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, December 26, 2021

Ice fog and Boxing Day

Snowy and cold Christmas Day

When I woke yesterday, Christmas morning, and looked outside, it was snowing, making everything look clean and new. The temperature was just a few degrees below freezing, so it seemed okay to venture out for a walk. I didn't go far, and the amount of snow on the steps looked to be around five inches or so. Being Christmas Day, nothing was open and everything was quiet. I suppose that inside homes there were presents being opened and lots of merriment going on, but outside, everything was hushed and still.

The temperature then dropped all day long, and now I wake to temperatures in the mid-teens F (-10°C) and expect that, as the day progresses, the temperature will continue to drop also. We are in the midst of a deep freeze that is cold enough to scare anybody who is paying attention. What is happening to all the homeless people and the wild animals? Considering how cold I feel inside my warm apartment, I shudder to think about what they are experiencing.

John is not coming to take me to coffee and breakfast, our usual Sunday morning activity, and there is no way I should even venture out in this weather. At least there are now stores and shops available, and the buses should be running, so I might find a way to get out in the middle of the day and maybe go downtown to see what's happening in the deep freeze. We rarely get this cold in the Pacific Northwest, and I do so hope that nobody loses power (especially us!) and that we can get through this without too much suffering. According to the forecast, we won't get above freezing for the remainder of the year.

Today is Boxing Day. I never heard of this before I moved to this part of the world, thinking that perhaps it meant boxing up all the presents you gave or received on Christmas. Apparently the meaning of the term is not fixed, and lots of countries use the term to mean different things. From Wikipedia:

Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated after Christmas Day, occurring on the second or third day of Christmastide. Though it originated as a holiday to give gifts to the poor, today Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. It originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire.

 When I went out for a short walk yesterday, and took a few pictures of our white Christmas, I realized that the cold means roads and sidewalks will be slippery and difficult to navigate for several days to come. Fortunately I have spikes to strap onto my boots, which will make it easier for me to stay upright. When I was younger, I enjoyed these challenges much more than I do today. Now it's just survival tactics. 

Have you heard of ice fog? That's another new one for me. I saw it in the weather forecast and wondered what it means. So of course I looked it up, and found this:

Ice fog is a type of fog consisting of fine ice crystals suspended in the air. It occurs only in cold areas of the world, as water droplets suspended in the air can remain liquid down to −40 °C (−40 °F). Ice fog is not the same thing as freezing fog, which is commonly called pogonip in the western United States.

 So, as you can see, I have learned two new terms that are not usually used in my neck of the woods. When you are in the midst of a weather phenomenon at Christmas, these two terms emerge for word people like me to add to our lexicon. That's enough for me at present. However, I don't want to spend the entire post on weather!

As I slept last night snuggled up under my down comforter, with my dear partner sleeping quietly by my side, my dreams were filled with recollections of old friends I haven't seen in decades. They were so real and present, it made me realize how many dear friends I've forgotten over the years. But they are obviously not gone, because we got together last night in my dreams, and I woke feeling like we had just been together. And their laughter still echoes through my morning reverie. 

One thing about dreams that I love is how much they bring past moments into my present reality. Sometimes I dream more often than usual, and lately I notice that I wake up and find myself in another reality altogether. It makes me think about that story of the man who dreamed he was a butterfly:

Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. 

 Our reality doesn't seem all that solid to me at the moment. Although I can hear the wind blowing in sub-freezing conditions, I am safe and warm, just a short distance away. And yes, I might have to see if I can get outdoors on Boxing Day and experience it firsthand. Or maybe I am just dreaming it all anyway. 

My day has begun. A different Sunday than I usually experience, but then again, the day has just started. I won't be doing my exercises on the front porch as usual, but instead in the living room in front of our heater. Once I finish with this post, I will finally have a chance to warm up my cold hands. Although it's moderately warm in here, my hands must be outside the covers in order to type, and I keep having to sit on them while I ponder my next words.

Well, it's time to bring this to a close, and to wish all my dear virtual friends a happy Boxing Day and week to come. I do truly hope that you will be well and will find yourself surrounded with happiness and contentment. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A change in plans

Lake Whatcom last Thursday

This gloomy scene is actually in color, although you sure wouldn't know it unless I told you. I took this last Thursday on our holiday walk with the Senior Trailblazers. Although it's shades of grey, the day itself was a nice treat: lots of old friends and no rain fell on us for most of the time we were out. So, there were bright spots among the day's dreariness.

I'm hoping that I will be finding some of the same bright spots for the Christmas holiday, as well as for this post. Yesterday I realized that the entire globe is in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic for yet another rough patch ahead. Christmas celebrations are being canceled everywhere. Last night, Saturday Night Live sent their audience home and pretty much canceled the show; all the live Broadway performances are also closing down, getting ready for the Omicron advance.

For those of you not already aware of the newest version of the virus (Omicron), you will definitely become aware of it soon. Somehow, after all our hopes for a wonderful holiday season, coronavirus is coming back with a vengeance, more contagious and capable of evading our vaccines, at least to some extent. I, for one, am more than a little afraid of what's to come. In Denmark, where some of the best epidemiologists in the world study, they are saying in this Washington Post article that we are about to enter our hardest month yet. The only good news is that this version of the virus might not be as severe as previous ones, but no one knows for sure at this point.

Yesterday, SG and I discussed our options, and how we intend to get through this surge. I will, for the time being, no longer go inside any restaurants to sit for a meal, and I am debating about whether to stop going into the coffee shop and start using my French Press once again for my morning coffee. I can still walk in my neighborhood and drive to beautiful places around me to keep up my exercise, but I will stay away from the gym for awhile. By the time Christmas Day gets here next week, we should know more about what's to come. We are both triple-vaxxed and have had our flu shots, but our advanced age doesn't make me feel very good about exposing ourselves to other people in any setting, really. Perhaps it will turn out better than I'm anticipating. The world has been through harder times than this, and things turned out just fine. Eventually.

This latest surge could not have come at a more difficult time, with lots of people traveling and getting together with family for the holidays. I feel very fortunate to have the ability to get online and learn how others are coping, and see how my dear friends in our virtual community are doing. I feel a need to find some semblance of hope and happiness for our situation, since the entire world is going through this, not just one country or just one continent. We are all in this together, so I am hoping that we will find a way out of it together. Perhaps our governments will realize that and come together in peace to find a new way forward. It's possible.

The world situation has made me more determined than ever to spend my days striving to find more loving kindness and compassion around me, and not to "awful-ize" and let hopelessness take hold. Although I am not looking forward to being housebound, at least I have a warm and cozy home, with a partner who shares my days and gives me plenty to be grateful for. I will go forward one day at a time, and try everything I can to stay healthy and serene for the trials and tribulations to come. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson wrote these words more than a century ago, and they resonate with me today. Hope is the one thing I have for the time ahead, and I really must remember that events never turn out the way they seem at the time, and that even storm clouds have a silver lining. Look for the bright spots in the darkness, and together we can imagine a sunny future ahead.

And now my tea is gone, my dear partner sleeps next to me, and the world looks quite a bit different to me now than it did when I began this post an hour ago. It might not live up to my standards of love and joy that I strive for, but I sure do feel better, knowing we are still together and will prevail. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well and accept my humble virtual hug.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

December musings

Icy flowers

Rising a little earlier than normal, hoping to find something to write about this morning, I first checked the news to see what the recent story is about all those awful tornadoes that ravaged the South Friday night. I couldn't believe it when I saw that "possibly more than a hundred" people died from eighteen tornadoes in Kentucky alone. One tornado had a swath of destruction 250 miles wide. This is just horrible news, weather that kills so many in such a short time. I know that will be a small number of those who will die if I live to see the Big One, the coming earthquake, hit the Pacific Northwest. We do drills and try to figure ways one might be able to survive. In the last few weeks, more than 40 small tremors have occurred in the area. I do wonder if they are a precursor to larger and more destructive quakes. 

That is not what I wanted to write about! I see no reason to dwell on what might be coming my way, but the shock of the rare late-season tornado outbreak had changed my focus. So, now that I have given bad weather and earthquakes their due, I'm going to move on to more positive things, because there is still so much joy and happiness around me. This December season is filled with walks in the dark to the bus and seeing so many homes covered with lights. People smile and we greet each other with good wishes, and dogs always look happy to be out and about as well. So much around me fills my heart with serenity and good cheer. 

My morning routine has shifted a bit to allow me to get that twenty minutes of meditation in. Sunday mornings are the only time when I don't get to follow the routine, because I need to write this post. I'll skip many of the usual morning rituals in order to be ready by the time my friend John will drive up to take me to our Sunday breakfast hangout. In our quest to find a better coffee shop, we've decided to make Sundays a habitual breakfast stop in Fairhaven, for the winter at least. John's right shoulder has passed its six-week mark from having been rebuilt, and although it's still very stiff, it's getting better every day. He will start physical therapy next week, two sessions a week. I was dubious about getting the surgery, given the resurgence of Covid everywhere, but he's triple-vaxxed and seems to recover quickly from these things, for a man of almost 82, anyway.

I guess it comes with the territory of getting older, but many of my friends and acquaintances are dealing with medical issues. I'm still a few months from my annual wellness visit with the doctor, but for now I'm happy to be able to carry out my usual routine with minimal discomfort. I am aided in my quest to be active by getting massages and acupuncture treatments regularly, and having yoga classes several times a week via Zoom. As I've said before, I'm in no hurry to get back to the studio with other practitioners in close proximity. I don't think we will be free of Covid for awhile yet, and I am very fortunate to live in a state that requires masking indoors. Most of the time, I feel quite safe.

Melanie and I have become a "bubble" of our own on Thursdays, not really quite willing to hike with large groups yet. We went on our own snowy hike last week, but we learned that the regular Senior Trailblazers group ended up being 16! And that was on a wet and snowy day going on a trail without much view even on a good day. I am not sure when I'll be ready to return, but going out with Mel has made my hikes less stressful, and even a bit shorter and less difficult. At my age, I'm quite happy to continue this way for the coming winter, at least.

Yesterday three of us walked twice around Lake Padden. The weather had been horrible the night before, with lots of wind and rain, so we were prepared for it, but instead the wind died down, the sun came out, and we had a spectacular five-mile walk. Afterwards, Mel and I joined another friend at a restaurant for lunch. Dianne has been dealing with months with a hip injury, and I hadn't seen her for ages. I was a little nervous about going inside a restaurant on a Saturday afternoon, but it was just fine. The place has enormously high ceilings, and plenty of social distancing. We wore our masks until we were seated and I enjoyed a mid-day glass of red wine. It had been quite awhile since I'd had any wine, and it went right to my head, since I'd exercised and not eaten. By the time I finished my lunch, however, I was back to normal. I used to drink a glass every night, but in my desire to lose weight, I'd stopped the practice, and I don't think I'll take it up again. An occasional glass is nice, and I get plenty of enjoyment from it because of its rarity.

When we left the restaurant, however, all the nice sunshine was gone and it had begun to rain again. Then suddenly we were pelted with hail and sideways rain as we hurried to Mel's car. In just a short distance, we were soaked to the bone! Thank heavens for her seat warmers; in nothing flat we were comfortable and on our way back home. I dashed from her car to my own when we pulled up at her place, and I went straight home and enjoyed the rest of my day indoors with my sweet partner. 

Looking at the clock, I see that I'm just a few minutes later than I would normally be for getting out of bed and beginning the rest of my day. I'll have plenty of time for my exercises and meditation (hopefully) before John gets here. I'll skip my usual routine of reading the news and checking the weather (it's raining again, of course) and that will pretty much getting me back on track.

Those few minutes of meditation in the morning have become essential to my feeling of well-being. It amazes me how much I look forward to it, and how much better the entire rest of my day becomes because of it. Getting through the holidays is easier, and the whole day begins on a positive note. My tea is gone, my partner sleeps beside me as I tap the keys. The day ahead beckons.

I do hope you are finding your own way to equanimity during these stressful times, and that those of you in the South escaped injury. My heart goes out to all those who suffer, and I wish nothing but the best for all. During this holiday season, I wish you all good things. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Winter on the way

Mushroom in the snow

We have been having more strange fall weather, with temperatures so warm it has often felt a little like late summer or early spring. But that all changed a day or so ago, when the temperatures dropped to normal, and our rain has begun to be mixed with a little snow. For the first time in ages I've seen frosty plants as I walk to the bus.

Outside right now, before dawn, it's just below freezing, and by the time I walk out the door, I expect it will be quite nice, since there is no rain falling for a change. Yesterday's Saturday walk was a wet one, but it wasn't pouring, so we felt quite ready for it. I really need to get out in order to keep my spirits up, and these days when it's dry, I feel happy to leave my rain gear behind and work up a sweat.

I've been reading an interesting book: Cave in the Snow by Vicki MacKenzie, about a woman who was born Diane Perry in England but became known as Tenzin Palmo, a Buddhist seeker who ended up living for twelve years in a Himalayan cave at 13,000 feet elevation, completely isolated from everything and everyone, and loved it. One of the things about Tenzin Palmo that interested me is that we are the same age, and she is still around. These days, though, she is running a monastery for Buddhist nuns and traveling around giving speeches about her journey.

Since I've become interested in Buddhism, I wondered if there are any females who were equivalent to the Dalai Lama. Although she isn't there yet, I suspect she will maybe find enlightenment in this life, or maybe the next. I'm still not sure whether I really believe in reincarnation, but just like any possible existence after death, there isn't any foolproof way to prove any of it. That said, apparently the Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation of the original guy, Gend√ľn Drubpa. 
I started out really young, when I was four, five, six, writing poems, before I could play an instrument. I was writing about things when I was eight or 10 years old that I hadn't lived long enough to experience. That's why I also believe in reincarnation, that we were put here with ideas to pass around. —Willie Nelson

Many people believe in some sort of continuance after we die, but the Buddhist version makes more sense to me than the notion that we are resurrected in our bodies. Well, which one would I be: the infant, the young mother, the old crone, which one? Buddhists believe that our minds survive death and are reincarnated in another sentient being, and that those on a spiritual path are aided by their teachers to find the next appropriate body. Whatever. Tenzin Palmo has certainly lived a rich life so far, and if she comes anywhere nearby to speak, I'll try to find a way to attend. She has vowed that she will reach enlightenment in a female body, rather than as a male. I'm not sure she has any actual power to do that, but what do I know?

For one thing, she sure does make it sound unpleasant (to me), being alone in a cave for so long. She would meditate for three hours at a time, several times a day, and she would sleep in her meditation box sitting up! When I think of giving up that creature comfort of snuggling into my warm covers and falling into a gentle sleep, I just couldn't do it. Meditation in small doses seems to be enough for me these days. I know I am more relaxed and serene when I come out of a session, but as I get older, who knows what direction I might turn to? Probably not towards sleeping upright. Even the Dalai Lama gets horizontal, I think.

I am certainly enjoying learning about all the different ways that Buddhism is practiced throughout the world, and that there is really no right way to proceed in finding one's own spiritual path. I have learned that it is helpful to find actual teachers who can help you find the right way to practice, but I'm not there yet. For now, I'm learning through books and through studying the paths of others. And for now, it's enough. It does amaze me how much I look forward to that short amount of time I've set aside for meditating. Just learning how to watch my own breath has taught me so much. For one thing, I now understand what it means to have a "monkey mind." Sitting there, I can catch myself planning my day, or thinking of someone I haven't seen in awhile, or trying to ignore that itch on my back. I just keep bringing my mind back to the task at hand: following my breath. For a few short moments, I lose track of time, and I am always amazed at how short a time fifteen or twenty minutes can seem when I'm focused on my breath.

* * *

John and I are trying to find a new coffee shop to visit in the mornings. We are not happy at all about how crowded Avellino's can be when it's cold and rainy outside, and many people just come in to get out of the weather. They are required to mask up inside, but many people aren't really trying to stay safe, and some flaunt the rules on purpose, which makes me quite uncomfortable. We tried a new place last week, which has many good things going for it, but it's got no good parking places, meaning we have to walk a good distance to get inside. Not too bad when it's not raining. They don't allow tipping, because they say they give their employees a living wage (we asked: $21/hour) and don't take cash, only cards. I liked it better than John did, since he really doesn't like to walk if he can avoid it. We'll keep looking. But the place (the Black Fern) is open, airy, and not crowded.

I need to get out of bed soon, so I can get all my morning routine out of the way, with the twenty minutes of meditation added in. The only day that it's a problem is Sundays, when I need to write this post instead of reading my blogs and the news. That will have to wait until we are inside the coffee shop, I guess, or after I get home. It's actually supposed to be a little sunny today for a change, so maybe I can find the time for a nice walk.

My tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps beside me as I tap the keys, and I feel the pull towards the rest of my day. I do hope you will have a wonderful week ahead, filled with robust good health and lots of smiles coming your way. That's what I wish for myself, too. You, my dear virtual family, are part of my happiness. Be well until we meet again next week.