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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking of times gone by

Sun, clouds, and Ruth Mountain, taken last week
Last Thursday we had such a beautiful hike with the Trailblazers, a fine sunny day with a few clouds, after waking to heavy fog. I took quite a few pictures but many of them were spoiled by rays from the sun. For some reason, this picture shows the sun at the top, but it didn't mar the picture. I rather like the effect, and looking at that sun shining on the mountain and snow fields reminds me of the lovely day we had.

I was quite surprised that we climbed so far and covered more than nine miles and my knees didn't bother me one bit, either on the downhill or the next day. That's rather unusual, since I've been babying that left knee and expected more difficulty than I encountered. I'm not sure why, but I'm grateful. Once upon a time I could ski every week in the winter and run more than 30 miles a week, but that's in the past. In fact, as I've grown older I realize how much my activities have changed along with the years. It was so gradual that in many cases I didn't notice; as long as I had something to keep me going outdoors and working up a sweat, I've been going with the changes without experiencing a sense of loss.

Well, that's not quite true: I realize, now that I think about it, that I miss being able to strap on my running shoes and go for a five-mile run, and I miss being able to spend the entire day outdoors on a cross country ski trip. I compensate for it by having my classes at the gym, my Saturday walks with the ladies, and my sacrosanct Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. Exercise is a part of my life, and I realize it's been that way since the early 1970s. When I first moved to Boulder, I moved into a rooming house that had at least a dozen Boulderites living there, and as I gradually became friends with them, they invited me to join them on excursions into the mountains for climbs of the peaks. Some of them were trying to "bag" all the fourteeners (Colorado has 53 peaks higher than 14,000 feet (4,265 meters).

I remember my first fourteener. Although I'm not sure whether it was Quandary Peak, I think it was, and I remember the effort to get to the top. As the air gets thinner and one climbs higher, you need to stop often to catch your breath. It got to the point that I would count ten steps and then stop for a moment. But it wasn't just me; everybody was in the same situation. By the time I made it to the top, I was simply amazed at the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains! It was incredible, and that moment still lives in my memory as if it were yesterday. I was hooked on that Rocky Mountain High, all right. I ended up climbing 26 of the Colorado fourteeners, some of them more than once. A few were scary and just enormous piles of loose rocks with little to no path to the top, just clambering upwards until you could climb no higher. But still. I loved it. Each fourteener has a canister at the top with a page inside for the summiteer to sign to show you got there. I'm not sure who keeps them supplied, but I don't think I ever climbed a fourteener without one.

And then my friend Donna and I decided to bicycle from Boulder to San Francisco, so we went on many long bike rides on the plains and in the mountains to get ready for it. In September and October 1974, we spent six weeks on the road on our bikes, with adventures galore. By the time we got to Oregon, we were sick of each other and split up to finish the rest of the ride solo. I was in the best shape of my life by then, with legs as hard as rocks from all that biking. I think I also had some calluses from that bike seat! I remember how much I disliked Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco. I would climb upwards and reach the top of a hill and then zoom downwards, again and again. I was glad my bike had a good low gear. It was a great adventure and I sure do enjoy thinking about it all these years later.

All through the 1970s and 1980s I was very active outdoors, with long overnight ski trips, hiking and biking, and having taken up running and training for a marathon (which I never did; I would get injured as I worked to increase my mileage). Then my world changed when I made that first skydive on September 3, 1990. Skydiving took over my entire life and I left everything else behind, other than my career which took off at about the same time. Everybody who wasn't a skydiver got tired of hearing about it from me, and every single weekend, every vacation I ever took after that was geared to skydiving. In the 1990s and 2000s that's all I pretty much cared about. I met Smart Guy through skydiving and we were married in 1994, in freefall of course. When I retired from my job in 2008 and we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I still continued to skydive but nowhere near as often.

This year I stopped skydiving and have sold my skydiving gear. Although I could still go out for a jump by renting gear, I probably won't. It was time to stop, and I know you have heard plenty about the long mental struggle I endured trying to give it up. But I finally did, and now that it's been six months since I last leaped out of an airplane, I know it was the right thing to do.

It's inevitable that as we age we take up activities that are more geared to our place in life. I've managed to stay fit and carefully manage the aches and pains of age in order to keep on going for as long as I can. There's no doubt that I am still wanting to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest extent possible, but one day that will come to an end, too. I'll be a gardener and walker for as long as I'm upright. In fact (dare I say it?), one day I'll be unable to do any of these things, but it won't be without looking back with much satisfaction on all that I have done.
My 70th birthday with the walking group
And now it's three years since that picture was taken, and I'll be heading to Florida in just over a week to spend time with my sister Norma Jean. I'll swim with her every morning outdoors at her Y. I won't swim a mile like she does, because I don't swim on a regular basis, but I'll give it my best shot. We'll be together, and that's the main thing. I'll get to see my new grand-niece Alicia, get reacquainted with her sister Lexie, their mother Allison (Norma Jean's daughter), and Peter, Norma Jean's son. I am looking forward to it with joy and love in my heart.

Yes, it's a good life, all right, and there's this other family that means so much to me, my blogging family. I am hoping that you will have a wonderful Sunday, that you will give yourself a hug for me, because I'm sending a virtual one, do you feel it? Until next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mid-October already

Gold and green on the trail
I am amazed at how little color there is in the High Country this autumn, compared to previous years. Usually in October there are plenty of brilliant red and orange leaves, but this year the leaves pretty much just turned brown and fell off the trees, due to the severe drought we experienced this past summer. I am hoping that next year we'll return to a more normal (for us) summer. But then again, with climate change, maybe this is the new normal.

After I wrote in here last Sunday, I had a rather interesting day. You might remember that I decided to go barefoot dancing again to the "sweat your prayers" gathering in a big ballroom for an hour and a half. Last time I went I couldn't manage the entire thing, but last Sunday I stayed for it all. I am by far the oldest person there, but I can move with the best of them. I wore a loose blouse and my normal stretchy pants, so I could move unencumbered by clothing. I admired some of the lovely flowing skirts and dresses and think I might just have to spend some time at the thrift store looking for something suitable for me. I sure had fun.

When I first walked into the room and removed my shoes, parking them and my glasses in a safe place, I noticed that maybe a dozen people had already arrived and were lying prone in the middle of the dance floor, stretching and moving slowly to the New Age-type music with little to no beat, just soft relaxing music. As I stood there wondering if I should be doing that, too, most people had already gotten up off the floor and started to move. Whew! I joined them, only a little intimidated by the sheer numbers of us. Little by little the tempo increased, and by the time I'd been dancing with the others for awhile, I was rather amazed at how we rarely touched each other by mistake. Some danced together for a brief moment, and some danced with me, too.

By the time another half-hour had passed, we were all dancing exuberantly alone or with one another. It truly felt as though we had entered an altered state. With the strong beat of the music and the uninhibited movements, I felt myself lifted and totally absorbed in the moment. This went on for awhile, until there was a barely noticeable change in the music; a quiet center began to emerge. We gradually slowed our dancing as the beat gently changed to a progressive swaying, and before long we were all standing or sitting on the floor, as the moderator (with a mic) suggested we breathe more slowly and send our breath out into the universe. She sent us off on our separate ways with a final prayer. It was really a lovely time, and I'll be back. There were at least sixty people in the room from all walks of life, and I was glad to be one of them.

As I walked out into the sunshine, I realized that I had gotten quite a LOT of exercise, and my legs and knees felt rather, well, used. Nothing bad, but I needed to find my car and drive off to the movie theater, where I was to meet my friend Judy. We watched The Martian, which I just loved and wrote about on my other blog here. In fact, several of my commenters also told me they loved the book the movie was based on, so I ordered it on my Kindle last week and just finished reading it yesterday. The movie changed some of the particulars, as they usually do, but basically it followed the story closely. Matt Damon brought the character of Mark Watney totally to life, and I don't know which one I preferred, the book or the movie, since they are both quite good.

Today Judy and I will go to an early showing of the new Tom Hanks movie, Bridge of Spies, so I'll miss the dancing today. But I will be going regularly to "sweat my prayers." Not only is it good exercise, but a different sort than I usually get either hiking or in my aerobics class. I learned about it while on my quest to find a yoga class (and I'm still looking for the right one), and I now have a very fun thing to look forward to on Sundays. It was the only day of the week when I didn't have some way to get some exercise, other than hopping on the treadmill at the gym (boring!) or going for a walk outside. I like the feeling I get after the uninhibited dancing, reveling in my ability to frolic and cavort and lose myself in the moment.

And in just a few short weeks I'll be traveling to Florida to visit my sister Norma Jean. I haven't seen her in almost two years now, since February 2014. Where did the time go? We still talk on video chat every two weeks, but it's just not the same as being with her. I'll hopefully get a chance to swim with her in the mornings, and have a chance to see my two grand-nieces Lexie and Alicia. Allison, Norma Jean's daughter, now lives nearby, after having been transferred from the Pentagon to the military base in Tampa. And Allison has been promoted to the rank of a full Colonel in the Army! Now there is a full life: raising two children alone with a military career like that. I'm looking forward to seeing them all. Norma Jean's son Peter lives with her, too, so it won't be the same as the last time I visited, with her family figuring prominently in her life these days. It will be a lot of family time, and you know I'll take lots of pictures and tell you all about it.

Until then, I'll be spending my time hiking and walking and dancing and just generally enjoying life here in the middle of autumn in the Pacific Northwest. The dog days of summer are far behind us, and the dark days of winter are ahead. Just about the time I get used to one season, the next one comes rolling around. I am so glad that I don't suffer from the long nights like some people do. Several of my friends head off to warmer and sunnier climes for the winter. I'll keep the home fires burning while they're gone.

And just like that, another post has been written and is almost ready to post. It's still dark outside here, as the sun won't come up for almost another hour, and as usual my tea is gone and my partner still sleeps beside me. I love this very special time of the day on Sundays, and the time I spend thinking about what's going on in my life right now. I do hope that wherever you are this fine mid-October day, it will be one you will remember with love and joy in your heart. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Home again home again, jiggity jig

Big old tree
Home again. It's so lovely to be in my own bed, my partner sleeping next to me, dark outside as I begin my Sunday morning meditation. And this morning, it's exactly how it feels. I've spent the past few days enjoying the rhythm of my usual routine, comforted by the walk to the bus, the coffee shop crowd, my friends at the gym and yesterday, our usual Saturday morning walk. It feels so good to leave, because then I get to come home again and enjoy the days filled with the dance I've created in my retirement.

This year at Vashon Island, we spent an incredible five long days together. There was only one day, last Sunday, when we doubted the wisdom of staying for such a long time. We worked hard that day, and at the end, we decided that we were done with work and would take the next day as an "adventure day" and explore the island. That's just what we did, and by the time we met Monday night to discuss what to do next year, we decided that five days and nights were perfect and will do the same again next year. Deb will facilitate again, and lead us in our writing prompts for a second writing retreat. Five of the six of us agreed to come back next year. Sadly, Sally (who travels from Colorado) has decided not to come back next year. She missed last year's gathering, too, because of illness, and struggled again this year with some physical problems. At the end of September 2016, the rest of us will be back together again at this wonderful place, for our fifth reunion.

And I've been given some incredible tools to improve my writing, starting with Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is not one of those books to go roaring through, hardly finishing one page before rushing off to the next, but one to savor, and read again and again. It's broken into three parts, and the first is about his early life and the struggles he and his wife Tabitha had in those first years before he sold Carrie, his first novel. I didn't realize they were so broke that they couldn't even afford a phone. Or that he was an addict and struggled with alcohol and drugs for many years. He says he doesn't even remember writing Cujo, he was so drunk.

In 1999, King was almost killed when he was hit by a driver who veered off the road and struck him. He endured five operations and spent a month in the hospital. I remember when it happened; it seems amazing to me that it's been well more than a decade ago. King wrote On Writing the next year, and it was reissued again ten years later, in 2010. I love this book and will cherish it. Deb scoured the bookstores around her home and brought each of us a used copy for the retreat. All I can say is how grateful I am and how much I needed this book. I also found this wonderful link to Stephen King's Top 20 Rules for Writers that pretty much sums up his writing philosophy.

I could go on and on about the retreat, what I learned, and where I intend to go from here, but first I need to process it all and consider how I will rearrange my mornings so I can spend some time writing in my journal. Yes, I've started keeping a journal again, after so many years away from any sort of writing in longhand. I still laugh at how strange it felt to write that first prompt; it's been well more than a decade since I wrote anything more than a thank-you note. Everything else has gone the way of the keyboard or my smartphone. Or even, thanks to Siri, speaking my texts into the phone! In my work, it was rare that I wrote anything down, although Mickey, my boss, never stopped taking notes and writing by hand. Now it's eight years since I left that world, and time has only made it less likely that I would take pen in hand and write for the fun of it. That will all change now.

The day after I arrived home the weather changed. After a week of lovely sunny weather, the rain returned, along with lots of wind to blow the leaves around, and it's been just wonderful to experience the colors of the leaves on the trees changing, the wetness, knowing that I am now a true Pacific Northwesterner with a closet full of proper clothing. It makes all the difference in whether one enjoys the rain or not. I also remembered why we PNWs don't use umbrellas very often: they turn inside-out in the wind.

Even though I love the fall weather, I don't necessarily love walking for miles in a driving rain. Yesterday morning it looked like that would be what we'd have as I drove to the meeting place for our Saturday walk. Dark threatening skies, gusty wind and the forecast for rain almost kept me from going. I'm so glad I did, though, because other than a measly little mist now and then, we were rain free. My shoes didn't even get wet. I stayed for coffee afterwards with the ladies and then headed to the Farmers' Market. I've discovered a wonderful rye made by Sophie, a young woman who makes dense sourdough rye bread from organic ingredients. Check her out at her home page. I cannot get this bread anywhere else, it seems, so I'll enjoy it as long as the market is open. Ours doesn't close for the season until the Saturday before Christmas, and then reopens in April.

When we decided in 2008 to move to Bellingham, we thought it was a quaint little college town, but I've discovered it's so much more than that. Situated on Bellingham Bay, I knew we'd have access to the ocean and consequently the sea breezes that cool us during the summer, but I didn't know what a vibrant community of organic farmers and excellent food and restaurants we would also inherit by moving here. It's my home, a really lovely place to return to after being elsewhere. Next month I'll travel to Florida to be with my sister for a week, and I'll not only enjoy the visit, but I'll get to come home again, jiggity jig! (Did you remember that old Mother Goose poem from the title of this post?)

To market, to market to buy a fat pig
Home again, home again, jiggity jig

As you might be able to tell from the tone of this post, I'm really happy right now. My tea is now gone, my partner still sleeping lightly, no sunlight yet as there's another half hour before sunrise, but the day is begun, and my Sunday opens in front of me with myriad possibilities for enjoyment. I know that there will be other Sundays when I am not feeling this way, but that's for then, not for now. Today I give thanks for all that I have, and I wish the same for all of my dear blogging friends. Until next Sunday, I hope the week will bring you lots of love and light.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Vashonistas

Breakfast at The Hardware Store
It's Sunday morning again, but this time I'm sitting in my bed at Lavender Hill Farm instead of my old familiar spot at home in Bellingham. Some things are the same: I have a cup of tea next to me, and my laptop across my knees, ready to write.

Four years of gathering together, each time a little different from before, but with the same women bloggers who are now known to us as the Vashonistas, since we've been coming to this same sacred place on Vashon Island each year. Some of us blog more often than others, but we all found each other in the world of the blogosphere. In previous years, we would arrive on Friday and spend the weekend together, leaving on Sunday morning. I wrote about our first gathering here, which chronicles our first time together, the event that started this whole adventure.

This year, we extended our visit to six days and five nights. We've been here three nights now, and we still have tonight and tomorrow before packing up and going home on Tuesday. Since we had been good guests at the farmhouse in previous years, we were given a discount on the cost, and it's been very reasonable for all of us. Deb agreed to facilitate a writing workshop for us, and that has truly been an eye opener for me. I wanted very much to find some different directions that I might travel in my writing, both in style and in content, and already I've gained some real insight into how to explore and go forward from here.

It hasn't been easy. Instead of trying to cram everything into a very short space of time, we have days and days of interaction and have put the time to good use. Starting on Thursday evening, continuing into Friday and Saturday, we have been writing and critiquing each piece that we have shared, coming from writing prompts given to us by Deb. It's amazing to me how many different takes there can be in a simple phrase or image. And we are then given a bit of time (varying from five to fifteen minutes) and write in longhand into our notebooks. It's a fantastic technique; when I begin to write I'm sure that my piece will be a close copy to everyone else's, but no, that never happens! I find myself marveling at the creativity that comes from each person's life experience and how differently each of us translates the prompt.

We have two more full days, today and tomorrow, to work together (and it is work), but when I return home I have already decided I will begin to keep a writing journal that is different from what I write in my blogs. It's become obvious to me that what comes out of my fingers when I am using a pen is entirely different than what flows onto the keyboard. At first, I was so unused to writing in longhand that I struggled to remember how to form words, it had been that long. But now it's beginning to feel much more comfortable and legible. How could I have forgotten?

It occurs to me that the young people of today are not learning how to do this, and many schools are no longer even teaching cursive script. I feel very fortunate to have been educated in a time when electronics did not come into the classroom in any form at all. That was, of course, because they didn't exist yet.  Instead we had pictures of the cursive alphabet over the blackboard, showing how to write lower and upper case letters. That has all changed, and before this workshop it never occurred to me how this skill might be lost forever. Do students today write everything down only on their tablets and computers (and phones)? I'll have to ask my fellow Vashonistas, since most of them were teachers, some just recently retired. Curious. I am shaking my head in wonderment at how much our lives have changed over the past decades. Why, I can hardly remember a time when I didn't have a cellphone, which has now become so much more than a phone, but a pocket computer as well.

At this moment as I sit in my bed, I am saturated by all the interaction and all that I have learned so far this week. I re-read my post from three years ago and find much has remained the same in our lives, and for others, much has changed. It was at that gathering that I realized for the first time in years my need for introspection and needing some time for myself. Every night I am the first to leave the gathering and retire to bed. I can hear the others laughing and sharing, but I am happy to slip into my bed and snuggle under the comforter while they continue.

I just got out of bed and moved upstairs to join the others and have some coffee. If I stayed in bed I would miss the sunrise and the beautiful view of Mt. Rainier we would have this morning. Tomorrow I'm going to get my camera out so I can capture the incredible beauty of this place. Sometimes you need a zoom.

Okay, this is going to have to end here, as I already have three other Vashonistas up and chatting with me, and I cannot concentrate on my post. My time to reflect on all this is not this very moment. Next week, I'll have my dear partner next to me, and my life will have gotten back to normal. Until then, be well and have a wonderful, productive time.