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, March 27, 2022

The light has returned

Whatcom Falls bridge

 Ah, spring! It's definitely springing around here. Yesterday Melanie, Chris and I walked around five-ish miles in Whatcom Falls Park, and I captured this picture that shows the filtered sunlight and the gorgeous bridge. It (the bridge) was built by the Works Progress Association (WPA), one of Franklin Roosevelt's attempts to help the country recover from the Great Depression.

From 1939 to 1940, the WPA built the stone bridge and retaining walls that overlook the waterfalls at Whatcom Falls Park. Builders salvaged Chuckanut sandstone arches from Pike Building, an 1891 downtown landmark lost in a fire. The WPA also funded the park’s fish hatchery in 1936 alongside the State Game Commission and Whatcom County Sportsmen’s Association. The bridge continues to provide a viewing platform for one of Bellingham’s most famous natural features. (Whatcom Talk)

I love living here in Bellingham, and to think this beautiful bridge was built even before I was born. I sure hope it remains for many more centuries to come for more people to enjoy its beauty. Although I won't be here in corporeal form anyway, I will have walked across this bridge many, many times before it's all over.

It must have something to do with approaching a major landmark in my life, becoming an octogenarian. I've got lots of friends who are already there and doing quite well, but I keep thinking about how quickly the decade of my seventies flew right on by. Of course, it's possible I'll make it to ninety, but considering the lack of longevity in my family genes, I'm certainly not considering it likely. My dear sister PJ would have turned 72 this week, but she died at 63 of heart disease. My own son died at 40 of the same thing, which reminds me that it's time for me to make an appointment for my annual Wellness checkup. My efforts at exercise and following a reasonably sensible diet have helped me stay relatively healthy.

The two areas of health issues that loom large for me are (1) my eyesight and the macular degeneration that is slowly taking away my ability to see. And (2) whether or not my mind is still functioning properly. I have become so forgetful, and my memory is growing gaps that scare me. What good is a long life if you don't know who you are anymore? When I see my doctor I'll ask her what she thinks, but she's a youngster in comparison to me. It's not an easy thing to measure another person's mental processes, especially early on.

I've got a dear friend who has developed Alzheimer's Disease and no longer can hike or drive or do many of the activities that he enjoyed so much. He needs a companion to be with him whenever he ventures outdoors any more. I haven't seen him around for a few months, and I worry that he's become confined to an indoor existence, which would be awful for him. When I was younger, I speculated that losing your mental faculties wouldn't be so bad, since you probably wouldn't realize it. Now that I'm at that age, I know it would be very hard to cope with.

I've got a whole lifetime of memories, and it would be very hard to try to recall a time in my life and find my ability to remember it just... gone. It's been seven years since I stopped skydiving, but the memories of that quarter-century of activity is precious to me. From that first tandem jump in 1990 to my final leap from an airplane in 2015, those thousands of jumps will always be part of me. I've got logbooks that I can peruse if I want to remember a particular jump, but when I look back to that time, those years define who I have become today. 

Lately I've been wearing an old jacket from the World Freefall Convention in 1998, and I realize that it brings back those years in a way I'd forgotten. At least I can still remember defining moments, such as when we got married in freefall in 1994, when I became a skydiving instructor in 1992 and the hundreds of students I taught in countless first-jump courses, and the myriad lifelong friends I still see on Facebook. There was a time when I would proudly wear skydiving gear and hope that people would ask me about my experiences, but no longer. Now I feel a little bit embarrassed when someone asks me about it. That's not to say that I won't sit down with a skydiving friend and reminisce about the old days, but those memories have all faded as time goes by. But for now, I can still remember that I was once an active and enthusiastic skydiver.

I was also a mother, and the memories of having given birth to my two sons are still there, if I rummage around inside my mind and recall that period of time in my life. But since they are both gone, and since my dream of becoming a grandmother will never come to pass, I pull out those memories much less often. Pictures will sometimes help me to recall how much I loved them, but their memories are overlaid with pain, so I guess it makes sense that I don't try to recall them very much. Another part of my past gone, with only ephemeral waves of recollections surfacing now and then.

Gosh, now that I've gone rummaging around in my mind for memories, I find I have plenty of them still there, still waiting for me to recall them. When I find myself doubting my ability to recall experiences, a quick perusal of the many years of my life are still available, which is very encouraging. Whew! I guess I'll lay that worry aside for awhile yet. 

These years of being a blogger are all retained by Blogspot, and I suppose it would be fun to take a tour of my oldest blogs and see what emerges from memory. I've been writing here since 2009 (and just went back to see when I wrote the first one: February 2009) and think it would be fun to re-read them and see what memories are activated by doing it. I've written more than 2,000 posts over on my other blog, and 650 here, only writing once a week. That's a whole lotta posts to read! Why not? I'm probably going to do that, at least I'm thinking about it.

I realize I have just found a way to make myself feel much better about my memory problems, and that gives me great joy. That, and the fun I have reading your comments through the years, and your own blog posts. My virtual family is only possible because of this wonderful activity of blogging. I am so glad to have such a wonderful resource, and that I can share it with you as well. 

And with that, I've run out of time to write, since John will be here early to pick me up and take me for our Sunday breakfast in Fairhaven. My dear partner sleeps quietly next to me, the tea is gone, and my day ahead beckons. Yes, the light has definitely returned! Until we meet again, dear friends, I wish you the best of weeks ahead.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sweet air of spring

Freeze, thaw, repeat

 A friend of mine sends me interesting collections, and this one of frozen scenes that generate natural beauty is filled with icy creations. This beautiful "hummingbird" enchanted me, and I had to share it with you. It only has one wing, but otherwise, it seems perfect, don't you think?

It's the first day of spring 2022, past the last full moon of winter, called the "worm moon" as it's the time when the sap in the trees begins to flow, and little worms come out to feast. 

The Old Farmer's Almanac says that the name refers to beetle larvae that would come out of winter hideouts as spring arrived. Northern Native American tribes, however, lived among forests without native earthworms due to glaciers having wiped out the species, according to NASA. Some of these groups instead referred to the moon as the crow moon, as a nod to the birds whose cawing would signal the end of winter. (CNN)

I think I prefer the worm moon name, even if it's not exactly accurate. But one thing I do know it's sure getting to be spring around here. Yesterday I thought Melanie and I would be walking in a downpour, but instead the sun came out, shining brightly, lighting up the sky (and my mood) and reflected in all the puddles that are everywhere. Yes, it did rain all night long, but we were blessed with a fine day.

And I see that Congress has decided that we should remain on Daylight Saving Time permanently. Frankly, I much prefer standard time, but it sure would be nice not to have that silly changing of the clocks twice a year. It has never made sense to me to figuratively snip off a piece of blanket and sew it to the other end. Makes absolutely no difference, except in disrupting the sleep cycles of so many of us.

Today it looks like the sun will shine again, although it's early in the morning. After the time change, I wake up in the dark again and as the days lengthen, I'll have as much sunshine as I wish. If only the sun didn't set in the middle of the night (for me) in summer. Around here, it is long after 9:00pm when the light leaves the sky, and I can hardly wait for the shortening of the days to begin again. I know this makes me an oddball, as most people really dislike the dark days of winter, but I would take them over the endless daylight in summer. Fortunately, our seasons are only three months long and the days and years pass quickly when you get to be my age. Every day is a precious gift, and I'll enjoy them, rain or shine.

I am still working my way through the physics book, which most of the time I am enjoying very much. Did you know that quantum mechanics is responsible for the invention of the MRI device? And I am still trying to come to grips with the concept that things can indeed exist in two places at once! I've learned about superpositioning and entanglement, which I won't even try to explain, but if you do have any interest in knowing more about quantum physics, I highly recommend the book. I've linked it in my previous post, but today I need to move on. Nothing is static, including my mental processes.

Every day lately when I wake up, I take a look at the headlines to see what is happening in the world today. Of course, much of it is about Russia's unprovoked war on Ukraine, and the suffering of the people there. So once I've read them, I can get on with my own life. How fortunate I am not to be in a war zone, with bombs falling all around me. Not a day has gone by since it started that I haven't been moved to tears by the news, so I've become aware of my need to take care of my own mental health. It helps no one to allow myself to be dragged down into sadness and despair. Therefore, I watch for a short while and then turn away to more uplifting pursuits.

I am still doing yoga three times a week on Zoom, and now I'm so accustomed to it that I wonder what it will be like to go back to the studio. Our state has lifted its indoor mask requirements, and now it's possible to attend classes in person. Masks are optional everywhere, but I find that at least half of the people in grocery stores and other crowded places are still wearing them. I'm one of them, and nobody seems to think that's unusual, which I hope continues. We are still required to wear them on the bus. Ridership is still very much down from pre-pandemic days. Most elderly people are masked in public places, not just me.

 But let's take a quick look at what's ahead of us during the coming months of spring. Starting today in my part of the world, green shoots are emerging from the trees, on the ground, and everywhere around me the feeling of possibility of new adventures abound. Winter is behind us for the time being, and new life is evident everywhere. The birds are singing, the clouds part and the sunshine warms my face as I walk. 

When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring. —Madeleine M. Kunin

It's time for me to finish up this post, so that I can be ready to leave a little after 7:00am when John will pick me up for our usual Sunday breakfast in Fairhaven. Before that happens, I need to do my morning exercises and meditation practice. I've got an hour to get it all done, and if I finish now, I'll make it. 

 But before I go, I must take a few moments to bask in gratitude for all the wonderful digital family and friends who join me here. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and the day beckons, but you, dear friends, are never forgotten in my daily prayers. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Thoughts about existence

First cherry blossom last Friday

I've been stuck in a new book, which I finished yesterday: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I read it after having finished her latest novel about form and emptiness, which I wouldn't recommend for just any reader, as it's really long and rather confusing. I put it down a couple of times, but I kept returning to it. Then I remembered back a year or so ago when I bought a copy of the Time Being book, but I don't think I actually read it, because reading it now was a revelation, and nothing was familiar about the story. Of course, I'm also different now, having been through two years of social isolation from the pandemic, and I've also been sitting for twenty minutes in meditation every day for five months. It's made a huge difference in my ability to deal with the news of the day. 

And I have been fascinated lately by the entire concept of quantum mechanics. Ozeki uses it as a plot device, which amazed me and when I realized that much of what Buddhism seems to be about is reflected in much of the idea of what reality is. Although I don't know much about either subject, their interrelationship is unmistakable as I learn more. The concept of time passing has been fascinating lately, because I'm beginning to think that my idea of time might be a fallacy, a misunderstanding of what life is all about. Are we really born as tiny infants and move through different stages of life until we come to the end, and that's all there is?
In the future, maybe quantum mechanics will teach us something equally chilling about exactly how we exist from moment to moment of what we like to think of as time. —Richard K. Morgan

 In case you aren't aware of the contradictions that quantum mechanics opens up, it's possible I can give you a quick and dirty idea here: first of all, a quantum is most often used in physics as a measure of the smallest amount of something, usually energy, that something can possess. Quantum physics (or mechanics) predicts very strange things about how matter works that are completely at odds with how things seem to work in the real world. Quantum particles can behave like particles, located in a single place; or they can act like waves, distributed all over space or in several places at once. And it seems to depend on whether there's an observer, or consciousness, to decide which state occurs.

I downloaded a book onto my Kindle today that should help me understand it all better, Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness. After I read the sample they provided, I was hooked. It is the only thing I've found that seems to be written for someone without a mathematical background, and so far I've enjoyed the metaphysical gymnastics I've been needing to perform as I read. It does seems strange to think that consciousness can change the state of a physical object, but that is what it seems to be saying. I learned that Einstein didn't like the idea of quantum mechanics because it counters the whole theory of relativity. The two theories are mutually exclusive, but both seem to be true.

And then I began to wonder just what is consciousness? It seems that is a big subject, and that even though I know intellectually what consciousness is, nobody has ever been able to point to it. Is it part of the mind, or separate, or what? Wikipedia gives this definition:

Consciousness, at its simplest, is sentience or awareness of internal and external existence. Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosophers and scientists, consciousness remains puzzling and controversial, being at once the most familiar and also the most mysterious aspect of our lives.

In my studies of Buddhism, I've learned that consciousness, or mind, is what Buddhists believe continues past death and that your consciousness is transferred to another sentient being depending on your karma, or past actions. It also believes that all beings, from insects to humans, are sentient. While this seems dubious to me, it's certainly possible, and many religions believe that one's soul lives on after death. Whatever the truth is, I guess I'll have to wait until I've gone beyond to find out. Or not. But learning that quantum physics opens up possibilities of other realms of existence has made me wonder, once again, just what the heck we humans are. 

As I grow older, and every day a little closer to the day that will bring my demise, I'm finding that the prospect of dying doesn't seem nearly as scary as it once did. Everything that is alive will die, everything that was born will finish its cycle by returning to Mother Earth, and that seems to me to be rather comforting. We humans have certainly made a mess of things, and perhaps future humans will find a way to fix the destruction we have caused to the planet (I certainly hope so), and that future generations will look back at this time and smile at our naiveté. If I can believe in anything at all, whatever I wish, I believe that love and peace will prevail.

Last night I lost an hour of sleep. Well, not really, since I slept until I usually do, and awakened 45 minutes later than I normally would. But it was actually pretty much the time I always awaken, it's just the clocks that have changed. Because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get everything done (like this post) on time, I told John I wouldn't be at the coffee shop this morning. My routine is no longer etched in stone, as it was before the pandemic changed everything, and I'm finding I sort of like to have some days when I don't know exactly how I'll spend the hours. Then last night my friend Lily texted me and asked me to come to her house for coffee and go for a walk together today, and I agreed that would be great. I really miss her company.

Friends and family, and my virtual community, are all extremely important parts of my life, and I need to nurture all of my interrelationships to maintain my equilibrium. I am, after all, now an elder and need to set a good example for the younger generations to follow. The world today seems brighter, not just because Daylight Saving Time will give us more daylight at the end of the day, but because I am at this moment filled with optimism for the Time Being. One concept that Ozeki uses in her book is that memories are also Time Beings, and they are pretty and delightful when they are new, like cherry blossoms, but they fade and fall to the earth after a short while. I know my memories are not the same as the actual events, but I still cherish every single one, pressed into the diary of my days.

And yes, with that, my dear friends, I am ready to continue on with the rest of today. My dear partner sleeps next to me, his breathing steady and peaceful. My tea is gone, and the day ahead beckons me to join it. Another precious day that I can spend however I choose. May this day bring you joy, my dear reader, and I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

How the world ends

Beautiful crocus

I took this picture of emerging crocus flowers on my walk home on Friday after a lovely walk through Cornwall Park. It reminded me that we are now only a few weeks away from the first day of spring, on March 21.

The title of this post has kept coming to me during the past week, as I've watched the invasion and destruction of city after city in Ukraine, as Russia continues what it is calling a justified "military operation" to remove Nazis from power. And all this, while the Ukrainian president is Jewish. How weird is that? But it is not the invasion and the war that I'm talking about, but what it will be like when my own life ends, and the world ends for me.
It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once. —Umberto Eco

 I am quickly reaching the place in my life where everything I have ever wanted to do, see, or experience has come to pass. There is little that I expected from life that has not already been accomplished. I've lived almost eighty years, or even more than that if you consider the time before I was born as part of my lived experience. Married and divorced more than once, but living happily with my life partner today, and having given birth to two beautiful sons who have already left this world behind, I was born into a rather large family with two parents who lived short but very full lives. Numerous friends and family have already come and gone.

I don't come from a lineage that is long-lived. My parents both died from heart disease in their sixties, along with my son Chris, so it's something that I figured would probably be the way I would die, too. But since the advent of statins that help to keep high cholesterol under control, my own health statistics show that I am not in any danger of dying from heart disease. But eventually something will help me over the hump between life and death, because that's what happens to mortal beings. 

The only thing I know for sure is that I won't die prematurely, since the natural lifespan of white females in today's world is around 83. That's an average, with some living longer and many dying sooner, but it's only a few years from now that I will reach that venerable age. Of course, I might actually live to be even older than that, like ninety or so, but I don't think it's very likely. And would I even want to? Would you?

Things wear out. People wear out. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, if you didn't already know this fact, but the older we get, the more likely it is that we will develop an illness and become frail and infirm. For now, I feel incredibly fortunate that I can still stride out the door and walk with purpose into the nearby forest. It's important for me to keep myself going for as long as possible. 

Many of the activities I enjoyed in my youth are not possible for me today, and that's okay. I once bicycled from Boulder to San Francisco in six weeks; I've jumped from airplanes thousands of times, packed countless parachutes, and traveled all over the world. Sometimes I've had to endure long periods of pain in recovering from accidents or illnesses, and I have learned how to do that, too.

The one thing I have not lived through is a war in my country. That looks like it might happen before I die, as the conflict in Ukraine is likely to spill over into other countries, and we might be at the beginning of another world war. It's been heartbreaking to watch the news these past two weeks, imagining myself in the situation of a young mother having to flee to an uncertain future, leaving her husband behind and having bombs falling all around. Simply heartbreaking.

It's not like this is a new event in the world; we have been having conflicts in many parts of the world for many, many years. Mostly I have not been aware of much of the pain and suffering, but in the mid-1990s I attended a conference where I met two women from Bosnia-Herzegovina. They told me of the horrors they faced during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the incredible suffering that took place in that part of the world. I had no idea, and I felt compelled to learn something about the conflict. They went through mass bombings, ethnic cleansing, and more. It was the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. Are we now beginning another period like that?

I also learned that one of my favorite actresses from a series I loved, Babylon 5, was born in Yugoslavia and had to leave her country because of the war. She moved to Los Angeles and became Delenn, the Minbari ambassador in the series. Some of you might know Mira Furlan from her role in Lost, but since I never watched that, she will always be Delenn to me. She died last year from "complications from West Nile virus," at the age of 65. She was in the process of writing her memoirs when she died, and her website contains many writings that I've enjoyed. Check it out here, if you're interested. Her last tweet is also included there, and I must share that with you:

I look at the stars. It's a clear night and the Milky Way seems so near. That's where I'll be going soon. "We're all star stuff." I suddenly remember Delenn's line from Joe's script. Not a bad prospect. I am not afraid. —Mira Furlan

Although I have no idea how much time I have left in the world, I hope I will remember that we are all star stuff when I'm taking my last breath. It could be years from now, or today, but whenever it turns out to be, I will have had a wonderful and very full life, with many people I've loved and who have loved me back. 

I hope you will find your own true path and will follow it as you make your way through the coming week. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.