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 1, 2013

September song

Rainy scene last Thursday
It's already September, and the long weekend that heralds the unofficial end of summer for most of us is here. The strange weather we had this year, with the driest June on record, made it possible for me to spend much of it skydiving instead of watching the usual low clouds. Then July, which is usually cloud-free, had many weekends filled with low stormy clouds. August was unusually muggy, with dewpoints and humidity much higher than we Pacific Northwesterners normally enjoy.

Last Thursday was a wet one. Although we have had many hikes that were wetter, it made it impossible for us to reach our destination; the cold wind and rain caused us to pull out all our warm gear, while we attempted to stay dry as we hunkered down for a quick lunch. Although it sounds pretty miserable, it actually wasn't. I enjoyed myself because I had all the right gear, dry feet inside my hiking boots, and the company of my fellow hikers. I came home and wrote this post about the adventure.

What is on my mind this morning? Two things surface: the first is the gratitude I feel for being able to enjoy my favorite pursuits, hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest wilderness and skydiving, both with favorite companions. After I wrote last week's post, I drove down to Snohomish and made three skydives before heading back home. On Monday I went on a long 12-mile hike with the Trailblazers, and then Thursday's shorter 7-mile-long wet one. And yesterday, another two skydives. All in one week, interspersed with trips to the gym for my usual exercise classes. I look back on this week and am grateful that I can still do it. As we were walking back to the hangar after the last jump, Christy told me how glad she is that I decided to continue skydiving this year. I was reminded that I had considered hanging it all up when I turned seventy.

Which brings me to the other thing on my mind this morning: the incredible speed of time passing by. Now that it's already September, I'll begin to focus on my trip to southern California next month, and ponder the future of my skydiving career. Not to mention the future of my hiking career. Both of these activities require a fit and resilient body, and my 71st birthday is right around the corner. Several times lately I've shown up at the Senior Center for a Thursday hike and discovered that someone is not joining us because of an infirmity, such as knee problems (which I have), inflamed tendons (ditto), or a bad back (so far so good).

As we age, we either work through our pain or we stop being so active, or both. It's part of life, and it's not possible to ignore the fact that these bodies wear out. I have long thought I would be smart enough to be willing to listen and make the appropriate decisions. But here I am, pushing myself and my body to the limit time and time again. As long as I can continue to do it, I will. I tell myself it makes me stronger, but there's some denial in there, too. It's not that I don't have pain: I pamper my sore knees by using trekking poles, although they continue to complain on steep downhills. The achilles tendon on my right heel refuses to work in the mornings until I warm it up. I hobble around for a few minutes before it works properly, but by the time I leave the house, I've forgotten about it.

Skydiving has a reputation for being a daredevil sport, but it's actually not like that at all. I'm one of the dinosaurs, because I come from a generation of skydivers that likes to make formations with others, all while maintaining a belly-to-earth configuration. That's become old fashioned, as most youngsters like to fly head down, and speed increases as you present less body surface to the air. Things change. I tried it once and hated it, but there are some DZs where nobody does belly flying any more. I'm glad I play in the air with friends who enjoy the same things I do.

Climbing outside the airplane requires some upper body strength, as I hold on in the wind, but that's probably the only part of the skydive that involves much muscle. Being in freefall is easy (other than the psychological aspect), and if my parachute has been packed properly, the opening is not jarring in any way. Flying around under my canopy as I set up my pattern to land is also not only fun, but it doesn't take much upper body strength, either. The landing is usually just a step down onto the ground, but if I misjudge the timing, the worst that usually happens is that I scrape in on my rear end. My pride is injured, but that's about it.

Hiking requires much more stamina than most people have developed, but since our hikes are rated easy, moderate or hard, one can make a decision about whether or not you are up to it. I've been pushed to my limit many times this summer, but I'm stronger today than I was at the beginning of the summer, even at my age. I know that during the winter when our hikes are shorter and closer to town, I'll lose some of that aerobic fitness, and one day it will not return when I start out on a longer hike. I know this, and I will have to learn the lesson of gracefully bowing out of a hike that is beyond my level. Paying attention to the subtle signals that my body sends me is paramount. I'm trying to be reasonable, really I am. I suspect that some of my readers think I am imprudent to carry on the way I do, but is it really true? Or is it the perception that as we age we must retire to our rocking chairs based on what the calendar tells us?

I don't really know. As I sit here in the early morning, I can feel the twinges in my left knee, and that pesky tendon in the right heel is tight. The clicking of the keys as I type doesn't disturb my softly sleeping partner next to me. Taking an inventory of my aches and pains reveals that I'm not doing too badly, and I'll go to the gym today, since it's closed tomorrow for Labor Day. I'm scheduled for a massage tomorrow that I'll enjoy tremendously. It also helps to keep me active, and just the thought of it gives me pleasure.

Those two things: gratitude for today's blessings and the grace to accept what the future holds reminds me of the Serenity Prayer, which I offer here: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Until next week, I wish you well, and maybe you'll give somebody close to you a hug. As soon as Smart Guy wakes up, I'm giving him one.


Anonymous said...

I love your writing style and the thoughts you put up on my screen. You are wise to think about the future. Many don't.

Rian said...

DJan, it's obvious from your writing that you know exactly what you're doing and do it well. You seem to be aware of the dangers and obstacles that come with aging, but also of the physical and psychological need to keep active. I think that you are probably in very fit shape for your age - probably more so than most of us. My only thought here is 'don't push too hard'.

Linda Myers said...

You've got good judgment and you'll make the decisions you need to make when the time comes.

Deb Shucka said...

Use it or lose it. Isn't that what they say? I'm so inspired by you - to see someone ahead of me on the path being vital and happy and living life as fully as possible. I wish we lived closer to each other so I could join you for hiking once in a while. Really reflective and insightful post, as always.

Cynthia said...

Beautifully said. You are an inspiration to me to keep in shape as I age and yet be
sensible about my capabilities and limitations. I often find myself in groups of much younger people and it is hard on the ego to admit I'm tired or lagging behind!

Friko said...

It’s the old story: do what your body tells you. Why give up when you still enjoy what you’re doing?

There’s o need.

Jackie said...

I love it when I see that you have posted. It calms me to read what you are writing. You write with a style that I enjoy....from your heart to your reader's. That makes me smile.
You will know when it is time to hang up the trekking poles and/or not skydive any more. Until then, enjoy each moment the Lord is blessing you with. You bless my moments. I enjoy spending them reading about how you are feeling, what you and your partner are doing, where you are traveling, etc. My Daddy is 87. There is nothing that he can't do and doesn't do...still. You go girl!!

Gigi said...

No, I don't think anyone should stop doing something they enjoy and can do just because of their age. Enjoy your hiking and skydiving. Live the life you are meant to live and enjoy every minute of it!

Arkansas Patti said...

I do believe in the "use it or lose it" theory. Even if you scale back to a lesser degree or maybe even trying a different type of activity that you haven't tried yet, you will stay active.
I agree with the others, listen to your body. It won't lie to you.

Red said...

I recommend that you push things to the max. You sometimes feel aches , pains or fatigue. Just remember that many people of all ages cannot do 10 % of what you do. It's about accomplishment and satisfaction.
I'm struggling with my cycling this summer. I've just not been to the level of physical fitness that lets me go. I know how to cure that.
Enjoy your week.

Retired English Teacher said...

You are fortunate to be able to do the things you still do, but you are also wise to care for those joints like you do. I agree, don't push too hard, or more importantly, listen to your body.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I must say courage plays a huge role in everyday events and our comfort zones are also a factor. We are lucky to be able to share online . It makes us feel more connected to the big blue planet we share.

Glenda C. Beall said...

I am in awe at all you can do at seventy. Listen to your body and don't overdo,but don't stop until you have to.
I know someone who is only fifty who pushed too hard and is now facing surgery on her ankle.
Lately when I listen to my body, it tells me I need to take a nap. :-)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, a sense of serenity and contentment pervade this posting of yours. I'm glad for you--that you live in gratitude and that you are continuing to do what brings Joy into your life. Peace.

Rita said...

I, for one, don't think you do anything willy-nilly without thought and consideration. You may push yourself, but you always have and you are not foolish. You know your body better than anyone and will know if you need to alter your schedule or plans. You have done that. And, speaking as someone whose body forced them to be at home 24/7 for over eight years, keep doing what you are doing!! Use it or lose it is real. ;)