|Yesterday's sunrise from my front porch|
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.