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, January 31, 2021

The siblings

Me, Norma Jean, PJ, Buz, Markee, Fia

After last week when I traveled back in time forty years ago, it seems almost like yesterday that I look back only ten years ago to this picture. It is the last one that was taken of me with all my siblings. We are arranged, as usual, in birth order, with me on the left as the oldest, and Fia at the right, the youngest. Almost exactly twenty years separate us, with me born in fall 1942, and Fia in the fall of 1962.

We are in the home of my brother Buz and his wife Phyllis and had gathered to mark the passing of Norma Jean's husband Pete, who died in February 2011. I just realized that it has been a decade since then. PJ died in February 2014, three years after this picture was taken. For years, we had a private blog, started by Buz, which is called "The Sixlings." It still exists on Wordpress, but nobody seems to visit it, other than Buz who keeps our family anniversaries and birthdays up to date.  (I just went over to see if I can still log in but have forgotten the password. Story of my life.)

When I went to bed last night, I thought about PJ and her life, and lo and behold, she came to visit me in my dreams. As usual, she was creating something crafty, even in my dream. Only her family called her "PJ," her initials (Patricia June) and was "Pat" to everybody else. She was always the least healthy of us, suffering from both diabetes and heart disease. I remember being surprised during this visit that she could only walk very slowly and hardly at all when faced with a hill to navigate. She looked quite healthy to me, but she was not. 

She not only liked to create needlepoint samplers, jewelry, and the like, but she also liked to give them away. PJ also loved to care for others who were less fortunate, and for many years she helped a young man who had been paralyzed to be able to communicate. I remember how hard she labored to find a way for him to use a computer system, and she was eventually successful. She was also an inveterate gamer and always showed up at family gatherings with plenty of them to share. It was because of her that I was pulled in to play when I didn't want to, and she was right: I enjoyed them very much once I got over my reticence. 

She doted on her four grandchildren and was very involved in their upbringing. When I visited family and she was around, she always had many stories about them and their progress. Now they are teenagers (hard to fathom) and I know I would hear so much more about them were she still alive. Although I rarely log on to Facebook any more, other than to look at pictures of my buddies' hiking exploits, and now skiing and snowshoe trips, I just went to her remembrance page to think about her once again.

PJ was seven years younger than me, and because of her place in the family hierarchy, she didn't have a sibling close to her as I had with Norma Jean. Buz was born many years later, and he grew up close to his two younger sisters. I do know that he was much more involved with PJ than I was, since they lived in nearby cities, and PJ was quite close to Fia as well, as I remember, for the same reason. 

The only family member than I see on a regular basis is Norma Jean. She and I will have a FaceTime call this coming Wednesday, which turns out would have been her late husband's 77th birthday. That is entirely by coincidence, as we have the calls pre-scheduled for every fourth Wednesday, and I noticed the date and was reminded of it. It's hard to realize that he has been gone for a decade now. When you get to a certain age, not only do the weeks and months fly by, but also the years and even decades.

During this year of "Uncovering," I suspect there will be many memories of times and people who are still present in my recollections that will emerge. PJ's visit in my dreams last night was quite pleasant, as she instructed me on how to generate a needlepoint creation (something I would never do in real life). In my dream, I could hear her voice as clearly as if she were still alive, and I could also hear her easy laughter as I struggled to pull the needle through the cloth. 

"Here, let me show you." She took the cloth from my hands, and I watched her pretty small fingers as she magically made it look easy indeed. PJ was very petite, the smallest of the siblings, although she struggled to keep her weight under control. It's always harder when you're small, I think, when you've got one mouth just like everybody else, and it seems wrong that you cannot eat much without weight gain. I know she struggled with it and was moderately successful for much of her life. She lived to be 63, had two children, both boys. She was very successful in her chosen profession and became quite a whiz at creating Microsoft excel spreadsheets, which she taught to others. 

I cannot say that I miss her often, because she was not part of my everyday life. But we will never be able to gather all of us together again, because she is gone forever. Her memory will live on among her siblings, and when we gather together again, we will think of her and miss her presence. With the pandemic still raging, it's difficult to think when that might be. It has been two years since I visited Florida, and who knows when I will feel safe traveling on a plane again? Not any time soon.

Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. —O. Henry

And with this recollection of my sister PJ, I will now continue with the rest of my day. It's time to think of what lies ahead, and to visit the coffee shop and my friend John, before deciding what I will do with the rest of it. The weather is mild and pleasant, so I might go for a nice walk. Or maybe back to my latest book in my favorite chair. Or both. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I can feel myself ready to make some new memories. I have so much to be grateful for, and you, my dear reader, figure quite prominently in there, too. I hope you have a wonderful day and week ahead. Be well until we meet again. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Forty years ago

Machu Picchu 1981

While I was looking at old pictures during my quest to "uncover" much of my forgotten past, I found this one of me sitting in a sacred place in Machu Picchu in Peru. If I didn't know that was me, I would never have recognized myself. Forty years ago! How much has happened to me since then.

I had been working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research since 1979, and I always had wanted to travel, especially to see this magnificent place. Circumstances and a bit of luck gave me an opportunity to visit Peru. I had decided to travel by myself and take enough gear so that I could go on some days-long hikes, hoping to find others in Lima who would accompany me. However, I was willing to do whatever it took to be able to hike the Inca Trail. As it turned out, a friend hooked me up with another woman who would travel with me. Marla knew not one word of Spanish and needed someone to help her with the language. Although certainly not fluent, I knew enough Spanish to get by. And so, in October 1981, we flew to Lima and stayed at a hostel, before deciding to travel to Cusco, where we would be able to take a train to the beginning of the trail. Most people took three or four days to travel through the minor Incan ruins before coming to the main attraction, Machu Picchu. 

I have learned since then that traveling to Machu Picchu is entirely different today. Now there is a luxury hotel near the site, and a cable car takes tourists from there to the main ruins. A friend went there a few years ago, and the pictures he showed me looked nothing like the place I visited so long ago. You even have to queue in long lines to get in. Totally different from my experience.

Marla and I took a local train to Kilometer 88, where we began the 26-mile-long trip. We got off the train with about a dozen other hikers from all over the world. I think we were the only Americans and nobody else spoke any English. Everybody strapped on their backpacks and took off at a fast pace. We waited until the last, and then when we were on the trail itself, we saw very few other hikers during the next days. I found this site that tells about the trip:

The trip begins in the town of Qorihuayrachina, at kilometer 88 of the Quillabamba railway - Cusco and takes 3 to 4 days of strenuous hiking, it is the road that takes tourists to Machu Picchu. The route consists of an impressive variety of altitudes, climates and ecosystems ranging from the Andean plain to the cloud forest.

Now, you are expected to stay in the campgrounds that exist along the trail, but in those days you just had to find a place to camp on your own. There were no porta-potties or even water sources that seemed safe. We used iodine drops in our water to keep from picking up bacteria. It was a very memorable adventure, and it reminds me that I have been making long and difficult hikes for much longer than I remembered. I made this trip a full decade before I discovered skydiving and stopped everything else, including backpacking and strenuous hikes. 

During the two months I spent in Peru, I made four different trips into the mountains, two with Marla, and two with other solo hikers I met while staying in hostels that catered to tourists like me. These days, I am actually a bit surprised and impressed with the adventurous spirit that I seemed to have back then. And so much has transpired in my life since that time. Looking back, I am so glad that I was able to have such exciting events and still have a few memories that recall such a distant adventure.

Yesterday was a glorious day to be out and about, here in the Pacific Northwest, many decades later. Although I am much older now and my hair is white and my body much used and abused, I can still walk several miles at a time and enjoy being outdoors, breathing fresh air and taking in the sunshine. I will continue to do all this until the day comes when I must stop. Fortunately, it is not happening today or tomorrow, I hope. I will give it all I have until that day comes.

If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. —Jim Rohn

Forty years later, I am pretty much done with traveling for adventure. I am now looking forward to what comes next, whatever it might be. As I explore my past decades, I'm finding that I have truly lived a good life and have much to be grateful for. Not the least of which is my ability to recall times and places that are still bright spots in my memories. 

Forty years ago, I could not have imagined the life I live today. I could never have imagined knowing so many people around the world through the magic of the internet, through the words and pictures of wonderful friends that I will never meet, but who mean everything to me. I am filled with gratitude for it all. And for my dear partner, who sleeps beside me as I write. For my life as it was, as it is today, and for what it will yet become. 

Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The lost year

Me and Lily at the 2019 Tulip Festival

Yesterday I rummaged through my photos looking for something to write about this morning, for my usual Sunday morning post. I loved looking at the tulips during our last visit to the Tulip Festival. Where are the ones from last year, I wondered. And then I remembered there was no festival last year, because of the pandemic. You know, the one that is still raging through the country?

Then I began to wonder whether there will be another lost year, another year when we will not be able to visit with each other, when there will not be a beautiful and delightful riot of colors and flower designs in the Skagit Valley. That is just one thing that I missed last year, but being able to hang out and have coffee with my friend Lily (among others) is another favorite activity I've really missed. Although we've gotten together maybe half a dozen times during the past year, it's nothing compared to our usual visits. I miss her so much.

And here we are, beginning the last week of the Trump presidency, with our nation's capitol looking like a war zone, with more than 20,000 National Guard troops garrisoned inside its halls. I never would have believed we could be here, in this strange limbo, unable to travel far from home because of an out-of-control virus, and being unable to count on our country being able to inaugurate the new president without such awful precautions. What happened to my country? I am in mourning for what was and what might never be again.

Will there be any sort of return to normal once the vaccine is distributed to most of us? Of course, this is not only happening in America, but all over the world. I watch the news and look for slivers of light in the darkness. The UK is in strict lockdown right now, as is our neighbor to the north, Canada. The border is still closed and will be for the foreseeable future. In fact, I'm wondering if we will ever be back to a semblance of normal times, or is this what the world will look like this time next year? I'm hoping not, I'm truly hoping that we will be hanging out in our local coffee shop, and going out to dinner with friends, and even going to movies together. 

As I moan over how much has changed, I also must stop and take stock of what has not changed, what has actually become better than before. For one, our national carbon emissions, and those across the world, have fallen to levels not seen for decades. That's a good thing, and I hope we can find a way to keep them down. I know I sure don't drive as much as I did before, and much of the world's economic activity has slowed because of the pandemic. If the new president is able to enact much of his agenda, we might have a much better country than before. But that will be a big lift, with everything that has happened and with extremists still threatening more mayhem and destruction. I am hopeful, but also fearful of the immediate future. 

It's been almost a year since we entered lockdown here in Washington state, and nobody would have believed that the virus would still be rampaging out of control like it is today. It's not only here, but most countries are in worse economic shape than at the beginning of the pandemic. The lost year, indeed. I am old and have seen much change during my years, but this is unique and a situation I would not have believed could exist here today. When I write next week, we will hopefully have begun a new era, the Biden era, and that his efforts to get all Americans vaccinated and the virus under control will have begun. I am hopeful, but also anxious about it all. You probably are, too, no matter where in the country, or in the world, you live.

We have a few more months to go before it will be decided whether there will be another year without a Tulip Festival or not. It's mid-January, and after a mild fall and winter so far, we are beginning to see signs of the light returning and spring flowers emerging from the ground. Whatever else happens, the seasons keep their inevitable turning from one to the next, a good reminder that change is inevitable and to be rejoiced in. Soon we will reach Groundhog Day, February 2, the marker between the winter solstice and the spring equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere. Then there will be more light in the sky, and the natural world will respond with lots of new growth, and a new and hopeful time will expand from the darkness we are experiencing today. It's the way the world has always been, and will remain long after we are gone. One thing I know for sure: nothing stays the same forever, and if it looks like we are in terrible trouble in the world today, it will evolve and change.

When I think about how much my life has changed in the past year, I realize that I have adapted in some ways quite well. Although I no longer can hike with my Senior Trailblazers every Thursday, I am able to hike with my friend Melanie and one or two others, keeping our distance outdoors, staying masked when we encounter other people, and spending time with others who are willing to take the necessary precautions with the pandemic. There is a new coronavirus variant that started in the UK and has come here, nobody knows how much, but I saw a news report yesterday that it will probably become the dominant strain in the US by March. It's more contagious than the original version, but apparently no more deadly and can be transmitted with smaller amounts of the virus and in a shorter period of time. Fortunately, the vaccines they are rolling out seem to be just as capable of keeping us from getting infected from the new virus. I can hardly wait for my own vaccine dose to become available.

Vaccines and antibiotics have made many infectious diseases a thing of the past; we've come to expect that public health and modern science can conquer all microbes. But nature is a formidable adversary. —Tom Frieden

I feel optimistic that the coming year will bring many happy moments for us all, and that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. I'm hopeful that I will once again be able to tiptoe among the tulips with my dear friend Lily, and that the world will once again be free of this virus. And I am hopeful that I will once again be able to travel to visit my sister in Florida, and that the political situation in my country will heal and be even better and more stable than before. If it's possible to make a difference through an attitude of gratitude, well then, I'm determined to make a difference that way. With the vaccine against this virus in my arm, and with my mask firmly on my face, I'm going to march forward into the future with love and hope filling my heart.

And with that, dear friends, I will leave you once again with hope for better days ahead, and with certainty that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, even though I'm later than normal today, I'm feeling happy to start the rest of my Sunday. Be well.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Bringing the past into the present

Me and my son Chris in the sixties

 I have pondered all week what I might write about today, since I started the new year with the word, "Uncovering." Just the mere intention of uncovering what has kept me from looking at uncomfortable memories has stirred up the depths, things I haven't thought about for many years, even decades. And this happened during a very momentous week in our nation's history, which I'll try to deal with later in this post. It's impossible not to have been moved by the images of the Capitol being breached by huge mobs intent on destruction.

That picture was taken by my husband at the time, Don. He had an SLR camera and took many wonderful pictures during the five years we were married. I left my first husband, Derald, the father of Chris, in the aftermath of our infant son Stephen's sudden death of spinal meningitis in 1965. This could have been taken only a few years after that awful time. I realize that therein lies the beginning of my journey to attempt to bury, not only my grief, but also the pain that I carried every day about the life I left behind. It will require quite a bit of digging to get to the bottom of my renunciation. And it might take some time, but now I have begun the journey to wholeness. It is a good way to begin the new year.

I have no actual memory of that picture being taken, but I know we lived in Flint, Michigan, and it was wintertime. We lived in the country, and I suspect we drove to some nearby woods. We must have heard a bird in the tree above us, and as we looked up, Don captured this picture, for which I am very grateful. The three people in this portrait don't exist anymore; I am now an old woman, Chris has been dead since 2002, and Don died a few years ago. In fact, I realize that many friends and family have passed away, and in the present moment I must cherish those who remain. Especially my dear life partner, who sleeps next to me as I write. He's grown accustomed to the sound of the keyboard, and it doesn't seem to bother him a bit to have me busy rummaging around in old memories.

SG is one of the best things that came out of my skydiving years. I met him on a newsgroup of the time (early 1990s) dedicated to skydiving. Those were the days before websites and the current internet. He posted often about his past adventures, and they fascinated me, a newbie to the sport who could not stop thinking about it every moment of every day. We began an email correspondence, which evolved into phone calls. In those days he lived in San Francisco and I in Boulder, and we had to pay long-distance rates to talk with one another, but we fell in love that way. No actual bodies involved, just our mutual passion and our voices. He had made thousands of jumps, and I had a few hundred. Eventually, inevitably, we met in person and he ended up quitting his job and moving to Boulder. We had some hard times during those early days, but it got better, and now we've been happily married for more than a quarter century. I am so grateful to have found him. We are now old retired people, scraping by on Social Security and annuities. But we have each other, which makes us wealthy in love.

I was talking on FaceTime with my sister Norma Jean and my nephew Peter last Wednesday, when they both looked up at their television screen (sound was off) when the Capitol was breached. It seemed incredible to all three of us that what we were seeing was people breaking down the doors and windows and streaming into those hallowed halls, bent on stopping the counting of the electoral college votes. It's only been four days since all that happened, and pretty much nothing else is on the air but videos and pictures of the mayhem. Was it an attempt at an insurrection? The word is defined as "a violent uprising against an authority or government." I guess it was, then.

I was horrified by the people looking to execute Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and others. There was even a makeshift gallows with a noose visible in the crowd. People interviewed during the melee scared me with their intent, not only to destroy property, but also to kill lawmakers. These images and videos have gone around the entire world. I fear that the violence is not over but will increase as like-minded people are emboldened to take it to the next level. It terrifies me.

And this was after two new senators were elected on Tuesday, the first black senator from the South, along with the first Jewish senator from Georgia. I was happy to see that, because it meant the the new administration will not be blocked from bringing legislation to the Senate floor, which would definitely have happened if Mitch McConnell had remained majority leader. Biden has pledged that he will give the American people more money to make it through the pandemic, and he has also pledged to get it under control. I hope he will be able to make good on those promises. The pandemic is now raging out of control through much of the country, and hospitals in many places are forced to triage care, since there are not enough hospital beds or healthcare workers to cope with everyone. And it is getting worse.

We are under strict pandemic lockdown restrictions here in Washington state, but our numbers are nothing compared to California's or Arizona's. When I go out, everyone I see is wearing a mask and we are not able to attend indoor gatherings, not that I wish to. No more indoor dining or gyms, until we are past this time. More than 4,000 Americans have died from the virus just today, and more are to come. I look forward to the day when I will be able to get the vaccine.

It doesn't seem possible that we will be getting back to a normal life any time soon. And when we do, it won't be the one that we had before. It will be different, but I believe it could be even better. I hope many of us will do our part to make that dream a reality. And with whatever will be happening in this country, I know we will do our best.

The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults. —Alexis de Tocqueville

And with that thought, I leave you for another week. Sunday mornings for me always begin with this task, the one I am finishing right now, writing a post from the depths of my mental wranglings. As I've said before, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. It will take a few more readings of this one before I figure out where it lies.  In any event, I am tremendously grateful for my ability to reach across the miles to you, my dear reader, for yet another week. It's time for me to move into the next phase of my day. Hopefully it will be a good one for me, and for all of you, my sweet virtual friends. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, January 3, 2021


Me and Emily

Last night my dreams were strong and varied, although as I sit here beginning this post, I cannot remember them very much at all. I know that before I went to sleep, I had decided to write about skydiving, what it gave me, as well as what it took away from me.

It started with the new year, 2021, and me remembering that there were a few times when I began the year by making my first act one of jumping out of an airplane, along with others who wanted to begin their own new year that way. We had a New Year's Eve with a full (or nearly full) moon and weather in Colorado that was, if not exactly mild, at least clear and free of snow. Remember that we were passionate jumpers who spent our days and all our free time thinking about skydiving, talking about it, and sometimes actually jumping out of airplanes. I managed one year in my career to make over 400 skydives, but mostly it was in the low hundreds, before I finally made my last jump in 2015, with more than 4,000 accumulated over the twenty-five years I was active.

I was already an older person when I began my skydiving career, beginning when I was 48, almost 49, living in Boulder, Colorado, when I decided to make a tandem jump at the Drop Zone in Loveland. Although it was supposed to be a one-time adventure, I was simply hooked by the experience of being in freefall. Before long, I had made three tandem jumps and signed up to take the First Jump Course in October. There were perhaps a half dozen others in the class; I don't remember much about it except that I was assigned two jumpmasters who would hold onto me when we exited the airplane, and that I was to perform some maneuvers, like touching the ripcord three times in succession, and paying attention to the altimeter so that I could pull at the proper time. Then I would be under canopy alone, and had to fly it back to the place where we took off.

The strongest memory I have of it all was when I pulled the ripcord and the canopy opened perfectly. I was crying with gratitude and filled with adrenaline. I passed the jump level and came back the next weekend to take the second of seven levels before I would be allowed to jump out on my own. I started the process in September, and by the end of the year I had made more than thirty jumps and was on my own. By January 1991, I had bought my first gear and was making several skydives every weekend. I had a full-time job that paid for my new passion, and I made the hour-long drive from Boulder to Loveland every single weekend, without fail. Even when the weather wasn't looking promising for jumping, I went anyway, just in case. I grew to know and appreciate all my fellow jumpers and the instructors and was definitely hooked.

All my friends who were not jumpers got tired of hearing about it endlessly, and before long my entire social life revolved around skydiving. I made around 250 jumps my first full year in the sport. I don't actually remember all this very well, but I have all my logbooks, and looking at the first one brings back such memories, and tells me that I went from Jump #35 to #293 from January 26, 1991 to December 7, 1992. By 1994, I had successfully completed the AFF (accelerated freefall) certification course to become an instructor myself and began teaching others and being one of the two jumpmasters holding onto newbies as they made their first jumps.

In that picture, I am smiling along with Emily as she completed her seventh-level skydive and I was able to certify her as a skydiver able to jump on her own. She is wearing gear from the Drop Zone and it obviously didn't fit all that well. Emily went on to become a jumpmaster herself, and went from large chutes all the way down to the tiny little parachute that she was flying when she made a miscalculation and died. She was only 39, and a beautiful person and good friend. When she died, December 18, 2010, I had moved to Bellingham and so I flew back to Colorado to attend her memorial service. That was a decade ago now, hard to believe that it's been that long, but I will never forget her.

She is only one of the many people I've lost over the years, people who have died through natural and unnatural causes. Many of those I loved in Colorado have gone, not just through skydiving, but because more than a quarter of a century of living has passed. That period of time in all lives normally sees the passing of many dear loved ones, whether or not one is involved in a risky sport. That final exit is one we will make, every one of us, whether in this year or the next, it is inevitable. I know I tend to forget that myself, but being reminded of it helps to make me live every day, every moment, that I am alive and relatively healthy with the awareness and respect it deserves.

An explanation of the title of this post: "Uncovering." It is my new year's word, the one I hope to use to find all those places I have covered up in my psyche. I realize that I shy away from writing about some people, like my son Chris, because it's so painful to even contemplate remembering him. He died in 2002, and I have sometimes tried to write a post about him, but it's really hard. But the time has come for me to uncover the reason why that is true. There is shame in there somewhere, but I can't quite figure out why or where it fits. Within the coming year, I will find out. My unconscious and my dreams will help me with it, I'm sure, since I've now begun the process. 
Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed. —J. G. Ballard

And I have made a commitment to stir those dark waters, and hopefully remember some of those who are no longer with me on this side of the grass.  But I cannot end this post without giving some thought to what I have to celebrate right here, right now: first and foremost, my dear life partner, who sleeps next to me as I write, and for my health and vigor, which needs to be appreciated today, as I begin to move into my day, the third day of this brand spanking new year. And of course, for my beloved fellow travelers through life, those I know in person, and those I know through their blogs and words and pictures, like you, dear reader. I am grateful beyond what I can express for it all. I hope that the coming week will bring you love and light. Be well until then, dear friends.