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 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.


Linda Reeder said...

As I sit here in my upstairs office, my eye is caught by the glow of an orange sunrise. I don't have a great view of the sky, what with trees and big houses next door, but just a peek of the beauty swiftly fading helps.
I hope to get out for a last short walk today before I begin my big project of the year, recovering from hip replacement. Tomorrow I will rise very early and the journey begins.
While you examine old memories, I will be dealing with what's new. I wish us both safe travels.

Anvilcloud said...

I am sure that it is an exhilarating passtime.

I hope your uncovering goes well this year.

I, too, had dreams that I recall a bit of last night. This is seldom the case, but I have flickering memories of two.

Elephant's Child said...

So you are going on yet another journey, one of discovery. Good luck dear friend. I admire your courage.

Terra said...

I did not know you had done so many jumps, it must be exhilarating. I like your post, it is thoughtful and supports you as you enter 2021.

gigi-hawaii said...

My gosh, that Emily. She died loving her sport, but how young she was. Oh, I feel so sad about this. Just think how her parents felt when they heard the news. So sorry.

ApacheDug said...

As I was reading your piece here about discovering jumping, and then meeting Emily, I kept going back to the top to look at that photo of you & her again. You both look so great, so happy to be alive. My gosh, it was a real shock to read of Emily’s (too young) passing. I can’t sit here & think “Well at least she was doing what she loved”, dying at 39... it’s too tragic. As great as it is to read about something you were so passionate of, I can’t help but think you were lucky too. I mean, you did a LOT of jumps!

DJan I very much hope you can write about Chris in the upcoming year. The more I get to know you, your personal memories and insights take on extra meaning. I hope you and your sweet partner have a good week ahead.

Betsy said...

I can't imagine jumping out of a plane willingly! :-) Our daughter has done it several times and she talked our son in law who is a pilot into going with her once. Just once. He said he couldn't imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane! Since I'm terrified of heights, I can understand this.
It was very interesting reading about this part of your life. I can tell the passion you had for it through your words. I wish I were more adventurous but I have come to accept that that's not part of my make up.
Wishing you many blessings and prayers as you start on your journey of uncovering. I don't think that is a very easy process for most of us and I admire you for challenging yourself in this way.

Rian said...

DJan, I love this post... and that picture! I can almost feel your joy. Sky-diving is one of the things I've always wanted to do. Watching my daughter do it a few years ago only added to my wish to try it myself. But alas, at 75, I wonder if it would be a good idea... I definitely couldn't make a career of it, but maybe... just once? Fly-fishing is another thing I've always wanted to try (not as dangerous as sky-diving so it's not off the list yet).
And I do understand your hesitance to write about your loss. As much as writing about sky-diving must bring you joy, writing about your son would bring back memories you may not want to revisit. But something to think about: Writing is freeing.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Some people don't make it to 39...some die earlier than that...it sounds like she had a good dash doing what she loved...that is important!
Some people make big impacts on our lives and we miss them more and think of them more often than others...I know that is true for me...I still miss my husband's grandmother she was so special to me. I can get teary eyed just thinking of her and not many people make me cry.
Uncovering is a good word...I hope you can expose what is in your heart and in your mind.
You have mentioned and wrote about Chris before...I have no doubt that you were sad and grieved for him and loved him very much.
Be kind to yourself. Stay safe out there! :)

Arkansas Patti said...

I was smiling at your joy and passion but was stunned about Emily's early passing. Wow, what a shock. I knew you had a lot of jumps, just didn't know how many. I know you had that one bad landing and am just grateful that you have recovered and are still very active if on terra firma instead. You set the bar high for the rest of us Djan which most of us need. Thank you.
Stay safe and well.

Susan M Sawatzky said...

This morning John VW asked me if I'd read your blog yet. I had not but now at 1:30 pm I have. It makes me feel a wee bit teary for the losses we both have had but then smiling at the guts you have.

I hope to meet you one of these days. Susan

Marie Smith said...

I was so sad to learn of Emily’s death. Such a tragedy. How quickly time passes to give ten years without that beautiful young woman in it.

Take care, dear Jan. May you find everything you need in the year ahead.

Red said...

Interesting how you put these two topics together. Skydiving has its risks. So do many other activities have risks. I hope that this year you can resolve Chris's death. My Dad never came to terms with my sister's death. There were many issues that got in the way for him to deal with the issue. All the best for your new goals and 2021.

Rita said...

Goodness-to die at 39 like that. Whew!
Uncovering is painful, but it's better on the clearer side.
There is healing to be found in examining those dark places.
It is in the darkness that light is brightest.
Will be quite a year. Sorrow and joy.
Love to you, my friend. :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for sharing with us your heart-wish to "uncover" that within yourself that has remained--for whatever reason--hidden from sight. I did that when writing the convent memoir, and I'm doing it again as I work on a childhood memoir. The quote you shared with us is one that I'm going to hold onto. thank you for it.

And thank you, too, for sharing your skydiving journey with us. As we age, I discover, we must let go repeatedly of that which was perhaps core to our life up to then. We let go, close the door or the window after letting ourselves feel the deep appreciation of what was and then we turn to open a new door or window and look out on a new landscape of life. It is then, I have discovered, that I begin to feel gratitude for what is and perhaps for what is to be. Take care. Let us both dwell in gratitude. Peace.

Galen Pearl said...

That is a great word to guide you this year. I'm sure it will guide you with grace and revelation.

I have to say, I always marvel at your writing about skydiving and what it meant to you. I have never had the slightest curiosity about it, or anything else that has me hanging in the air. I joke that it's because my sign is Capricorn the goat -- I like to climb mountains, but with my feet always on the ground. Capricorn is an earth sign. No scuba diving or sky diving for me. So when I am amazed at your eagerness to take to the air, I have to laugh at myself and my earthbound energy.

Wishing you the best this year.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Over the years I have grown to admire you and your Sunday morning posts on Eye. Back on December 15, I left the following comment for you on Eye: “W O T Y - I'm looking forward to see what you will choose for your Word of the Year 2021! :-)” So, I was especially interested to see that you’ve chosen “Uncovering” as your WOTY for ’21. As I read through this post I could feel the joy that skydiving gave you and the pain of losing Emily and others, who have died through natural and unwanted causes. Yes, we are all on the way to that final exit. Uncovering is something we can all work on and help us to find the things that are blocking our happiness in life. I hope that this year uncovering will help you resolve the pain that lingers from Chris’s death. Thank you, as always, for sharing. Stay safe and keep well. John

Margaret said...

A fascinating post about your passions and how you have moved into a different life with other interests and joys. Uncover is a good word, but I hope that it won't bring you more pain. Some events will never have the resolution that we would hope for.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Blessings and happy new year. I wish you peace of mind, heart and spirit and continued health.
I think you have tremendous courage and should begin your memoirs as you have much to offer in your experiences.

Glenda Beall said...

You have had some interesting experiences, DJan, and met some fine people in your pursuit of skydiving. Your story is fascinating and I hope, as you uncover this year, you will find good memories and forgive yourself for any mistakes. We all make them.
Tonight I relieved the story of my husband's illness and passing with my sister and brother-in-law. The pain is still deep and always there. To continue to live, I had to put all that in another place. But tonight I wept again and I hurt. Making memories is our life work.