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 7, 2014

Taking risks

Crossing a stream last Thursday
Last Thursday, I went on my usual hike with the Senior Trailblazers, and we knew that we would have to cross several fast-flowing streams to get to the great view of the glaciers on Mt. Baker. Once we got to this roaring stream, Al, our leader, tried to cross first. (There were ten of us.) He thought it was possible to get across without falling in or getting your feet very wet, and he did it. I did notice as I watched his crossing that his pants had gotten wet almost to his knees from the splashing water, but his waterproof high-top boots kept his feet dry as he picked his way from rock to rock. Then several of the others went across with varying levels of success, and I hesitated, unsure of whether or not to try it. The water is not only crashing over the rocks, but the current is also very strong and the chance of getting hurt high, if I slipped and fell in.

Al came back over to talk with those who were unwilling or reluctant to cross, and gave them a walkie-talkie; they backtracked a short distance to an alternate route to a nice view without having to cross the stream. While they were talking, I decided to see if I might be able to make it, and Mike snapped this picture of me as I carefully made my way across. My waterproof boots and gaiters kept me dry, and I was very pleased with myself for having done it. Actually, little Noriko, one of the hikers who is shorter and smaller than me, had gone across easily, and that was enough for me to give it a try. Nobody fell in, although not everyone's feet were exactly dry.

This has caused me to ponder the differences between people, with some being risk-takers and others being risk averse. I think we are born with tendencies one way or the other. My sister Norma Jean has never been a risk taker, while I have always been willing to try new and exciting adventures. Our entire childhood growing up together, we functioned as a team, with me charging on ahead and her offering reasons why we shouldn't rush in. There were times when I listened to her, and other times when I would convince her to give something new a try.

Since my father was in the Air Force and we moved frequently, I was often having to start attending a new school, most often in the middle of a school year, rather than at the beginning when many other children would be new. I remember having to stand and introduce myself more than once to a classroom filled with strangers. As an extrovert, I managed it much more easily than my shy and introverted sister. But it was still not an easy task.

As I became an adult, I went through some pretty harrowing experiences as I lost my little son and went through a terrible divorce, and then another. I found employment over the years, because I was a skilled secretary, a position that was ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. It stuns me to realize that there are fewer and fewer jobs like that these days. Times have definitely changed.

As the decades passed, I had many adventures with friends. My sister married, had two children and was living in another part of the country, and we lost touch for many years. I knew that she had settled down in Michigan and had no desire to move any more, happy to be stationary. At the same time I was still a wanderer, first living in California, then traveling for a couple of years before discovering Boulder, Colorado. It was the first time I had found a place that I wanted to make my own home town. I ended up living there for well over thirty years and had finally settled down.

But I still found ways to take risks. I met some people who loved to climb fourteeners (peaks in the Colorado mountains that are at least 14,000 feet high) and ended up climbing 26 of them, sometimes more than once, over the years. I fell in love with the mountains. There were many harrowing experiences, close calls, and chances of getting hurt, but I had learned a few things from my sister and often thought of what she would do. Other than a sprain or two, I never got injured.

And then 24 years ago last week, I made a tandem skydive that changed the trajectory of my life. Before a full year had passed, I had made more than 300 skydives and spent every waking moment lost in the thrill of becoming a proficient skydiver. That thrill lasted for thousands upon thousands of skydives. I became an instructor and over the next twelve years taught more than a thousand students. I met my husband in 1992 through skydiving, and we were married in freefall two years later.

And now I am living in the Pacific Northwest as an active senior, having become a septuagenarian almost two years ago, but still looking for ways to take risks and enjoy myself to the fullest. This year I've almost stopped skydiving, with the weekends more likely to take me outdoors in all kinds of weather than traveling 75 miles south to Skydive Snohomish. That Drop Zone has become home to me, the place where I like to play in the air with a few good friends. I suspect that by the time the new year rolls around, my skydiving years will be behind me.

But the risk-taking aspect of my personality is still intact. I guess it will always be that way. I realize that the thrill I get from accomplishing a stream crossing or traversing a sleep slope with lots of exposure is as familiar to me as breathing in and out. As I age, those challenges will still be there, but they will be pared down to be more in line with the ability of my body to take me from one adventure to another. And there are the challenges of aging, which some wag has said "ain't for sissies." Finding ways to deal with staying active in the face of old knees and other well-worn body parts is challenging in itself.

I found this quote by Hunter S. Thompson, who lived his life to the fullest. The sentiment is dear to my heart and he deserves to be credited for coming up with this philosophy.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!"
I'm working on it, Hunter. I hope that this week finds you, my dear readers, in a good place, surrounded with whatever joys in life give you happiness, whether it be outdoor activities, reading good books, or your children and grandchildren. I will never have that last particular joy, but I've found plenty of others in my life. Sending you blessings from the vantage point of a risk taker.


Rian said...

DJan, you are definitely a risk taker and an extrovert. I'm neither, but I do enjoy nature and the outdoors... although I have had less opportunities to enjoy them lately. And I'm willing to admit that my choices in life are probably the reason for this. I chose marriage right out of college - which sidestepped my career goals - and when children came (3 quite rapidly), life took me on a different road. But never the less, I'd do it all over again. You never know what life has in store... but I really believe that you *create* it by your choices. You have had an advrenture full life and I enjoy living it vicariously through your blog. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Marty said...

This was an interesting read. You don't find many seniors who extol the joys of risk taking. As you've written, it pretty much needs to already be inherent in a person.
Those of us who may not have really been risk takers, but were still ready to try something new, find that - like you - we need to make adjustments now that we're aging and our bodies aren't going to cooperate the way they used to.
You seem to have found a compromise between being foolhardy and overly cautious.

Mel said...

Jan, thanks for this lovely post. I love the Hunter quote and it made me think of Neil Young singing...it's better to burn out than to fade away.
I always had a streak of danger girl in me when I was younger, and I wonder sometimes where she went. I admire your brave and wonderful adventures and love living vicariously through your blog posts. Have a great week :)

Anonymous said...

What astounds me is that you continued to skydive after you nearly lost your life in a skydiving accident. That really took guts. I hope you continue to find joy in living the way you do. Blessings to you and your family.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

It's great that you and your sister could be a team; I'm sure your risk-taking helped here in difficult situations. I've learned from Peter to take a different sort of risk, jumping into the public spotlight to save the carousel and, for a time, to try to save an old ballpark. We kept it alive for 14 years longer than anyone had planned, so you CAN fight city hall. Physically, not so brave as you!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Helped *her*

Meryl Baer said...

I admire your ability and desire to 'go for it'. I enjoy new experiences and activities, but physically limit my risk-taking, especially as I get olde.
It is so great you challenge yourself, crossed the stream successfully, and continue on!

Elephant's Child said...

I am an introvert who is usually risk averse.
Love, love, love hearing about your life though. Courage and its rewards.
And thank you for telling me that quote comes from Hunter T. I have known and loved it for years, and loved much of his work for longer - but never connected the two.

#1Nana said...

I found myself wondering what type I was. I don't think I'm a risk taker...I'm usually just not smart enough to see the danger!

Linda Reeder said...

Another great, thought provoking post! I am not a risk taker in the physical sense. My poor balance would never allow me to cross that stream!
But for introverts, other things can feel like risks. Standing in front of a class of 30 nine-year-olds for the first time, knowing you are in charge, and there is no back up, can feel might risky. Throughout my career as an educator I continuously found myself have to put myself out there a little more and a little more, until I emerged at the end of my career as an expert and a leader. I still surprises me.
I find that the number one motivator in taking any kind of risk is passion. If you feel that passion for something, you will push yourself to get there.

Arkansas Patti said...

There is no doubt that you are a risk taker but not a careless one. You learn before you leap.
I am a bit of both. I will try most anything if it isn't too high off the ground. Scuba diving, riding a motorcycle, kayaking, white water, etc.
I have heard that quote before and loved it, just didn't know who to credit.

Red said...

Your relationship with your sister strikes a bell with me. My younger brother was the risk taker. He seldom got into trouble but he depended on his brother to bail him out. I quit the exposure stuff long ago. Balance is a problem. I never thought of exposure. I took the risk and then one day I said I won't do this anymore.

Jackie said...

Thank you for letting us sit in on your personal thoughts that resonate deeply with us. I'm happy to have met you through blogging. I can say that I have a sky-diving, risk-taking friend that makes my heart smile. Continue to take care of you....

Dee said...

Dear DJan, the truth is that I'm not a "daredevil" or risk taker when it comes to physical harm. I have trouble with heights and I'm claustrophobic and so I avoid many physical endeavors that might be called risks. I used to be a solitary walker of the trails, some of them a little treacherous, in the northern part of MInnesota and once fell and hurt my elbow and shoulder pretty badly. But other than that, not much physical risk taking.

I do take risks when it comes to change and to accepting challenges to my thinking and being. But those are mostly because I have a deep sense of survival and know when I'm being threatened by life and so I move or leave the convent or find a way to remain whole. Peace.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I think you like living on the edge:) Some people are adrenalin junkies...when I was an EMT Firefighter I really noticed that I loved that rush. But as I got older..not so much.
Great photo of you crossing that stream...you are a big girl! I probably would have just waded through...but you made it to the other side pretty dry! :)

Glenda Beall said...

When I was young I rode horses and had my share of falls and narrow escapes, and I drove a car too fast and had an accident. I learned to ride dirt bikes with my husband who was a risk taker, for sure. But for the past thirty years, I've become more careful and less reckless. Once my hiking days were over due to fibromyalgia pain,I have found my fun in a more sedentary way, writing.
I admire your bravery. I'd likely not have crossed the stream you crossed. I fear breaking a bone and having no one to look aftr me now.

amanda said...

What a great post, DJan, these are good thoughts to ponder.
In doing so, I realize that I am married to a risk taker. When we travel or explore, he always goes beyond the signs saying to stop, over guard rails for a better view. He's even taken risks with his career, our livelihood, that terrified me, but have bettered our lives greatly. I am more of a moderate risk taker than an extreme one. I think we balance each other. I'm there to occasionally talk sense into him & stop him from going TOO far. And he encourages me to "just do it." Thank you for this food for thought, and most of all - for being you.

Sally Wessely said...

I'm not a risk taker when it comes to adventurous activities that may carry physical harm. I wish I were. I am a risk taker when it comes to trying new experiences or stepping out of my comfort zone. I guess there are different kinds of risk takers.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great post! That Hunter Thompson post really sums it up!