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, February 27, 2022

A special birthday and more

Squalicum Harbor yesterday

 Melanie and I walked more than five miles yesterday at one of our favorite places, the harbor, knowing that later in the day rain would return to our skies. But for the moment, we experienced dry conditions and enjoyed seeing the numerous boats moored in calm waters as we walked. In a few weeks, those plants in the foreground will begin to push forth new green shoots, and flowers will soon follow.

Today I will have a chance to spend the day with my favorite person, my life partner, my hubby, who sleeps next to me every day, but especially Sunday mornings when I write this post from the bed we share. He is now so accustomed to the sound of the keys tapping away that I don't believe he even hears it any more. Or maybe it makes it into his dreams, I don't know. I'm just glad he is still over there, after all these years together.

When we met thirty years ago, I would never have expected us to still be so happy together, but we are. We were both fifty, having reached the half-century mark at just about the time we first met on the internet. We were one of the first couples to have started our relationship electronically, and now it's commonplace. But it sure wasn't back then. There were no websites devoted to online matchmaking. We met because of a shared love of skydiving. I was actively pursuing the sport, and he was semi-retired from it by then. We began to correspond through email, and for months that was the only way we knew each other. I lived in Boulder, Colorado, and he lived in San Francisco. 

Finally, after several months, we decided to take the next step and actually talk to one another by phone. There were no cell phones yet, so we didn't have any way to see each other, which was probably a good thing. We did learn lots about each other as we spent so much time talking, and even though back then long-distance calls were pricey, we didn't care. That was the beginning of our love affair, and thirty years later, we are still happily sharing our lives with one another.

When we finally met in the airport in Denver, it was awkward, to say the least. It didn't bode well for a long relationship that these two fifty-year-olds stared at each other and all our long conversations were no longer relevant: here was the person in the flesh, and we didn't recognize each other and fall into one another's arms like you might expect. Instead, we had to learn how to integrate our dreams into the reality of the middle-aged persons we were. We had shared so much already, but none of it mattered as we found our way through that first visit.

Fortunately, skydiving was so much a part of our lives back then that it helped to smooth out some of the rough patches. He returned to San Francisco, and after I came to visit him there, we began to think about whether we had a future together or not. He was unhappy at his job and decided he would give notice and move to Boulder, and we would live apart while we figured out our next move. Those early days were tough, but we both had a feeling that we belonged together and were able to navigate the rough waters until we finally decided to move in together and get married. In freefall, of course. (That link takes you to a post I wrote for our silver anniversary and shows us in freefall.)

And today is SG's eightieth birthday. We were born in the same year, he at the beginning and me at the end nine months later, so he is testing the water of the ninth decade of life, and I will hopefully join him in December. We have shared so many laughs and tears over these thirty years together, and we will share our future years, months, or weeks together as well. No one knows what the future holds, but the one thing I do know is that we will face it together.

We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness and call it love: true love. —Robert Fulghum

I don't know how much longer we have on earth, but I do know that we will be together until the end of our days, supporting each other through whatever comes next. Who could ask for anything better?

* * * 

And before I leave today, I must spend a moment honoring the brave citizens of Ukraine, who fight for their right to live free, something that I take for granted. I woke this morning with my first thought to check the news, to see if Kyiv still stands and has not yet been occupied. (It does, for the moment at least.) The forces aligned against that country are massive, but they are determined and have done nothing but defend their sovereign right to govern themselves. I stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

May the Ukrainian flag fly forever

And with that, dear friends, I leave you and begin my day with my dear partner, enjoying our connection, as I also enjoy my virtual connection with you, dear virtual family. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Back to the future

In the coffee shop, once again

Our friend R.J. took this pensive picture of John, me sitting there with a solved Wordle on my iPad, and an overcast but rain-free environment outside. That's not what we ran into on Saturday: Melanie, Chris and I headed to Lake Padden as a good place to walk in heavy rain. And that's just what we got, all right: lots and lots of it.

In response to the title of last week's post, I received a lovely postcard from a fellow blogger saying that she is needing to find her own "new normal" and actually to write a few notecards to remind herself that something other than our present digital world still exists. It was lovely to receive some "snail mail." 

We are not actually back to any semblance of the world we inhabited before the pandemic hit. Our governor has said that we can stop wearing masks when outdoors now, and on March 21 (given that we don't have another variant surge), we can drop our indoor masks. Frankly, I don't think I'll stop wearing one, it seems a bit premature to me, and anyway I've grown quite accustomed to having my face covered when indoors. I have also found a fairly comfortable N95 that I wear when I'm in crowded or congested areas. Otherwise, I simply wear my old cloth masks with a filter, easy to pull down under my chin (as in the picture) but you are not going to see me in a hurry to lose my mask. I'm too old to catch such viruses and escape unscathed.

Whatever. I certainly understand that people would like to return to the pre-pandemic environment, but I fear that we must learn to navigate a different world, one where opinions about mitigation efforts are either welcomed or disparaged, putting yet another wedge between communities. How can we begin to see that we are all in this together and it doesn't serve anybody's interest to devolve into hatred? I will try to do my part; it's all I have control over. Just myself and my own actions.

Physically, I'm hanging in there. Yesterday we walked a little over five miles in the rain, with a brief respite now and then, but every time the rain lessened, the wind took over. It was not a fun time to be outdoors, but I was simply amazed that there were so many of us diehards outside braving the weather. At least it wasn't really cold, but I guess that's coming in a day or so, a cold snap is on the way as a last gasp of winter before spring arrives. At least I have plenty of rain gear and warm clothes to make myself moderately comfortable so I can continue to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest outdoor experience.

My lower back is not the same as it was before my last bout of pain, but I've learned that when it begins to seize up on me, with the muscles beginning to tighten, I can stop and stretch it with a few cat-cow movements (leaning forward with my hands above my knees, arching and bowing my back). It's rather astounding that this easy stretch makes so much difference: just a minute of doing this and the pain in my back is greatly alleviated. We do this movement from our hands and knees in yoga class; it's even got its own Sanskrit name, chakravakasana. When I first started doing Iyengar yoga a few years ago, I was clueless about the names of the poses, but now I think I know most of them and look forward to hearing my instructor announce what we will do next. I know I really don't need to continue to attend Zoom yoga classes, because I know all the postures pretty well, but I find I really need the feeling of community I get from a class with others like me. And if I don't attend, I tend to let the day get away from me without any yoga at all. 

I've always enjoyed the movies that the title of this post recalls, Back to the Future. The first in the series was released in 1985. That is a long time ago now, almost forty years, but I will always remember how much I enjoyed seeing that movie the first time (out of perhaps half a dozen). Now, I suppose if I wanted to watch it again, it must be available to stream right onto my laptop, but I probably won't, since somehow or other the days don't feel as long to me any more. These days, the idea of "spending time" reminds me that I don't have as much of it to look forward to as I did in 1985. 
Don't worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88 miles per hour, the instant the lightning strikes the tower... everything will be fine. —Dr. Emmett Brown

 Oh how I wish it were true. Would I go back to 1955 if I could? No, I don't think so. Of course, I would be a teenager without any sense of what the world would bring to me in the future, and thinking back to what it was like when life stretched out into infinity, I would stare into my own eyes and marvel at my naiveté. The trials and tribulations, the incredible joy and sadness of simple living, and the fact that she would become an old woman with a past. How much of a future isn't known, but then again, would I want to know if I could? I don't think so.

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. —William Shakespeare

The one thing I know for absolutely sure is that I am blessed to have traversed those seven ages and grateful that I have lived long enough to become an elder.  A happy elder, one whose days and nights are filled with as much joy as I can cram into them, looking for the silver lining even in tough times, and sharing my life with those of you who have joined me on this magic carpet called LIFE. Awareness of what's to come isn't necessary, because the only thing we are guaranteed is its cessation, sooner or later. When I was young, that scared me, but now its inevitability gives meaning to every moment, every breath, every shared smile.

It is time to finish this post and perform my morning ablutions before John comes to pick me up and take me to our breakfast. We'll be masked until we sit in the cab of his truck to enjoy a fabulous meal in Fairhaven. Maybe one day soon we'll feel like we can venture into indoor restaurants, but not today. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and robust good health.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Our new normal

Me and massive tree

 Melanie took this picture of me a few years ago when we both went off to Maple Grove more than an hour's drive south of us. It's one of her favorite places and she's carefully getting me ready for our next venture to this magical place. It's around eight miles round trip, and as my back slowly loosens up and allows me to go farther on each outing, I am looking forward to it.

Yesterday the two of us walked about five miles on our usual Saturday outing, in sunshine and really cold temperatures, to start at least. We went to Whatcom Falls Park and enjoyed the time together, talking about many different issues going on in the world right now. As the omicron variant of Covid begins to lessen its grip on the country (and the rest of the world, too), we wonder when we will begin to feel more comfortable going to restaurants and movie theaters. Mel already dines out much more often than I do, but I still worry about any time I need to drop my mask when I'm in an indoor setting.

The world is a much different place today than it was two years ago when we first went into the pandemic. And it's not just here in the US, but pretty much everywhere else, too. Some people yearn for a return to normalcy, but I think they also want things to be the way they were before, and that's just not going to happen. Whatever else has changed, our relationship to other people will never be the same. I don't think I will ever again feel comfortable being in a crowded room filled with strangers. And the realization that I have not had a cold for two years is not nothing, because of wearing masks and staying socially distant from each other. That's a real benefit to our health, especially for old people like me. Because of being able to stream so many movies that I would otherwise have seen in theaters, I don't feel like I've missed much, other than the friendship I had with my friend Judy, which was based on going to movies and dinners together.

I am still meditating daily, and I actually have begun to look forward to that time spent following my breath. It has helped me cope with the strain of world news, and the tension we are all experiencing with people feeling like we should be done with the pandemic by now. I've stopped watching the news every night, because I just cannot allow myself to get so worked up when I listen to what's happening out there. People are making such terrible decisions, in my opinion, fighting with strangers on airplanes, having skirmishes with others over whether or not to wear masks, and even our friendly neighbors to the north are having out-of-control demonstrations.

I just finished an interesting book, written by Ruth Ozeki, an author whom I have enjoyed over the years. It all started because I just read her newest book, The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I am not sure I would recommend to the average reader. It's not only quite long but also on the upsetting side. From that NYT review:

Ozeki gives us a metaphor for our own very American consumption disorder, our love-hate relationship with the stuff we overproduce and can’t let go of.

As I often do, I went online to find out what else Ozeki has written. Years ago I read another book of hers that I enjoyed, but yesterday I downloaded onto my Kindle and read a curious book in which she writes about a practice I had never heard of.

Ruth Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, sets herself the task of staring at her face in a mirror for three full, uninterrupted hours; her ruminations ripple out from personal and familial memories to wise and honest meditations on families and aging, race and the body. 

The short book is entitled "The Face: A Time Code" and is purported to be the first in a series of nonfiction books about the face. It was interesting to read about how she dealt with just staring at her face in the mirror for hours, and all that came up from the process. She is biracial, Japanese and Caucasian, and she delves into her ancestors on both sides of her family, as well as her relationship to people who wonder what exactly she is. Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own face and how I feel about it. Certainly I see my parents reflected there, and my grandparents as well, but mostly I just see myself as I've become in old age. Neither of my parents lived to be as old as I am today, so I don't know what they might have looked like at almost eighty. Daddy was only 62 when he died of a heart attack, and Mama made it to 69 and died from the same malady. Heart disease is rampant in my family, which is one reason why I feel a need to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. But still, it's likely to be the way I die, as well.

Just being alive is a privilege I don't take for granted. The older I get, the more I realize that any day might be my last. All sorts of possible scenarios could be written about my last days, or I just might not only outlive my parents, but experience another decade of healthy life. Although it's not likely, it's possible. I suspect that during the coming decade, I'll need to learn to deal with diminishing mobility, sight, and declining mental abilities as well. None of that makes me thrilled to think of seeing ninety, but who knows? Growing older is a given, but the quality of one's life is not. I am heartened to know octogenarians who have continued to maintain the ability to hike long distances and continue as if time doesn't affect them like it does the rest of us. 

Today my friend John is picking me up in an hour's time to head off to what's become a tradition: Sunday breakfast in Fairhaven, sitting in the cab of his truck and enjoying a delicious breakfast together. It's very cold and foggy out there once again, and I'm happy I don't have to scrape the windshield today. Although it's good exercise, it's also not an activity I enjoy. By the time John's chariot arrives, it will be warm and cozy in there. By the time I get outdoors for a nice walk today, it should have warmed up considerably. I've sure enjoyed the sunshine we've been blessed with the last couple of days, even if they have started out with dense fog, it's burned off and warmed up, thanks to the sun. 

And since John will be here soon, I need to finish this up and do my morning exercises and get in that all-important time sitting and following my breath. I recommend it highly for helping one to cope with the trials we all experience every day. I do hope that you will have a lovely Valentine's Day tomorrow (that's when our rain returns) and that you give someone or something a hug to celebrate the day. If there's nobody around, there's always a good self-hug and you might even stare at your reflection in the mirror and say thank you for another day of loving and living. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Contemplating time

Two sisters and the ocean

I don't get on Facebook often any more, but when I do, it regularly reminds me of pictures that I posted long ago. This one showed up that was taken exactly nine years ago yesterday, when I was visiting my sister Norma Jean in Florida. I sure do like to look at it and remember when it happened. We have passed through nine years of time, and today we are different but the same. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to travel to Florida for the past two years because of the pandemic and my unwillingness to expose myself to air travel and all its difficulties.

The entire concept of time has fascinated me lately. One morning when I was sitting in meditation it occurred to me that I have spent eight decades of life breathing in, breathing out, and most of the time it's completely unconscious. Breath, however, is one of those bodily functions that can be regulated through intention. Most of the time, however, it's not, it just flows in and out without ceasing. In my meditation, I count my breaths from one to ten and then begin again. When I first started this practice, I would often find myself thinking of something and forgetting about my breath, realizing that my mind had once again drifted into thought instead of concentrating on my breath. The technique I am using tells me not to worry about it, just return to the breath and start again, counting, pausing at the beginning and end of each breath. It's an amazingly simple but I have found it's a profound technique for centering oneself.

I have a morning routine, as most of us do, I suspect. The first thing I do after awakening (and using the bathroom) is to make myself a cup of tea, get my laptop and return to my bed, propping myself up with pillows and settling back down into my still-warm cozy comforter. SG usually is roused enough to visit the bathroom and then comes back to his side of the bed. He is so accustomed to my routine that it doesn't bother him at all and is soon back to sleep next to me as I check my email, read the morning news of the day, and read my friends' blog posts that have appeared since I last checked them. The only day that this routine varies is on Sunday, when I come back to bed with the task of writing a post, which is what I am doing now. 

One thing I also do every morning is check what's on the APOD website (Astronomy Picture of the Day), and today it's a picture taken from Apollo 17 in 1972 of Planet Earth. I think we have all seen this picture many times, but it never fails to awaken a sense of awe in me when I gaze at it. Often I see a distant galaxy that I am told is millions of light-years away. What the heck does that mean anyway? What is a light-year? Well, it's the time it takes for light to travel from the galaxy to Earth, and when something is 4.2 light-years away, for example, that means it takes more than four years for its image to reach our eyes.
A light-year is a measurement of distance and not time (as the name might imply). A light-year is the distance a beam of light travels in a single Earth year, which equates to approximately 6 trillion miles (9.7 trillion kilometers). (Space.com)

Philosophers and scholars have contemplated time and the meaning we ascribe to it ever since there have been, well, people. It's pretty fascinating to think of it, and lately it's been on my mind a lot. As I approach another decade of life on this planet, I think of who I was, who I am now, and who I want to become: past, present, future all at once. It's obvious I don't really know anything about it in an objective sense, because time is not objective. Linear time and subjective time are not the same. I found a fascinating link on Wikipedia called "time perception," and I got lost in reading about this concept, which I think is well worth your time (haha). It turns out that different species have different scales of time:

There is empirical evidence that metabolic rate has an impact on animals' ability to perceive time. In general, it is true within and across taxa that animals of smaller size (such as flies), which have a fast metabolic rate, experience time more slowly than animals of larger size, which have a slow metabolic rate.  Researchers suppose that this could be the reason why small-bodied animals are generally better at perceiving time on a small scale, and why they are more agile than larger animals.

Well, that explains why it's so hard to successfully swat a fly! And my ability to get engrossed in a story causes me to "lose track of time." I really didn't realize when I set out to write a post about time that I would end up getting mired down in all the different concepts and theories of what it is and whether it is even real at all. 

Ever since I was a kid, I've been interested in the concept of time travel and have read many of the sci-fi stories about it. There are words in my vocabulary that don't actually exist, such as an ansible. That is a fictional device capable of near-instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. It made perfect sense in the stories I read that it would exist, but then again, considering what we do know about time, it's about as likely to exist as time travel itself. Makes for a good story, though.

I suppose that since philosophers and religious scholars have spent eons studying time, it makes sense that I would get lost in discovery while trying to write a simple blog post about Time. That one link discusses the major concepts, fields of study, philosophy, religion, science, and much more. That might explain why every time I tried to find a simple description of it, I got bogged down in fascinating concepts.

And I do realize that there is so much more to know and study about it, and that I should just give up for now and spend some time doing my daily Wordle instead of trying to merge centuries of thought into something I can't explain. However, I certainly do enjoy being stretched like this, and learning something new about time and spacetime. But I've got a life to be lived, and I'm stuck in the circadian rhythm of everyday activities, some of which have gotten delayed by my endeavor to write about time.

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. — Michael Altshuler

Which means now that my tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and the post is written, such as it is. I will be spending some more time on those two links, about time and time perception, because I hardly scratched the surface of all that interesting discourse. And this time pilot is looking forward to spending the rest of my day in happy pursuits. Hopefully, you will too. Until we meet again next week, dear virtual family, I wish you the best and most timely of weeks.