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, 2020

Changing my perspective


Lunch, anyone?

When I was out walking in my neighborhood a few days ago, I saw these two deer snacking on someone's greenery. At first, I thought they were lawn ornaments, and then one of them moved. The one on the right was so close to me that I could almost reach out and touch her (I think it is a doe). I took out my phone and snapped the shot. They turned back to lunch, while I continued on my way.

It made me think about how much things look different at first glance, and then how my feelings change when I look at something from a new perspective. After six months in virtual lockdown from the pandemic, much of my new life has become familiar. I still shop at my favorite grocery store, but the numbers of people allowed inside at one time is smaller, and everyone wears a mask. We keep our distance from each other, and we don't hug or make physical contact with friends when we encounter them. It's become almost normal. I walk around in my neighborhood several times a week for exercise, instead of my gym, which is still not open. I don't think I would want to go there, even if it were open, knowing how airborne the virus is. We are living through an unprecedented time in the history of the world.

Not that there haven't been plagues and viruses in the past, but there were never before so many of us, and with instant communication, we know what is happening in other parts of the world. We are spared from natural disasters here at the moment, but we have no guarantee of continued calm. There is a sense of unease that permeates my surroundings, as we move inevitably closer to the national election on November 3. Just a few miles north of here, the Canadian border separates our countries, although it is closed until at least October 21 (and I suspect they will not reopen it then, either), because Canada has very low infection rates, and we here in the US have among the highest in the world. And fall is here, with cold weather following close behind.

Many of our favorite restaurants have extended their outside seating areas so that people don't have to come inside except to order. When it is rainy or cold, we just get our coffee and/or breakfast and take it home. Sometimes my friend John and I sit in the cab of his truck and visit while we drink our coffee. He is part of my Covid "pod," or safe people to hang out with.

Pods are small, self-contained networks of people who limit their non-distanced social interaction to one another—in other words, they're the small group of people with whom you share air without using breath-control precautions such as masks.

John will soon have surgery on his shoulder and will then leave my pod, because he will be exposed to other people.  I'll miss him, because he has become part of my everyday life, seeing him at least for a half hour every morning. These days, we sit outside if the weather is good and enjoy each other's company. His companionship comforts me and gives me a sense of normalcy in this otherwise altered environment. We laugh together and commiserate about our changed lives. John turned eighty this past spring, and his health is about average for someone his age, but he misses the dances he went to every week and is getting less exercise. I admonish him to walk more, but he mostly gets his exercise on his tractor, moving dirt and manure as part of his landscape activity. That will change along with the weather.

We have had a few days of rain, but now we are headed into a warm Indian Summer period, and I'll enjoy every little bit of it, knowing how short it is likely to be. All of next week is projected to be dry with above-normal temperatures. It will allow me to spend more time outdoors, with a possible hike in the mountains with my friends, a last hurrah before being forced to stay close to home for my outings. My world will shrink a bit as I retreat into my warm home as the weather changes.

One of my blogging friends lives in Australia, and I am reminded when I visit her blog that south of the equator, spring is just beginning. Her pictures of the burgeoning spring flowers gives me such joy, and it reminds me that perspective is dependent on one's vantage point. While we prepare for the cold weather, she is walking among the tulips and getting ready for the warm weather to come. One of my daily activities is absorbing the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It always helps to give me a more inclusive perspective of my daily life. We are all inhabitants of Planet Earth, but our beautiful planet is only one little speck in the immense universe. 

It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. —Arthur C. Clarke

 I have always been a fan of science fiction, and I have read stories that take me along to distant planets, with many different ways of seeing ourselves. One of my favorite authors is Ursula LeGuin, who wrote The Left Hand of Darkness, a story I have read and re-read because she shows me how much different we would be if we were not always the same sex. Her characters cycle in and out of being male or female. Just think about how that might change your perspective!

I will be getting up soon, and I'll start my day with a trip to the coffee shop. Although it's colder these mornings, it's fun to dress for the weather and sit outside and enjoy our coffee and (sometimes) breakfast. First, I'll do my morning exercises out on the front porch and make sure I am dressed appropriately for staying outside. Right now it's a bit nippy (49°F/9°C) but it should warm up quickly, once the sun rises. That isn't happening now until 7:05am. We are past the fall equinox and the days are shorter than the nights, until we reach the nadir on December 21, when the days will begin to lengthen once again. I love the cycle of seasons.

And with that, I will sign off and make my way into the rest of my day. This task on Sunday mornings almost always makes me feel better about life, and I hope it might do the same for you as well. My dear partner sleeps quietly next to me, the tea is long gone, and the day beckons. Until we meet again next week, I wish you nothing but the best. Be well and don't forget to count your blessings. You are one of mine.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A difficult year behind and ahead

Squalicum Harbor

Yesterday morning my friend Melanie and I walked from the Farmer's Market to Squalicum Harbor and beyond to get our steps for the day. We enjoyed the clean air, which cleared up Friday evening, and gave us a chance to breathe normally once again. We both picked a few flowers from the beautiful plants that surround the area and gently dropped them into the water. We said a few words to honor our Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died on Friday. We needed some way to give our bereaved spirits a lift. Life goes on, but we are much poorer today without her presence in the world. It is one more thing that marks the year 2020 as being a trial to the soul. She was my heroine in so many ways; the documentary about her taught me that just being old doesn't mean you stop striving for excellence. In her bouts with cancer, she never missed a day on the court as she recovered, until this past year when she missed a few days, at the age of 87. I will always be glad I lived during this time when she was alive.

It is just the latest trial to my soul. We started this year with the impeachment of the President and the hardening of battle lines in Congress. I watched the proceedings with dismay. Little did I know in January that it would be the beginning of a year filled with difficulty for the entire world. In February, we learned of a new virus that was spreading around the world, and by March we, along with most of the rest of the world, went into lockdown, with the only way to fight the virus being by physical distancing (also known as social distancing), wearing a mask, and washing our hands frequently. World economies plummeted. We spent a spring and summer without being able to gather in groups larger than five, and we remain there today, in my state anyway.

Yesterday the death count from the coronavirus surpassed 200,000 in the United States. Although we have only five percent of the world's population, we have twenty percent of the deaths from the virus. According to the Coronavirus Update page, you can check it out for yourself to see how we are doing. Not well, it seems, but then again, no country is doing perfectly: it's very contagious and there is no vaccine for it yet. Unfortunately for us in the US, it's not very well contained because the only treatment for it has become politicized. Many will not wear masks or social distance because they believe the virus is a hoax.

And on top of all that, the entire west coast has been burning with unprecedented fires, both in quantity and quality. And hurricanes and floods are devastating the southeast of the country. What else could possibly happen, I ask myself, in the rest of this awful year? Plenty. For one, the US has a very consequential election in a few weeks, and people are planning to vote like never before, on both sides of the political spectrum. Our postal service is under attack, and because of the virus, many people are not willing to expose themselves to vote in person. And I have a very bad feeling about it all. It could be that I am hyper-sensitive because of all that is going on, but I really wonder if we are heading for a civil war before the end of the year. 

What else could conceivably make things worse? Well, we could have the earthquake we're overdue to have here in the Pacific Northwest, and that would probably be the end for me. I can almost feel the tectonic plates shifting. The Cascadia subduction zone is a convergent plate boundary that stretches from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to Northern California.

While I was at the acupuncture treatment office last week, Warren (my acupuncturist) asked me if I had heard about a new documentary that has just been released on Netflix, The Social Dilemma. I said I had not, but that I would check it out. It is completely scary, because it shows to me how many of the people who are in charge of what we see and learn from our addiction to social media is manipulated by people whose only concern is making money. I am glad that I don't use Twitter or visit Facebook all that often, because I didn't realize how much my societal viewpoints are shaped by them. And one thing pointed out in the documentary is that there are already two generations of Americans who have never known a world without social media.

If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference. —R. Buckminster Fuller

The positive thing I learned from it, though, is that there are indeed people aware of all this and are actually working to make things more ethical. In the documentary, I was introduced to a very interesting person, Tristan Harris, president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. Earlier, he worked as a design ethicist at Google. He received his degrees from Stanford, where he studied ethics of human persuasion. According to his website, he is the "closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience." He, and others like him, make me hopeful for the future, instead of leading me to fall into despair.

I've thought about all this in the past few days, as I look around at my wonderful life, all that I have going for me gives me real joy in the present moment. And really, truly, that is all we have.

Always say 'yes' to the present moment... Surrender to what is. Say 'yes' to life and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you. —Eckhart Tolle

I'm so ready to let the world and all its wonders and challenges come into fruition. After all, it's the only thing I can do, isn't it? All any of us can do. But I am also haunted by the phrase in that Buckminster Fuller quote, that "each one of us could make the difference." What does that even mean? The only thing I am sure of is that I am willing to be that person and put myself out there, on the line. 

And I know that I am not alone. I have you, my dear virtual friends, I have my dear partner who is beginning to stir from sleep as he listens subliminally to the clacking of the keys as I write, and my friends and family who love me, and whom I love. And on that note, I will say goodbye for today, and I ask that each one of us take to heart what we can do today, for ourselves, for the world, for the planet. Until we meet again next week, I truly hope you will find a happy corner to sit in and enjoy your wonderful life. Just as it is. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Smoke and memories

View from my living room
Yesterday the wind direction in Bellingham changed from easterly to southerly, and it blew in smoke from Oregon. From just gentle bits of smoke to this, we are now admonished that the air quality is "Very Unhealthy." No kidding. I looked up the AirNow.gov website to see just how bad it was, and I had to agree: it was bad. They have created a very cool dial on that link for you to plug in the name of your city and see what the air quality is right at the moment. 

At first glance yesterday, I thought the majority of the haze was caused by fog, since the air didn't hurt my eyes or lungs as I headed out to the coffee shop. Early on, the dial said the air was "Unhealthy" but had not fallen into the higher category. What is measured is particulate matter (PM2.5) of a certain size that is caused by the burning of trees and buildings. I decided to take a short walk on flat ground with my friend Melanie and then go home and hunker down as the day progressed. We went from a reading of 196 to 211, but just to see how bad it was in Portland, where my blogging friend Ronni lives, I checked to see what she is dealing with: 515! Unbelievably bad air! We don't have any choice of whether or not to breathe, but she has COPD and I truly hope she is able to cope with this awful air. What do people DO who have lost their home to fire and have no place to go? It's beyond cruel.

When I consider how many people are coping with the twin disasters of coronavirus and fires, it simply breaks my heart. I can stay inside, because I actually have a home that gives me shelter from the elements, and from the virus as well. This is the first time I wish I actually had an N95 mask, because they filter out particulate matter, but I suspect it would be impossible to find one now. Instead, I'll just stay indoors and read or watch TV. Maybe I'll watch Hamilton on Disney+ again, since I enjoyed it so much and it's rather on the long side. It also takes me away from the current situation and transports me back in time a century or two. If the library was open, I'd browse the shelves until I found a big thick book filled with plenty of distractions. But it's not: at the moment you can request a book and when it is ready, you can drive there and someone will deposit it into your car's trunk, with no actual contact with anyone.

What a strange world we live in these days. It's the same everywhere, I guess, but at least in Europe and a few other countries the virus is under control. Here, we are lucky to have some places that are relatively safe, but they still require stringent controls to keep it from surging again. Until we have a vaccine, I guess this will be the shape of our lives for months to come. And I am not jumping into line to be the first to get it, since I want others to take it and see how it works for them. That may seem a bit cowardly (and it is, really), but I am afraid it is being rushed to market for political purposes. I want to know if it's safe for old people like me before they jab me with the needle. I'll be getting my flu shot in a week or two, though, as I've done for years now. I feel confident that the worst I'll get is a sore arm for a day or two. I'm just hoping that we can get through this awful year in one piece.

Okay, enough about disasters and pandemics. There are still plenty of wonderful places that I can point my mind towards, and I'll just have to root around in the attic of my mind and look for something positive to focus on. Here I am cruising along, looking, browsing in the mists of memory...

And there it is: my skydiving years! What a wonderful time they were for me. For those of you who don't know the history of how I became a skydiver, it was a simple tandem jump in Loveland, Colorado, with a friend who had always wanted to make a skydive. I went along with it, because it seemed like a fun thing to do. Any of you who have ever made a tandem jump yourself know what I'm talking about. An experienced and well trained instructor straps you to his front, and the two of you travel up in an airplane until you exit together, with him or her in charge of the oversized parachute, while you experience the thrill of a lifetime! I can tell you, the long journey from the seat of the airplane to the open door is something nobody can forget. Then you dangle your feet out into space while your instructor sort of leans forward and you both enter freefall.

I certainly didn't know how much my life would change from that fateful moment until today. But the man sleeping next to me would come into my life because of it, and the thousands of skydives I have made since would become the center of my existence. I became an instructor myself, although not a tandem instructor but a freefall instructor, where you take someone out of the airplane who is wearing their own parachute. I was an active skydiver for more than twenty-five years before retiring at the age of 72. It will always be something I remember and reminisce about with joy and excitement, even today. My memories are filled with more than sixty hours of time spent in freefall, many of them with my dear partner holding my hand, gazing out at the world as we fell towards the earth. Ah, it is a wonderful time, something I will carry with me forever.

I suspect that you have times that you can recall in your past that bring joy when you remember, and you might reminisce about those days. It's also possible that you find yourself surrounded by family and friends right now, today, and that brings you joy. We don't have many choices we can make these days, but remembering and rejoicing is always available to us. In any event, we are truly a product of all we have lived through, including now.
It takes one thought, one second, one moment of positive memory to act as a catalyst for the light to gradually seep in again. —Fearne Cotton

 And with that, dear friends, I will again make my way to the coffee shop to spend a bit of time with my current coffee family, then come home to my dear life partner who sleeps contentedly next to me as I write. He is getting stronger every day, and we continue to spend our days together in gratitude for each other. Until we meet again next week, be well, my dear virtual family.

Sunday, September 6, 2020


I took this picture yesterday while on a walk in the neighborhood. I was attracted to that pretty white bloom and then enchanted by the lovely pink color of the others. It's a really special time of the year for me, the end of summer and the beginning of fall. And this is the Sunday sandwiching the three-day holiday of Labor Day here in the US. The unofficial end of summer, with the days growing shorter and the nights longer, heading towards the Autumnal Equinox on September 22, just a little more than two weeks away.

Many people don't like the winter months and relish summer, but I'm definitely a fan of the two seasons that transition from one to another. There's a bittersweet feeling in these gorgeous fall days, because you know what's coming. This year is especially fraught for many of us as the pandemic continues to disrupt our activities, and the upcoming election season as well. It's a reminder that the world is at a crossroads between what has been, and what the coming months will bring. Many people I know are experiencing stress and have few ways to cope with it. I feel fortunate to have beautiful places to walk and hike in, as well as yoga via Zoom, which I am currently enjoying three times a week. It helps so much. And I have my friends at the coffee shop, where we sit outside and drink coffee together in our lawn chairs. I don't know when, if ever, we will be able to gather inside again. It doesn't look like it will be soon, and the weather will become a factor to consider.

One thing that has saddened me lately is the loss of Chadwick Boseman, a gifted actor who played T'Challa in Black Panther. I watched the movie last year, on my iPad, and yesterday I decided to watch it again, out of respect for Boseman, and because I remembered I'd enjoyed it before. It does sometimes amaze me how much I forget about movies I've seen before; it was like the first time, and once again I was so impressed with how wonderful the movie was, in every way. I'm not a Marvel fan, usually, but that particular movie is very special. I knew it is the first Marvel movie to win an Academy Award, and it deserved every accolade it received. The magical world of Wakanda again brought tears to my eyes, thinking of how much today's world needs a place like that to aspire to.

Chadwick Boseman was only 43 years old when he died of colon cancer last month, which is on the rise in young people, for some reason nobody understands. He didn't tell anyone outside of his family about his struggle, and in watching the movie, I can hardly believe that beautiful man would be leaving soon, and that he was probably suffering greatly and in silence. He embodied the King so perfectly that I cannot imagine anybody else playing the role. Charles Carter is the person who first told Boseman he would be playing T'Challa. Carter was a bodyguard who met Boseman in Australia during the filming of another movie, and they hit it off. Carter had been a fan of comic books since he was a child and once he went home, he found his 1977 comic book about Black Panther and sent it to Boseman with a note that said, "You're going to get this role." How prescient was that? Boseman sent Carter a ticket to the premier of the movie. That was the last time Carter saw him.
No-one else can be the Black Panther now. Wakanda can live, but not King T'Challa. Writers should think of developing other leads, strong women, strong people of colour. Not replace Chadwick Boseman, because that is not possible. —Charles Carter
 I am sad that such a good person would be taken from us way too early. And that others, like me, continue to live into our late seventies. There is no justice to the way the world works. It's not up to me to decide when it will be my time, but I sure wish Chadwick Boseman could have lived to continue to light up the lives of many of us. That said, I am grateful that I got to appreciate him in his many screen roles. I'll also watch him as Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and James Brown. All those movies are available on my laptop. Chadwick Boseman was a good person.
The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people. —Chadwick Boseman
As I sit here in the dark, tapping away on my laptop, another good person lies next to me, my dear life partner, who is recovering slowly but surely from his stroke four weeks ago today. The stroke damaged his insula, a little understood part of the cerebral cortex. It's thought to be the center for self-awareness and the integration of external stimuli and internal interpretation. I see him looking at the world through new eyes, and learning how to deal with an influx of emotions that he had buried deep inside himself. I have to say I really admire and love seeing the way he is dealing with it all. I thought I loved him a lot before, but now I love him even more. How fortunate I am to share my life with him.

There's a lot of good in the world, and we just need to focus on it, rather than on the dark underbelly of the news that permeates our TV screens. I know it's hard, but it's definitely possible. I intend to spend my days spreading kindness and love, and it sure makes me feel better and might actually make a tiny difference in my own little part of the world. Today I'll spend the first part of my day at the coffee shop with my buddies, and then go for a nice walk with my friend Melanie along the Interurban Trail. It's a plan!

I do hope you will have a good week ahead, and if you haven't yet seen the movie, spend a little time watching Black Panther. It's got some violence in it, but a very happy ending, which is what we are all hoping for. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.