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, November 29, 2020

An attitude of gratitude

Last rose of the year

 Yesterday, Melanie and Chris and I walked from the Farmers' Market to the campus at Western Washington University, making a loop walk of around five miles. Early in the spring, we had stopped at the rose garden on campus and enjoyed the wonderful flowers. This time, we saw one solitary rose still on the bushes, covered with moisture and smiling up at us, reminding us that beauty still lingers, even at the end of November.

You may not enjoy loneliness, because loneliness is sad. But solitude is something else; solitude is what you look forward to when you want to be alone, when you want to be with yourself. So, solitude is something we all need from time to time. —Ruskin Bond

 I've been thinking quite a lot lately about what it means to be lonely. It seems to be everywhere, with this pandemic keeping us from being with our friends. Do you feel it, too? I am blessed with my partner, who shares my days and keeps me entertained, and well fed, too. He doesn't allow me to forget the wonderful food I've managed to neglect in the dark reaches of the refrigerator, by pushing it to the forefront and sometimes even placing a smiley face on a container, as if to say, "what about me?"

We don't go to bed at the same time, hardly ever. I am a morning person and wake hours before he does, and I tire and fall into bed much earlier than my night owl partner. After a sweet hug from him, I climb into bed, the door closed and the room darkened. I listen to the sounds outside through the open window and think about things, about my life, my day, even my hopes for the future sometimes. It's a time that gives me the solitude I need to come home to myself. A time to visit the quiet place inside my mind that allows me to gently fall asleep. Usually it works without fail, but when I am anxious about something, it will come up and demand to be examined.

Have you ever felt loneliness at times like that? I know I have. And it might help to think that I could just get up and interrupt whatever activity my partner might be engaged in, and start a conversation. But I usually don't, since it seems a bit selfish, to pull him into a mental place that he isn't actually in at the moment. I know it helps me just to know he's there, available if necessary. But no, I usually stay in bed, knees pointed at the ceiling under the covers, and ponder what is bothering me.

And that is when I realize that I'm not alone. That the sense of being heard exists inside my own mind. If I lay out the dilemma, looking at it as if I were going to tell it to another, it shifts around and takes on quite a different complexion. I carry on a conversation with my spirit self, and if I listen, I can often hear what is really going on and what needs to shift in my perception. Before long, I am asleep.

Some people might say that I am engaged in prayer. And yes, that is what I call it, too, often when I am laying out the facts, as if on an altar, one bit at a time. I believe that everything I need is available to me, if I just look within myself for it, rather than outside. And being grateful always helps me to look around with new eyes.

'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. —Alice Walker

 Yesterday, my dear friend Lily invited me over to her place for a small gathering (four of us) to celebrate my upcoming birthday. I usually avoid thinking about these birthdays, since I've had enough of them already, I don't need more of them. Why this birthday and not last year? I also received a wonderful unexpected birthday gift from one of my blogging friends, who sent me some handmade crocheted wearables, which is very touching. She first sent me a book, many years ago, when I wrote on my blog that I had never heard of Aldo Leopold. For someone who loves the outdoors, she was surprised that I had never read his "A Sand County Almanac." She, it turned out, had plenty of copies of it and gifted me with one. I read it and truly enjoyed it. There are images from the book I will never forget. Some people are easy to be grateful for, and she is definitely one. 

It reminds me that one reason I don't believe I experience loneliness very often is that I have a plethora of books to explore, and many virtual friends who share their lives with those who read their blogs. Because of them, I peer into their daily lives and see how others are coping with the pandemic. We are all so different, and I often am learning to see the world through their eyes, which gives my own perspective a new angle. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am, with such a full life, and so much to be thankful for.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. —Melody Beattie

And with that, dear friends, I think I have finished another Sunday morning meditation. It has been fun to sit here in the dark, with my dear partner sleeping next to me, the light from my laptop shining into the room, filling me with so much gratitude that it is spilling right into the world. This little light will, I pray, make your day a better one, filled with the hopes and prayers of all of us for a kinder, more compassionate world. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Thanksgiving week


Ferry terminal decorated for the holidays

Yesterday, my friend Melanie and I walked from downtown, along Boulevard Park, to Fairhaven's ferry terminal, where we knew we would be able to see its windows. They have been painted by our friend Ellen Clark, a local artist and a dear friend. We tried to get the best picture possible, but it was difficult because of filtered sunshine on the windows. Mel got this one, and if you could see that big window on top, you'd see Santa, smiling, checking his list. And wearing a mask. That's me on the right, in front of one of the two smaller windows that she also decorated. The link takes you to a short bio about her.

By the time we meet again next week, we will have celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States. Canada celebrated theirs on the second Monday in October, while ours is on the fourth Thursday in November. Canada managed to stay within the boundaries of their pandemic restrictions, but they are also, along with the entire rest of the world, experiencing a surge in Covid cases and deaths. I saw a graphic showing the stark difference between our countries, with our cases yesterday reaching almost 2,000 in a single day. And Thursday, people will still be gathering in their homes with friends and family and spreading the virus even more. Canada has wisely decided not to reopen the border between our countries until the end of the year, if then.

It is a terrible and very scary time in the history of the world, and my country has the dubious honor of having some of the most out of control spread. I am proud of my own state's response, with our governor closing all bars and indoor dining, and asking us to mask up even when hiking outdoors. And of course limiting our gatherings to a maximum of five. These tighter restrictions are in place for a month, hoping that after that time we will have flattened the curve. I am skeptical, but hopeful. By mid-December, we'll know if we were successful.

In the meantime, I will do my best to follow the rules and not spread the virus. I do have some friends that I spend time with, and they are all old like me and therefore vulnerable to Covid's worst effects. I think I had it, along with SG, back in March when there were no tests available. We are admonished not to get a test even now, unless we have been exposed or have symptoms, leaving the tests for those who need them. 

So what to do? Well, I've been looking for ways to keep myself healthy, both in mind and spirit, and have found that some things really seem to work for me. The first one is, not surprisingly, getting exercise daily. Walking instead of driving, even in the rain, and keeping a mask available at all times. Mostly I walk with it around my neck, unless I encounter another person, and then I pull it up as we pass by each other. I keep my distance whenever possible, and I stay out of crowded stores, even if everyone is masked. I always feel much better once I am able to raise my body temperature with exercise. It never fails.

I have limited my exposure to the news, since that tends to make me feel depressed and even discouraged. But really, we will get through this period and will remember this time as one of major challenges to our way of life, and hopefully there will be some good to come from it. We won't be able to see it until we are fully through and into another reality. But it will come.

Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again. —John McCain

 I am grateful to have so many friends, even if we only visit each other these days through texts and Zoom calls, who also find laughter and love with one another. A positive attitude goes a long way towards making my mental health better. Even if I get sad temporarily, I know the moment will pass and things will look different when I change my perspective. It's normal to have moments of discouragement during these dark days, but the light always returns.

During the coming week, I will be concentrating on all the good in my life, and there is plenty of it. I not only have enough good food to eat, but I also have enough to share with those who don't. I will give money to the Bellingham Food Bank, which is one of the best ways to get people enough to eat right here in my city. If you can afford it, I recommend it as a way to do something concrete to help others.

Today is the anniversary of JFK's death in 1963. I was living in Michigan at the time, and I remember how much I felt like the earth had opened up and swallowed happiness for all time. As many of us who lived through that time remember, it was a great shock to our country, but we lived through it, and through much more trauma after that. And we got through it, just as we will today. We are resilient and resourceful creatures.

This Thursday, I will celebrate all the many gifts that I am surrounded with: my dear partner (whose health continues to improve), the beautiful Pacific Northwest with all its weather changes, my friends and family, and that special bond I have with you, my dear reader, the one I will never see in person but know so well. Most of my readers also have blogs of their own, and I continue to learn so much from everyone. Life is good!

I hope the coming week will be a good one for you, and that you will find a way to celebrate your blessings through all of our challenges and trials. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Mid-November musings

Last of the leaves

As I sit here in the dark, with my laptop on my knees while sitting up in bed, a usual Sunday morning dawns. This morning, nothing pops into my head as I ponder what to write about. As anybody who follows this blog knows, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it's a dud. I have no idea what will come out today, but this practice has been going on for more than a decade and so, here goes.

Yesterday I went on my usual Saturday morning walk with a couple of good friends, all of us wearing masks even while we are outside. On Saturday there are many more people on the trails than we encounter on Thursdays, my other usual hiking day. Because the pandemic has curtailed the groups that I used to join for those two activities, I still manage to have found some diehard friends who are willing to join me. Otherwise, I'd be going alone. I truly need the exercise during this time more than ever. Those walks, plus three Zoom yoga classes a week, help to keep me from slipping into depression.

I also join some of my old Senior Trailblazer friends for a Zoom meeting once a week, and we normally have a group of around 8 or 10 of us talk for an hour. We discuss how we are faring, who is hiking where, and discussing whatever is on our minds. It helps to see these old friends, learning about their coping mechanisms as we navigate our "new normal." The way the pandemic is going, I don't see this situation changing any time soon. Most of us are in our seventies and considered high risk, even if we are more active than many seniors. We are still old.

During a recent Zoom meeting, I learned about a new kind of fabric to keep you dry during heavy rain. Since we're getting into our usual rainy season, I was interested to hear about it. We laughed about how anybody living and hiking in the Pacific Northwest usually has more than one or two rain jackets. This new fabric is only available from Columbia at the moment, and so I went to their website to learn more about OutDry Extreme. I've never been thrilled with Gore-Tex, which is expensive and only seems to work for a short while before becoming just another jacket that leaks. Once you wash it a time or two, it loses its potency. I found an OutDry raincoat on sale for half price and ordered it. It should arrive this coming week, and since we are entering a particularly rainy patch; I'll be able to see if it works and if I like it. Otherwise, it will join the other half-dozen raincoats in my closet. 

Yesterday we walked around five miles in Arroyo Park from Fairhaven, and it was mild, cloudy, and dry, making it a very pleasant time along the wide trails. There were plenty of people out and about, and almost everyone wore a mask, even though we were outside. When we got to the bridge over Chuckanut Creek, we saw a group of five or six women staring into the water. The salmon are running at the moment, making their way up the creek to their spawning grounds. They had spied a group of fish, so we decided that we would join them. Since we are not supposed to be in such large groups, even outside, we found another place where you could see the fish struggling upstream and watched in fascination as one after another fought against the rushing water. Sometimes they would tire and slip backwards, losing their hard-fought gains.

Of course, when I got home I researched the salmon activity, wondering if they really do find their way all the way back to where they were spawned and how it occurs. How does a salmon find its way back "home"? I found this information on Wikipedia:

Most salmon mostly spend their early life in rivers or lakes, and then swim out to sea where they live their adult lives and gain most of their body mass. When they have matured, they return to the rivers to spawn. Usually they return with uncanny precision to the natal river where they were born, and even to the very spawning ground of their birth. It is thought that, when they are in the ocean, they use magnetoreception to locate the general position of their natal river, and once close to the river, that they use their sense of smell to home in on the river entrance and even their natal spawning ground.

I also learned that they stop eating when they begin this trip, and they just don't have the energy to return after spawning, so they die. Some of the salmon we saw were huge, at least to my eyes, and it made me sad to realize that they are on their final journey. Most salmon live around five to seven years, but they only make this trip once before they die. I tried to capture it but was unsuccessful. My friend Melanie got this great video, which I hope you can see. (9 seconds long)

In any event, it was definitely an amazing experience. Then we said goodbye and went to our respective homes, reflecting on the natural world and its vast variety of species. I feel very blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country, where I can walk in the forests and watch the salmon run, and even enjoy the life-giving rain. 

Today I'll join my coffee shop friends and will probably sit around outside while enjoying my coffee and their company, before making some shopping errands and then heading home. I might start watching season 4 of The Crown, which was just released today. I've enjoyed the first three seasons very much. As our days grow shorter and the nights ever longer as we make our way towards the winter solstice, I am spending more time inside, sequestered with my dear partner as we slog through our isolation during the pandemic. 

We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. —Charles R. Swindoll

Well, that about wraps up this post, as I get ready to begin the rest of my Sunday. I do feel a bit better than I did before I started to write, which is why I do it. Hopefully you will find some joy and happiness in your days before we meet again next week. Until then, dear friends, be well. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Election is finally over

November trail

Well, the election of our president for the next four years was called yesterday, Saturday, November 7. A day for the history books, after five days of counting almost 150 million ballots. The counting is still continuing, but it became evident that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would become the next executive leaders of our country, and the race was called when he crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes.

Last night I watched the celebratory speeches by both of them, and was pleased to see that in that huge crowd of people, everybody was wearing masks, even if social distancing was impossible. The speeches were fine, not too long, but I just wished that Biden had not shouted into the mic the whole time. I had to turn the volume way down, but otherwise I enjoyed it all. 

When they started the fireworks, I was again amazed at the ones that spell out words, so of course I went online to find out how it's done. It turns out that these are special things called "lanceworks." Each lance is hand pressed and filled to burn for approximately sixty seconds. Zambelli Fireworks website explains:

If you have ever seen a name or company logo produced by pyrotechnics, it is called a “set-piece.” Nearly any logo, word, sentence/phrase, or other design can be created using fireworks known as “lances.” Lances are pencil-sized miniature flares that are mounted on wooden frames designed to the exact specifications of a word or logo.

Anyway, now the hard work begins in the transition period before January 20 next year. I am very worried about how the coronavirus has been spreading around the country, and pleased to hear that Biden is setting up a task force right away. Hopefully that might nudge our current president to take some immediate steps to contain the pandemic. But in any event, we cannot return to any semblance of normal life until the virus is under control. I'm just glad I am able to find places to exercise and keep my strength and stamina up during the coming weeks and months. Not to mention my mental health.

What else is on my mind this fine November day? I had a lovely walk last Thursday around the Lake Padden horse trails (which is where I took the picture above) and enjoyed the dry weather, even if the recent rains had made for some very muddy patches. Then yesterday, when I went out for a short walk with my regular Saturday walking friends, it began to rain. A lot, it turned out, and I was totally unprepared since it was not supposed to rain at all. My down jacket got soaked, and when I returned home, I learned that in the northern part of the city, where I live, it had not rained at all! From now on, I'm going to carry rain gear in my car, just in case. I'm not sure whether it would have helped yesterday, though, since we were at least a mile into the walk when it began to rain. Oh well, I didn't melt, even if it wasn't pleasant to be so unprepared.

Yesterday I began to watch the seven-part miniseries, "The Queen's Gambit," on Netflix. By the time I had finished the first one, I was hooked, and even had dreams based on that episode. Kelly Lawler, on USA Today, had this in her review:

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, "Queen's" follows the rise of fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon (a stunning Anya Taylor-Joy), a Kentucky orphan in the 1960s who learns the game from a janitor (Bill Camp) in her orphanage's basement. As a teen, she makes her way onto the international chess circuit, traveling the globe and handily beating men twice her age. She also spends that time battling addiction, a much harder fight for Beth than any chess match. 

 If you watched it, or intend to, I'd like to know what you think of it. I still have six episodes before I'm finished, but it's definitely a good place to take any thoughts of my current world into another sphere. I'll probably get the book after I'm finished with the series, since that's my usual pattern when I'm not quite ready to let go of a good diversion.

I've never played chess, but my father tried once, long ago, to interest Norma Jean, my sister, and me in learning it. I suspect he had visions of us becoming prodigies, but he was definitely not the best teacher. He had no patience with our inability to understand the intricacies of the game, much less how to move the pieces! Instead, he had two terrified young girls trembling at the thought of what piece to move next.  We really wanted to make him happy, but this was not the way to do it. I think we both now have a bit of an aversion to the game. We stuck to checkers after our disgrace with chess. Today, I can smile at the memory. 

Well, that's about it for now. I cannot seem to think of anything else that's currently on my mind. (That may change as I re-read what I've written here, but I don't think so.) Keeping myself and my dear partner healthy, both physically and mentally, is the big challenge in my life right now. I know I am not alone in this, either. 

The tea is gone, my dear one is still sleeping, and the day is beckoning. I'm meeting my friends Lily and John for breakfast in a little more than an hour from now, so I'll be finishing this and hoping I'll be more inspired next week. I do hope you find some enjoyment yourself during this coming period, and if you have any tips, please don't hesitate to pass them along. Until then, be well and don't forget to count your blessings. You are definitely one of mine.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Pondering our future and a goodbye

Street art

Yesterday morning, I went for a really nice walk around the waterfront with two dear friends. It was sunny (as you can see in the above photo) and cold, with the temperature in the low thirties (1.5°C). We walked around five miles, and by the time we were done, it had warmed up considerably, with no wind and after having been active. It felt really nice.

I needed it for several reasons, not the least of which is that I learned that my dear blogging friend Ronni Bennett died Friday evening. As many of you know, she wrote the blog Time Goes By for fifteen years, and I have been a follower and fan for more than a decade. Three years ago now, Ronni discovered she had pancreatic cancer and decided to opt for the Whipple Procedure, an invasive operation that gives people with this illness a chance to live. She describes the entire process in great detail, and it's worth your time if you want to go back and read about how she dealt with dying.

She did two things that I find really rather amazing: she arranged to have a guided psilocybin "trip" to help her deal with the fear of dying, and I have gone back and read about it more than once. (I just tried to find it again with no success. No search box on TGB, but all her posts are still there.) She described in response to her trip that finally her fear of dying had changed dramatically. 

The other thing she did, after having become a Hospice patient, was to arrange to have the drugs in her home that she could take when it became impossible to continue, and not having to wait for the natural process of death to take place. This is legal in Oregon, where she lived. At this point I don't know if she actually took them, or whether she died without them. From what I know, pancreatic cancer is a particularly painful death, and she cared for her father many years ago when he died of it. In any event, she is gone, leaving her dedicated fans and followers to muddle through. She has a good friend, Autumn, who will take over the blog and keep it alive so that we can all continue to "visit" with Ronni and glean her wisdom, even now that she's gone from the world.

After having had a copious cry, I read the comments from other readers who had responded to her passing, and it was time to begin the process I've grown to know all too well: mourning the loss of a treasured friend. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, I began the process with her, and it still continues to this day. They both died of pancreatic cancer, which for a rather rare cancer, seems to be all too present in my own circle. Those two, along with one of my hiking buddies who was younger than me, also died of it last year. 

Dying is a part of life. Nobody and nothing that is born escapes death, and now that I have lived long enough that I've passed through all the phases of the life cycle, except for the final one of dying, I realize how fortunate I am to still be active, with relatively few aches and pains (although there are still plenty, if I focus on them), and so very much to be grateful for. When I watch the news and see what's happening in other parts of the world, I again thank the Powers That Be for my good fortune of having been born here in the United States.

But that might be changing soon. In two days, we will have an election that will change the trajectory of this country in profound ways. No matter who wins, I fear we are in for a bumpy ride, one which I am not sure all of us will survive. There is so much hate and division, more than I would ever have thought possible, everywhere in this country. What happens next depends on whether people decide to concentrate on what we all share and preserve it, or whether we decide to take out our anger on each other.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have an extra hour this morning, since we again changed our clocks back to Standard Time, which will be around for a few months before we go back to Daylight Saving Time again in the spring. Of course I couldn't sleep beyond my usual waking time, so I've already been up for more than an hour, and it's not even 6:00am yet! I really dislike the process, although I am happy for my friends who never seem to get enough sleep and can snooze for an extra hour. This time change will mess with my routine for a week or so, but I have little problem losing that extra hour in the spring. I'm weird like that.

One thing I have realized as I ponder the future is that whatever we end up going through during the next week or so will finally pass. It sure doesn't help that we are still, all over the world, in the grip of Covid-19. It isn't as bad in my own state as it is in several others, but the good thing is that now we seem to know a little better how to treat the illness in those who end up in the hospital. People are still dying, and that really makes me sad and angry at people who don't take it seriously. But I can only do what I can in my own circles and have no power to change them. I want to believe what Martin Luther King, Jr. says in that quote: that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. 

And of course I need to take care of myself as best I can, stay out of crowds and stay masked and socially distant, except for my own Covid "pods," and hope for the best. It takes a lot for me to actually get down on my knees and pray, but I'm doing that now, and trying to find peace wherever I can. My dear life partner sleeps next to me, peacefully, and that makes me smile. The day is beginning bright and sunny (when the sun comes up, that is), and I will visit my friends at the coffee shop, even though it's cold we will gather and take comfort in each other's presence. We might end up huddling in John's truck as we drink our hot coffee and remind each other how important friends are. 

And that is how I will end this post, thinking about a week from now when I hope we will gather here together in virtual communion, and we take a look at our changed world and find it good. You are admonished to find one thing, just one, to be grateful for. If you do that, you'll find other reasons not far behind. Take care of yourself, dear reader, and keep believing that unconditional love will have the final word.