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 13, 2017

Mid-August musings

Tomatoes at the market
My first garden tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Although the Sun Golds (little cherry tomatoes) ripen quickly, I am unwilling to let them stay long enough on the vine to get really sweet. They seem to pop off and into my mouth on their own while I'm out there watering or weeding. I am watching my own larger tomatoes beginning to turn, but the ones in the picture above must have come from a greenhouse, since they're already ripe. Beautiful, aren't they? I can't bring myself to buy any since it looks like I'll have a bumper crop one of these days.

Our weather has changed from hot with smoky skies from the fires north of us to cool, breezy and mild. For the next week, the temperature should not reach above the low 70s F (around 20C) and I'm thrilled. Instead of a strange alien yellow sky without clouds, pretty fluffy clouds grace our blue skies once again.

The change started on Thursday with our Senior Trailblazers hike. Because the air quality was so poor in many spots, we decided to head over to the coast where the onshore flow cleared the air much better than would have been the case going up into the mountains. It was almost cold by the time we arrived to start our leisurely hike up Goose Rock. Instead of sweltering in the heat, we were able to enjoy a lovely walk without bugs. Since our leader Al was unable to attend, I volunteered to lead the group.

The week before had been such an unpleasant hike, with biting black flies and oppressive heat as we climbed up Skyline Divide, I worried about how I would handle the scheduled Church Mountain, a challenging hike at any time of year. I laid in bed for two nights stressing over it, wondering why in the world I had agreed to be in charge. As it turned out, we couldn't go there anyway, because we didn't have enough people show up who have cars that could make the drive up the forest road. So we had to find an alternative, and Goose Rock is a favorite wintertime hike. It turned out to be perfect.

My point is that I spent all that time and energy losing sleep over something that didn't happen. It reminds me of an old quote about how living in the past makes one depressed and living in the future makes one anxious. To be at peace, one needs to live in the present. I felt the wisdom of that saying as I walked along at the front of the group on Thursday, smiling to myself and wondering why in the world I had to imagine the worst-case scenario. It was partly because the week before had been so awful, I guess, and without our leader I always feel a bit unmoored. To put myself in his place is uncomfortable. And he's going to be gone for awhile yet, he told me by email.

Yesterday I didn't walk with the ladies, and although I missed the camaraderie of visiting with them, I was with my friend Lily, who didn't want to go on the scheduled walk, a rather strenuous uphill one. Instead we walked from Bellingham into Fairhaven, stopping for breakfast before returning the way we had come. We were parked right by the Farmers' Market, but we were both full from our breakfast and didn't spend much time there before heading home. Lily lives here in the apartment complex and is starting a new job on Monday, so we wanted to celebrate what we hope will be the beginning of a fresh new start in her life.

I remember what it feels like to start a new job. There's anticipation and a little anxiety, but mostly it's exciting. Sometimes I forget that I'm done with my working life and consider what I might do if I wanted to return to work. And then I realize that nobody would hire me at my age! There would also be no reason for me to do that anyway, since my retirement annuities and Social Security are enough to keep me from having to continue to work. I was very fortunate to have worked in a place that doubled my own contributions to my retirement funds. Plus I was required to contribute at least 5% of my salary, meaning that over thirty years it added up to a tidy sum. Now I receive a monthly stipend, which makes all the difference between having to scrimp and having enough to get by. We are not wealthy, by any means, but I wonder how it will be for many millennials when they reach my age.

Tuesday is the anniversary of Chris' death. It will be fifteen years since he died, but if I allow myself to bring back all the memories, he is still present in my heart and will never leave. I just realized he hasn't visited me through a dream lately, so he must be busy up there in heaven. He almost always appears to me in a dream as a teenager or very young man, but he would almost be a senior citizen himself if he were alive. His widow sends me occasional Facebook posts, and I know she will not forget the date this year, either. It's difficult for me to think of him very often, because although it's been a long time, it can also seem like it happened not so long ago. I guess grief is like that; if I want to remember, all the pain and suffering return as well. I still remember his laugh, and smile when I hear it inside my head.

I've read that suffering is actually beneficial to the spirit. There seems to be plenty of suffering in the world right now, and I have to limit the amount of news I let in or I'll get really depressed. Fortunately for me, I have many distractions that I can indulge in to take me away from the reality of the woes of the world. These days between Netflix and Amazon, I can watch a movie or a series any time I choose. Today Judy and I will go to the movies together, though, to see Al Gore's latest movie about climate change. I'm pretty sure it won't be uplifting, but I feel the need to see it. I'll come home and peruse the books I've got on my shelf to read and will look for one that will make me feel better. I just re-read Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I bought the book a few years ago and kept it and was trying to remember something she said, and when I picked it up I couldn't help but read it again. It's that kind of book. If you want a treat, you might want to read one of her books. My favorite of hers is Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. I know, I know; it doesn't sound very uplifting, but believe me, it will make you think as well as laugh out loud.

Although suffering might be beneficial, it sure doesn't feel very good while one is deep in it. I've had plenty of suffering in my life and don't see any need to dwell on those memories. I keep trying to find ways to enjoy life, and mostly I am successful. One way I truly find joy is through friendships and community. It amazes me how much it matters to me that my family and friends are within reach, even if it's through electronics and not through physical presence. The world is a friendlier place when I concentrate on what really matters to me: my dear partner (still sleeping next to me), my friends and acquaintances, and of course, you. I hope that the coming week will bring you love and joy and a minimum of suffering. However, I'll leave you with this quote:
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”  --Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August wildfires and more

Sunrise from my front porch
For the past several days, this is what the sunrise looks like from my front porch. When I have gone out to do my exercises, it feels like I'm on an alien planet, and the sunsets look just as strange. Orange skies are caused by the wildfires north of us in British Columbia, and they have made a huge impact on our projected heat wave. Yesterday we only reached a high of 68°F (20C) and although there were no clouds in the sky, the sun didn't have any warmth to it. It's really rather scary to think of what must have happened in the world when we had cataclysmic volcanic events that affected the weather for years on end.

I remember in the early 1990s when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. Although I was otherwise occupied at the time (I had just started my skydiving career), I remember learning about the global effects of the volcanic eruption.
This very large stratospheric injection resulted in a reduction in the normal amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface by roughly 10%. This led to a decrease in northern hemisphere average temperatures of 0.5–0.6 °C (0.9–1.1 °F) and a global fall of about 0.4 °C (0.7 °F). ... The stratospheric cloud from the eruption persisted in the atmosphere for three years after the eruption. 
Three years!  I guess I shouldn't be complaining about a week or so of diminished sunlight around here. The wildfires in B.C. are still burning, with more than 1.2 million acres lost already. This has occurred at just the beginning of the wildfire season, and it makes me fearful for the future. We've had a local fire right at one of my favorite wintertime hikes, Lost Lake, and although it's now contained, the area is still closed to recreation. And when I visit it next, it will look very different indeed.

Change. I'm not a fan of change for its own sake, but frankly it's the nature of living, isn't it? Every time I turn around, I'm reminded that one thing or another in my body is deteriorating and needs shoring up. Although my knees seem stable for the moment, it's just a matter of time before I'll be hauling out my knee braces again. My eyesight is deteriorating, too, and I am very happy for being in the care of a retina specialist and a good ophthalmologist, but they cannot do anything much for my eyes except delay the inevitable. I forget how bad my eyesight has become until somebody will point something out in the distance that I cannot make out, and that's with my glasses on. Without my glasses I feel practically blind; I'm so nearsighted that I cannot make out much more than colorful blurs.

I'm beginning to wonder if all those years of skydiving are partly responsible for my deteriorating eyesight. I did go up and down through 13,000-14,000 feet (4 meters) of atmosphere, in freefall for 68 hours in total, and it was after a particularly intense period of ten days and fifty skydives that I first began to notice some visual changes in my eyes. Although the visual disturbance cleared up after a few days, they were never quite the same. I'm now pretty sure that the activity affected my eyes permanently.

And all those injuries I experienced throughout my lifetime are beginning to come home to roost: I have aches and pains in all those places that were broken and healed up. I guess this is to be expected; if you use your body the way I did in previous years, it will continue to remind one that there is always a cost involved, even many years later. Oh, well, I wouldn't change any of it. I had a great time and am glad I was able to skydive for more than two decades, even after starting at almost fifty years of age.

It's all relative, isn't it? I am still active in my mid-seventies, and all the injuries are manageable. Most of the time I feel pretty lucky to be able to carry on the way I am still capable, but I also realize that I should be counting my lucky stars that I'm not in a wheelchair. That might come about one day, and I'll look back on the days when I could hike for ten miles and wonder why I didn't appreciate my mobility more. So here I am, busy appreciating what I have in my life right now. I've got a smile on my face thinking of our five-mile walk yesterday in the cool air, happy to be one of the dozen or so women who meet every Saturday morning for a brisk walk together. And it was cool, as I've mentioned, even if the air quality was not good. At least we were walking early, and it did get a little hazier in the afternoon. Today is supposed to be worse, but I don't mind since I consider Sundays to be my day off from exercise.

The gradual changes that I experience as I grow older sometimes rise up unbidden, wondering when it was that I could no longer run even short distances. I can walk briskly for short distances, but if I try to make my old body pick up the pace to a run, well, it just doesn't happen. It's a little bit like watching an ancient beloved pet forgetting for a moment that he's not a puppy any more and collapsing after a short distance. Yep, I'm past my prime and heading towards more time spent in my easy chair with a good book. It's not a bad thing, it's just that I sometimes forget that I'm not a young sprite any more.

Even though things change constantly, I think I might be able to enjoy a few more years of relative health and wellness. I'm sure doing everything I know to make that happen. And I look forward to seeing what might spring from my fingers on a Sunday morning when I sit down with the laptop and start typing. Everything is just the way I like it: I'm almost done, my partner is still sleeping next to me, the tea was lovely but it's now gone, and I've got a coffee shop with friends waiting for me to arrive about an hour from now. Just right!

I do hope that you might take some time today to look around at your life as it is right this moment and appreciate the good things that you are able to enjoy or look forward to. I've got friends who are recovering from intense surgeries, from all kinds of other difficulties, and they continue to inspire me to keep on keeping' on. I hope your week will be a good one, filled with reflection on the beauty that surrounds us all. And I'll leave you with this quote that speaks directly to me today:
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.  --Clarence Darrow