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, April 24, 2022

Being almost out of time

Another Skagit Valley landscape

 I took so many pictures when Lily and I went off to the Tulip Festival, and I think I can scrape up a few more to use as decoration for my posts. This is one of my favorites that I haven't used yet. I like the layers in this one; the field behind the muddy spot has in previous years been filled with tulips or daffodils. Apparently this year it is in a fallow state. Maybe next year there will be more flowers, but not this season. 

The only thing I can be assured of is that if I am still here on the planet and not gallivanting around in other spheres of existence, I'll be able to take pictures when I visit in another year's time. There is only one more week to visit the tulips this year and then we will enter into the month of May. Everywhere I look here in town there are blossoms, flowers abundant in gardens, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses (almost all gone now), and others just beginning, like the lilacs and cherry trees. It's a profusion of delightful scenes. In some ways I wish my nose worked better, so I could smell them, but alas, only a few make it from my nostrils to my brain. It's a mystery to me why I can smell some roses, but not all, and cannot seem to smell lilacs at all. I remember the smell very well, but it's only a memory these days.

I remember when I became aware that I couldn't smell things that other people could: on hikes when someone might comment on an aroma they noticed, and I couldn't smell anything. I learned that a blood pressure medication that I took for years was probably the culprit, and in the years since I stopped taking it, a few smells have begun to return. Unfortunately for me, certain soaps and perfumes are all too easily picked up by my nose and drown out more subtle aromas. I'm very happy to know that I can smell smoke, car exhausts, and other rather dangerous odors.

I finally finished the book on quantum mechanics, and now that I'm done, I sort of miss pondering about all those intriguing speculations about why it is that we can actually manage to perceive some elements existing in two places at once, why observation changes the microscopic environment, and other mysterious "spooky actions at a distance" (quantum entanglements). I don't know why it has captured my interest so completely, but it has. There is still so much we just don't know about the universe. I find that exciting.

What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see, my physics students don't understand it. That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does. —Richard Feynman

 When you order a book through Amazon, several others are suggested to purchase in the same vein, and I've taken the time to read samples from other quantum physics books. I like knowing there are plenty more books to get lost in, should I choose to take that path. Right now I'm taking a breather from the subject, though, and reading a book of essays by Margaret Atwood (Burning Questions). One thing about ordering Kindle books is that I don't get a sense of the size of the volume when choosing it, and when I was in the bookstore the other day and saw how enormous this volume is, I realized I would be reading it for a long time to come. It will probably become one of those background books that I read and lay aside for awhile as I make my way through some less weighty novels. It's how I prefer to read.

 Which reminds me: I must cherish my eyesight and give thanks every day that I can still read books, drive myself from place to place, play on my laptop, and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me here in the Pacific Northwest. The AMD I've been dealing with for years now is progressing, but it still has not caused me to have to give up anything much, nothing I can't deal with by changing my habits, at least. Reading on the Kindle is much easier on my eyes, as I can change the font size easily as needed, thank goodness. Once I can no longer see well enough to drive, I'll be taking the bus even more than I do today, and relying on family and friends to help me get around. It's a gradual decline, not sudden, so it gives me plenty of time to adapt.

But I don't kid myself that it will suddenly get better. It is traveling in one direction only, the same one as we all travel: towards infirmity and dealing with continually aging bodies. As I've said before, there doesn't actually seem to be any way to avoid it, except through dying first, and who wants to do that? I don't want to miss any of the adventure, after all. Treading right up to the edge of eighty is a journey all its own. My dear partner is already there, and my friend John is 82 and still hanging in there. He suffers from COPD and sometimes sitting next to him in the cab of his truck, his struggle to breathe is audible. He uses an inhaler and is hoping that a visit to his pulmonologist will find some way to help him breathe easier. But it comes with the territory of aging, just another reminder to appreciate each day and each moment as it comes.

None of us knows how much time we have left, but I am aware that it no longer feels limitless. When I was young and I would use the phrase "the rest of my life," it wasn't just around the corner but felt quite a distance away. As I've traversed all the other stages of mortal life, in looking back it seems to have been so quick, just a lightning flash and here I am, now looking ahead to months and years, not decades of life left to live. Yes, I know there are plenty of vigorous people in their nineties, but I really don't think I'll be one of them. So I'm taking each day as it comes, happy for it, and happy for the health and vitality I still possess. 

Being able to write and compose these posts is also a gift I cherish and enjoy very much. It connects me to my other blogging friends, and as I read about your own journeys through this precious life, I find inspiration and joy, as well as reminders of the trials and tribulations that we all face. It's nice to have a community of like-minded souls to share it all with, don't you think? I certainly do. 

And with that, dear friends, I think I'll wind up this post with a quote from a dear person whom you will most likely recognize. His journey through life was an inspiration to many.

Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything. —Muhammad Ali

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Don't forget to count your blessings and hug someone or something, which I am doing right now to you, giving you a virtual hug. Be well. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter 2022

Tulip Festival once more

Yesterday Lily and I drove south to visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, as we have done in previous years. It was another feast for the eyes, and although it was Easter Saturday, it was incredibly cold for this time of the year. When I left my apartment, it was 32°F (0°C), about ten degrees below normal. At least it wasn't snowing, as some of my blogging friends are dealing with right now. One friend said that if they had an Easter Egg hunt, they would have to deal with snowdrifts! Wacky, weird weather.

But it was mostly sunny, and since we arrived right as the doors opened, we were part of the first wave of spectators to see the gorgeous RoozenGaarde displays. We rushed around to some of our favorite places, so we might be able to see them without lots of people. Sure enough, we got plenty of great shots before we left almost two hours later. And the people were streaming in by then, long lines of cars waiting to park, throngs pouring through the entrance as we left. I knew it would be busy, since I usually try to avoid the weekends, but it was the only time Lily knew for sure she wouldn't be working, so off we went anyway, making sure to be early birds.

After we left the display gardens, we went to the quaint little town of La Conner, which looks forward to this time of the year as they make most of their income from the tourists during April's festival. We had a wonderful scrumptious lunch at Nell Thorn, one of Lily's favorite places to eat in La Conner, and since we got there early, we avoided those crowds, too. We walked out of the restaurant to do some shopping right at noon, just when the crowds we left at the tulip fields were looking to enjoy their own lunch. Our timing was perfect.

It's Easter Sunday, and it brings back memories to me of previous years that I've spent this holiday in other places, with other people. For many years in Boulder I made a solitary retreat during Holy Week, the seven days prior to Easter, staying for the week at the Abbey of St. Walburga, a cloistered community of nuns who follow St. Benedict's rules. They had an abbey just outside of Boulder, and for a small donation you could stay in your own little cottage and share meals with the other retreatants in the main abbey. We were served delicious food by the nuns. I found it to be a great place to meditate and pray, which I sorely needed, as my job at the time was very stressful. The order has since moved to another location in Colorado, and I just spent some time at the above link looking at the pictures of their life today. There were nineteen cloistered nuns when I stayed with them. When they would sing the offices of the Liturgy, I would go into the chapel and listen to some of them. (They started well before I awoke.)

I am reminded that there was a time in my past when I spent part of every day in meditation. Then it sort of fell away, and only recently have I picked it up again, this time in the spirit of Buddha, but there seems to be very little difference to me as I regain the practice once again. Whether my prayers are heard or not, by whatever entity that might exist, the practice itself calms and centers me for the rest of my day. I am a better person because of it, at least that's what I think happens. It changes me, even if my thoughts don't extend out into the universe. They might, though, nobody alive knows for sure. 

Last night I worked hard all night long in my dreams. Once again, I was a skydiving instructor, and I had many students to take care of. When I was assigned a student, the first thing I did before figuring out whether they knew what to do was to assess their fall rate. When you are in freefall with another person, whether holding onto them or not, it's important to match fall rates. If I had a woman who outweighed me, especially one with large hips, I'd strap several pounds of lead into my waist belt. I learned over the years that those were the fastest-falling students; your center of gravity is at your hips, and the way to gain stability in freefall is by pushing your hips toward the ground, with arms and legs acting as rudders to move yourself around in freefall. Just like a shuttlecock in badminton, when you throw it into the air, it always falls with the heavier part facing towards the ground. Same as in freefall.

Over the years, I taught more than a thousand students how to skydive, and many of them went on to become famous in the sport. Since I still subscribe to the Parachutist magazine, I see many of them in pictures as they attempt large formations, or other feats that once interested me very much, but that I now view with a bit of nostalgia. Time allows us to move on and change from one adventure to the next. Although time might be an illusion, I don't know any way to escape from its linear grasp, except through my dreams. There, I am in whatever present moment is dredged up from the depths of my mind. Last night's dreams were as real to me as the reality of sitting here on my computer composing this post.

Although I am still not quite finished with the book on quantum mechanics that I started weeks ago, I have become very familiar with several different aspects of quantum speculation, and yes it still seems quite incredible that all we know of reality might be skewed by our observation of it. 
Suppose for example that quantum mechanics were found to resist precise formulation. Suppose that when formulation beyond FAPP (for all practical purposes) is attempted, we find an unmovable finger obstinately pointing outside the subject, to the mind of the observer, to the Hindu scriptures, to God, or even only gravitation? Would that not be very, very interesting? —John Bell

Everything I have read points to a process that is unexplained and unexplainable with our current knowledge. For some reason, all of this has given me a sense of joyful anticipation, that I might actually end up being alive when a momentous discovery of the creation of our universe comes into being. Maybe the James Webb telescope that will begin to chart the early universe will be the trigger, and if so, it should begin this coming summer. In any event, I am excited about it. I have enjoyed the images captured by the Hubble telescope for years, and since so far everything is going according to plan with the Webb telescope, we should learn plenty during the years that it will be active. It's a very fertile and exciting time to be alive!

All that and Easter, too! The day looks bright and inviting, with plenty of sunshine coming my way, with temperatures at least ten degrees warmer already than yesterday at this time. John will be picking me up as usual as we head to Fairhaven for a Sunday breakfast together. I will definitely find the time today for a walk, and to admire the beauty that surrounds me every day, rain or shine. Tomorrow the rain returns, but today's gorgeous sunshine will be appreciated by many. Little ones running out to discover hidden eggs, plenty of chocolate bunny ears consumed, and the continuation of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Earth! 

I do sincerely hope that whatever the universe brings you today, it will include at least a few hugs and virtual blessings from your family and friends. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me. We begin a new season and from this vantage point, I see lots of love and joy coming your way. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Peering into dreams

Fields and clouds

 This picture of the beautiful daffodils and a sky filled with clouds and occasional sunlight was taken last year when I visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Other nearby fields are filled with these beautiful yellow daffodils, which are often finished by the time I get a chance to visit the tulips. I also was sort of reminded of the Ukrainian flag in this shot, yellow on the bottom and blue skies above. And of course Ukraine has been on my mind a lot these past few weeks.

I'll be visiting the tulip gardens once again with my friend Lily next week. She works most weekends but has the next one off for Easter, so we'll be making our annual visit on Saturday. The long-term weather forecast looks pretty good, but it's almost a week away and anything can happen. Although yesterday was supposed to have the rain all gone early, my friend Melanie and I walked in hail, rain, and the occasional wind gust. It's amazing that after a gorgeous day in the mid-sixties (19°C) last Thursday, today we will be lucky to have a chance to take off our warm gloves and hats. We'll be ready for anything next week. Typical springtime weather, eh?

And I am still continuing my endeavor to learn more about time, space, and consciousness, and the main thing I've discovered is how much I don't know. Just by accident I ran across a new source of information, a guy named Piero Scaruffi, whose website is simply overflowing with information I find fascinating. He's written several books about the nature of consciousness, quantum mechanics, and the meaning of life. How could I not be drawn in? You can check out his main page here

I've read several excerpts from his section on "The New Physics" out loud to SG, who has been interested in quantum physics for a long time. Me, I never considered that aspect of study particularly interesting; however, I have always been fascinated by science fiction that makes good use of some of the theories and ideas I've run across. And I now know where superstring theory came from, not that I'm all that interested in learning more about it, but the possibility that every single version of every event could be existing alongside us in a parallel universe gives credence to several time-travel novels I've enjoyed in the past.

Time and space always change, but there is something which is eternal and changeless. For example, the world and time, past or future, nothing exists for us in sleep. But we exist. Let us try to find out that which is changeless and which always exists. —Ramana Maharshi

I found this quote while looking for something about time and space that would be relevant to what I've learned, and the idea that while we are asleep, nothing of our normal life exists for us I find quite interesting. I know I visit many realms while dreaming, and that they seem perfectly logical and reasonable until I wake up and consider them when my brain is conscious. 

Years ago I watched a Star Trek episode (The Inner Light) that really resonated with me. In it, Jean-Luc Picard is caught in an energy beam and becomes unconscious. While only a few minutes pass in regular time, he lives forty years as another person on another planet. He is  reluctantly reconciled to his new life and marries, has children, and grows old before he awakens back on the Enterprise and realizes he is still Picard. I was fascinated by the concept of time expansion then, and I still am, wondering if it's possible. After all, the new quantum physics speculates that anything that could exist is possible in an alternate universe that might be in existence alongside our own. It does make me wonder just how much of the nature of consciousness we still don't know. 

Do you dream? I know that some people don't remember anything of their dreams, and some people dream in drab black and white, while my own dreams are filled with vivid color, and are populated with people I've known both living and dead. While I'm dreaming, it feels just as real and solid as the world I'm sitting in right now, as I tap away on my keyboard in the dark room, with hubby sleeping next to me and I take a sip of my tea from a solid cup.

Then again, what exactly is "solid"? The cup is composed of atoms and molecules, with vast areas of empty space making up an atom. We are mostly made up of empty space, it seems. Although things feel solid, it's because we are experiencing them in a macro version, not an microscopic one. I find it very interesting to wonder about what life, time, and matter really are. Who knows for certain? Not me!

Well, that's enough of wandering around in the dark realms of uncertainty. I think I'll return to what I know and what's solid around me. Looking away from the screen, I see a window that shows it's still dark outside, and I believe that the sun will come up today, even if I cannot see it through the rain clouds. And that I might actually get a few rays of sunshine to fall on my face later in the day, and that the sun will then set. That's my belief, anyway, and so far I've been right. 

But maybe when I go to sleep tonight, I'll live another century before I awake. Maybe I'll visit my mother who has been gone for decades, and we'll laugh together at the silly dream that seems like my real life as I sit here, pondering the nature of time and space. One thing I know (as much as I know anything) is that when I finish this post and hit "publish," I'll begin the rest of my day and will join my friend John for a nice springtime breakfast. And that when I come home, my dear partner will be up and out of bed and we'll hug as I return, as though we've been separated for ages. Maybe we were. Time is elastic, after all.

Okay, I hope you enjoyed this excursion as much as I did. Don't forget to find joy in your day, that goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Until we meet again next week, believing there will be a next week, I hope that you find happiness and joy in everything you do. Be well until then, dear friends.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Understanding the cosmos

Looking into the blossoms

When I was walking back home from the coffee shop, I looked across the street and saw the most beautiful blossoms on a tree. Right now many of them around town are in bloom, but this one looked particularly wonderful to my eyes, so I stopped underneath it, looked up and captured this picture. It was a couple of days ago, so what I saw then and what you see now doesn't exist any more. The blooms are already beginning to fade, petals falling to the ground. Nothing stays the same from one moment to the next.

Gradually, I am beginning to have a different sense of what time is, or at least what is measured by our conception of it. According to many sages, it doesn't exist at all. Our lives are so bound by the concept of time, that thinking of stepping outside of its boundaries makes my head spin. But I'm getting used to it. Sort of.
We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.—Stephen Hawking

Just for fun, I watched a documentary about Stephen Hawking today, made in the early nineties, which explores his theories about time and space. Fascinating! His mother thought that he would probably not have come up with his scientific breakthroughs if he had not been disabled, because his brilliance was hard to contain and channel. Once he learned that he would have to work hard just to communicate, his studies took off and we all know what his synthesized voice sounded like as he gave lectures and wrote books with the help of his computer. I think it's amazing he lived to the age of 76, even though he suffered from ALS. Most people with the disease don't make it nearly that long, but he was not willing to stop trying to figure things out. Diagnosed in his early twenties, he was only given two-and-a-half years to live. He lived for another half-century.

Now that I have managed to live almost to the projected average age of someone born in 1942, as I've said before: I won't be dying prematurely, will I? Without that magnificent brain that Stephen had, nobody will be mourning my passing, other than those of my immediate family and friends. Change is usually gradual, rather than sudden, so I note my aging body with some satisfaction, happy that I'm doing as well as I am. But nobody can tell me that age is just a number.

Old age can be broken into three stages: young old (55–65 years of age), middle old (66–85), and old old (85 and older). I don't feel my age, most days anyway, but there's no getting around the fact that I am moving from middle-old and approaching old-old. Looking back, I've had a very good life, and I'm not unhappy to still be able to dance, walk, and wrangle my old body into some yoga postures. When I wake up in the mornings, I stretch and feel where any aches and pains might be needing some attention. There are very few days I wake with no pain at all, but they are minor and can be dealt with just by getting up and moving around.

One thing that Stephen Hawking and I have shared is a fascination with quantum mechanics. He studied how it affects black holes and came to the conclusion (which of course can never be shown for certain) that some subatomic particles can actually escape a black hole, although it was believed for a long time that nothing, not even light, can escape the event horizon of a black hole. Stephen believed that there are probably as many black holes in the universe as there are existing stars. There is one in our own galaxy; they are formed when a star collapses into itself. It's all fascinating stuff, and my own fascination comes from thinking about time and whether it's something other than just a linear process. 

After all, when I read the other day about the Hubble telescope having discovered a star at the outer edges of the universe, the light of which takes more than 12 billion light years to reach our telescopes, it just boggled my mind and made me wonder what it is that we don't understand about our existence. How is that even possible? I am looking forward to the new James Webb telescope beginning to show us even more distant stars and maybe teach us something about the universe we don't already know. If I had my life to live over again, I think I'd like to have been an astronomer. The cosmos draws my interest like little else does.

I feel so very fortunate to have been born in the middle of the twentieth century. When I think of the world that existed at my birth and compare it to the world of today, so much has changed that I think an adult from 1942 who could be transported into the present would not believe so much could have changed in such a short period of time. But it sure has! I'm sitting here with an amazing portable computer in my lap, writing almost instantaneously to a virtual community, and I will soon finish this post and press "publish" and reach YOU, my dear reader. How cool is that?

And a little while after I finish, I'll get up and start my day in this wonderful world, filled with magic. My friend John will pick me up in an hour or so and transport me in his fabulous truck to where we will be graced with a wonderful breakfast, and I'll pull out my little iPad (another tiny computer) and play with it for a short while before coming back home to enjoy watching the rain from inside my safe and warm living room.

My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, my tea is gone, and the sun will be coming up soon, starting another revolution from dark to light, and back again. I'm hoping that your day will be a good one, filled with love and joy. Why not? If we can choose between realities, I choose a happy one, for me and for you, dear friends. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.