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, May 26, 2019

The future's not ours to see

Rhodies and ocean beyond
This is the most beautiful time of year in the Pacific Northwest, I think. These lovely rhododendrons are abundant everywhere right now. I took this picture right outside the front door of Luena's airbnb. My sister-in-law returned to southern California yesterday after two weeks visiting us here. It amazes me how quickly I got used to having her around. I accused her of having wormed her way into my heart and now she's got to come back every year. She agrees completely.

It was a tough news week for me, and I found myself having trouble finding equanimity after watching or reading. Doris Day died at the age of 97, having lived a good full life, which reminds me that we all age and die; it's the nature of life itself. She won't have a funeral or other ceremony marking her passing because, I read, she didn't believe in them. I read her biography on Wikipedia and learned that she was a great animal lover and founded several organizations that safeguard animal welfare, especially dogs and horses. Doris Day was part of my childhood and adult years, and her uplifting movies and songs never failed to make me happy.

I remember singing that song, Que Será Será, which she first sang in 1956, and which also became the theme song for her show, as a young girl, a mother, and an adult in the 1960s. In my mind I can hear her strong voice singing those lyrics, and ever since I heard of her death, the song has been close to my heart. It helped me get to sleep several times last week, just listening to the song in my head until I fell asleep.
Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be
It reminds me that everything changes, everything both good and bad, and that it's not possible to second-guess anything that might come to pass. Much of my anxiety is fueled by wanting events in the world to be different, and there is nothing at all I can do about it. Climate change, species extinction, politics, worldwide calamities, none of it is within my power to change. So why do I get twisted up in knots over it all?

It might be because I care so deeply about it all, or perhaps it's simply because my turbulent thoughts need something to gnaw on, like a dog with a bone. The world has gone through plenty of disastrous times in the past, and they inevitably change into something different. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. But change is the only constant, so why do I let myself lose my peace of mind?

Taking the long view is helpful for me, which is one of the reasons I check the Astronomy Picture of the Day on a regular basis. Looking at the cosmos, where our little Earth is a tiny pinprick in a tiny galaxy among the immensity, helps me place my concerns into a larger context. And I must remind myself, often, that whatever happens in the present is just a small little blip in the grand scheme of things. So why not just sit back and relax? Or allow myself to experience joy? It's all around me, if I take a look.

Today is the biggest party of the year in Bellingham. It's the Ski to Sea race, a relay race that starts an hour from now (7:30am) in the Mt. Baker Ski Area and makes its way down to Bellingham Bay in Fairhaven. The seven different segments are made up of cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and finally kayaking to the finish line. Each team has up to eight members, and teams vary from professionals who train for it, all the way to recreational neophytes who just want to see how they do and become part of the event.

When I was skydiving, I would leave town early on the day of the race and saw long lines of cars coming into Bellingham as I drove away. A couple of years after I quit doing that, I would take a shuttle bus from downtown to Fairhaven to watch the goings-on, but the incredible crowds and noise made me decide it's just not for me. Now I am happy to read about the results and enjoy myself elsewhere. Today I'll see what the day brings, after my usual trip to the coffee shop to join my friends. Although Fairhaven is a couple of miles away from downtown Bellingham, it will be a challenge to find a place to park my car. Maybe I should take the bus instead. Sunday bus service is limited, but it's better than trying to park on a day like today.

Well, I feel much better already. I have a day ahead filled with whatever I choose, and I've got good friends to do it with, along with my dear partner, who still sleeps next to me as I write this. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not mine to see, is it?

I do hope you will enjoy today, as I intend to, and that you will do it with love in your heart. Memorial Day is tomorrow, and I will remember all my loved ones who have gone before me. Their number increases with each year, but that's the way it's supposed to be. It doesn't stop me from loving them, that's for sure. Please remember to take care of yourself as well, as you are cherished by friends near and far. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Our changing world

Me and Luena, hoping for whales
My sister-in-law, Luena, is visiting from southern California for a couple of weeks. It is probably the most beautiful time of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, with the days long and the skies filled with sunshine, a bit of rain, and fluffy white clouds. Yesterday we went on an all-day whale-watching cruise in the San Juan islands in hopes of spotting some whales.

This was the first time I've gone, and I have to say I don't think I'll go again. Not because I didn't enjoy myself, and we did see a humpback whale, but because I have been made aware of how much humans have contributed to the destruction of these magnificent creatures. In the middle of the day, we docked in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a couple of hours, and Luena and I made our way to the Whale Museum for a tour. It was intriguing, very well done and worth our while to visit.

Friday Harbor is a quaint little town devoted to tourists (at least the small part we saw of it) who stream into the harbor from the huge number of whale watching tours from all around the Salish Sea. What is that sea, you ask? Here's some information from that Wikipedia link:
The Salish Sea is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of Washington. Its major bodies of water are the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. 
One of the reasons we retired here from Colorado in 2008 was the draw of beautiful Bellingham Bay and our proximity to Canada. What I didn't expect was to fall in love with the entire area and especially the climate, the temperate rainforest that surrounds us. Native Americans have lived here and fished these waters for many centuries. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into this environment. It fits my life perfectly. I suspect that the long-time residents who have known nothing else are unaware of this treasure.

Yesterday, we climbed aboard a touring vessel that holds up to 150 passengers, and we were about half filled for the 8-hour-long adventure through the many islands. Our pilot told us many interesting facts about the islands as we passed through them on our way to Friday Harbor. When we all gathered to reboard, I noticed that nobody was late, probably worried about getting left behind. And then we set out to look for whales.

The boat pilots must have some sort of communication system to report sightings to one another, because we made our way to an area that already had four boats watching this one spot in the ocean. "Old Scratchy" had been seen feeding in the area, a humpback whale that gave us our one sighting. We were not allowed to get very close, but we did see his spout as he blew upon surfacing. We were close enough to hear it, and we watched as he dove to feed. Once he flicked his tail at us before a deep dive. Everyone on the boat was gathered on the deck, with cameras snapping pictures. Most of us only had our cellphones, but there were some people with huge camera systems, who probably got some great shots. I did get one or two but I missed capturing the tail flick, unfortunately.

As I stood on the deck clutching my cellphone, surrounded by the rest of us, I got the feeling of being a bit like a voyeur, watching this massive creature going about his business while we hoped for a breach (there wasn't one). I realized that there will come a day, not so long from now, when this activity of whale watching will also be extinct, along with the whales. We humans have decimated their numbers. I felt a huge sense of loss well up in me and I had to fight back tears. That said, I also felt gratitude to have been in such close proximity to this magnificent mammal.

I recently read a report about the massive extinction rate that is happening right now on the planet, because the human species is taking over the planet and crowding out all the others. Last year alone, we lost several more species. You can read more here, if you can handle it. According to the Center for Biological Diversity,
"Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals—the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years," the center stated. "We're currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago."
 I have been very fortunate to have lived through a period on our planet that is graced with so much beauty and diversity of species, and the children being born today will never know what they missed. I am in my twilight years and will probably miss the worst of what is to come, but they won't. It breaks my heart.
The cost of our success is the exhaustion of natural resources, leading to energy crises, climate change, pollution, and the destruction of our habitat. If you exhaust natural resources, there will be nothing left for your children. If we continue in the same direction, humankind is headed for some frightful ordeals, if not extinction. —Christian de Duve 
 This rather sobering lesson is what I took away from my whale-watching excursion yesterday. However, it's not everything that is happening in my life today, either: it's a beautiful day, a gorgeous environment, and everything around me is green and lush. Now I could wallow in my grief or just pick myself up, dust myself off, and take a different path towards light and life. That is what I intend to do, because frankly, other than giving money to causes that I care about and doing my part to recycle what I can and living frugally, there is little I can do to change the outcome.

What I do I have power over is the ability to respond with gratitude for the world as it is today, for my numerous blessings, and for the environment that surrounds me. Luena mentioned how much she is enjoying the respite from southern California's heat and endless vistas of concrete. While here, every day she walks from her airbnb to the bay, enjoying what I take for granted. Today she will join my friend Judy and me for a trip to the independent theater to see a movie. We'll walk around in the sunshine (there seems to be plenty of it again today) and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. It would take effort to be sad on a day like this, which I intend instead to enjoy to the fullest.

I hope you, my dear reader, will find a way to enjoy yourself today, and that you will maybe take a look around your surroundings and think how you might be able to improve things a bit. Just a tiny bit; if we all did that, it would add up to big changes. I am reminded of that wonderful quote from Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
The day is beckoning, my tea is gone, my dear partner sleeps beside me, and I am ready to get up and continue moving forward, always forward, upward and onward. I hope you will not forget to give thanks for what you have in your life, your loved ones here and beyond, and will find some pleasure in this day. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The river of time

Mama and me
I was the firstborn of my mother's seven children, the one who made her a mother so long ago. This picture was taken by my dad three-quarters of a century in the past. It has so many different triggers for me when I look at it: my mother was a beauty and a proud mom. She also loved me unconditionally, which is also evident in the picture. That tiny little baby is now sitting in the bedroom with her laptop, writing her usual Sunday post on Mother's Day 2019. I was born in December 1942, so this moment captured on film had to be in 1943, actually 76 years ago now. My, oh my.

Mama has been gone from the planet since 1993. She died when she was 69, almost making it to the proverbial threescore and ten that many feel is what a normal lifespan covers. From the moment in that picture, she went on to have my sister Norma Jean two years later, and then my sister PJ was born when I was seven. For the longest time, that was the family makeup. Then in the mid-1950s, my parents decided to extend their family and Mama gave birth to my brother when I was sixteen, then had three more daughters. One infant was born prematurely, Tina Maria, and only lived for a few days. Mama and Daddy then added my youngest sisters, Markee and Fia, to the family. Fia is almost exactly twenty years younger than me, so for all those years, my parents were actively making new babies and creating a wonderful home for us all.

I was actually gone from home and had become a mother myself before the last two came along: my son Chris was born in 1961, the same year as Markee (her name is really Mary Katherine, but I have always called her that). Fia, the baby, joined the family in late 1962. Since my dad was in the Air Force, we moved around a lot when I was growing up, but then when he retired, they bought a home on the lake in Fort Worth. This meant that the last three kids were not spending their formative years moving from place to place, but having a much more normal life than the three of us, the earlier family, did. I went to three different high schools before graduating from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. They started and finished school in the same town.

Consequently, we had much different experiences of our early years. I would come back to visit, because wherever my mother was, that was home to me. Their home on the lake had a dock where my younger siblings learned to swim and spent the entire summer months seeming more like little otters than children. I was a little jealous of the different way they were raised, but I never felt less loved and appreciated by my parents.

All six of Mama's children have been very successful and productive in the world. Today, both Norma Jean and I have retired from our jobs and PJ died at the age of 63, of heart disease, which is what took Mama away from us, too. It runs in the family and is one reason why I exercise so faithfully. Buz lives in Arlington, Texas, with his wife Phyllis. Markee married Bob, a Canadian, and made her home there. Fia, my baby sister, lives in Texas, too, and is happily married to Russ. It's hard for me to believe, but she is a grandmother many times over. The youngest three are still in their working years but not for much longer, I suspect. Buz recently turned sixty! Yikes.

So that is the background of my family life. My dear husband and I have made a life for ourselves in retirement and (if you read this weekly) you know we just celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. When you get married in your fifties, that is an accomplishment. I never thought we'd see the day, but we did and are now looking forward to the next decade or two of life in our twilight years. It sure is nice to have him in my life.

My sister-in-law, SG's only living relative, is in town for a couple of weeks. Since we have no room to accommodate overnight guests, she is staying in an airbnb in Fairhaven. I'll visit her this afternoon to see how things are going for her. She is a recent widow (well, a few years back) and is trying to find her own place in the world. She visited us last year and loved Fairhaven, so now she can explore it to her heart's content. I'll find out what she wants my help with, and she will of course be spending plenty of time with her brother. They were not close during her married life, but now things are changing.
Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of your life!
The river of time. It not only flows through our days, but the imperceptible changes, the inevitable movement of time, changes our bodies, too. That tiny little baby in the picture is now a wrinkled old woman, and Mama is, well, somewhere else. Who knows if we have an afterlife or not? Nobody has ever managed to tell us in no uncertain terms. I live my life as if I will have one, because why not? I won't know what happens after I die until I've gone through the veil, and all I know for certain is that I will one day lie down and not get up again.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy every moment of my life, running my fingers through the icy waters of the river and marveling at the beauty all around me. Gratitude for it all flows out of me and gives me unparalleled joy. The world I live in includes memories of all those people I have loved who are no longer with me, today especially thinking of my mother and how much love passed between us. The love of a mother for her child, and the child for her mother, lives on inside my heart. Thank you, Mama, for the gift of my life.

And with that, I leave you with my sincere hope that you will find some joy in your interactions today. I am grateful for you, my electronic buddies, and the life we share together. You give me so much, and I hope I give you a little happiness back. Until we meet again next week, be well.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A quarter century together

Together on the Great Wall
Today marks a milestone I didn't think I'd see: SG and I celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. This is us on the Great Wall of China, when we visited there in October 2003. We were married on March 5, 1994, in freefall. I posted a picture of that event here.  But now I'd like to reminisce a little bit on how we got here.

It wasn't supposed to happen at all, since we were both in our fifties when we married, and looking forward from that vantage point towards today made it seem improbable that, even if we stayed together, we would live that long. Of course, when you're only fifty, seventy-five seems a long ways away, and very ancient. As I look at us today, however, we are still very active and in relatively good health. I don't think we'll be able to reach 2044, our golden anniversary date, but stranger things have happened. Do I really want to live to be 101?

We met each other online in 1992, both of us skydivers, with me at the beginning of my career, having started jumping in September 1990, and he hadn't made a skydive in a few years, living in San Francisco and working full-time. At the time, there was a skydiving news group, where I encountered some of his writing, and I was instantly smitten. After many aborted tries to make contact, we finally did. We carried on with emails and then phone calls for quite a while before finally making the decision to meet in person. He flew from San Francisco to Denver on that fateful day many years ago. It was NOT love at first sight, though: we were both surprised at the physical reality of each other. After so many months of imagination, and some pictures that we exchanged (his was so old that he had flowing locks of hair), and me in my skydiving gear.

Today it's not unlikely that someone would meet through the internet, but back then it was unusual. There were no websites at all, much less sites dedicated exclusively to dating. Today I know several happy couples who met that way. We were ahead of our time, and we visited each other's homes a few times. Eventually, SG made the decision to give notice at work and move to Boulder, my home town. Although he stayed briefly with me, it was obvious that we would need to get to know one another with each of us having our own space. He moved into a friend's spare apartment and thus began our courtship.

He visited me at the Drop Zone where I would skydive, and eventually got himself back into the sport with some inexpensive gear. In 1993, when my mother died, I inherited a little money and bought him some new gear, and he was then back into skydiving. He would pretend to be a student in freefall, while I practiced learning how to catch him and all the other things an instructor would have to do. By the time we got married in freefall, I was almost good enough to pass the rigorous course to get certified. I failed in my first attempt, but passed the second one.

But there were so many things we shared other than skydiving. In my job, I traveled internationally, and he accompanied me on some of those journeys. We visited China several times, and eventually we spent more than a month together in Beijing when I took a temporary position at the Higher Education Center, helping to edit scientific journals and improve the English translations. He explored the city every day while I worked. We had been provided with cell phones (tiny little things) that allowed us to stay in contact with one another during the day. Every weekend we were taken on excursions to see the sights, such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Although he had a prestigious position in San Francisco, it was a different story when SG tried to find something similar in Boulder. He was now older, and I can attest to the discrimination against older workers starting in a new job. He ended up working in temporary positions through an agency, and it was enough to get him by, as a few of them were for long periods of time. However, as soon as he was able to get on early Social Security, he took it and no longer had to search for nonexistent jobs.

We spent many idyllic vacations around the world, as well as skydiving trips to places we enjoyed. Our life together was not without friction, and frankly the first several years were difficult. But we muddled through, both of us wanting badly to make it work, and eventually things settled into a very comfortable existence. He took over most of the housework and my job paid the bills. In 2002, when my son died, he supported me as I grieved.

We decided that when I retired, we would move to the West Coast, since he was most comfortable there, and I knew that my long-time employment in Boulder would mean that I would need to move away in order to actually stop being on call to my former boss. We decided to take a road trip from Boulder to the coast in 2006, trying to decide just where we might want to move. We explored from northern California to Oregon, and finally looked at Washington state. Bellingham seemed to have everything: proximity to the mountains and right on Bellingham Bay, a beautiful place, so we thought we'd start there.

That was eleven years ago, when we moved from Boulder with a U-Haul and a car, using our cell phones (much fancier ones this time) to communicate with one another. We arrived in Bellingham in April 2008 and have been here ever since. This place feels like home now, to both of us, and we have a full life together. My world is complete with my beloved, and now that we have been together for so long, I can't imagine life without him. Fortunately, I don't have to. We are both grateful for the serendipity that brought us together and the life we share.

And with that, I have finished another post, this one more of a chronicle than a ponder, with the amazing feat of having reached our silver anniversary uppermost in my mind. The day is bright, he sleeps beside me, and my tea is long gone. It's getting to be time to start the rest of my day. I do so hope that this week will bring you lots of love to light your way forward. Be well until we meet again next week.