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 27, 2015

A busy week ahead

Sally and Linda on the Lavender Hill Farm porch
When I write in here next Sunday, it will be from the Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island. The six of us blogging friends will be more than halfway through our fourth gathering at this wonderful place. For the past three Octobers, we have spent three days and two nights at the Farm, but this year we have added three more nights there, starting this Thursday. I'll miss my usual Thursday hike with the Senior Trailblazers, but it will be worth it to have this time together.

Yesterday, when I looked back at the pictures I took during the three previous trips, it made me realize once again how quickly time passes. It didn't seem possible to me that this is our fourth trip, but it was in October 2012 when we first got together. It was Linda who had the idea of a gathering of bloggers who live in the area (except for Sally coming by plane from Colorado). Linda researched several possible places for us to meet, and Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon was everybody's first pick. Who would have guessed that it would become an annual tradition? We all love it there. And this year, two more of us retired from teaching positions, making it possible for us to get together for a longer period of time.

So next Sunday's post will be from my bed at Lavender Hill Farms. That means thinking ahead and packing a suitcase, figuring what I'll need and helping to plan the meals. One extra wonderful thing this year is that we will have a guest for dinner one night: another fellow blogger: Linda Reeder, who lives in Seattle and will take the ferry and come over to join us. For that evening, we will be seven, which brings back memories of my women's group in Boulder that started with seven and met once a month for over twenty years.

Tonight is the final blood moon from the latest lunar tetrad. A tetrad is a series of four lunar eclipses that happen six months apart. That link tells more about them, but last April I got up early in the morning to take a picture of the blood moon. Here's what I captured, using my camera with the zoom all the way out and balancing the camera on a secure ledge, since I didn't have my tripod handy. Tonight the lunar eclipse will happen at sunset, and it looks like the skies around here will be totally clear, so I'm thinking I'll be out looking for just the right spot to take the picture. I was really pleased with my earlier picture, but it didn't have any context. Tonight should be much easier to find a foreground to add to the delight.

Some people think that the lunar eclipse, the blood moon, is a prophecy of the End of Times. I found this from that link above (TimeandDate.com):
Some people believe that the tetrad has special significance because the eclipses coincide with important Jewish festivals. The two April lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015 occurred at the same time as Passover, while the October and September eclipses occur during the Feast of Tabernacle. This, many suggest, may be connected to a biblical prophecy of the end of times. The fact is, eight of the tetrads since the first century have coincided with Jewish holidays without the world going under, so there is absolutely no reason to believe that the 2014-2015 tetrad will end the world this time either.
It was interesting to be reminded that when I photographed the moon in April, I was halfway through taking a class to learn about the duties of a death doula. It's amazing that it's already been six months. I decided that at this time it is not something I am called to do, but I didn't know that before I took the class, so it was totally worth it. And it led to me and SG attending several classes on how to prepare and execute our end of life wishes. Now that has been accomplished, filed with the hospital and our doctors, and when I visit my sister in November I'll give her a copy so she also has it. She is the person I've chosen to deal with my belongings once I'm gone.

I just experienced a little shiver of unease, thinking about the prophecy, but that could also be just a consequence of the time of the year. Halloween, spooks and goblins abound in literature when the leaves fall from the trees, and when we have a lunar tetrad of eclipses, well, there you go. Plenty of reason to pause and consider. Plus I'm reading a book that has scared me silly: The Crash of 2016 by Thom Hartmann, about how close the United States is to economic collapse, and he makes a very convincing case for it. I'm halfway through the book and although I've learned very little I didn't already know, I understand it much better. I recommend it if you are interested in the eighty-year cycle of boom and bust that he describes. He predicts that the next one will be worse than the Great Depression. So that's another reason why I've got a sense of the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

But it's hard to be all that depressed about it, since there's simply nothing I can do about it. It's just like getting older and lamenting the aches and pains of age: I don't have much of a choice. It beats the alternative, as they say, but it still doesn't make me happy to wake up (like I did yesterday) and stretch, realizing that I pulled something in my back! Easy does it, I keep telling myself. I did take two yoga classes since I wrote here last week, and that was a real eye opener, too. In my youth I was quite active in yoga and could put my limbs in some rather amazing positions. Well, last Sunday in the yoga class I did a shoulder stand, which once upon a time was easy. Not so much these days. As I struggled to get into the inverted position (using the wall for balance), my stomach began to ooze out of my yoga pants and head towards my chin! I decided I won't try that again until I have some more appropriate clothing. Made me smile, but there was a bit of chagrin in my grin.

I've met some interesting people on my quest to find a yoga class that will serve me well, and that's a real plus. One woman told me of a freeform dance that takes place every Sunday from 10:30 to noon, a barefoot dance, with people expressing whatever they're feeling. So today my friend Judy and I will go and check it out. It might be just the thing, or it might not. I won't know until I give it a chance, so that's part of my plan for the day.

That and writing this post, my self-imposed once-a-week examination of my current condition. I've found that it really helps, and next week we blogging ladies will examine ways to improve and enliven our writing. Deb is the lyrical one, and every time I read one of her posts I marvel at her ability to bring me right into the page and into her heart. Of course, I must follow my own path, but I sure won't mind learning a few tips and techniques that others have found to be valuable.

And here I am at that place again, my tea gone, the tapping of the keys the only sound in the room, other than the soft breathing of my partner, and the turning of the season means it's still dark outside. We are on our way towards the shortest day and the longest night. But of course when we reach the end of the year, it all starts going the other way. I love the change in the seasons and am glad I don't suffer from the lack of light. It does help to get out in whatever daylight we've got, and I do that every day. I hope that you, my dear reader, will have a week filled with whatever adventure you desire, whether it's climbing mountains or reading a good book. Until I meet you again next week, at Lavender Hill Farm, be well.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fall begins this week

Turning leaves
We only have a couple of days left in the official summer season of 2015. Fall begins at 1:22am on Wednesday, September 23, the atumnal equinox. Since we've had so many days of rain lately, it definitely feels as if summer left a little prematurely. If things follow their usual fall pattern, though, we will have plenty of days of sunshine mixed in with the rain. We were so dry during the summer that I think we will need much more rain to catch up to normal. It was a strange summer, dry and hot, and I'm glad to see the last of it.

In a small number of days, I'll be joining my blogging friends for a retreat at the Lavender Hill Farm on Vashon Island, our fourth gathering. This time, instead of staying only for a three-day weekend, we'll be there for two more nights, leaving on a Thursday and coming back on the following Tuesday. We'll use our extra time together to have a writing retreat, and hopefully I'll be coming back from the time together with some new writing tools. I'm excited to find some new directions to take with my two blogs, things that inspire me as well as my readers. It was December 2009 when I began this blog, and in those years, almost six now, I've sometimes struggled to find the next direction I want to take.

When I began to write here, I had a plan. I started with my early life and wrote from my earliest memories to the present day, marking the milestones that brought me here. After all, having been married four times, borne and lost two children, and having spent a third of my life as an active skydiver, there was plenty to write about. But then I got a little stuck, wondering if I could write from the current moment as a meditation in the same way that I used for so long. It has worked, sometimes well, and other times I truly struggle to find a direction.

At first I refused to even consider the importance of my readers, thinking that I was writing just for myself. But of course that's simply not true. Once I began to generate followers, I would look forward to hearing what you would have to say. And I sometimes suffer from the self-consciousness that afflicts most writers from time to time. I consider writing to be one of the activities that gives me real pleasure, at least most of the time. There are times when I sit here writing, tears streaming down my face from the recollection of a painful memory, and other times when I laugh out loud and startle my sleeping partner next to me. Writing can definitely be a catharsis, but it can also be somewhat of a tribulation. When the words don't want to come, or if my brain is foggy without any focus on my current situation, then I flounder.

But I try, every Sunday morning, to come up with words that reflect the current state of my life. It really amazes me when I go back and read some of the previous posts that they actually came out of me, and often I can remember exactly what it was like to be there at that moment, indicating to me that I was successful then. So why not always? I ponder the answer to that question.

Time is linear, but life is not. My days flow in erratic patterns. If I've got a physical ailment, or if I'm distraught over some event in my life, the ebb and flow is more of a churning surf, driven by storms of anxiety or illness. Rarely do I experience the sense of being becalmed, unable to move from my current situation. I have lived long enough to realize that any situation I find myself in will not be permanent; it might get better or worse, but it's not going to stay static and unchanging. Life itself is a process of growing and changing and becoming something different from day to day. Last week I was filled with contentment; this week, not so much. And it's only been seven days!

Last Thursday I hiked with my fellow seniors in cloudy weather with occasional light rain. It was not an easy hike; we traversed a muddy trail that had four steep ravines to descend into and climb out of. There were places that were so difficult, steep steps up and down for my short legs, that I realized my left knee was beginning to complain. By the time we finished our hike, we had ascended and descended 2,500 feet (750+ meters) of elevation. On the way back to Bellingham, my knee throbbed and felt quite injured. I worried that I was going to be unable to carry on my usual activities. When I woke the following morning, I stepped gingerly out of bed and tested the knee, to find that it was working moderately well. Although I needed the assistance of the railing as I walked down stairs, it was definitely not as bad as I feared.

I have a plethora of braces and paraphernalia for my knee, and I use whatever I need to keep going. But yesterday, Saturday, I went walking with the ladies for a brisk five-mile jaunt (also in the rain) and found that my knee didn't hurt at all! In only a couple of days it had begun to heal, with the help of a brace and my persistence. I also managed to keep from taking any drugs, since I know that they might help in the short term, but I'll save them for later when I really need them. The latest news about all anti-inflammatory drugs is not good, including my usual ibuprofen, so I really try to use it only as a last resort. And so far, so good.

These bodies were not made to last, and I intend to get as much mileage out of mine as I can, but I'm not so naive to believe it can last forever. I suppose it's possible to consider a knee replacement in the future, but before I get there, it will need to be much worse that it is now. Plus I've got cataract surgery much more prominent in my future, I expect, as they also continue to grow and cloud my vision. But that's also not necessary today or tomorrow. In another year or two, there's no doubt I'll need it. And those who have put it off, like me, usually wish they had done it sooner once it's done, but just the idea of having my eyes operated on gives me chills. We live in an age when the doctors can attempt to fix many failing body parts, and I guess that's a good thing.

Or is it? It's all stopgap measures, and I really believe that a mature person should not attempt to stave off the inevitable. I saw a movie yesterday, Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, who is 76 and looks it. She's in great shape, and the movie reminded me that it's still possible to be relevant and even beautiful at any age. She's also up for an Emmy for her performance in Grace and Frankie, a Netflix sitcom I watched and enjoyed. But what I really noticed in that series is the difference between the way Lily Tomlin looks compared with her costar Jane Fonda, who is almost the same age (77). Jane has had plenty of surgery on her face in an attempt to look younger, and she wears lots of makeup as opposed to the almost clean face of Lily. Although Jane looks good, to my mind she doesn't hold a candle to Lily. If Lily has had any surgery, I would be surprised, although she probably dyes her hair, since I don't see any grey in it.

I stopped wearing makeup when I retired eight years ago. There are moments when I pull the stuff out, but frankly I think I look a little strange in it. Mascara became problematic when I realized that most of it ends up underneath my eyes these days, giving me a raccoon look. Not what I was going for. And eye shadow disappears in the folds of my eyelids. Plus I think wrinkles are exacerbated by foundation; they don't go away but become more prominent. No, I'll stay clean faced and invisible.

Well, guess what? Another post is written, and I ended up enjoying the writing process after all. I still have plenty more to say, but I think I'll save it for another day, since the sun has come up already, my tea is gone, and I'm actually looking forward to starting my Sunday routine. Once I get out of bed, I'll weigh myself, then dress and go out to the front porch to do my five Tibetan exercises. Afterwards, it's breakfast and a trip to the coffee shop for my daily fix of espresso in the form of a two-shot latte. My fisherman friend Gene might be there, and I know that Leo and his family have the habit of starting Sunday together there, so I'll be glad to see them, too.

I hope that this day brings you, my friend, plenty of whatever keeps you going, keeps you happy, and that there's a friend nearby to hug. Or pet. Until next week, be well.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Contentment predominates

Komo Kulshan ("Great White Watcher")
The stage is set: it's dark outside, early on a Sunday morning, laptop at the ready and tea hot and inviting. Partner sleeping next to me, gentle sounds emanating from that direction, and a post waiting to be written. I woke once or twice during the night, as usual, and thought about what I would write. I'm beginning to feel the stirrings of the desire to take a new approach to this activity, wanting to use this time for true expression of my current state.

I want to be more expressive. More lyrical and allow the passion (or lack of it) to come through my words. You know that I like to write but sometimes all I seem to be doing is chronicling my current circumstances. And that's not what I want to do here; I really crave to allow myself more freedom to create a true reflection of my interior musings. I tend to box myself in through rigidity in my thought: what I've done before has created a groove and needs to be recognized as such, so as to lift myself up out of it.

In a couple of weeks, I and five other bloggers will gather on Vashon Island for our third annual retreat. This time, we have a theme as well as twice the time for us to be together. One blogger suggested that we use this experience as a writing workshop, and I realized that I'm very excited to learn some new techniques to allow myself to escape my writing constraints. When I first began writing here, it was easy to find a theme for each post, because it really was a chronicle of my life events, written with each life-defining event at the center. And then I got to the present day, and the posts have varied in quality as my own internal life has also wandered from contentment to grief to boredom. I used to return to my previous posts to find out where I've been, but lately they don't inspire me to return to them. Why is that, I wonder?

This past week has been a good one. I get out of bed with a smile on my face, looking forward to the day, to my friends, to find where my fellow bloggers have been and how they have decided to express themselves on their own pages. There is such a range: from humor and delightful pictures to pensive internal rumination. Just this morning a blogging friend has returned after a long absence to write obliquely of a difficult time she's been experiencing. She has moved from her previous home and has lost one of her beautiful cats to illness. She says nothing more about why she moved, just allowed me to feel her pain through the pictures of her lost companion. I felt myself open to her pain and sent her my heartfelt commiseration. It's the only thing I can offer her, and having been there myself I know how hard it is sometimes to hear that our pain is borne universally. We all suffer just because we're alive. But we also rejoice and are filled with joy at other times, and having each other to share the journey can help just the tiniest bit.

There is also a desire in me to break my self-imposed bonds of convention. I see in my travels through other blogs that when someone has the ability to touch my heart with their writing I am lifted up to meet them right where they are. There are others that simply record the moment, which is fine too. When I was writing for work, it was important to be neutral and without passion, and I still suffer from that constraint from time to time. It's easy to fall into the invisibility of impartiality.

But I feel! I love and cry and rejoice, all in a single day. A passionate heart beats within this breast, and I'm sure that my emotions play across my face for everyone to see. So why not write from my heart and not from my head? It's partly because then I allow myself to be vulnerable. When I place a mask across my face, I think I'm hiding all those feelings from the world. And before long, I'm hiding them from myself as well. Then when I wake in the morning, it's to a dreary existence, with no desire, no joy, no laughter to write about. That's the groove I want to escape: the safe place that hides my internal life from others. Why in the world would I want to live that way? There is really no safety in this world, so why not embrace the adventure?

When I would stand in the door of the airplane, with a few friends along for the ride, I'd feel passion all right. My heart would be beating hard, and I could feel the excitement of the coming freefall. I would touch my handles one more time to make sure they were where they were supposed to be, and then I'd climb outside the airplane, hanging onto the door as my friends positioned themselves in the door frame. My entire concentration was focused on watching for the signal to go. There was not even an iota of fear at that moment, because everything had to be just right and there was no room for anything else but the laser beam of focus. Everything else had dropped away. And then the signal! I let go, my eyes following the others out of the plane, flying my body on the air, watching as the formation below me took shape, looking for my spot and gently flying myself to the predetermined grip I was to take.

Oh, the exhilaration when it all went as planned! When I was able to do my part without error, when we flew together in harmony on the cushion of air as we plummeted toward the earth, making a formation with our bodies, the moment was sublime. And then when it was time to separate, all turning away from the center and pushing against the air to gain enough separation to safely deploy my parachute, oh the joy as I felt the sequence of the parachute opening above me, bringing me out of freefall and coming to rest under my beautiful canopy. Once I knew it was airworthy, I would find the landing area beneath me and fly my parachute to it, watching for the other canopies in the air with me. And then it was all smiles and joy as we celebrated a successful skydive. One where I was able to do my part and we grinned at one another as we gathered up our parachutes and went to pack up and do it all over again.

Now that I have stopped that activity, I can look back over the past quarter century and give thanks for all the memories, and all the experiences I have to look back on and hopefully to write about so they will be never forgotten. And there is so much more in my life to be thankful for, not just my memories, but all that is still to be explored and encountered in the future.
Me in front, Smart Guy behind
And now it has come: the time when I will go back and re-read this post, add to it and take out the redundancies, and hit "publish." Until we meet again, dear friends, be well and I hope you don't forget to be thankful for all that we share in this gorgeous life.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Labor Day Sunday

Rain falling at Lake Padden last Saturday
I'm sitting here in bed, laptop at the ready, tea beside me, and listening to the rain drumming on the roof. After a perfectly wonderful sunny day yesterday, the rain has returned with a vengeance. We were so happy last week to finally see some actual rainfall, even though we were walking in it around the lake last Saturday. But before we left, the rain had stopped, blue skies appeared, and the wind started. I also learned that not long after we left the lake, authorities closed it because of the danger of the wind downing trees. It blew all day long, hard enough to cause many of us to lose power for days on end from downed trees and telephone poles. Last Sunday I had to write my post from the coffee shop, because we didn't get our power back for 35 hours in all. There were other people who went without it for more than twice as long.

One couple in Everson who were using their generator had set it up outside but with the cellar door opened a crack. Enough for the carbon monoxide fumes to enter the house and kill them. She was found on the kitchen floor, and he was sitting in his chair in the living room. Nobody knew how long they had been dead, since they were found by family members after they were unable to contact them. Here's the article in the Bellingham Herald. I didn't realize how easy it would be to inhale fumes from a generator that was set up outside.

You just never really know when your time might be up. The lives we live seem very safe and predictable, but then the power goes out and something happens that causes you to make a serious mistake. Or an out-of-control car careens into yours on the highway and it's all over. It reminds me that it's important not to take for granted each and every day I have on this planet. And to give thanks that I don't have to wonder where my next meal is coming from and that I am sheltered from the weather with a roof over my head. That is not the situation for many people in the world today. I can hardly read the news about all the refugees in Europe and the dispute over their right to cross into other countries. They are homeless and desperate, and I suspect hopeless as well. My chest gets tight and I can feel myself in danger of being dragged into hopelessness myself.

Okay, that's enough, I tell myself. Here I am wanting to write an uplifting post and I can feel myself getting dragged into despair. Sometimes I wonder if it's useful to stay abreast of the news, when there's so little to be done from my little corner of the world, other than to commiserate and give money to relief organizations. I've learned little tricks to keep myself in a positive state of mind, and one of them is to look at the larger picture. Although I realize that people have suffered throughout history, there are just so many more of us today that it's impossible to comprehend 7 billion souls going through every single aspect of mortality all at once. Now if I take my consciousness farther out, to the Milky Way, I feel a sense of wonder that somewhere in that vast collection of stars lies our little planet.
Andromeda Galaxy from APOD
And then there's all those other galaxies, like the one above, where there must be life of one sort or another, don't you think? It's impossible for me to believe that we are alone in the vast universe. And of course where there's life, there's all those other aspects that we experience in our journey from birth to death. Somehow it helps me to realize that we are at least able to comfort and be comforted by those around us. We're all in this together. If only we could realize that more directly, maybe we might be kinder to those who share the present moment with us.

I've been thinking about skydiving the last couple of days. On my walk yesterday, one of the ladies told me that she went down to Skydive Snohomish and made a tandem jump. Her tandem instructor is someone I know quite well, and I looked at her pictures on Facebook and smiled to remember what it was like to gear up and get on that airplane myself and then jump out. Although I've been reminiscing about it, I still think it was time for me to stop. My Parachutist magazine also came in the mail yesterday and I looked through it briefly. There was a time when I looked forward to its arrival and read everything in it from start to finish.

Yesterday I realized that the sport has moved on, away from me. People who are just starting in the sport now are able to get instruction that I never could, and they can fly in positions that I find amazing (like upside down to the earth). Not to mention wind tunnels, where you can learn the techniques to use in freefall without having to actually be in freefall. Lauren, the young woman who bought my skydiving gear, is giving it a real workout. I see her on Facebook doing things in the air already (with a mere 200 skydives) that I never did.

I also realized that I spent more than a third of my entire life as an active skydiver, so it's no wonder that I kind of miss it. But there was a time when I also was a rock climber and backpacker, and those times are gone now, too. It doesn't mean that I need to forget it all, I will always have my memories, but there is also a time when one needs to let go and move on. It makes it much easier to do when one has a comfortable life that is fulfilling. And that I have in abundance.

I found this picture on Lauren's page, and it speaks to me of all that abundance. I have opened my parachute more than 4,000 times, just like this, and I have been in beautiful places like this one. Her pilot chute has just been released into the windstream and will pull out her main parachute and she will glide to the ground for a wonderful landing after a wonderful skydive. I am with her in spirit, as I am also with you, my dear readers, in spirit. I hope that this week will bring you all good things and that you will have a safe, warm place to enjoy.
Lauren over Puget Sound