sister in Florida or going to southern California. A few of my fellow hikers leave for the winter and go to sunnier climes, and some of my blogging friends do, too.

Yesterday was supposed to be rainy, but instead the sun came out and brightened everybody's spirits. This morning the rain has returned, and I can hear it falling gently outside as I sit here writing. I really don't mind the rain, but I can't go skydiving today as I hoped. Yesterday the clouds didn't clear off in Snohomish until late in the afternoon, and by that time I had given up. When I have to drive an hour and a half with only a slim chance of skydiving, my day usually turns to other activities. The season is winding down, and by the end of October my gear will be placed in the closet to wait for spring to return.

When I was first getting into skydiving, I jumped all year long, which is possible in Colorado. I didn't stay home when it was cold, as long as the sky was clear. I traveled to Skydive Arizona three times a year and spent ten days every summer jumping in Illinois at the World Freefall Convention. I got somewhere between 250-400 jumps every single year, and now I'm lucky to get 50. But then again, the first heady years of being a skydiver meant my entire life revolved around the activity. When I traveled overseas for work, I took my gear. I jumped in France and Russia. It was a time I look back on with fondness, but it's now in the past. Traveling with one's skydiving gear is a real drag these days. However, in less than three weeks I'll be heading to southern California to attend a record attempt for Jumpers Over Seventy. There aren't a lot of us, as you can imagine, so I feel it's important to make the trip. Plus it's nice to remind myself that I'm not alone; there are other septuagenarians like me who still like to skydive now and then.

Last Thursday was a beautiful day, the only really nice one of the entire week, so the Senior Trailblazers had a wonderful hike up to Lake Ann. I've done that hike once a year now for the past four years. We see two glaciers on the back side of Mt. Shuksan, and a new hiker asked if there was any significant difference in the size of the glaciers over the past few years. It made me wonder if my pictures would show any difference in four years, so I got out my pictures from summer 2009 and looked at the glacier to see if I could detect any changes. Sure enough, in just that short time it was possible to see that the glacier is slowly shrinking. Al told me that it will change from year to year with different climatological conditions. I'm sure glad I've gotten a chance to see glaciers.

While I was comparing pictures of the glacier, I also noticed that four years has made a significant difference in the appearance of all the Trailblazers. Some don't come any more, for various reasons, mostly because it's not so easy to hike eight miles up and down at our age. Once you stop because of a knee or hip giving you problems, it's pretty easy just to stop going. And it doesn't usually get better. Many of us use anti-inflammatory preparations to help, and knee braces are a common sight. Looking at the pictures, it made me nostalgic for those people I don't see any more, and I wondered how they are doing. When you spend the whole day out in the wilderness with people, a bond begins to form that doesn't let loose just because you don't see them any more.

There is a core group of Trailblazers that I would desperately miss if they stopped coming. When one or more of them don't show up for a hike, it makes a real difference to me. I suspect they would feel the same if I didn't show up. All you need to do is arrive a little before 8:00am at the Senior Center; nobody needs to say whether or not they are coming. The only one who is required to show up is the leader, who will provide a substitute if for some reason he can't make it. The importance of this activity to my own enjoyment of life cannot be overstated. I love Thursdays and spending time in the beautiful wilderness, even when the weather is inclement. We might complain about the weather, but we still get together and head on out. We may change our plans a little if it's really pouring out there, but we go anyway. I know the fair-weather hikers quite well by now, but I am sometimes surprised when we have a rather large group even when it's rainy.

There will come a day when I can no longer play in the air with my friends, and a day when I will no longer be able to hike eight or ten miles. The glacier is slowly shrinking, time is passing, and I am getting older every day. This season often reminds me to stop and take stock of my life as I begin the journey towards winter. The garden is finished for the year and needs to be mulched as it goes into hibernation. I wake from sleep at this time of year and realize I've been spending time with someone long gone from this world. In my dreams, the past lives on. I cannot help but give thanks for the life I have now, and remember the loved ones whose presence is ephemeral but, just for a short while, is as real and solid as that glacier on Mt. Shuksan.

18 comments:

Linda Reeder said...

Thanks for the links about the equinox. I checked them out and added the astronomy photo of the day to my favorites.
I guess it is fitting that it will be raining most of today, the first day of autumn. I do remember some sunny days on the Oregon coast when I photographed the setting sun on the atunmal equinox. Maybe I should look them up. Might make me feel better about the loss of daylight coming now.
We are going to meet up with Jill and the kids this morning to go through a house inspection as a next step to buying a house. This might just mark a day of new beginnings. I hope so. It would be a good way to celebrate this significant day.

gigihawaii said...

It does make a difference when you no longer see oldtimers at a club meeting. Some die, some move from Hawaii. As a retiree, I don't even socialize with people I knew at work. Sad, isn't it.

Rian said...

It was 62 this morning here in Dallas! Finally feels like the end of the summer. (September has even been hot... in the 90's a lot of the time.) So yes, I'm glad fall is here. It's also been raining! And we really need the rain.

And DJan, I did check out the Astronomy website... even subscribed to it. Thanks.

Deb Shucka said...

I just read Linda's most recent post, and it's as if the two of you were speaking from one heart this week. I know there's something about the arrival of fall that triggers all sorts of reflection - maybe especially for those of us of a certain age. Lovely post, as always.

Far Side of Fifty said...

It was 37 at 5 AM, Fall is in the air for sure. I miss the light at night already, I think we are loosing 4 minutes a day. Non the less Happy Fall! :)

Linda Myers said...

Carpe diem, DJan. Seize the day.

With gusto!

Arkansas Patti said...

Have you ever looked up the drop outs? Maybe you could get them together for a less strenuous activity just to reconnect.
I swear there is a commercial that uses Lake Ann as a back drop. But like most commercials, I can't remember what it is for.
I am enjoying these cool days.

Laura said...

what an extraordinary sky!

Red said...

Your first day of fall was marked by an awesome sunrise.
I think we need a group like the hikers as it is one thing that gives us a strong bond with other people. I find this with my skating group. Urban life has become very isolated. When I grew up on the farm we had much more social interaction with our neighbors and relatives.

Lorna said...

This is a beautiful post, DJan. It reminds me that I am in the autumn of my years as well, although not keeping up with the years as well as you have been.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I can't imagine you ever giving up the things you love to do, regardless of age. Onward, lady Sadge!

Rita said...

Love your sunrise sky pic!!
Things eventually change, but for now--you are going to the over 70 jump in three weeks!! Whoohoo!!
I love fall, so I am in high spirits with the weather change.
I may not be able to do the things I used to do but I have all the memories. And isn't it great that we can still visit the people we love and miss in our dreams. :)

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

That is a beautiful sunrise photo. Linda's post talked about choosing to accept the shorter days to come, and I'm going to work on that, too. It will happen in any case, so I may as well choose to be happy about it, yes? Meanwhile we're having some lovely weather, so I'm feeling...well, blissed-out!

Retired English Teacher said...

The changes of the seasons seem so much more significant to me as I age. I find I want to be more in touch with how they change rather than just an observer of the beauty of the change as I was when I was younger. This year it seems fall was upon us early as far as the changes in the air and such. It snowed on the first day of fall in the mountains. The leaves are changing. I am loving it.

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

Fall is a lovely season. It seems as though summer has flown by and I dread winter.
You have a great blog.
I found it on "Writer's Circle," by: Glenda Beall.

Friko said...

Skydiving is still so very much uppermost in your mind, head and heart, that you would surely be very sad if you had to give it up.

Hiking comes a close second, I would think, also not something that will last for ever, although there are ramblers (as they are called here) who walk into their late 80s.

Your life is so active and physical that I hope you will be able to go on for ever.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this is a lovely, thoughtful, and evocative posting that draws me into thinking about aging and death. And also of course, it draws me into thinking about how I want to spend the last years of my life--what will give them meaning. What will enhance them. What will bring contentment.

You find all that--meaning, enhancement, contentment--in many, many aspects of your life, not just the hiking and skydiving. And when you must give them up, you will be able to turn from the closed door of diving and hiking to the open window of other pursuits that are a part of your life. Your life seems, DJan, to be so well-rounded and lived deliberately and with joy and gratitude. I so admire that. Peace.

Bill said...

I didn't know that the sun rises and sets due east and west on the spring and fall equinoxes. I'm usually out at sunrise and sunset, so I know that the place changes with the seasons, but I didn't realize that it is precisely east and west on those days. Fascinating. thanks!