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, June 26, 2016

Bouquets of gratitude

A sidewalk bouquet
Last year at this time we were sweltering in an unusual heat wave. Usually here in the Pacific Northwest we have something called "June Gloom" that I wrote about recently. And we've had it right on schedule for several weeks now, but summer is officially under way now, and we've got sun on our weather forecast for as far as the eye can see. I just hope it's not going to be as hot this summer as last year.

The days are already beginning to shorten. Today will be 35 seconds shorter than yesterday, as we start the journey to the autumnal equinox in September, when the days and nights will again be of equal length. At the beginning of summer, however, I wake in daylight and fall asleep before the sun is down at 9:17pm. It's beautiful out there right now, with the temperature in the low 50s and early morning dew on everything. It's enough to fill me with bouquets of gratitude for this wonderful place that I live.

This past week I finished two books that have given me a great deal of joy. The first, a long one and hard to get into, is A Tale for the Time Being. The link will take you to the Goodreads page about this book, where I found that many people were unable to enjoy it, but others felt just like I did. Here's an excerpt from a review:
If I’d had my way, the 2013 Man Booker Prize would have gone to this novel-writing documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priestess from British Columbia, Canada (by way of Japan). A Tale for the Time Being is a rich reflection on what it means to be human in an era of short attention spans, the dearth of meaning, and imminent environmental threat. (Rebecca Foster)
I spent lots of time googling aspects of the book that I felt I needed to know more about, as well as time pondering the meaning of Ruth Ozeki's magic realism. Ruth came to Bellingham in March and gave several very well-attended talks about this book, but I hadn't read it yet and missed them all. But I'm really glad I didn't miss the book itself and that I soldiered on through the parts where the novel dragged. I can't really recommend this book to everyone, but it has definitely enriched my own life.

When I finished it on Friday, I was really in a bit of a funk, because I left Ruth's world and felt a little bereft. Fortunately for me, I had a pile of negected books from the library that were waiting for me to open them. Someone had suggested that I read A Man Called Ove. I don't remember who: when a book is recommended by a blogger or another friend, I go right to my library's website and log in and put a hold on it. Then when it shows up and I pick it up from the library, I have no idea where the recommendation came from.

This book was just the ticket. I started it late on Friday and finished it yesterday, reading it in one day. It's translated from Swedish and introduced me to Ove, a grumpy old man who has a past that the author, Fredrik Backman, slowly reveals as you go from disliking him to loving him. I finished it last night with tears streaming down my face, tears of joy and recognition. It's a novel about loss and loneliness, as well as love and redemption. My favorite paragraph from the book:
Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. (Fredrik Backman)
 Yes, that paragraph sums up exactly my relationship with death, all the little deaths we face every day and the big ones, too. By the time you get to be in your eighth decade of life, those little deaths continue to pile up until one day, if you're like me, you realize that the person you have become is almost unrecognizable from the person you used to be, the person you thought you were. There are times when I catch my reflection in a window and don't realize it's my own. After all, most of the time I don't feel my age.

Yesterday when I was walking with the ladies early in the morning, as is my habit, I realized I am the oldest person in the group. Most of the women are in their fifties and sixties, and most of them are still working. There are a few others who are retired, like me, but I am now the oldest. There are a few other septuagenarians who join the group now and then, but yesterday they were not present. Just me. It makes me realize that I need to enjoy and appreciate every single Saturday that I am able to keep up with them, and I will continue to do just that, even if sometimes it's a struggle.

I will continue to do everything I can to stave off the inevitable decline of my body, and doing so is definitely one of the motivations for all my exercise. But something interesting has happened as I strive in every last moment of exertion: I'm enjoying myself immensely. As I walked along the lush streets of town, with everything in riotous bloom, I couldn't help but grin and feast my eyes on the rich exuberance of everything around me, feeling my body gliding along the narrow streets.

Afterwards, we gathered in the coffee shop where we began the walk and shared stories and laughter. It was the antithesis of last Saturday's walk, when it rained the entire time and we were so soaked afterwards that nobody wanted to stop anywhere for coffee. But we were together for the walk anyway, more than a dozen of us. These women are inspirations for me to get out there and see what the day brings. I'll take yesterday over last week anytime, but each day is unique and filled with whatever we make of it.

Well. This post didn't go where I intended, but I did want to be sure and share with you those books that will remain favorites and worth a re-read at some time in the future. I'll be looking for the other books by these two authors and read them as well, hoping for a repeat. In the meantime, I'll be out there walking and hiking and enjoying the summer. And of course reading about the adventures of my blogging friends. This morning when I read the dozen that waited in my Reader, every single one was filled with gratitude and joy, which helped put me in the mindset of gratitude. It's catching.

So, with that, and the usual morning ritual of writing this post finished, I will leave you with a quote from that book by Fredrik:
She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space.
Indeed. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to laugh now and then.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day 2016

This picture of my father was posted on Facebook recently by one of my siblings, and it brought back memories of long ago. I remember watching that green wavy line on the oscilloscope when I was a kid, but I don't know to this day what that device did. Daddy probably told me but it didn't mean anything to me so I have forgotten. I've forgotten a lot of things in my life, but my parents are still very present to me. Even all these years later, I can still remember the sound and resonance of Daddy's voice.

I was very fortunate to have been raised in a large family with parents who loved each other and stayed together. It's a rarity these days, and I myself managed to bumble my way through many relationships and marriages, until I found my soulmate in SG. It's wonderful to share my life with him, and to actually be happier together today than the day we met. Although we have no children between us, having met at the age of fifty, and with only the sport of skydiving as a shared activity, it's a miracle that we got together at all. I give thanks every day for his presence in my life. I can't imagine how different my life would be without him.

While I was writing this post last Sunday, I didn't know that a gunman had killed and wounded more than a hundred people in Orlando, Florida, a few hours before. I suffered over the news of that event as much as I did over Sandy Hook in 2013. I found myself crying at odd times and without much warning. Although we have almost daily mass murders here in the United States, I never think of myself as  being possibly caught up in one. I'm not so sure any more. There is so much hatred and anger everywhere I look, and it is only growing with this toxic presidential election looming. I've taken to skipping the daily news cycle and only watching the PBS News Hour once or twice a week, getting the rest of my news from the internet, where I can pick and choose what I let in.

Just writing that last paragraph makes me sad, once again. This is not the direction I want to travel for this Father's Day post, and it was only last year when I wrote a tribute to my father, which you can read here if you're interested. I reread it just now, hoping to find some direction for today's post. I don't want to wallow in sadness, and I don't want to repeat myself, so I'm casting a wide net to see what I catch. Last year's post told about who Daddy was to me and about his early death from heart disease. I've now lived eleven years longer than he did, partly because I exercise obsessively and take statins, which seems to have helped. My numbers are good, even exceptional, which would not be the case if I allowed myself to slack off on diet and exercise.

Tomorrow we in the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate the summer solstice, with revelers in Britain gathering at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise. Here's an excerpt from that link:
The encompassing horseshoe arrangement of the five central trilithons, the heel stone, and the embanked avenue, are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice. A natural landform at the monument's location followed this line, and may have inspired its construction.
Nobody knows why Stonehenge was created so many thousands of years ago, but its history and what has been learned about it is fascinating to me. That something created so long ago still exists fills me with wonder. So much of what surrounds me every day will not be in existence even a few centuries from now. It's somehow comforting to me to take a longer view of history.

What will I do with this Father's Day? First of all, I will finish my early morning task of writing this post, and then I'll get up and head off to the coffee shop, my own special place in Bellingham, and wish a happy Father's Day to John, who will already have arrived and had his breakfast, with his iPad in front of him to read the news. Gene is gone off to Alaska for his six-week fishing expedition, catching salmon on his little tugboat, Hobo, with his crew of women.
Gene with last year's crew on Hobo
I found this picture on Gene's Facebook page, just to show you what he's up there in Alaska doing right now instead of hanging around in the coffee shop with us. He built that boat, along with many others, and swears every year when he comes back to Bellingham that it's the last year he'll be doing this. But every year he goes back. I know there will come a day when he doesn't go off fishing at this time of year; he's been doing it since he was a teenager. I celebrate his presence in my life, not to mention the great salmon I'll be eating when he returns. Gene is very generous with his friends and I'm glad to count myself in that number.

Then after the time I spend in the coffee shop, I'll come home and spend some time with my guy before heading out into the sunshine. It rained all day long yesterday and made my garden very happy; I won't need to water for a day or two, but weeds need constant tending to keep them at bay. I sure love to get my hands dirty these days and talk to my plants, so that's also on the agenda. I'm also reading a book that isn't holding my interest all that much, so I'll pick it up and read a little at a time. It's called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It's good enough that I continue to return to it, but it just hasn't grabbed me yet.

Other than that, I'll enjoy my day off from scheduled exercise and maybe visit with a few nearby friends. Next week begins another semester of yoga, so I have the week off and will try a free class at the next level up from mine, to see if I'm yet ready to take it or will stay with my gentle yoga for another season. And I've decided to skip next week's hike with the Trailblazers, since I know it's one that would challenge my knee too much. I'll be looking for something to take its place, maybe a favorite hike around town.

Yes, I am definitely a creature of habit, and I realize how much I miss it when there's a change in my schedule. I'll be volunteering at WAHA tomorrow as I do most Mondays. I enjoy helping people with their Advance Care Directives for end-of-life care. I have learned so much from my clients already, and I've only been doing this since the beginning of the year. I've also got a new circle of friends with the other women who do this work. Yes, my life here in Bellingham continues to keep me occupied; in fact, every now and then I realize that I'm actually too busy! Well, since I'm in charge, I can change that, right? Right.

And having cast that wide net, I've caught myself an eclectic post, filled with a bit of this and a bit of that. But I can feel myself being drawn into the day, ready to get up and have a spot of breakfast before heading out. I do hope that you fathers out there will have an especially fine day, and that all the rest of you will have a good day, too. I give thanks for all that fills my life, and that includes you, my dear readers. Please be well and filled with happiness until we meet again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June Gloom

The view at 5,000 feet last Thursday
In this part of the country, mostly on the west coast, we have an atmospheric phenomenon known as June Gloom. It usually occurs during late spring and early summer and is characterized by low clouds and cool temperatures. We've had years when we never had a day of warm sunshine until after the 4th of July. Not so this year; we've already had several days of temperatures in the 80s, so I'm happy to report that for the past several days our normal weather has returned and we're ensconced in June Gloom. The high temperature yesterday was 61F and we never saw the sun at all.

On our hike to Church Mountain last Thursday, we had a few moments when we saw the sun, briefly, but it was also cool enough that we needed most of our warm clothing. I much prefer hiking in cool weather rather than full sun, so even though we didn't have much of a view, it was a beautiful day to be out. Even without the sun, we had fun, and I wrote about it here. I always take pictures and write about our adventure on my other blog every Thursday, as well as again once on Saturday and Tuesday. Here, as you know, I sit with my laptop on my knees early in the morning on Sunday and just wing it.

I am definitely a creature of habit, and I find that it's comforting to know what my daily activities will be, even though I'm retired and can do whatever I want with my time. I've become accustomed to getting up and going to bed early, although yesterday I had a hard time getting to sleep, since I was unable to put my book down and stayed up reading until close to midnight. Unusual for me but not unheard of, either. I'm sufficiently well rested that it doesn't really make me feel tired, but I sure slept well last night and woke this morning feeling like my usual self.

I've written about it here before, but I'm reminded again about what that means, my "usual self." As I age, that changes, but usually it's gradual enough that I don't notice until something makes me pay attention to my daily routine. Hurting my knee in early April and being unable to hike on Thursdays or walk with the ladies on Saturday changed my schedule, all right. It made me grateful for my usual good health and ability to exercise. I have now done four Thursday hikes with my friends and enjoyed myself immensely, but I woke on Friday with pain in my knee again, making me cautious and a bit apprehensive. I'm treating the knee with creams and compression, hoping to avoid a repeat. Before, I thought if I ignored the pain it would go away; now I know better. I've learned a hard lesson and am anxious not to get injured again.

As we drove back on Thursday, I had a chance to visit with two new hikers. I sat in the back seat and perused my pictures, thinking about the blog post I'd be writing when I arrived home. Dick, sitting next to me, has joined us a couple of times before, but I hadn't had a chance to learn much about him. It turns out that the four of us in the car were all in our seventies and retired from our professions. Dick's wife is also a hiker and recently fell and broke her leg while out hiking. She's gradually getting back to normal; he said they were able to walk up to Fragrance Lake last week.

Sometimes when I'm walking along, thinking my own thoughts and looking at the trail in front of me, I imagine what I would do if I got really injured, like breaking a bone, while out in the wilderness. One of our regular hikers carries a first aid kit, and I carry a few bandaids and compression bandage, along with my knee braces. It wouldn't be easy but we'd be able to manage to get to safety. In the wilderness, we don't have cell coverage, so it would be necessary to get to the highway and down to the Ranger Station for help. Although it wouldn't be pleasant, we would manage, by helping each other through it all.

I've been going out on these hikes for eight years now. Nobody has ever been hurt badly, other than a few scrapes from a fall or injuring a knee, like I did in April. I hope it stays that way, but realistically each hiker must make the decision before going out about his or her fitness level for that day. I forget that fact, thinking that every day is like every other one, but I've learned that there are reasons why my friends stay home from hard hikes, or don't come at all any more because of injury or illness. We're seniors, after all, and time doesn't stand still for anyone, does it?

Hubris: isn't that a wonderful word? It is an ancient Greek word meaning pride or arrogance, used particularly to mean the kind of arrogance that often brings about someone's downfall. I've been guilty of it most of my life, and now that I'm in my seventies, I realize that it's long past time for me to grow out of it. In spite of myself, I'm actually gaining wisdom as I age. It's partly because I can't continue to believe that if I ignore a pain or symptom in my aging body that it will get better. It won't. I am moving in one direction only, and listening to my body will give me a chance to keep going a bit longer. It's true for all of us; it's not just me getting older while everybody else stays the same.

I just finished reading a really good book yesterday, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. It tells the story of the hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900, and it also made me realize the hubris of that time. The weather forecasters of the day believed that they were able to predict storm paths, even though we know today that they knew very little. They also believed that Galveston was immune to that kind of hurricane. How wrong they were: more than 8,000 people died in that storm, and much of it was caused by the kind of arrogance that leads to destruction. Today we have satellites and instantaneous communication, and all those in a storm's path are evacuated to higher ground. And still: we have situations like Hurricane Katrina where more than a thousand people died, and it was in the twenty-first century. We continue to believe that we are past all that, but we aren't, are we?

Yes, it's gloomy to consider the human predicament, which leads right into the title of this post: June Gloom. Although it refers to a climatological event, it can also be thought of as a state of mind. As I consider how to nurse my knee so that I don't end up injured again, and as I try to stay clear of the hubris that I am so often guilty of, I'll think ahead to the bright and sunny days of July.

And with that, the post is written. My mind and heart feel clear and ready to begin another week, whether in clouds or in sunshine. I'll make every attempt to stay healthy and wish exactly the same situation for you, my dear reader. The day is about to begin, and it holds the promise of a day filled with love and happiness. Be well until we meet again next week, and remember than gloom always gives way to the light.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

I live in a beautiful place

Trail in misty woods
It was only last Thursday when I was hiking in the High Country in cool wet weather, enjoying scenes like this one. And yesterday I sweltered in unusually warm and sunny heat here in Bellingham. Even that area pictured above is thirty degrees warmer than it was three days ago! Springtime usually brings us wild swings in weather conditions, but it seems awfully early to me for us to be having temperatures in the 80s (26C). I'm fine with cooler temperatures since I can always add a sweater, but you can only take off so much.

That said, I am so grateful that I live in such a beautiful place as the Pacific Northwest. Even with the heat, it's not oppressive like much of the western United States is experiencing today, since the humidity and dew point stay pretty low. And the weather will change again by midweek, back to our usual temperatures. Some people love the heat, but I'm not one of them.

Last night I had a lucid dream. Or at least one where I remembered it and woke during the night, realizing that I wasn't done with the dream so I went back to it. It involved skydiving, as many of my dreams do. I was attempting a skydive with an attached wing, and I had to hold it tightly in my hand so as not to lose it. When I woke, my hand was still curled around the handle of that imaginary wing. I stayed with the dream until it was successfully completed.

I've recently been interested in lucid dreaming and ordered a couple of books from the library. I'd forgotten about one I requested and was pleased when it showed up ready for me to check out last week. It's called A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming and is fascinating. I don't get to keep it long enough to practice the exercises that are suggested, so I ordered it on Amazon for my Kindle. Now I can read it and practice at my own pace. Last night got me excited about what's possible.

I was also visited last night in my dreams by a departed husband. He lingers around in my consciousness this morning, although I hadn't thought of him in years. It makes me realize that there is a pantheon of lost loved ones who are still alive in my heart, and this whole idea of lucid dreaming might give me a chance to spend some time with them in a manner that is more directed than usually happens in a dream. I've got a lot to learn; I'll keep you informed as to my success with it. I'm just in the second chapter of the book.

Sunday is the only day in my self-imposed schedule that doesn't have exercise built in. The app that comes with my iPhone that shows how many steps I take every day has informed me that even if I stayed in bed all day, I would still be considered highly active for the week, with a daily average of more than 15,000 steps. Sometimes I forget why I am so tired when I fall into bed at the end of the day, but the app reminds me that I have every reason to feel well used and ready for sleep. And now when I sleep, I've got plans for that time, too!

There is no doubt that I am addicted to both exercise and structure. Whenever we have a holiday, as we did last week, it throws off my schedule for days. I kept thinking it was Monday when it was Tuesday. This week everything goes back to normal. And speaking of normal, I was mightily pleased to find that my knee is healed and will not be keeping me from my usual activities. I still carry a brace with me when hiking or walking, but I haven't had to use it and am thinking that I am whole again. Is it because I am fit that I've healed so quickly? Or was it just not that injured? Whatever, I am very happy to be running and hiking again. (I almost put "jumping again" but realize that skydiving is in my past, not my future.)

You would think that an activity that consumed me for a quarter of a century would not fall away as easily as skydiving did for me. Since it has, that tells me it was time. It's been almost exactly a year since I sold my skydiving gear, and I don't miss it at all. It helps to see Lauren, the young woman who bought my gear, on Facebook every now and then keeping the gear well used. It makes me smile every time I see her. It also helps to realize that the many hours I've spent in freefall are still a part of me and tucked away somewhere in the chambers of my mind. I may have found the key that will allow me to fly whenever I want. A lovely aspect about keeping blogs is that I can return to times when I've discussed the same topic before: I wrote this post on my other blog about flying dreams way back in 2010, when I was still an active skydiver.

Some people write in journals, but I write in my blogs and can go back and visit my posts whenever I want. I am especially fond of the search engine that I have on both blogs, because it gives me the ability to sort by topic. Since most of my readers are also bloggers, I wonder how different people use theirs. Am I missing out on some techniques? Sometimes I think I could go back to the beginning of each one and just start reading if I don't have anything else to do. Since I am so fond of schedules, I could just work in some time during the week to do just that.

And I'll be signing up for my third semester of yoga next week, too! Between my volunteer work on Mondays, taking a yoga class on Wednesdays and Fridays, hiking every Thursday, and my usual gym activity four days a week, I'm not sure just where I'd find that time. Oh, yes, I just remembered: during this time of year I've also got my garden to tend to, which doesn't do well if I forget to water it when it's so hot. This is the best time to get out there and water: before the sun reaches it in the morning. That time is fast approaching, so I'd better hop out of bed and get started with my day.

So, on that note, I wish you, my dear readers, a very wonderful week ahead. You are all an essential part of my life and I cherish every one of you. Be well until we meet again next week.