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 3, 2017

Anniversaries and snakes

Me in front, SG behind
I love this picture of SG and me coming in for a landing under our pretty Stiletto parachutes at Skydive Snohomish. It was taken a few years ago and still gives me lots of pleasure to think back on those days. On September 1st, he celebrated the anniversary of his first-ever skydive. It was 55 years ago! It certainly wasn't under a parachute like one of these, but an ancient round version. He also didn't have his reserve parachute mounted behind like we do today; piggyback containers didn't appear until much later. His reserve was mounted on his belly and the gear was massively heavy! I didn't start skydiving until 1990, when the equipment was much lighter and everything had developed to be more appealing to someone like me. I've never made a jump on a round, but he has thousands of them.

Today is the anniversary of my first skydive, 27 years ago. It was a tandem jump and I thought it would be the only one I'd ever make. But I got hooked by the sensation of freefall. I've said it before: until you have experienced what it's like to be in freefall, there's no way to adequately express it. It feels like you are weightless as you plummet towards the earth. When you leave the airplane at 13,000 feet (around 4,000 meters) above the ground, it's WAY down there, and you see mostly sky. As you fall, the horizon gets closer and the ground begins to come up to meet you. At about 5,000 feet, it's half sky and half horizon, and then the ground really begins to come up quickly. I wore a device near my ear that would audibly warn me at 5,000 (time to finish playing in the air), 3,000 (time to pull your parachute) and 1,500 (get something out now!). It was rare for me to hear the last one, because I would already be floating under my pretty parachute.

Since it was such a huge part of my life for so long, you would think I'd miss it more than I do. But everything has a time and place, and at 72 I decided I was done with skydiving. My partner had already come to that conclusion, so in February 2015 we had both retired from the sport. I no longer follow it avidly, like I did for years, but I still enjoy seeing my friends' pictures on Facebook of their latest exploits. I had become cautious and tentative and did not enjoy the thrills and chills of skydiving nearly as much in the later years. But there was a time when I made around 300 skydives every single year, and my logbooks are still among my prized possessions. Not that I like to read them, but I could if I wanted to relive a particular skydive.

Yes, things change as we age. I'm now struggling to keep up with my friends when we do a particularly difficult hike and will one of these days move to the slower group. It's nice that the Senior Trailblazers has two levels, and the relaxed group will be more to my liking after awhile. Not yet, though. I'm not ready to leave my hiking companions behind quite yet, although I know most of the people in the other group already.

I got an email yesterday from an old friend, John, from Colorado. He recounted an experience he had while on a walk with his wife and dog. He saw a small eight-inch-long snake on the trail and thought it had been run over by a bike and was dead. Surprised when he saw it move when he touched it with his boot, he decided to pick it up and move it to the side of the trail to keep it from harm. Unfortunately, it bit him on the thumb, a sensation like a bee sting. He didn't think much about it at the time.

However, as they continued to walk, his hand began to swell. They decided they'd better call the doctor and see what they should do. He was told to go right away to the Emergency Room and have it looked at. By the time he arrived, his hand was twice its normal size. Although he thought it was a garter snake, it was a rattlesnake, probably a baby that had not yet developed a rattle.

In his own words:
Good thing because an hour later my hand was swollen 50% larger and very painful. ER people said the swelling could cut off blood to the hand resulting in severe tissue necrosis.  After some morphine  for 8 pain on a 1 to 10 scale, they did blood tests and decided it was a rattlesnake.
John spent the night in the hospital, receiving antivenom treatment every few hours and having his blood drawn periodically until the toxin level had receded. I guess this is a very expensive treatment, but I couldn't help but think about the fact that long ago (or maybe not so long ago), this would have meant the loss of his hand, at the very least, or maybe his life. I remember when they sold snake bite kits and taught you how to cut the wound and suck out the venom.

Out of curiosity, I just looked up on Google whether or not we have any poisonous snakes in the Pacific Northwest. This is what I found:
Out of the dozen or so species of snakes that are native to Washington state, only one, the Western rattlesnake, is venomous. As they are not found in Western Washington, you can usually assume any snake you encounter in the greater Seattle area is not venomous.
When I lived in Colorado, I was quite aware that rattlesnakes were common, but I never saw one. I think there were a few others that I saw and wondered whether they were rattlers, so I learned to identify them. And for the edification of my readers, I am supplying you with this link. Remember that there will be some pictures of snakes on this page, so be warned. I was going to put a picture of a rattler on my post, but if you are anything like me, it would make your skin crawl. So I decided to turn away and let you decide for yourself if you want to look. (shiver)

Anyhow, you have now learned all about the title of this post. We've covered anniversaries and more about snakes than you probably wanted to know. My friend John will recover completely, I suspect, but he sent me an email telling me that he's still not back to normal, and it's been a few days now. I sure am glad it wasn't any worse.

My dear partner reminded me that next year our skydiving anniversaries will be 56 years for him and 28 for me, exactly twice as long for him as for me. I'll have to find some way to mark that time in a manner befitting its significance. But as we all know, the future is not ours to see, even just a year from now. I'm hoping that next year we'll be looking forward to fall in much the same way as we are today. We are in the last throes of summer's heat and hopefully next week we'll be back to normal Pacific Northwest temperatures.

And with that, I take a look around me to discover that all is well in my world right now. Partner still sleeping and making nice gentle breathing noises, tea is gone, and the coffee shop beckons. And you, my dear reader, I'm hoping that you will have a fine Labor Day tomorrow (if you are in the US, that is), or in any event, I'm hoping that you will have a wonderful week ahead. Be well until we meet again next week.


Rian said...

That is a great picture, DJan. Such wonderful memories. And I hope your friend, John, is recuperating well from his snake bite. But as for what he did, I would have done the same... (hopefully without getting bit). I do it now for critters I find in the middle of a road or in harm's way.
And Happy Anniversary! I know you loved your sky-diving, but understand that it was time to let it go. I used to ride a lot, but it got awfully painful on my lower back. So I too let it go (riding and jogging)... but still love to walk... (and watch my daughter and grand daughter ride).
Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Linda Reeder said...

Well, you can be sure that I won't be picking up any snakes to rescue them! I would stay as far away from one as possible, even a baby garter snake!
Your photo of the two of you under your colorful canopies is wonderful.
This weekend is a kind of anniversary for us as well. It was 49 years ago that I decided to make my appearance at the Reeder/Foster gathering at the old Whidbey cabin, surprising Tom and his family and even me. Tom and I were teaching together. I had spent a day with him at the cabin that summer, but up until that point we were just friends. He had invited me and my roommates to come up for Labor Day, but I decided to come on my own, compelled by a tugging of my heart strings, I guess you might say. That day changed our relationship. We were married the following March.
And now I hear the radio alarm, meaning it is time to get moving. We have a Phosie-Gertie picnic to get to, at the new Whidbey cabin.

Marie Smith said...

My native Newfoundland doesn't have any snakes, so I was never accustomed to any in the environment. Here on PEI, there are garter snakes and the first time I saw one on the boardwalk, was so exciting. I would not want to deal with rattlers. How fortunate your friend was to come out of that situation so well.

Quite an anniversary. All that time in free fall must give you a different perspective on the world, Jan and you can share it with your partner. Best of all worlds!

Red said...

You are one of the only bloggers I follow who writes a long thoughtful post. I enjoy the posts that give serious thought to life.

Gigi said...

I love that picture, D'Jan.

I hope your friend continues to recuperate quickly. Thank goodness for modern medicine. I, of course, wouldn't have touched the snake whether dead or alive - I would have been running. But that's me - not a fan of critters.

Have a fabulous week, my friend.

Linda Myers said...

I love your description of what the sky and ground look like at various altitudes. It's the first description I've ever heard that sounds even remotely tempting. Not tempting enough, though!

Elephant's Child said...

What a glorious image.
Your memory banks must be packed to the gunwhales with magical moments.
I am glad your friend is doing better. I don't like snakes. In one of our houses a red-bellied black snake lived under the front steps. For about nine months of the year I didn't use the front door.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

What a though provoking post/;memories blending with recent events and then as you move from writer you set us up for the coffeeshop ending. I wish you well. I must say the when I awaken on Sundays now your post is what becons me to my iPad if I'm around internet. We used to share emals once years back but I suppose it became a time issue?
Have a super week.

Carole said...

Love the photo! Scary story about your friend and the snake bite. Glad he is ok. Hope your week goes well DJan. I'll think of you as you are out on your hikes!

The Furry Gnome said...

You'll certainly be able to look back on a life full of adventure! Trust John will be ok too.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope your friend John will be okay. Never trust a snake, I have heard they can still inject venom even after they are dead. Snakes are one reason I like snow:

Rita said...

I don't think we have any poisonous snakes in Minnesota/North Dakota. If we do I am glad I didn't run across any, especially as a kid. I rescued anything and everything. Was more leery of furry critters that could bite because I only saw garter snakes and they were harmless. Rescued a whole batch of baby garter snakes and a mom from our window well one summer. That was scary! I am so glad he will be okay. What a shock!

You two have many memories of living temporarily in the sky. Love the picture and those colorful parachutes. I don't think it will be too long before you will join the slower hiking group...just because I don't think you like to slow them down and I noticed that has happened a couple times this summer. You will know when. And you will still enjoy every outing with the slower group. (I could never even join a slow walking group--LOL!)

Lovely Sunday post, as usual. :) My favorites.

Arkansas Patti said...

I've often wondered if you missed having your knees in the breeze. It was such an important and long part of your life. Think you were smart to leave it on a high note.
So sorry for your friend. We had tons of rattlers in Florida and my dog was bitten once. He lost a lot of tissue and the recovery was long and expensive. Hope your friend is soon all better. We have Copperheads here in Ar--I have yet to see one and that is perfectly fine.

b+ (Retire In Style Blog) said...

I loved this post.I think skydiving like so many sports must be almost addicting. I envy you that experience.

I was reminded of the bucket list idea. I was thinking yesterday about what I would have put in there when I was 20 or 50 or even 65. I know that the contents change with time. Be well and take a nice walk even if the hike is not working. That is what I do. (I did dream of hiking in the mountains of north eastern Oregon at one time. I don't do that anymore. Interesting isn't it?)

C-ingspots said...

Wow! I can imagine that skydiving would be so thrilling and yes, highly addicting. Bet I would love it. Or, I think I'd love it, after my initial shock if I survived the jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I hate heights. But, if I believe there's no chance of survival from the fall, my fear just goes away. But that first step...

I don't like snakes either, and thankfully, in all our years of riding horses and hiking in the wilderness of central Oregon, I've never, ever seen one. From a distance, I can sometimes appreciate the beauty of their decorative skins. Sometimes.