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 24, 2014

Summer is winding down

Heading back down after our hike to the top
There's something about this picture that I really like: maybe it's the angles and the bit of red color, the pink flowers in the sunlight while everything else is shaded. Makes for a very pleasant scene, and I find myself looking at it, remembering our time in the wilderness last Thursday. I put it on my desktop so I can see it more often. I really do enjoy taking pictures.

Here it is Sunday and I'm still a little sore from that hike. We went more than nine miles and up and down almost 4,000 feet of elevation, one of our more strenuous hikes of the season. The flowers were simply amazing, and I realized that this short season when the snow is gone and the flowers are out... it's almost over. Although we'll continue to spend time in the Mt. Baker wilderness for the next two months, the flowers will be gone and the fall colors will emerge. I enjoy all the seasons up here; in the winter months we sometimes come up to snowshoe, but this is my favorite time, late summer, so I'm going to enjoy every last little bit of it.

Both days this weekend are good for skydiving, so today I'm going to travel south to jump with my friends. That's another activity that is winding down for me, with two more months left in the season. It's been a perfect way for me to let go of it: going now and then and not trying to cram in as much as possible before stopping. And I also realized lately that if I choose to visit southern California and make another skydive or two in the spring, there's nothing stopping me. This is a choice I've made for myself, although as the moment gets closer it feels exactly right. I'm the only experienced skydiver at Snohomish still jumping in my seventies. At least in southern California I can spend time with my peers, but here I'm the oldest by far.

I remember a time when I wasn't the oldest: when I started school, my birthday was the cutoff date for first grade, so I was the very youngest child in the class. Since my dad was in the Air Force and I changed schools often, I remember that I was always feeling a little intimidated by the older kids in my classes. Back then, however, there was nothing like the bullying that I've learned takes place in schools today. I did get in a couple of scrapes with some other girls in my early teen years that I still remember vividly, and that was bad enough. Whew! I wonder where that memory came from; I haven't thought of that in years.

As I've said before, memory is a funny thing. Last night my dreams were filled with struggles: climbing hand over hand up steep hillsides and holding on to keep from falling, trying repeatedly to dial a number on the phone that wouldn't go through, and losing a favorite earring, searching for it without success. I also woke in the middle of the night (not an unusual occurrence) and spent some time thinking about that CT scan I had last week. Although the doctor sent me an email telling me that it was normal, I was able to see what the radiologist reported about his findings on my PeaceHealth website. All my test results are available almost immediately, which is great. No more waiting for the doctor to get back to me.

It was interesting that although my results were normal, it turns out that they are normal for my AGE. There were signs of white matter changes in my brain that are possible signs of cognitive decline. Yes, while the results were "normal," I don't have the brain of a young person any more. And because of the internet, you can bet that I researched everything mentioned in those test results. This can be a good thing, but it can also cause a person like me to second-guess those results and wonder if there is anything I can do to slow down the process. I found this page which was very helpful in putting it all into perspective. I am at a slightly higher risk for stroke.

This shouldn't surprise me, since my father had several strokes before his final heart attack. I remember him telling me that he couldn't differentiate between the sizes of coins in his pocket any more, and I found that strange. It was the result of a stroke, I know now. My mother was convinced that he had many that he never complained about and managed to hide from everybody. He carried nitroglycerine tablets in his pocket that he would use when he was in distress. Nobody realized how much he was using until after he died. He was only 62, and he had severe cardiac disease but, as I've observed in many men, he would rarely go to the doctor. If he had even considered bypass surgery, he would have lived much longer, but he wouldn't go check it out. He knew, however, that his days were numbered.

Now here I am ten years older than he was when he died, and I'm also aware that my days are numbered. You can eat right and exercise, do everything right, and still we all end up with a day that will end the dash in our life span (as in 1942—??). The older I get, the easier it is to think about that day with equanimity. But I'm nowhere near as laid back about the prospect of losing my mind, let me tell you! It seems terrible to think of being alive and not knowing who I am any more. I guess maybe it's time to start doing those brain exercises. You know I am a believer in the ability of exercise to keep the body fit, and I've considered that Lumosity app that is currently being pushed aggressively in the online world. Does anybody know if those things help? I'm curious now that I realize I might actually benefit.

Well, that's about it for this morning. I've got lots of getting ready for the day to do. I'm up to 15 repetitions of the Five Tibetan Rites. I think I will stick with 15 for awhile before moving up to 18 and then finally, 21. It only takes a few minutes in the morning and it's a nice way to start the day. It's almost 7:00am and I've been awake for two hours now. Time to get out of bed! I hope you have a great week and enjoy the last unofficial week of summer.


Anonymous said...

That's incredible that your CT scan picked up so much information about your brain. I myself would not want to know the results. If I have something incurable, I don't want to know. But, it's good that you can face cognitive decline with equanimity.

Marty Damon said...

What a jam-packed post. You've given me so much to think about. And here I thought, when I saw that serene picture, that it would just be about the transition from summer to winter.
But then, it actually was, wasn't it?

Star said...

So glad your ct scan was normal. That,s all we can hope for as we get older. We can,t be young again sadly. Each day at a time... X

Deb Shucka said...

This post has given me much to think about, as has your last one. I love the movie Boyhood, too. I know I've said this before, but I am so grateful to have you traveling the path a decade ahead of me. I can't imagine a better role model for the journey.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Interesting info about your dad with heart disease. I’ve been there too, had triple bypass in 2010, after getting close, but not having a heart attack. PTL. I do think that surgery has changed me. It is hard, though, to put it into words. There is a different appreciation for life now and less concern with the minor things that seem to get in the way. I like your outlook on things. Seems like you are pretty comfortable for whatever comes your way. I did think it funny about that dream of dialing a number and the call won’t go through. Ha ha … wonder what that means? Sure enjoyed your description of hikes up in the wilderness and, yes, that photo is great. Some of the most beautiful wild flowers I’ve ever seen have been up in the high country at places where most folks will never go. Well, thanks again for sharing your thoughts and thank you for very kind comments on my blog this last week. I’m going to slow down a bit and take a few breathers. I’m feeling like it’s been a busy summer for blogging. Take care and have a great week ahead. John

Elephant's Child said...

A thought-provoking powerful post. Thank you.
Losing more of my mind is my biggest fear. MS can eat brains, and it scares me.
And thank you for the reminder that there is incredible beauty around too as a counter agent for all the ugliness.
I hope your jumps were WONDERFUL.

Gigi said...

I don't know about the Luminosity site but I do know that there have been multiple studies about "exercising" the brain and how helpful it is. I do crossword puzzles daily and my husband is convinced that will keep my mind sharp (I can only hope). I've thought about looking into Luminosity as well but I do crosswords for pleasure and I don't know that their games or whatever would interest me.

And this..."still we all end up with a day that will end the dash in our life span (as in 1942—??)" reminded me of a quote I once read.

"there'll be two dates on your tombstone and all your friends will read 'em. but all that will matter is the little dash between them."
-kevin welch

I hope you had a fun time today. And that the week ahead is a fabulous one. xx

Linda Myers said...

I do www.brainhq.com - similar to luminosity, I think.

Linda Reeder said...

I love the photo too, but after reading your post, I guess it should be titled "It's all down hill from here"!
Yes, aging sucks, but we are still on that beautiful journey, and we just may reach a few more "mountain tops" before we "dash" out.
Hope you had a fun day playing in the sky.

Rita said...

I do love that photo. too!! Hope your jumps went well. :)

I am sure my brain must look very different now than it did years ago. I do wonder what fibro-fog does to a person's brain since I can't remember things like I used to before fibro. I also am not afraid of dying--losing my mind is scarier. I saw that with my grandmother who lived to be 104. What was the point if she had no short or long term memory left and couldn't get to the bathroom by herself anymore. I could take losing my body before losing my mind. She lived long enough to lose both functions. No thanks! But we never know what the future holds. They say to exercise your brain and I think that's a great idea. Can't hurt!! ;)

Arkansas Patti said...

Glad the scan was normal but sometimes normal is not what we want. Do try those brain exercises. I started doing cross word puzzles and my blank mind as I search for a familiar word has stopped. Phew. You exercise the body, now the brain needs a work out. Sure takes effort to maintain as we age doesn't it:))
Just think-- at Snohomish the youngsters look at you and say they want to be just like you when they grow up.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I think your dash will be hanging out for awhile yet...yes we do all kinds of brain games around here. I do them before bed to keep away my Night Terrors which exhaust me...overactive brain:)
I have been to the Luminosity site...I think there is another one called IQ or something.
Anything that keeps your brain active is a good thing!
I hope you have a wonderful week:)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thanks so much for the link to luminosity. I've bookmarked the site. Like you, I have some equanimity about dying, but not about changes in my cognition. Meniere's affected my brain while I lived with the daily acute rotational episodes for eighteen months and at one point I thought I must have dementia. That passed, but my brain, whether from the disease or from aging, surely isn't what it just to be. My memory especially has changed. And yet, I've discovered that there can come with aging such contentment as we embrace the moment. The day. And such joy as we reside in gratitude. As you do. Peace.

Retired English Teacher said...

I really like that photo too. In fact, I analyzed why I liked it. I think it has great juxtaposition. There is the soft meadow grass dotted with a few flowers against the darker, dense forest. Also, the photo has great contrast showing shadow and light. I like the aspect of a journey on a path that is captured here too. I know the destination was probably not the top of the mountain in the distance, but there was another mountain to access for those folks on the path you showed us.

You are on a great path, my friend. You might not reach the mountain tops that you once reached, but you are still on the path and capturing beauty and perspective for yourself and others along the way.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

My mother had alzheimer's the last three years of her life. I believe that a component of that illness involves a fear of death. When your consciousness is no longer focused here, in the physical world, it moves easily into the afterlife. So when she would say her mother - dead for years - had been visiting, I eventually grew to believe her.

That won't be your route.