I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mickey and Karen

Smart Guy, Mickey, Karen (click to enlarge)
Yesterday my ex-boss Mickey and his wife Karen came to Bellingham for a vacation and to visit us. That's our front porch where we had a little repast before taking them to their hotel (we don't have much room for guests to stay). As you can see, it was a sunny day, with a strong breeze blowing from the south. We were only one degree shy of the record temperature for the date.

I worked with Mickey for thirty years. Karen was a secretary in our department way back in the late seventies and early eighties at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. When they began to date, she transferred out of the department, and I attended their wedding 29 years ago. Karen went back to school and got a degree in social work, which she will be retiring from this December. Mickey, although he is going on 71, is still not slowing down. I think Karen wanted him to see how happy some people can be in retirement, but he's not having any of it. He's just not ready.

Mickey is a true "citizen of the world," comfortable in every corner of the most remote areas, or in the middle of a big city. He's curious about everything and absolutely loves used bookstores. I can remember many times I followed him, waiting in some foreign land while he perused books in the local language. Yesterday we walked around in the sunshine, and I showed him a couple of used bookstores that he will go back and delve into more deeply. They will be here all day and leave in mid-morning tomorrow (Monday). I hope to take Karen to join me in my favorite exercise class before they head out of town, back to Seattle to fly home to Boulder.

Because of Mickey, I have been to many parts of the world. I've been his assistant at meetings in Paris, Moscow, Hanoi, Saigon, Havana, Geneva, Bangkok, Urumqi (western China), Beijing, Shanghai, Macao, and Budapest. I'm sure I've missed a few, but you get the idea. He still travels all over the world to climate meetings but no longer arranges conferences like we did for so long.

We sat at the restaurant in their upscale hotel yesterday, reminiscing about many of those trips, since Karen was along on many of them, as was Smart Guy. The four of us went together on a side trip while in China to Xian to see the terracotta soldiers. We all agreed that it was one of the most amazing things we have ever seen. If you know little or nothing about the Terracotta Army, that link will take you to the Wikipedia page, but here's a little of what I know.

In 1974, some local farmers near Xian were drilling a well for water when they discovered some of the terracotta figures in a pit. Dating from 210 BC, these figurines are all different from each other and some historians think they are modeled after actual soldiers. From the Wikipedia link:
The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
After we had gone into the large area where the majority of the unearthed soldiers are housed, we were able to buy a book telling what is known about them and giving us pictures of them all. We were able to get the farmer who found them to sign our books. I guess he's there most days and is paid by the Chinese government. I was not able to take a picture of him as it was forbidden. If you ever get a chance to see these soldiers, it is an experience not to be missed. What is known about their origin is that the ancient Chinese Emperor who founded the Qin Dynasty commissioned the Army to help rule another empire in the afterlife.

My memories of the years I worked with Mickey are filled with such amazing events. You would think that we might have stayed in fancy American-type hotels, but another thing Mickey insisted upon is that we accommodate our visitors and ourselves in local hotels. This was mostly a good thing, but I do remember in Moscow we stayed at a hotel that I could only describe as primitive. The room was only about 10-12 feet wide with a narrow wooden bed with a futon on top. The 14th-floor window opened, but there was no air conditioning (it was very hot) and no screens. I could have fallen out if I wasn't careful. The bathroom had no hot water and only one spigot that swiveled from the sink to the claw-footed tub. I just held the hose and wet myself down while standing in the tub, then dried with a towel about the size of a dishtowel. The hard brown soap didn't even make a lather. Since I was there for six nights, I did get a reasonable towel and soap for subsequent "baths."

Even though it sounds rough, Mickey was right: I didn't forget that trip, and there is no way it could fade into the mists of time. I can still remember those baths. Incredibly, I slept very well on the hard futon. That is just one of the amazing experiences I had while working for Mickey. We did a lot of good things during those years.

Seeing the two of them again has brought up many memories that I cherish. Today, hopefully, we will make more memories and have some new adventures together. They might not carry the same weight as those heady days of international travel, but we are all older now, more sedate, and happy with smaller pleasures. Except for Mickey, who is still going, and going, just like the Energizer Bunny.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


We spend about a third of our lives asleep, which seems to me an amazing statistic. Although when I get tired and want to go to sleep, nothing is as sweet as climbing into bed, snuggling under the covers, and drifting off to sleep.

Today, this Sunday morning, is another time when I couldn't decide what I wanted to write about here, my thoughts going here and there, wondering what is uppermost in my mind. I thought about old regrets that keep coming up to bother me, making me wonder why I keep beating myself up about things that nobody else remembers. They are real to me, though, which means they must still have some relevance in my daily life. Those journals from the 1990s still sit accusingly on my bookshelf, daring me to delve into them.

But lately my dreams have been so real, making me feel as though I'm living another life. I ran across an interesting article on the Huffington Post by one of my favorite authors Robert Lanza (the author of Biocentrism) entitled, "Are Dreams an Extension of Physical Reality?" It got me to wondering about these dreams of mine. I wrote a while back about my old friend Garl having died this summer in a parachuting accident. I was pretty devastated by the event, and many of my friends in Boulder held a celebration of Garl's life a few weeks ago. I felt bad that I wasn't able to be there. The thing is, if I had been willing to spend a lot of money I could have gone, and it made me feel guilty that I didn't go.

The other night I dreamed that I saw Garl walking towards me, his distinctive gait assuring me that it was indeed him, and he walked over and put his arms around me. He whispered in my ear that he forgave me for not coming to his celebration. He looked and felt like the old Garl I knew, except that when I looked at his neck while he was hugging me, it was broken. I don't remember any other part of the dream, but I remember when I woke up that I kept thinking about that dream. It felt like one of those memories I won't soon forget.

I remember when Chris died, many years ago now (in 2002), I would dream about him quite often. But one dream stands out in my memory, as if it happened. Chris always shows up in my dreams as a young teenager, or a young man. He was forty when he died, but somehow his essence to me is right around nineteen or twenty. In that dream, I was standing in a beautiful forest, with the sun shining and a light breeze blowing. There's a path in the forest that opens up to a glen. Walking towards me on the path is Chris, and another old friend who died years ago in an avalanche. They are both smiling widely, their arms around each other, and Chris says, "Hi Mom, we're having a great time. Please don't worry about me, I'm fine!" And Franz (the friend) says nothing but has his arm protectively around Chris as if to affirm the truth of it.

That's all I remember about the dream, but that scene is as real to me as if I'd lived it. Or did I? That's the thing that Lanza keeps pointing out: that we really don't know the truth of our physical existence, it's not what we think, so who's to say that dreams are not real, too? Of course, there are also nightmares, dreams that I can hardly wait to escape from. Those are often dreams of loss, losing people or things and being unable to locate them. I know some people's dreams are really scary, but thinking back I can't remember any like that myself. There have been dreams where I've been glad when I woke to find it was only a dream.

As I've gotten older, I notice that I fall asleep easily and usually have a dream or two, nothing special, and then I have a period of wakefulness, where I'm not very asleep, or I'm wide awake in the middle of the night. That's the time when unresolved issues in my daily life usually come up, and sometimes I need to use deep breathing to slip back down into sleep. I find that a dab or two of lavender oil on my wrists almost always helps me relax. I breathe it in and snuggle into my covers. That next period of the night, around 2:00 or 3:00, is when I have my most memorable dreams.

I don't know if it's wishful thinking, but I do hope that one day (or one night) I'll find out what is real. Most of my life's memories have already dissolved in the mists of time, with just a few of the many days and nights I've lived still holding any significant memories. I would feel bereft, however, if I didn't have those few dreams that stand like beacons on the signposts of my dream world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nine eleven

Nine years later. Yesterday I woke and used the Reader to see what blogs had been posted since the night before, and every one of them had written something about the Nine Eleven's anniversary. Then I read the news of the day, and everything was focused on the event that happened nine years ago, and reminded me how unhealed and unsettled we in America are, nine years later. It made me reflective, wondering where I've come in those years. Nine years is a long time in the life of a person, but it's not so long in the life of a country, or a planet.

I remember waking up that day, getting ready for work the same way I always did: first a cup of tea and the paper in bed before starting the day. I put on the kettle and went back to wait for the whistle. Somehow I fell asleep and the whistle never came. When I woke, I walked toward the kitchen, and I felt the heat from the stove: the kettle had been destroyed by the electric heat and the whistle had fallen off. Once I had cleaned up the mess, I wondered how I could have been so careless.

The division where I worked was beginning a three-day evaluation of its scientific curriculum; it was mandatory that everyone be present. We had scientists on the panel coming from both coasts, staying in local hotels. Although we usually didn't dress up and men didn't wear ties or suits, I knew that we would all want to look our best, our usual jeans and T-shirts left at home. Choosing a nice pair of slacks and a silk shirt, I was ready to go to work.

Our director began his presentation to a room of about thirty people. I remember noticing the date on his slides, little knowing at that time how infamous the date of September 11, 2001, would become. About the time we took our first coffee break in mid-morning, news of a plane having hit one of the towers in the World Trade Center was buzzing through the conversation.

We were all called out of the session once the second plane hit. One of our administrators had a small black-and-white TV in her office, and we crowded around it and watched in horror as we saw the images on the screen. It was deadly quiet and then I heard a sob. My heart was breaking as I watched what seemed absolute impossibility as first one tower collapsed, then the other. We were sent home, nobody could concentrate on a presentation, everyone was horrified by what was happening to our country. Then the Pentagon.

Our scientific staff could not fly home. All airlines were grounded. After waiting a few days, most of our visitors rented cars and drove home. That night I went home and sat with Smart Guy, holding hands as we watched the destruction over and over on our own TV, listened to the commentary, and felt the impact. Even going to the store for supplies, I could see the shock and fear on every face.

And now nine years have passed. We have gone to war with the Taliban and Afghanistan where the hijackers trained with Bin Laden. That name and the name "Al Qaida" are now everywhere, but on that day nine years ago, only a few had heard them. Our country went to war with Iraq for reasons I still don't understand, and our country is hated by many around the world. I am filled with unease; I feel the sadness of today's hard economic times, as so many qualified and deserving people have lost their jobs, their homes, their hopes for the future.

Every country has its ups and downs, as every person does too. Events happen, time passes, and we move from where we are today to other circumstances. I am hoping that next year, the tenth anniversary, will hold some sense of the healing of these wounds.

If you feel so moved, I wonder what happened in your life on that day, and ask if you would be willing to share it. And your sense of the direction of our country: do you see any light at the end of this long tunnel?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September song

Yesterday while walking in Fairhaven, I saw these beautiful late summer roses with the blue and white sky behind. It put me into a pensive mood. September is here already, and I'm wondering if I'm ready for  the change that is coming. Fall is my favorite season, and today I noticed the leaves are already beginning to show the first signs of color.

Some of my blogging buddies are mourning the loss of a person I never knew. Penny lived in Australia and was in a car accident and died soon after. She wasn't very old, had three teenaged kids and a full life. Donna wrote a wonderful post this morning about her (Celebrating the Temporary), and she somehow had saved a beautiful piece written by Penny about blogging which she shared. Penny's blog has been removed by her family. It got me to thinking.

Everything is temporary, although we just don't experience life that way. But it is; when you think about the food you ate yesterday that turned into energy that powered you through the day and night. It's gone and turned into something else. The wind I hear outside is bringing changes in the weather and some of the birds are starting their migration south. September is the month of transition from summer to fall.

I walked to the bookstore yesterday and browsed for a new book to read, having just finished the third book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy about Lisbeth Salander. These books were published posthumously, since Larsson died suddenly at the age of 50 of a heart attack. He never knew how amazingly popular his books would become. And how much that persona of Lisbeth he created would mean to a whole generation of aging feminists (like me). The books were immensely satisfying, and I don't usually read crime novels. They do, however, portray a very smart woman who learns to use her skills to overcome monumental obstacles.

The book I ended up with is one I read many years ago: To Kill a Mockingbird. From this Wikipedia link:
One critic explains the novel's impact by writing, "In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."
Although I read that book a long time ago, and I remember how much I was impacted by the character of Atticus Finch, I remember very little about the book, the way it was written, or much about how events unfolded. It's a little scary, realizing that I also saw the movie long ago and can see Gregory Peck's face when I think of Atticus. (He was brilliant in the role and won an Academy Award for it.) Somehow, though, not much of it is remembered, and I want to see what I think of it today.

Today I'll settle into my recliner in the afternoon, listen with one ear to the birds and the wind, and celebrate the temporary. Since it's a Sunday, I did think about the possibility of heading down to Snohomish and getting my knees in the breeze, but the unsettled weather and the genuine lack of real desire will keep me from heading down. That also shows how much I've changed: although I truly enjoy the activity of skydiving, the fact that I banged my knee pretty hard on last Thursday's hike gives me pause when I consider flying and landing my parachute. I am in pretty good shape for being almost 68, but still...

No, a good book and a walk to the bay in the morning should be just right. I hope you will have a wonderful Sunday and will consider appreciating the moment.