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, October 2, 2022

Florida now and next month

I see this cart on my daily walks

 This lovely little flower cart is something I walk past during my walk home from the coffee shop. The lady who lives in this home has sweet bouquets available for purchase ($5), and I have considered buying one often, but I would have to carry it home, which is another two miles away. So I don't, but when I saw it last week, there was a ray of sunshine that broke through the clouds just long enough to brighten them and give me a good shot.

As many of you already know, my sister Norma Jean and her son Peter live in Zephyrhills, Florida, a few miles away from Tampa. When I saw the predictions of the recent hurricane heading for landfall, projected to make a direct hit at almost my sister's home, I panicked and called to find out what they were considering. It turned out that they had left their home just that day, both cars packed with everything they could fit in, along with both dogs, and headed north to Virginia, where Norma Jean's daughter lives.

Then the hurricane made a turn south, and instead of Tampa being wiped out, it was Fort Myers. I've seen the devastation that Hurricane Ida unleashed on Florida, but it turns out that her home and the area where she lives got off fairly easy, at least in comparison to other places like Fort Myers. The two of them will head back home probably today, Sunday, if the roads between the two places are all clear and passable. I truly feel terrible for all the people who have lost everything, and the many who have died because they didn't evacuate. But I am also guiltily happy that my family and my sister's home were spared. 

And, thanks to many thoughtful comments from my dear virtual family, I have decided to go ahead and swallow my fears and travel to Florida myself to visit them after a long hiatus because of the pandemic. It's been two weeks since I got the third Covid booster and I will get the flu vaccine in mid-month, so I'll be as prepared as possible for airplane travel. I am assuming that by Thanksgiving during the last part of November the state will be experiencing normal travel to Tampa. That's where I will arrive, if all goes according to plan.

It was when I learned that all of my siblings will gather in that part of Florida to celebrate those two big birthdays that are coming up: my "baby" sister Fia's sixtieth, and my eightieth. How could I not be there? So, looking online for available flights, I found two direct flights from Seattle to Tampa, with no changing planes, no stops at all. Unfortunately, the only one I could make will leave at 9:45pm at night and arrive the next morning at 6:00am (that is Florida time; it will be 3:00am to my internal clock). Yikes! Can I do it? Well, I decided that since the flights are already very expensive, I'd go ahead and book a first-class seat on my way there, for a mere $300 more. I figure I can sleep easier that way, although I sure won't be very rested, I can also arrive in Seattle in plenty of time to make use of the First Class lounge.

It was the awful hurricane and all those comments you made about how I should probably just bite the bullet and go ahead and go that made the difference. Of course, until I actually get to Seattle and board the flight, and it actually takes off, I'm skeptical, but I believe this can happen. Just in case, I bought trip insurance. Who knows what will be happening in the world, and especially my little corner of it, by that time?

In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. —Lao Tzu

Something weird is going on with Blogger. I cannot cut and paste the way I always have, I must try three or four times to make it work. And fonts and other things are constantly shifting and appearing for no reason I can figure. That quote took me several tries to accomplish, so for now I'm giving up on trying to do anything out of the ordinary. I'll soon be getting a new computer (another MacBook Air), and hopefully the new operating system will have fixed things. It's hard to deal with, but it's only a minor annoyance, given all that is going on in the world. 

I am truly afraid of what will happen in the midterm elections. Hopefully they will proceed normally, but the way everything has been happening lately, I'm afraid of violence and people being unwilling to accept the results if they don't like them. Our country has never been in such a state, at least not that I can remember. And the war in Ukraine and Putin's annexations have also scared me. Are we at the beginning of World War III?

Whatever happens, the only place I can have any effect at all is within my own sphere, so I must try my best to stay centered and part of the solution by spreading love and light in every way I know how. It's been several months now since I started spending part of every day in meditation, and it helps me so much. I haven't missed a day since I started and look forward to those quiet moments where I simply follow my breath. Afterwards, I spend a few moments in silent prayer for all sentient beings. It might not make any actual difference, but the world around me sure seems brighter and happier when I alter my own attitude.

Nice color

I took this picture while on my Saturday walk with Melanie yesterday. It is definitely one of the most beautiful times of the year, and I am enjoying being able to walk more than five miles and seeing what my neighborhood looks like. There are so many things to be grateful for, and if I point myself in that direction, I believe that all will be well. 

With that, dear friends, I will get ready for the rest of my day, with John coming by to take me to Fairhaven for breakfast. My sweet partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and I can feel your presence in my heart. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

P.S. I accidentally posted this on my other blog, and had to copy and paste (with difficulty) and so I apologize for the mistake.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Buz and Pixie

A wintry day a few years ago

A few of you are aware that I've written about my brother Buz in past posts, but today I would like to take a longer look at my baby brother. My parents only produced one son among the six of us. I was the first-born and the biggest disappointment to my father when I didn't end up being male. (Back then, in the 1940s, it was a bigger deal than it is today.) When the next two children were born, Norma Jean and PJ, I think he sort of gave up on ever having a son.

However, my brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, when my parents apparently decided to start a second family. His full name is Norman Francis Stewart, but he's always been known by the nickname Buz, after a good friend of the family. My parents went on to have three more children, my sisters Markee and Fia, and Tina Marie (who was born prematurely and didn't live more than a few days). The second family were all pretty much raised in one place, Fort Worth, after Daddy retired from the Air Force and after I was married and gone. They bought a rambling house on Lake Worth. All of my siblings were like little otters, born to the water, and I visited them sporadically for years. Wherever my parents lived was home, even if I didn't live there growing up.

Daddy wasn't all that old when he retired, so he ended up with another job at General Dynamics, located on the other shore of the lake. Daddy "drove" to work via his boat, Gigi, but this was a part of their lives that I didn't get to know well. I was busy having my own trials and tribulations to pay much attention to their lives. Occasionally I would need to stay there for awhile, but I didn't stay long. Wherever my parents lived, however, felt like it was home.

That was all a long time ago, and all my siblings but one have retired from their professions. Buz was in Information Technology (IT) until he was forced out, partly because he was now older and making more money than his bosses want to pay him. It's an old story. I'm a little murky on the details, but he was essential to the company for many years. He has settled into retired life with his wife Phyllis, who still works, as far as I know. The two of them had a couple of dogs that they spoiled and loved immoderately.

I think they were both rescue dogs, and I got to know them a little when I visited over the years. Bella was a pretty Scottish terrier, and Pixie was the textbook definition of a "mutt," a small mixed breed terrier. Bella was Phyllis' dog, and Pixie and Buz were inseparable for a very long time. She died earlier this year at the age of 17, so it wasn't unexpected, but when you have a companion for such a long time, it's very hard to pick up the pieces once again after such a loss. Anyone who has loved a fellow critter who gives you unconditional love knows what I mean.

Back of Pixie's head and Buz's foot

Last week, Buz wrote a story on his Facebook page, which I read and re-read and decided I need to share it with my virtual family (that would be you guys) about a sweet love story between a man and his dog and how he is coping with her loss. He named his rowing machine Gigi, after Daddy's boat.

* * *

Every day we go for a boat ride. We used to go for car rides, but I donated her special car seat to Goodwill. Also, I can’t close my eyes while driving my car.

I sit on the rowing machine, tighten the foot straps, tap my Apple watch a couple of times, lean forward to grab the handlebar (i.e. “the oars”). Then I close my eyes and start rowing our little boat, gently down the stream.

Without actually pointing (because I can’t point and row at the same time), and somehow without speaking, I direct her attention to the myriad sights in the water, in the sky, along the shore. She doesn’t need me to do that, but she seems to enjoy the sound of my mental narration because her smile widens as she watches the world, as she watches the life around her. She doesn’t bark—she hasn’t barked in years—but she glances at me occasionally, just as she always did, to acknowledge our connection, our sharing of this experience. She smiles, and I row.

Of course there are always horses, with riders, trotting along the shore. And sometimes we see cows. We see fish and birds and trees and clouds. Squirrels. All the things she always loved. We can feel the breeze as it caresses the trees and ripples the water.

Sometimes we see new things. Penguins, boars, lions, tigers, bears. Oh my. No matter what she sees, she smiles. And I row and row.

Along the way, we also see signs and banners, intended only for me because she can’t read. Duh. There’s a sign I posted myself, and it changes every day. Today it says, “46 days and 46 nights.”

There are also signs from others. I never know when or where they will appear. Most are compassionate or at least understanding, but others are unwelcome, intrusive even, signs like, “What’s wrong with you?” and “She was only a dog” and “Get over it already.” The thoughts of others. Thoughts that resonate a bit too much, that make too much sense, that have the capacity to wear me down.

My rowing slows. I grow tired. My narration has already died away.

Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, eventually forces me to stop rowing. When I open my eyes, she’s not there, of course. It’s just my room, filled with emptiness. The ride is over. I wish I could lift her from the boat, feel her heart beating as my hand presses against her chest. Just as I always did.

I am healing, lest you think otherwise. I am able to laugh. Interacting with me, seeing me from the outside, you would say I’m perfectly normal, or at least as normal as I ever was. My wife sees a bit more. Fortunately for me, my wife is an angel, and she’s guiding me gently down the stream.

Sometimes life is pain, and sometimes pain gives meaning to life. Speaking only for myself, I’m okay with that. So many others know levels of pain that I will probably never experience. I’m lucky, I’m blessed, I’m privileged. I can’t deny it.

It’s a slow process, but I’m learning once again how to fill the days, and the emptiness. With meaning. Not to replace the pain, but to shape it into a more manageable form. I would never want to lose it completely. It’s mine.

Yes, I’m just fine. But for now, my little girl and I will continue to go for boat rides. In that special place where life is but a dream.

* * *

My heart is full as I read this, with the understanding that he will indeed heal and recover from the loss. We always do, but we are changed through the interactions we share with other blessed beings who die before us. It doesn't matter how short or how long the bond has been, it still hurts. I know many of you have shared your loss through your blogs and I have certainly done the same. Today I wish that all of you dear friends are able to have your loved ones close by, but if not, know that love never dies. It just grows and changes shape. Until we meet again next week, be well, my friends.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Solo walk by the bay

Late summer flowers

This weekend, Melanie is in the San Francisco Bay Area attending her high school reunion. Since she is out of town, I walked by myself down by the bay at Squalicum Harbor, one of our favorite Saturday walks. I enjoyed visiting the booths at the local waterfront, where the SeaFest annual festival was in full swing. It was fun, and just hanging out there and walking from the Farmers' Market gave me more than five miles and lots of steps. 

But still, I missed Melanie and hope she's having a good time. She left Friday and returns late today, a quick trip, although she's still having to navigate the airports. I'll be very interested in hearing what she learned about travel during the Covid era.

When I spoke to my sister Norma Jean during our monthly FaceTime call, she asked me to consider traveling to Florida to be with her and my siblings to celebrate both my big birthday (my eightieth) and my youngest sister's sixtieth. We were born almost exactly twenty years apart, the eldest sister and the baby. It seems almost more impossible for me to believe that Fia is going to turn sixty, than it is for me to consider that I myself am leaving behind my eightieth decade of life and beginning my ninth! 

Does she look eighty to you?

I am always surprised to see pictures of me; I look different to myself from inside my own eyes, looking out at the world. But recently I saw a picture of Joan Baez, who is almost 82, and she and I look similar to one another. She's prettier, of course, and was probably wearing makeup, but in the whole we look about the same age. Of course, we actually ARE, so it's not too unusual, but she made me feel good about it, when I studied her picture and found lots of vibrancy and health still evident. But see, there's the rub: the "still." Nobody ever says that about someone half our age.

When I was working, I traveled a lot, to many different countries and loved it, mostly. Although it was mostly positive, there were times when it was tedious and difficult, but life is like that in many ways, not just travel. These days, however, I find I am not wanting to go anywhere away from my safe and familiar surroundings.
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. —Lin Yutang

But then again, we are all getting older and already one of my sisters has passed into the Great Beyond, and who knows whether we will get another chance to be together again or not. That makes me consider whether I want to go to all the trouble, expense, and hassle to travel somewhere I really don't want to go. Yes, I'd love to see family. But I am truly in a quandary about it. Travel is exhausting and I find myself protecting my daily routine from disruptions, and that would be a major one. The upside, however, is seeing my siblings and spending time with Norma Jean once again, in person. My birthday is ten days after Fia's, and Thanksgiving lies between the two, so maybe traveling on Thanksgiving Day would mean fewer fellow travelers, since everyone should have already arrived at their destination before then. I don't know what I'll end up doing, if anything.

Yesterday after my walk, I went to my friend Lily's home and saw that her furniture has been moved from their old place, and she drove me over to where they are moving to. It's not far, and it's conveniently located in a tree-sheltered large apartment complex. It's got a nice underground parking area for residents (which I immediately coveted) and they are moving into a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor (4 stories high). It's one of those places where you call whoever you are visiting and they are able to release the outside front entrance in order to give you access into the building. Very secure and nice. Plus never having to scrape ice off the car during the winter, that would be a big advantage. Anyway, seeing once again the chaos of moving reminded me I hope we don't have to move again soon.

Which reminds me, our rent is going up again come January, which is I guess to be expected if you don't own your own place. But Melanie told me her condo association fees are increasing, and property taxes as well. Everywhere is becoming more expensive with inflation, and landlords having to pay more for everything, too.

That's just the reality of the world situation at the moment. It's not just here in the United States, it's everywhere. When I see the awful situation in other parts of the world, like Pakistan, or Ukraine, I realize I have no room to complain. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on all the parts of my life that are positive and working well. 

Positivity is like a muscle: keep exercising it, and it becomes a habit. —Natalie Massenet

There are two things I think of immediately when I contemplate the good parts of my life. The first one is, of course, that sweet person sleeping next to me as I write this. Although we have our issues, as does every couple, they are miniscule when I think of how much I depend on him, how much I love him, and how much he adds to my daily life. I don't know what I did to deserve him, but whatever it is, I'm grateful.

The second is my ability to reach out into the world and commune with dear friends across the world. The internet, where the entire collection of human knowledge is available right here at my fingertips, well, it's a condition of living that was unimaginable just a few decades ago, but now is essential to my daily life. And having starting a blog and writing to you once a week adds an incredible amount of meaning to every day. I can picture some of you in your daily lives, even if I don't know your real name or where or live, but that doesn't matter. The fact that we are connected like this is an incredible gift that I don't ever want to take for granted.

I feel surrounded by positivity. The heat of the summer is past, and the cool, crisp air of fall will greet me when I walk out the door. Today I will wait for my friend John to pick me up in his truck and transport me to Fairhaven, where we will enjoy a good breakfast together before coming back home to spend some time with SG. Hopefully I'll get a chance to walk in Cornwall Park sometime today, look at the changing leaves, listen to the birds, and give thanks for all that makes my life worthwhile. I do hope that will extend out to you, dear friend, and that you will have a wonderful day and week to come. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Remembering bygone times

Returning from Chain Lakes hike

This picture depicts what has long been one of my favorite hikes, the relatively short (7-ish miles) hike from the Bagley Lakes area up to Herman Saddle, down to Iceberg Lake, up to Artist Point and then back to the starting point via the Wild Goose trail. Although there's some elevation gain and loss of around 2,000 feet, it's simply gorgeous and the views are without parallel in our beautiful Mt. Baker wilderness area. This picture was taken five years ago, in late August 2017.
Old age and the passage of time teach all things. —Sophocles

What I have learned in these past five years is how much I have enjoyed my hikes with the Senior Trailblazers, and how long five years can be in the life of one person. Although I can probably still make this hike if the weather is good, meaning not too hot, not too sunny and with all my faculties functioning properly (knees, back, and feet in good shape). I've done it many times but feel some trepidation just contemplating the excursion once again.

Last Thursday I accidentally went on a longer and steeper hike than I intended, and although I did it, I was so tired and sore at the end of it that I figured I won't be repeating it. I'm done with long and steep hikes. And yet... the call of the wilderness is so strong that I think I might end up pushing myself like that again in the future. As long as I can keep going, I'll probably be finding myself wondering how the heck I ended up trudging up a long and arduous trail again. But five years when you're in your late seventies is not the same journey as it once was. 

Chain Lakes wildflowers galore

How do I stop when the views are so glorious? When there are others even older and less fit than I who keep on going? I have been hiking with the Senior Trailblazers since 2009, more than a decade of going out in all kinds of weather, putting one foot in front of the other and making it mostly without serious injury. I have fallen more than once, but with the help of others have safely gotten myself back home. I miss these trips.

My spirit is still willing and if that was all I needed to be comfortable covering long distances in the mountains, I'd be there in a minute. But that's not the case, and I've been wrestling with myself all summer long. Melanie and I did one fairly long trip a month or so ago, and I did pretty well, but it was rather cool and she always allows me to set the pace to accommodate me. That makes all the difference, and I've been happy to take advantage of her stronger ability, which makes me feel safe when we're out there. I hope to make it up to Goat Mountain this fall, when conditions are good, since it's another of my favorites and no harder than last week's hike.

We had reasonable air quality when we went out for our five-mile walk yesterday morning, but then during the afternoon the air began to get much worse, as the smoke from a nearby forest fire reached our area. It was eerie as the sky darkened and got scary yesterday evening, with the air quality falling to unhealthy. This morning (I just checked) it's still bad, in the unhealthy category. That means we will have at least another day of bad air. Many places in the country have been dealing with this, too, but this is the first time for us this season. I pray they get the fire under control. This one is called the Bolt Creek Fire, and I've added a link from a local news outlet. Apparently the residents in the area have been evacuated for their safety.

Other than not wanting to exert myself much today, because of the air quality, I have plenty of indoor tasks to accomplish and keep me occupied. I just purchased a new (to me) Apple iPhone 12, replacing my 7. I loved that phone, and it took good care of me for years, but with the newest version (the 14) having been released, I would not have been able to update the old phone with the latest operating system. That means I have a lot of learning to do, since it's quite different from the earlier version. The hardest part for me is realizing that there's no "home" button, and everything now needs to be done with swipes across the screen. Mercy! But before long, it will be old hat and I'll be fine. Just a day or two of hassles. 

And I have been watching the goings-on with the passing of Queen Elizabeth. Nothing much else has been on the news, and I have truly felt the enormity of the change in the world with her gone. Melanie and I were on our Thursday hike when my Apple Watch sent out an alert about her death, so we stopped on the trail and acknowledged the significance of it. She was truly a dedicated servant to the Commonwealth, and she watched how much the world changed during her realm. We will not see the likes of her again. I wonder how the monarchy will fare without her. May she rest in peace, with her beloved husband with her once again.

Today is the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks 21 years ago. It changed the world in ways we could not have imagined at the time. Although it's been more than two decades, will any of us who were alive at the time ever forget where we were when we heard of it?

If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate. —Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl

What surprises me is that it has been 21 years since that happened, and it still remains vivid in my memories. My son Chris was in the Army and stationed in Germany when it happened, and since he died the following year from a heart attack, he was spared from having to be involved in the war that emanated from it. I suspect he would have died in Afghanistan if he had survived, and I am grateful he didn't go through that trauma. Many have died from it, both our soldiers and civilians as well. 

There are so many world events happening right now, and I am very much involved in their experiences, through the magic of the internet, as well as all my devices, including my new iPhone. And here we are, once again, joined as we are to one another through our blogs and comments. I know that some of you were not able to reach me for awhile, and I tried to fix it, but apparently Google fixed itself. One blogger was only able to find me through a Google search, but if you do find yourself unable to reach me, please let me know my email. I smiled when I wrote that, thinking of how you wouldn't know any of this if you couldn't get to this blog. 

My tea is gone, my dear sweet partner is still sleeping next to me, and I'm thinking of all of you, my dear virtual family, who are as precious to me as my "skin" family and friends. I hope that you will have a good day, safe and sound from harm, and able to experience robust good health. It's my prayer for you today. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, September 4, 2022


After 10th anniversary jump

This picture was taken of me and SG on our tenth wedding anniversary, May 5, and since we got married in freefall on that day a decade earlier, we decided to make an anniversary jump from the same plane we had jumped out of ten years before. This photo was right when we landed after the jump.

As many of you know, we met skydiving in the 1990s. We connected through a now-defunct FTP internet message board called "rec.skydiving," which was just one of many different groups to help you to find like-minded people. This was before the modern World Wide Web. We sent a few private emails to each other, which expanded into long phone calls (when long distance was actually expensive) and finally into visits into each other's homes. I lived in Boulder, Colorado, and he lived in San Francisco. After several months in this mode, we decided to make the leap: he quit his job and moved to Boulder.

After lots of fits and starts, we gradually realized we belong together, and on May 5, 1994, we got married in the air above Loveland, Colorado. The above photo is ten years later, in 2004. We lived in Boulder until I retired from my job in 2008, but we spent several months trying to decide where we wanted to move to. We favored San Francisco, because that's where SG felt most at home. But it had grown far too expensive for two retirees on a budget, so we took a long car trip to the west coast to explore other options.

We spent a week in Bellingham, Washington and thought it would be a good place as a stopgap until we found out where we would finally settle. That was in 2008, and we've never left. Happy to be here in the Pacific Northwest. And we found places to skydive here, until we both decided we were probably finished with the sport. He had taken his own gear apart and stored it, but I sold my harness/parachute system in 2015, after I took my last skydive in Snohomish at the ripe old age of 72.

And there are a couple of other anniversaries that fit in here: SG made his very first skydive sixty years ago! On September 1st, 1962, as a college student of twenty, he made his first jump. I asked him what he remembers from that day:
There I was, scared shitless! Jack, the pilot of his Piper Cub, had me sitting in the back seat, and he said, "okay, climb out!" It was a very tight fit, so I scraped the back of my container across the back of the door, and then there I was on the strut, and my parachute was falling out, so Jack pushed me off the airplane. I don't remember much after that. But what I do remember is that when I was about to land, I was steering and it was looking okay, but suddenly I realized how fast I was coming down. The ground jumped up and hit me! I was twenty years old. I could hardly wait to do it again!

What had happened as he climbed out is that he broke the static-line break cord that held his parachute in its container, and quick action was required to keep it from entangling with the plane (which is why Jack pushed him off). The Piper Cub is a very small airplane that only holds the pilot and one passenger. When I began my own skydiving career, it was quite a different scene. 

It was September 1st, 1990, when I made a tandem jump with an instructor, in a little bit larger plane, a C-206, which holds five jumpers plus the pilot. Although I had the option of pulling the ripcord, taking us from freefall into the second part of the skydive, the canopy portion, I didn't need to do it; the instructor was responsible for it all. However, I loved freefall just as much as SG did, and I could hardly wait to do it again, either. Both of us went on to make many more thousands of skydives over the years, but I thought you might like to see a picture of our very first logbooks. Most skydivers keep a record of every jump we make.

His on top, mine below

These little logbooks hadn't changed much in thirty years, still recording the important information: date, altitude, airplane, amount of freefall time, equipment used, wind speed, and so forth. I ended up using this little book through my student jumps and until I bought my own equipment. And along with it, sitting on my bookshelf, I have dozens of full-sized logbooks, filled to the brim. Just looking at some of the entries brings back a memory of the jumps.

So, as you can see, this post is about several anniversaries: our wedding anniversary and our first jumps. Although we are no longer active skydivers, we will always be connected to the sport. Some couples might say (for example) that they still have Paris, but we will always have skydiving. Although the memories might fade as time goes by, the amount of time we spent in freefall will never change.

Our lives are full and satisfying, even though we are now well into our elder years. I turn eighty this fall, and SG had his eightieth birthday back in February. He is doing quite well after having suffered a stroke two years ago and later developing a blood cancer (lymphoma) but is under a doctor's care and for the moment doesn't need any treatment other than to monitor his progress. The older one gets, the more things begin to fall apart, since we weren't made to last forever, but if you can maintain your mobility and health, life can be quite fulfilling. I am so happy to be sitting here in the dark, a laptop connected to the world, and my sweetheart still sleeping next to me.

I'll finish up this post with a quote from somebody who has been in the news this past week. She has developed the same illness that SG has. And she still looks great and tells us to stay active.

The most important thing to do as you age is to stay physically active. Lots of people just throw in the towel if they can't do what they used to do, and that's terrible. —Jane Fonda

I have to remind myself every day that each time I get to see the sunrise and the sunset as well is a very, very good one. My tea is long gone, but I look forward to the new day ahead, and hope that you, my dear friends, will have a beautiful, bright new day as well. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Dreaming and awakening

Fragrance Lake last week

When you look at this picture of Fragrance Lake, you can see that the reflections are almost as clear as the trees, but they are distorted in the reflection by the wind disturbing the surface of the water. Sometimes when I awaken from a dream, everything seems normal, but as the day begins to dawn, my perception also changes, and the dream fades as reality reasserts itself. Or, I should say, what I think is reality. Who knows for sure?
Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.―  Zhuangzi

When I first learned of this quote, I recognized the truth of it immediately. I have had dreams that were as real as anything I've experienced in my waking moments. I have memories from some of those dreams that feel like they actually occurred. Maybe they did, and this habit I have of sitting with my laptop and tapping on the keys is no more than a fantasy. This whole idea has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

The idea of time travel has also fascinated me forever. When I look at the pictures emanating from the new Webb telescope, looking at galaxies and stars whose light is reaching my eyes after a journey that takes millions of years, I can't help but wonder what they look like now. I'm looking into the past and have no way to see anything else. Or am I? Just like a dream, reality is not separate from my perception of it. Sages throughout history have told us that what we think is real is just an illusion, but if that's true, what actually is "real"? Inquiring minds want to know!

I think I mentioned here awhile ago that I have started a meditation practice, and for months now I have not missed a day without sitting quietly and following my breath. Of course thoughts intrude, but I've mostly managed to let them drift through my consciousness and let them go, and often I am simply amazed that a quarter of an hour has passed when my timer goes off. Surprised, I also realize that I am experiencing a peacefulness in a way I don't at any other time. Before I finish emerging from my twenty-minute-long meditation, I spend some time reciting some Buddhist prayers for the benefit of all humankind. At first I had to read them, but now they are part of me. They feel somehow more "real" after a quiet meditation period.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. —Carl Jung

 Am I more awake afterwards? Something is different, but I cannot say what it is. And although I'd like to expand my meditation practice, it doesn't seem necessary at this point in my evolution. I'd just like to be able to remember what is important and let the rest go, just as I do the thoughts that emerge while counting my breaths. It simply staggers my mind to realize that I'm breathing all the time and am usually unaware of it. When I focus my attention, that breath is always there, a perfect way to build concentration. At first, I'd sometimes realize that I had captured a thought and stopped counting my breaths, but that happens less and less often these days.

1983 in our parents' back yard

Looking at this forty-year-old picture of me along with my siblings is a bit like peering into a telescope and seeing the past. We are arranged in birth order, with me wearing a skirt, of all things, and Norma Jean next to me, looking like a model. PJ died in 2014 of heart disease, which has taken so many members of my family. Our lone brother, Buz, begins the second family, so to speak, since he was born when I was sixteen, while the two youngest, Markee and Fia, were both born after I had married and moved away. Fia is almost exactly twenty years younger than me. None of us look like this anymore, of course. When I look at distant galaxies and wonder what they look like now, there is no way to know. But my family, my beautiful siblings, are still (except PJ) able to be seen as they are today. Looking at this picture, however, is a little bit like taking a spaceship back through time.

We live in an exciting time in the history of the world, don't you think? I am able to sit here in the dark, communicating my thoughts through the ether and will share them with you as soon as I hit "publish." Each of us exists in our own corner of the universe, but we can share our lives as if we were neighbors or family. We are truly connected. Some of us are dreamers and have our heads in the clouds, but others are more pragmatic and live in the here and now. There is no better or worse here, just difference, and variety makes life so much more interesting. I am thrilled that you, my dear reader, are part of my life, and that I will get to spend some time reading about your current lives. Many of you have been with me for years, and others have just recently hopped on the bandwagon, but all of you are precious and irreplaceable to me.

And now it's time to wind things up here, so I can get on with my day. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, probably dreaming of something that has the soundtrack of the tapping of keystrokes. Some of you have asked how he is doing, now that it's been two years since he experienced that stroke and has subsequently developed a few other issues. I can tell you that he is doing very well indeed, and continues to be my rock, my touchstone. He is closely monitored by his physician. Although we are getting up in years, we are blessed to be as healthy as we currently are. 

With that, I will sign off here, and wish you, every one, the very best of days and weeks ahead. And that your heart will find some time to be filled with happiness. Until we meet here again next week, I hope that all good things will come to you. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Light and shadows

Me, Mama and our family car

While I was looking for something to write about today, I ran across this picture. It was obviously taken by Daddy, since many of our photos from that era also have our family car in the background. I think Daddy was as proud of that car as he was of his wife and daughter. What really stands out to me, though, is that cheeky grin on my face, as if the world revolves around that magnificent person. And indeed, at that time of my life, I was as privileged and as well loved as anyone could ever be.

I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been like without having been so well loved as a child, but you can always take on the feeling of having been a happy child, even if you weren't. Remembering what I wanted to do when I was young, I realize that now, since I have become an elder in the twilight of my life, I've done everything I wanted, and then some — many things I  never expected to accomplish. Take skydiving, for example. 

It came into my life in a coincidental sort of way when a friend decided he wanted to make a skydive and had learned about tandem skydives, where you are strapped to the front of an instructor. He asked me to join him in the adventure. We called the local Drop Zone and made reservations for the event in a few weeks' time.

This is how it works: an instructor is wearing an oversized parachute, and the two of you jump out of an airplane hooked together (passenger in the front), with the instructor opening the parachute at the right time and guiding you both to a safe landing spot. For my friend, it was enough to do it just once, but I was most definitely hooked on the sensation of freefall. Why? Well, it's almost impossible to describe what it feels like to be in freefall, feeling gravity pulling you towards the distant earth, with the rushing of wind in your face and feeling pretty much unmoored from reality. If nothing were to happen at this point, you would plummet to the earth and die. 

My mind must have realized that on some level, because I became paralyzed and unable to process anything for a few seconds. Then, after what seemed like a lifetime, I saw the instructor's hand appear in front of my face, and he was pointing toward the ripcord (which I was supposed to activate). Oh! Right! I managed to make my hand grab ahold of it and gave it a strong pull, and suddenly with a whump! we were no longer in freefall but under a brightly colored parachute. My instructor released the brakes and we took a few wonderful turns under the canopy. He also pointed out our landing area, which looked quite far away, but we made some nice sashays back and forth until we landed, unhurt and right where we were supposed to be. I was transformed! I knew I had to do that again, so in another couple of weeks, I repeated the experience (my friend was not interested), and after that I signed up to take a weeks-long course to do it on my own.

The rest is history: I made several hundred skydives during my first year. I learned how to control my body in freefall, open the parachute on my own at the right time, and ended up buying my own gear within a few months. Now I am retired from skydiving, but before I finished, I had accumulated more than 60 hours of freefall time, 50 seconds per skydive (you get a certificate from the US Parachute Association for every 12 hours), had become a freefall instructor and taught more than a thousand students, and set a couple of freefall records before hanging it all up. That little girl in the picture didn't know she would do such a thing, but it is one of my lifetime achievements. 

After landing

Along the way I met my life partner (who also has thousands of jumps) and although we don't skydive any more we have a very definite vocabulary that only skydivers share. Between us we have more than 8,000 jumps out of airplanes and many of them with each other. Just thinking about it, I can recall times when we held hands in the air and looked at the horizon and ground as we fell. We were definitely bonded by skydiving, and we ended up getting married in freefall. That was almost thirty years ago now. It's part of our journey together and always will be.

The things we do during our lifetimes shape who we are today, and I am happy to say that I never did end up living another person's life, just my own. Some people never break out of the mold that someone else puts on their life, with women often becoming wives and mothers and never finding out what they wanted to do with their own lives. I wonder if having lost both of my children contributed to my personal path opening up my future. Certainly taking up skydiving changed my life's trajectory, and I look over at my dear husband and am glad things turned out the way they have.

One thing that I never did was attend college long enough to graduate from anything more than a community college in California. I am convinced, however, that had I been able to matriculate at a good college, I would have become a scientist. Maybe a theoretical physicist who discovers the mystery of quantum mechanics. Who knows? I think my fascination with it shows an aptitude that might have taken me onto a completely different life trajectory. Maybe in another parallel universe I've figured out quantum mechanics, which doesn't allow us to make absolute predictions about the future. It only predicts the likelihoods of different outcomes to happen. It doesn't say anything about which one will happen. I love the uncertainty of it all.

In many respects, I've lived a charmed life, even though it's been filled with loss. But learning to live with disappointment, to find alternate ways to be happy, has actually helped me become a more unique individual, don't you think? As I ponder all the different directions I could have gone, other than the one path I have followed, I wonder if I could have become anyone else other than who I am today. It makes me wonder about predestination and the well-known "predestination paradox" that many science fiction stories use to great effect. For a fascinating concept, read Wikipedia's page on causal loops. I never tire of considering whether what we know as reality is, well, real. Maybe all that time in freefall has altered my sense of self. 

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. —Joseph Campbell

I hope you will have fun today, and I do believe that we are all striving to understand who we are on this beautiful ball we call Earth. I had fun writing this nonsensical post about light and shadows. I'm standing in the light and creating my own shadow, which is filled with possibilities. It's time for me to get up and begin my day, and finding my way towards happiness and joy. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week, dear friends.