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, July 3, 2022

A life well lived

Eight decades of of life changes you

There is no doubt that I was doted on by my parents. As the firstborn, I think I am the only one who was taken alone for a studio sitting; subsequent photos always have other siblings included. I love looking at how my mother curled my hair into ringlets. So pampered and secure in the love that surrounded me is in every aspect of this brief moment of time, captured in this picture. I was born blessed and surrounded by love.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. —Dalai Lama

Kindness. Of course, that small little deed is more important than just about anything else I can think of. When I was a baby, it surrounded me. That, and laughter and plenty to eat, lots of fascinating toys to play with, a world to discover, and the belief that I was the center of the universe. And here I am today, still the center of the universe, since I'm the one who still sees everything through the lens of my own eyes, through the beliefs of my own heart.

I mentioned a while back that I was reading a book called "Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals," by Oliver Burkeman. I finished it recently, and I'm still pondering some of the concepts he introduced that were new to me. One is the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, who wrote a book in the early twentieth century suggesting that we don't actually have time, but instead, we are time. Somehow that makes sense to me, since the time before I was born and the time after I die are both infinite, and I am a finite being.

That, and the sense that if life has any meaning at all, it is only for the short period during which I am alive that it matters to me. If kindness is a philosophy that one can live by, then being happy and spreading joy into the world might be the only thing my life is about. I can live with that.

Yesterday I walked, as usual for a Saturday, with my friend Melanie. It's now summertime in my part of the world, and although it's more sunny than we usually experience here in the Pacific Northwest, it's not terribly hot. Yesterday we made it to 66°F with a brisk cool breeze and fluffy white clouds scudding across the sky. It was just about perfect, weatherwise. We walked for around five miles in Whatcom Falls Park, where the numbers of people out and about surprised me. Usually we see perhaps a dozen others, but yesterday it seemed like most of the town had also joined us outdoors, wearing summer sandals and shorts, mostly. After our cool and wet spring, everyone is anxious to get outdoors and enjoy the change in weather.

You might notice that when I'm at a loss of what to write about that I often throw in a quote or two. (I just spent a few minutes looking for one but deleted it.) I am especially feeling the need to find some direction for this morning, and there is always a need to remind myself of what is important, as I sit here staring off into the darkness of my bedroom. 

To set the scene, most of you know that my dear partner is asleep next to me. At this time of the year, there is light in the sky that slips through the curtained window, and I start the morning with a cup of tea, which is now finished. I have exactly one half-hour to finish this post before I must get out of bed and get ready for the rest of my day. My friend John will pick me up in front of the apartment so that we can head to Fairhaven for breakfast. We have become so predictable that our barista has our coffee ready for us when we arrive.

A change I can live with

I had decided that I would begin the post with that cute little baby and end it with the reality of today. Mel took this picture of me last Thursday, and it shows that the baby has been given the blessing of a long life, which still continues today. Although nothing is guaranteed, I do know that my life won't be snuffed out prematurely. So many people never get a chance to make it to old age, but I have, and I am trying to spend my days making my world a little better place. 

I started eight decades ago being surrounded by love, plenty to eat, a world to discover, and today I have much the same. With so much that has changed in life, one thing is still the same: I am extremely fortunate. Even if this were to be my last day on earth, I would not want to be anywhere else. Or anyone else. And to have this blog to share with my loved ones (I consider you to be in that group), is an incredible gift to me. I am surrounded by miracles.

Okay, with that realization, I will finish up this post by wishing you and your loved ones to also be surrounded by kindness, and that you will find some way to spread your joy out into the world. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Peace and Love

Raindrops on Peace and Love

It's the name of this beautiful rose, which I photographed on Friday, after John dropped me off at the Cornwall Rose Garden. So pretty, don't you think?
Love and peace of mind do protect us. They allow us to overcome the problems that life hands us. They teach us to survive... to live now... to have the courage to confront each day. —Bernie Siegel

This has been quite a week of hard news, and I'm working hard to find some peace and love to bolster me. And the Rose Garden handed me this rose to admire, smell, and appreciate. Wouldn't you know it would be entitled "Peace and Love"?

There are plenty of other events going on in the world, but in my own news cycles, with two January 6 hearings that had me wide-eyed at times, the war in Ukraine not going so well, and then Roe v. Wade being overturned, with many more similar rulings likely in our near future, well, I'm finding it hard to just stop and smell the roses.

But really, what else can I do? Yesterday I just had to turn off the news, since the news anchors just keep going over and over the same facts, and after awhile I could feel myself shutting down, a heaviness coming over me as I reached for a glass of wine. Of course that only helped temporarily, and I knew that I needed to face what is bothering me so much. I'm old enough to know that nothing stays the same, life is constantly changing, in flux, and that nothing lasts forever.

On top of all that, we are also experiencing a warm spell that is allowing us here in the Pacific Northwest to share what most of the rest of the country has already been feeling. Until yesterday, we had not gotten much above our normal temperatures, but now we are under a heat advisory until late tomorrow night. Then we'll return to our normal moderate weather, at least for awhile. My friend Melanie and I decided to walk the Interurban trail yesterday, which is shaded and quite comfortable. It was only when we were out in full sun on city pavement that it really felt hot. Plus I was able to stay inside, with fans and cool drinks, where it was quite nice during most of the afternoon.

Last year at this time we had a very unusual heat wave, setting temperature records for highs all over the area. I remember sitting in the living room with the TV on, fans on full blast everywhere, and barely able to tolerate the heat. We even reached triple digits on one day before it let up. We had never before gotten that hot in Bellingham. So, when I look back, I can be grateful that this heat wave is just normal, not exceptional. I do, however, realize that the discomfort we are dealing with is nothing compared to many parts of the world. So yes, I am grateful.

I looked up online what ways people can use to deal with despair and found this wonderful article on Psychology Today, which I also discovered has numerous blogs on every possible human condition. This one, however, is about how to deal with despair, and lists these five coping mechanisms:

(1) Take your despair for a walk. Good advice. I always feel better once I get outdoors and into the beautiful green environment that is my neighborhood. And after a few minutes, my perspective usually changes for the better.

(2) Give your sorrow words. It always helps me to find other people who are feeling the same as I am, and to read words of wisdom from authors and poets who know how to articulate what it means to be a human experiencing a tough time,

(3) Honor your despair. The article points out how pushing away or avoiding the situation doesn't help, but really makes it worse. Everyone in every life will have moments of despair, and acknowledging it actually helps to make it better.

(4) Seek out fellowship. Finding others who you can share your feelings with will definitely help everyone. I spent some time talking with my neighbor yesterday, and both of us shared tears over a glass of wine. Both of us felt somewhat better afterwards, I think.

(5) Avoid toxic positivity. This was a new one for me. I realize after pondering its meaning that what it is saying is that it doesn't help to put a happy face on it when you're feeling really bad. I cannot hide my despair, and I surely shouldn't even try.

Maybe it's time to start to think about all the wonders that surround me here. First of all, I'm sitting up in my bed, as usual, tapping away at my laptop, and looking forward to purchasing a new one in a month or two. I love my MacBook Air from 2019, but now that Apple has upgraded it, I'll be buying a new one. You wouldn't think that three years is a full lifetime for a laptop, but it really is. I use it every day, and it's become the main way that I watch videos. When I binge-watch a series, it's usually on my laptop with headphones. 

I talk to my sister Norma Jean once a month on here, too, and seeing her face in even more detail on FaceTime will be like she's right here with me. She's still swimming a mile every morning, and she looks good, which makes me very happy. My connection to her is essential to my continuing happiness. Between Norma Jean and SG, I have two wonderful people with whom I can share my ups and downs, and that makes all the difference. So, looking at my life from a new perspective, I realize that I will get through this rough patch without any permanent scars (at least that's what I'm hoping). How about you? How do you deal with... whatever? 

And yes, it's that time again. I am finished with my tea, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and the sun has already raised the temperature, even early in the morning, by a few degrees. I'll put on my Big Girl shorts and sandals and share a nice breakfast with my friend John, before returning home for some good conversation and hugs with my guy. Yes, life is good, still. I have so much gratitude for everything. That includes you, my dear readers, and I do hope you find a way to experience the wonders that are everywhere, if we just stop to look. 

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and that you will find a way to remain comfortable in your own world. Be well.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Bringing up the past

Norma Jean and me, picture by Daddy

I looked back at previous Father's Day posts, and all of them have pictures I've used before. Maybe it would be fun to remember Daddy from another angle, looking at who he was to those two little girls when we were growing up. For the first seven years of my life, it was just the two of us, and then my sister PJ was born.

He was a big man, especially to us, who were much smaller and dependent on him and Mama for everything. Daddy would often be the one who would send us off to school with our lunch pails, with sandwiches he prepared. He often told me stories of how life was for him when he was a little girl (which of course he wasn't, but I didn't know that then. I thought I'd grow up to be a man like him.)

Daddy was very soft-hearted. He would cry at the drop of a hat and often lost his composure when reading stories to us at bedtime. I don't have any memories of Mama reading to us, but plenty of them when he did. As a child, I didn't wonder about why it was always him, because I thought that it was the same in every family. These days, I do wonder, since I remember that Daddy was a morning person, like I am, and Mama was not. Maybe she had her nose buried in a book she was reading and Daddy preferred reading bedtime stories to us. Who knows?

My parents went on to have a big family of six (seven if you count our sister who died after having been born prematurely and only lived for a few hours), but the second family didn't come along until I was a teenager. My brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, and then the next two sisters were born after I got married and left home myself. I have never been as close to them as I am to Norma Jean, since it was just the two of us for so many years. Daddy looms large in my memories of growing up, although as an officer in the Air Force, he was often absent for months at a time.

Daddy had a darkroom where he developed pictures and was a pretty good photographer. He took many pictures of his two daughters, like the one I've included here, and Mama was always nearby if not prominent in many of them. She was the one who kept us looking presentable and probably sewed those little beach outfits for us. I well remember the smell of the chemicals in the darkroom, although I was only allowed in a few times. It's a very clear memory, flat pages with the images slowly appearing as he carefully worked with them until they were developed to his satisfaction and then placed on a clothesline to dry. I suppose there are still darkrooms like his somewhere, but it's really a relic of the past for most of us. Now I take pictures with a simple click of my camera phone and if I don't like it, off it goes into the ether. No more waiting to see what you captured.

Daddy liked to read, but nothing like the way my mother did. She had reams of books from the library surrounding her, and she would read in bed, while Daddy was asleep next to her. (This was when we were older and no longer had bedtime stories read to us.) The activity never seemed to bother him, and I remember sitting and talking (quietly) to Mama at night while Daddy snored away. As a teenager, Daddy introduced me to his favorite science fiction books, some of which I have reread as an adult. I think he would have loved the way so many of his children became avid readers. He was a philosopher at heart, too. He filled my head with some amazing ideas, mostly when he'd become a little inebriated, which might explain why many of those thoughts are still so vivid in my mind. I blame Daddy for my overactive imagination.

Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. My youngest siblings, Fia  and Markee, were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives and moved on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet.

Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that. Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost three decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 85 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80.  
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Although my father didn't get to be very old, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics (GD), which is now Lockheed. Although I had left home long before and wasn't around at that time, my brother saw this side of him: he often piloted his boat to work, since GD was located across Lake Worth, where my family lived. It was remarkable watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of white cap waves on the lake, on his way to the office.

That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.
Thanks, Daddy, for being my father and giving me so many vivid memories of you. I hope that someday in one of our future lives we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. The bonds of love and happiness are very strong when I think about my childhood, and you are very much a central figure even today. 

If there is a heaven, I like to think my parents are together on the celestial golf course, where long drives and accurate putts are the norm. And that Daddy outdrives Mama most of the time.

And that's it, for this Father's Day remembrance, and me hoping that your week is a good one, with lots of love and laughter in whatever is just right for you. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I finish up this post, and I look forward to the rest of my day ahead. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you call good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Roses and rain

Cornwall Rose Garden first blooms

We seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of rain one day, partial sunshine the next, and cool temperatures overall. We're lucky if we are able to leave our gloves at home. But I do know that I'll be complaining about the heat at some point this summer, the start of which is less than two weeks away. We have yet to see any really warm weather. I've learned that in the local gardens, everything is delayed one to three weeks because of the cooler and wetter weather. 

I really don't mind, since I am not a fan of heat. But there are many people who miss the summer sun and warmth. My favorite temperature is right around 60°F (15°C). Right now my old home state of Colorado is baking in triple-digit temperatures, which is one reason why we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest when I retired from my job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. We've lived here fourteen years now and we've never been sorry we moved here.

Today I think I'd like to explore some old memories of memorable events that I've experienced in the past. As many of you know, for more than two decades I was an active skydiver, and for many of those years I was an instructor. For years I taught the First Jump Course at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, Colorado and took students out on their first jumps. These were not tandem jumps, since I don't think I was ever capable of such feats of strength. Few women are tandem instructors; instead, I became an AFF (accelerated freefall) instructor through a rigorous process. I failed the first time I took the week-long course. But in June 1994, I became licensed to take students on their first jumps.

Looking back, I realize I truly enjoyed that time in my life, and the people I taught were fully capable of saving their own lives in case of an emergency. The first line of defense is always teaching a person what to do in every possible circumstance. Since they would need to land a parachute for the first time, they were given a harness and container system with a large main and reserve parachute and needed to know how to use them. Once they were trained on how to activate the main, and what to do in case it failed, I made sure they had practiced enough to gain muscle memory in that event. I taught hundreds of students.

There is a real sense of accomplishment when you help someone learn a new skill and know that if they needed to, they could carry out the appropriate activity competently. Of course, I had to learn all this myself in my early days of my career. Under my tutelage, few students ever had to use their reserve, but there were plenty of other things that could happen. The way AFF works is this: two instructors are holding on to either side of the harness of the student, right at the center of gravity at the hip. Then the threesome moves to the door of the airplane and jumps out together. The student is taught to give the count and upon exit, thrust their hips forward as they leave the airplane. This helps us keep the threesome stable, and just like that, we're in freefall. The student then has tasks to do: touch the main ripcord handle three times, look at the instructors for instructions, and then to keep looking at the altimeter on their wrist to keep track of their position in freefall. We exited at 13,000 feet and by the time they get to 5,000 (about 30 seconds later), they were to pull the main ripcord. This would then cause the two instructors to let go as the student is pulled out of their hands and is now under a main parachute.

At least 99% of the time, that is exactly what happens on a student's first jump. While the student is left to orient themselves and fly the parachute back to the Drop Zone (DZ), the two instructors track away and open their own mains, locate the student (now above them), and fly back to where we began the adventure. The student had a radio attached to their chest strap, and someone on the ground usually directed them back to the DZ, while we landed ourselves safely. I would take as many as six or seven students in a single day during the long summer season.

It makes me tired just to think of how much work that all was, but I was younger then and could deal with it well. Tired and happy was the way I usually went home after a long day at the DZ. Occasionally a student would twist an ankle or land in an unceremonious heap, but hardly anybody was anything other than ecstatic and happy after having accomplished such a life-changing event. A good number of them returned the following week for another jump.

It was an exciting time in my own life, and I am very glad I never had to deal with a student fatality. One time a student was flying his parachute back to the DZ and hit a barbed-wire fence and ended up with a broken pelvis. That was the worst accident I remember, although other instructors did have students with more serious injuries. Broken bones were the most common, and the student was whisked off to the local hospital. Sometimes they would return to proudly show off their cast and let us know they were all right. But injuries didn't happen often; it was much more usual for the students and instructors to be just fine after a day of jumping out of airplanes.

Today, my excitement comes from more sedate activities: wearing myself out on a long hike or learning a new yoga posture. How grateful I am for those years of such adventure and accomplishment. Those memories will never fade completely, as long as I am alive, and it gives me great pleasure to reminisce with you, and relive those days.

With that, I've gone as far with this digital adventure as I can for today, but perhaps I'll recall more of these activities in the future and share them with you. For now, I've got to begin the rest of my day, now that my tea is gone and my dear partner still sleeps next to me. It's time to move on. I do hope that you will find happiness and love in your week ahead, and when we meet again next week that you will have had some adventures of your own. Until then, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Four thousand weeks

Whatcom Falls on Saturday

Yesterday Melanie, Dianne and I walked just under five miles in Whatcom Falls Park, stopping (as usual) in front of Whatcom Falls to see how the water is running. As we expected, it's totally roaring, with all the rain we've had lately. We were so lucky to have had a dry day on Thursday, when the Senior Trailblazers had their annual Start the Summer potluck and hike. I joined the group, but Mel went out on a solo hike. The group was really large, with around fifty Senior Trailblazers from two different hiking groups all gathered together. It's too many people for comfort on a regular hike these days, but I sure enjoyed myself. You can read all about it on that link.

But today I'm going to talk about time, once again. The title of this post is referring to the number of weeks that a usual mortal gets to spend on earth during one lifetime. One of my blogging friends pointed me towards a book by that name: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. And you know how much I enjoy writing about, and trying to figure out, what the heck the whole concept of time really means.

Although I haven't finished this book yet, I'm finding it fascinating to consider how time has been perceived in earlier civilizations. It's interesting to think what it was like before people had any sort of clocks or need for them. In medieval times, people woke at sunrise and went to bed when the sun went down. Burkeman says that monks had to figure out how to get up before the sunrise, so they assigned a monk to stay awake all night and watch the stars to tell when it they should wake up, but if he fell asleep or it was cloudy, it didn't work. I laughed at that, realizing that something else would have to be considered. We humans are nothing if not a resourceful lot. 

But to come all the way from sleepy monks to thinking of us as being stuck on a conveyor belt that constantly speeds up to help us get everything in our lives done, well, it's a real stretch. When I consider how little actual time we humans have to get anything done before we die, it's amazing that we actually accomplish anything. I am beginning to understand why some people have long to-do lists and are constantly trying to keep up within the constriction of our short lives. Four thousand weeks is surprisingly brief, isn't it?

I looked up on one of my favorite sites, timeanddate.com, how many weeks I've been alive and found that I've already had 4,184 weeks of life and have another 26 weeks or so before I turn eighty (and might have another 500+ weeks after that. Who knows?) It's not much time, but then again, the whole of human civilization is only four to seven million years old. We are definitely a young race, but look at how much we have accomplished, both good and bad. We've changed the entire world, and explored much of the universe beyond, but look at what we have done with time itself. We have become its slave.
There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history. ― Oliver Burkeman

And we are actually standing at a critical place in history: right at the end of a pandemic and trying to figure out how to use our limited time more appropriately. I know that I am endeavoring to enjoy each day, especially when I consider how lucky I am, having a warm and safe roof over my head, enough food to eat every day (too much sometimes), a partner to share my days with, and friends and family who care about me, and whom I also care about. I can still read, even if my eyesight is not perfect, and I can sit in the dark and type on my laptop and reach out to infinity through the miracle of the internet.

But still, I am also lucky because I can look back on a life well lived, with lots of memories of people and places that I cherish, and it feels like enough to me. I had a productive career as an editor and helped to create many books that now sit on countless shelves; I had a productive avocation as a skydiver, piloting canopies, teaching others how to fly their bodies in freefall, and I am satisfied. Getting up and greeting each day with a sense of wonder and happiness, happy to have another day to find a way to manage time instead of letting it manage me. I'm determined to change my vision of time from being on a conveyor belt into one of being a creature IN time, with infinite possibilities ahead.

Using that calculator on the timeanddate.com website, I realize that I've also been alive for almost 30,000 days (29,040 to be exact), and have breathed in and out for 41,900,000 minutes (almost 42 million!) and find it possible to inspire myself to continue creating many more Sunday posts, one a week here on this blog. Why not? I enjoy it, and some of my followers enjoy it too. While my time might not be infinite, it's enough once I step off the conveyor belt and consider the expanse my consciousness can reach. 

I have all the time I need. And I am hoping that you will consider for yourselves what you would like to accomplish in your own life, hoping that the possibility of rethinking your life to become one filled with infinite possibility will give you another way to ponder how to spend your days. It's possible to find fulfillment with every breath, if we allow it.

It's time (!) to wind up this post and begin the rest of my Sunday. I do hope you will find love and joy in your day, and that you will smile as you consider your options. I am listening to the drum of rain on the roof, and realize that I'll need to wrap myself in some of my rain gear when I go outside to meet my friend John for a breakfast trip to Fairhaven. Until we meet again in another week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Walking into the light

Hiding in the dark

I took this picture last Thursday when Melanie and I hiked up the Chanterelle Trail. The second segment of the trail, after the viewpoint, starts off in dense forest. After we enjoyed a brief respite at the viewpoint, we started up the second part just long enough to experience the darkness of the trail and see the light coming from the open area. It's a little haunting, but also serene to my eyes. I needed to find some serenity.

How do you cope with sorrow and pain? I would bet that all of us have developed coping mechanisms, since everyone alive eventually experiences the dark side of living, even if it's not very often or very difficult. But for some of us, it's simply hellish to wake up every day and have to leave the comfort and forgetfulness of our night's sleep, only to face yet another day of suffering. That's what is happening in so many places in our world today. Whether it's that small town in Texas, in Buffalo, or the entire Ukrainian country. Or Bangladesh's floods, or...

So much suffering that sometimes I wonder how anybody escapes this world without falling into despair. At first I watched the news and read all about the latest mass shootings in our country, two awful ones within a week. Then I began to realize that the news was just repeating the same stuff, over and over and enough to make anybody go a little crazy. So I stopped watching and reading the headlines. It helped me feel better. Yesterday Melanie and I went for a nice five-mile walk in the beautiful forest surrounding us here in Bellingham, no rain, and I began to feel better. Now I'm spending my time watching old Star Trek episodes and enjoying being transported somewhere else, somewhere other than the present world. However, it's a holiday weekend out there.

It is Memorial Day weekend, and I was truly surprised by the numbers of people out and about. Then I remembered that this is the first time in three years that we here in Bellingham get to celebrate the Ski to Sea event! This amazing race will take place today, Sunday, and covers seven different segments: cross country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboarding, downhill running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and ending with kayaks coming into Marine Park in Fairhaven. Each team has three to eight participants, usually one person for each segment except for the canoe segment that requires two paddlers. A few years ago it was decided that one person can participate in up to three segments instead of a different person for each one. Anyway, it takes all day from the starting gun at 7:30am at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, with people coming into the final leg usually by mid- to late afternoon. I've watched the finish a few times, but it's a huge party and way too loud and high energy for me! There's lots of food to buy, beer and wine, and musicians at every corner. If we are lucky and there's not any rain, it will be packed shoulder to shoulder. Yep, I'll be home safe and snug in my apartment, but I'll read all about it online as the day unfolds.

On Memorial Day, I don't want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live. —Eric Burdon

Especially this year, I want to think about all those who are working to make this world a kinder place to live, one with clean water and air, and safe places to gather without fear. I have spent way too much time lately thinking of all that is wrong and scary in the world, and not enough thinking about how one tiny little act can change the world. I remember a quote from the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." So I will try to spend the rest of this post spreading around as much of it as I can muster.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead

Although I have used this quote from Margaret Mead before, it's the one I originally went looking for, because it reminds me that it doesn't take a massive movement to change the trajectory of fear and despair that many of us have been following lately. It has come to my attention that there are many of us who are ready for a change in direction. We are a divided nation and a divided world, but there are more citizens in the United States who are ready for common-sense gun control than those who think that assault weapons should be able to be purchased by anyone over the age of 18 without even so much as a background check. For the first time, I envy those of you who live in more enlightened countries, like Australia and Europe. We are the only country where these mass shootings with weapons of war occur almost DAILY.

Okay, I'll stop there. I don't usually let politics enter into my posts, but I couldn't pretend like it's not uppermost in my mind. There are solutions, and I will donate to the causes I believe in, and I will join with other like-minded citizens to vote my conscience in the fall. I am confident that we will make a difference, because we are definitely not such a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens, but instead a massive group of mothers and fathers who cherish our children.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and I especially want to remember those in my family who have served in the armed forces, starting with my dad, who retired as a Major in the Air Force. I remember learning about the air-refueling jet (the KC-135) that he navigated, and wondering how the heck it was possible to figure out how to take into account all the variables to allow a skinny little hose to extend from one moving plane into the right spot on another moving plane! My father was able to do that.

And my mother, who raised six kids from infancy into adulthood, all the while teaching us how to cook and clean (and knit and crochet) like she did. Although we moved a lot while I was growing up, I always had a secure home life, and Mama always managed to create a home out of each place we lived. It was hard to find my home after both of my parents died and there was no longer a central place to point to, one where I could come for visits or when times were hard. But eventually I did find a place, and for the last thirty years, my dear partner has been there, creating a home base and sharing his life with me. I am so grateful for his presence in my life, and I want to acknowledge what a difference he has made in my daily existence.

Although circumstances didn't allow me to keep my two beautiful sons, they also gave me so much joy. Chris lived into his early forties before dying of a heart attack, but he was loved and cherished, having found his soulmate before his death. It's been a long time since he died, but he is still alive in memories and there are times when I swear I can hear his distinctive laughter behind me. No, it's only in my head and heart where he still lives. Stephen was just a baby of 13 months when he died, so I have fewer memories of our time together. But they are there nevertheless, and when I stop to remember them, I am content and grateful.

Another place I go when I need solace is to my electronic family, the collection of blogs that I follow, and people who have become as familiar and cherished as my "skin" family and friends. I enjoy learning about your children and grandchildren, and smile at the antics of your furry companions. I love to see your gardens and your homes as you also make your way through the days and weeks of your lives. It gives me great pleasure: you have no idea how often I visit you just to share your peaceful worlds. I know we all have trials and tribulations, it's part of life, but it's also not the only thing we write about.

See? There's so much we can share as we make our way through life, much that gives me perspective and hope. Not to mention how easy it is for me to transport myself to Fresno, Canberra, Seattle, Miami, North Dakota, and many other places in a flash. And to find out how you all are managing your lives and giving me a few pointers when I falter. Yes, it's a good life all right, and I am more than grateful for it, and all the possibilities that await us in the days and years ahead.

My dear partner is still sleeping next to me, and my tea is gone. It's time to wind up this post and remember to give thanks once again for everything that is good, true, and beautiful. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Gifts of friends and memories

Squalicum Harbor

Yesterday it was just Melanie and me walking around the harbor, checking out the flowers and boats, enjoying the cool breeze and delightful views as we covered a little more than five miles in full sunshine. We have finally seemed to make it to an actual springtime season, with the temperature here making it all the way up to the high sixties, and maybe today we'll make it to 70° (21°C) for the first time this year.

I have been reading about the awful heat wave covering the entire northeast of the country, with many places setting new record highs for the date. It seems to me that the weather everywhere is out of whack, and many areas having really weird weather. Take Denver, for example: after hitting 90°F on Thursday, the very next day a snowstorm dropped the temperature by 57 degrees and brought as much as 20 inches of snow to several parts of Colorado. I remember well a May snowstorm in Boulder, when we received three feet of snow overnight, and I and some friends brought out our cross-country skis and enjoyed a wonderful sunny day with lots of slippery ice to navigate. I couldn't seem to find just the right mixture of ski wax, finally ending up using klister, which is almost like slapping chewing gum on your skis in order to be able to make your way up the slopes. Sliding down was easy, but any climbing needed lots more skill than I possessed. It was fun, though, and I remember skiing in a t-shirt and getting sunburned (we weren't as careful in those days).

By late afternoon yesterday, we opened the windows in the kitchen and living room to allow the lovely breeze to cool down our apartment. It was warmer than I am accustomed to, but then again, it is still not anywhere near too warm. Last year in late June we had a terrible heat wave, with Seattle setting an all-time record of 108°F on June 28, hot enough to buckle the roads and close down highways. Here in Bellingham we set a record of 99°F on June 29. We don't know what's in store for us this year, but with all the rain we've had, I don't think we will be in any fire danger for at least a couple of months. But then again, all the rain caused many meadows to proliferate with grasses, which might dry out and become a fire hazard. It's really hard to imagine that, but it used to happen in Boulder frequently in late summer and early fall.

I thought it might be fun to reminisce today over some of my favorite skydives. Most summers during the 1990s I traveled to Quincy, Illinois, to attend the ten-day-long World Freefall Convention (WFFC). After a couple of years, I realized that there was a great need for a place for inexperienced skydivers to gather and make some safer, smaller skydives together. I got permission from the owners of the Convention to do it. So I ended up gathering a bunch of skydiving pals from Colorado to become load organizers and create that space. The more experienced skydivers were glad not to have people who were not ready yet to join larger formations have a community of their own. We specialized in getting groups of four to eight skydivers together to play together in the sky, with some very simple and fun formations as the basic format.

We had a huge tent and got couches and chairs for people to sit in, with lots of room to pack parachutes after a jump. Fans and a portable TV with DVR player helped to give us a way to watch skydives that some of our participants would film. These days, everyone has digital cameras attached to their helmets, but in the 90s, they were not as available. We made sure we had a chance to see and critique our performances in the sky.

Paul, one of our regulars packing his chute

I went looking back in my old archives for any pictures I might have of the WFFC to share with you, so you could get a better idea of the tent. Anyone who has traveled or lived in Illinois in August knows how hot it can get, so any shade was much appreciated. It's hard for me to realize that this picture was taken almost twenty years ago, probably with my little old PowerShot camera. Nowadays I don't take pictures with anything but my phone, but back then we didn't even have smartphones. Did you realize they didn't exist before 2007? How much has changed since then.

Not only did the WFFC have thousands of participants, they also offered plenty of unusual aircraft for us to jump from. I made jumps from helicopters, hot air balloons, King Airs, Cessna Caravans, and the workhorse that took us to altitude most often, the Twin Otter. And much more (check out the link I found to the Convention). From that link:
The World Freefall Convention has seen many successful years, starting with skydiving numbers of 700 to 800 participants in 1990 and rising to a high in 2001 of 5700 jumpers, from 57 countries that made over 70,000 jumps during the event. As the number of annual members in the USPA have decreased, so have those numbers attending the WFFC.

The last one I attended was in 2000. By then I was still skydiving, but the desire to spend so much time in the heat and humidity of Illinois in August had faded. I still have some of my old jackets from the nineties. And boy, do I have a lot of memories! I forgot to mention that for two or three years I jumped from a 727 Boeing JET! That means I have a D.B. Cooper number, which was issued to those who purchased a jump ticket and made the leap. They cost twice as much as a regular jump, but it was more than worth the price.

The jet had the seats removed and held 180 jumpers at a time. This particular model had a rear exit, with the stairs covered with plywood so you could just run down the short ramp and be in freefall. The way it was done was to load up all those jumpers and make two separate passes over the Drop Zone. But first, we had to load up the plane and secure ourselves with the seat belts on the floor. It was so hot that we were sweating buckets as we waited for the loading to be completed. Then once the plane took off, it was only three minutes to altitude! And we were frightened when a dense fog formed almost immediately after takeoff (it looked like smoke at first) from all those sweaty bodies. We relaxed when we realized it was fog.

We lined up when it was time for our exit, holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of us, then we quick-stepped together until we were out the door and in freefall. Since the plane was traveling very fast, we actually slowed down from exit speed to regular freefall speed of 120 miles an hour! It was very disorienting and exciting, but once we were in freefall, it was just a regular skydive. Not to mention that most of us landed off the field, since stringing out that many skydivers (90 per pass) meant it was impossible to have everyone land on the field. There were plenty of volunteer drivers who drove around and picked us up. I was in a pickup and thrilled to have done it.

In going back in time like this, I realize I've had quite an exciting life with plenty of memorable experience. And here I am in 2022, still hiking and walking and doing my yoga, even if I'm no longer skydiving. I know there are a few eighty-year-olds still out there, but the desire faded as I got older and realized I'd done just about everything as I gathered my jump numbers, which ended at 4,201 in 2015.

How can I be sad about having left it behind? In many ways, I can look back at my years and be incredibly grateful for the wonderful experiences I've had. There have been good times and bad, which is typical for most of us, but I realize I can concentrate on the good times. Attitude is everything. As my dear partner still sleeps next to me, I am looking forward to having breakfast with my friend Lily, who will join John and me this morning. This morning, I am filled with gratitude and smiling to think of those skydiving years I enjoyed. So, dear ones, until we meet again next week, I wish you many good memories to wrap yourselves in. Be well.