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, September 24, 2023

Falling into fall

Late summer beautifulness

Last Thursday, I joined ten Senior Trailblazers in the "Relaxed" hiking group once again, and made what will probably be our final hike into the High Country this year. As you can see, there are some red bushes in the foreground, but the main foliage has not yet reached its peak. Mt. Baker was out in all its full glory, though.

I was just thrilled to be able to go on this hike. It was the first time I've done it since the pandemic changed everything, and my ability to make harder hikes evaporated without me continuing to push myself. Not to mention I am three years older than before, and when you reach a certain age, you really need to keep moving, keep going out there, or you lose the ability to do it at all. Previously, I've done this particular hike many times, in heat, fighting bugs, in rain and, like this week, in perfect weather with special friends as well.

Although I was nervous about my capability, I figured the hike was well known to me, and that I would be hiking with others who might also need to take it slow. As it turned out, I was pretty much in my element with the others. That was very pleasant to learn; I did at one point ask the leader to slow down a little, and once she did, the pace was great for me. We hiked more than seven miles with 2,200 feet of elevation gain and loss. At our lunch spot, I realized that I was feeling better and stronger than I thought I would. 

The first part of the hike has the most elevation gain, and once we emerged into a beautiful meadow, we had covered most of the uphill and could enjoy our environment with all the other hikers who were out there with us. Being the last days of summer, with the weather predicted to change soon, we ran into close to a hundred cars by the time we arrived at the trailhead. I've never seen a wilderness area so crowded. But once we set out on the trail, the other people disappeared a little at a time. It was not a problem, really, on the trail itself.

I had a fall on the trail, stumbling onto a hard rock and hitting my knee pretty hard, but yesterday, Saturday, I was able to walk more than six miles on it and found it to be just fine. I did tape it up after the mishap, and today I noticed when I woke and made my tea that it feels almost normal again. Not bad for an octogenarian, eh? I say that and mean it, but really and truly, it's important for me and others to pay attention to our bodies and make sure we don't push ourselves too hard. Slow and steady does the trick. Yellow Aster Butte will probably be a place where I can hike again next year, if I'm careful to take good care of myself this winter. I plan to do everything in my power to stay in good shape, but we all know that each day, each month, each season brings new challenges. Nothing is guaranteed. For now, however, I am happy and pleased at my progress into elderhood. And I am forever grateful to my friend Melanie, who now lives in Oregon, for all the effort she put into helping me stay active during the pandemic.

These days, I realize how much our lives, all over the world, changed during the Covid shutdowns and pandemic restrictions we faced. We learned about social distancing, masking up in crowded places, and how to attend classes and visit others through Zoom meetings, rather than in person. In the US alone, more than a million people died from Covid, many of them older, like me. Many wonderful businesses went under, like my yoga studio, and we paused our Senior Trailblazer hikes, even though some people did go out locally in small groups. Traveling by air became a nightmare. The buses in town had half of the seats blocked off to keep people distant from one another and put a cage around the driver; we entered and exited via the back of the bus. And our lives changed forever. Even now the virus is ascendant again, although many of us have been vaccinated several times over. I will be getting the newest version of the vaccine in the next few weeks, I hope.

The good part is that most people worldwide have some immunity to the virus, either from having received the vaccine or through infection and recovery. It will always be with us, I suspect, in one form or another, but it will become more like the seasonal flu, with an annual shot the best protection from the most recent iteration of the virus. Although we may have recovered from the pandemic, it has definitely changed our world. It was a major global event, but we lived through it and now we are in the process of picking up the pieces and resuming our busy lives.

I have made new friends and lost touch with others, but my ability to ride the bus and hike with my cohorts still exists for me, and I am grateful. I am also grateful for the fact that Medicare has helped me deal with the costs of receiving the vaccine, and that our country, even though we have had some difficulties, has made it through the worst of these times. Our government buckled under the pressure, but I do think in the long run, we will be stronger and more united than we were before. It's my sincere hope that I am right about that.

One thing that I have begun since the pandemic is a regular routine of meditation. Although it's not much, I do spend a short time every morning following my breath, and spending some time in prayer afterwards. I recite the Medicine Buddha mantra and send it out to the world every day, with special attention to my friends and family who especially need healing. I have learned that these small attempts have helped me to feel more calm and connected to the world at large. I have learned that while these activities might make little actual difference in the larger picture, it changes me for the better, which is really all I can control. And I am more mindful as I move through my days.
If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots, and that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of our food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy. —Thich Nhat Hanh

Ah yes, that one: gratitude. Feeling it course through me, it feels like a special kind of medicine, one that fills me up and leaks out through my eyes, my smile, my pores. I have so much to be grateful for that I cannot even begin to count it all up. So, instead, I will feel it every chance I get, and send as much joy and happiness into the world as I can contain.

And with that, dear friends, I come to the end of another Sunday morning post, and I am immeasurably enriched by your presence in my life. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I write here in the dark, as we begin a new season, and grateful for being alive on this perfect morning. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Those who came before

Today's late summer roses

 On our walk yesterday, part of it across campus, I saw a rose garden that I rarely get to visit. I wandered among the beauty, admiring the perfection of these rose petals. They may or may not have had any scent; I couldn't smell any but then again, my smeller is fickle. We walked across campus to the Arboretum and climbed to the top of the tower, looking out at the views.

Lately I have been thinking about my extended family and looked for a picture I remembered posting long ago, showing four generations of my paternal ancestry. In the picture, the youngest is my Aunt Edith, whom I never met. (She was disowned by her mother, second from the left, before I was born.) Next comes her mother and finally, her grandmother, who would be my great-great-grandmother. 

Taken sometime around 1900, perhaps?

I really don't know much about any of them. My grandmother lived with us for a short time when I was a girl. She never let us call her anything but "Mommy," which is how her children referred to her as well. She was a strong-willed and rather stern woman, as I recollect her. There was some sort of scandal with Edith, and I remember hearing that when Mommy was in hospital dying, Edith tried to come to see her, but she refused to even acknowledge Edith as her daughter. But whatever the scandal might be, nobody still living knows anything. My brother did some digging around in our family history, but I don't know if he ever uncovered the mystery. It doesn't really matter, but it is a curious family event that I sometimes wonder about.

Steve, a friend of mine, recently flew to Hawaii to join many family members to celebrate his mother's ninetieth birthday. He sent me a set of pictures that were taken by a professional photographer, and that might be what got me started thinking about those who came before me in my own family. My parents were married for more than four decades and gave birth to seven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. We were split into two families, the first three being born within seven years of each other, me being the oldest, and then after a long period, the second batch came along. My parents didn't want to set aside child rearing, I guess. I was sixteen when my brother Buz was born, and then three more children followed. One, Tina Marie, died shortly after her premature birth, but the final two children, my sisters Markee and Fia, round out our family. It's hard for me to fathom, but Fia, the baby, is now in her sixties.

Daddy was only 62 himself when he died of heart disease. Mama lived another fourteen years without him, before succumbing to heart disease as well. No one in our immediate family has ever lived long enough to know whether or not dementia might develop in our old age, but now that I have turned eighty, it does make me consider whether misplacing my (fill in the blank), once again, might be a sign. One thing I know: if I live long enough, I'll figure it out.

Another thing I know about my family, on both sides, is that alcohol is implicated in our lives in many unfortunate ways. As we grew up, we kids always saw Mama and Daddy drinking martinis in the evening, sometimes with family friends, and on weekends there was plenty of beer around. Drinking started earlier on those days. It never seemed unusual to me to see my parents laughing and carrying on, as people do when they've become inebriated. I rarely saw either parent get to a "falling-down drunk" stage, partly because we were sent to bed before then, I suppose. Or maybe they stopped and went to bed themselves. As the years passed, the one constant was the presence of alcohol in our family activities.

I married and left home as a young woman and really only saw the whole family a couple of times a year, if that. It was so long ago, and just trying to recall how our lives played out back then is difficult. I lost my infant son in 1965 when my other son Chris was four, and that terrible time is shrouded in pain and sadness. My life was very chaotic during my twenties, but eventually I found myself a home in Boulder, Colorado, where I lived happily for three decades.

I began skydiving in middle age; I was 47 when I made my first jump. That began an enormous change in my life, and for more than two decades it dominated my every thought, and I amassed more than four thousand jumps over that period, became an instructor and taught more than a thousand students, and found the love of my life, my partner SG, through that activity. It has been almost a decade since I made my last skydive, but it still permeates my dreams. We also have almost a secret language together, SG and me, when we use terms that only we understand, which come from our shared love of skydiving.

Life is full of different phases, and I am now beginning the final journey of my own life, into old age. I am incredibly fortunate to live somewhere that has plenty of other old people, and the Senior Center in Bellingham offers so much for everybody. I remember when it was impossible to believe that (1) I would ever get to this age, and (2) that there would be so many wonderful people who would join me in navigating it. I am in training to become a wise old woman.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. —Confucius

When I went looking for a brainyquote to use for this post, I ran across a curious person who fascinates me with his outlook: Douglas Coupland, a Canadian who lives just across the border from me in Vancouver, British Columbia. I read his Wikipedia page (linked), and then ended up downloading one of his novels and got immediately immersed in it. What surprises me the most is that he is almost the same age as my son Chris would have been, had he lived, and he looks OLD, white-haired and wrinkled. Just another reminder that I too am old and (hopefully) going to slip easily into becoming ancient myself. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy every single minute.

Steve, new friend Don, and me

I asked a passerby to take a picture of us after we finished our five-mile walk and were busy enjoying some Shave Ice from a local vendor at the Farmers' Market. Myke, the owner, said he is done for the season, but the day was so nice that he decided to set up his truck and hope for some business. Steve treated us to these delights. The day couldn't have been more perfect, and I am sitting here in the dark on this fall Sunday, looking forward to my breakfast with my friend John, and then going back to my new novel and enjoying it as well. I've learned that friendship is one of the best ways to keep engaged in life, and I happily acknowledge all my family and friends, who give my life meaning.

That of course includes you, dear readers. I've been carrying on this activity of writing a blog every Sunday morning since 2009, and I love being able to go back and read those old posts, reminding me of times gone by. Just like today's will be fun to read again in another ten years. Maybe. In any event, I have finished another Sunday morning meditation and look forward to the rest of my day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

It happened in Marrakesh

A home gone, people dead (WaPo image)

In the middle of the night this past Friday, the people of Morocco suffered a horrible earthquake, around 7.0 in magnitude, and now thousands of people are dead, many more injured, and nowhere to go to escape the disaster. It's horrible to see what these people are dealing with right now, and I can hardly wrap my mind around what the survivors must be feeling. It was a shallow quake, which usually brings the worst damage, and several rural villages, as I write this, have not yet been reached by rescue workers.

There are so many really awful things going on in the world right now, and the bad part is that there is nothing new here. Every single day, disasters strike around the world. This is a particularly bad one, at least from early stories coming from newscasts and pictures like the one here. 
Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we're still at the mercy of nature. —Neil deGrasse Tyson

We live in a time when the world is connected everywhere, and when something like this happens, anybody who reads the news learns about it instantly. Sometimes that's a good thing, but in a situation like this, I'd almost rather be blissfully ignorant. There is nothing I can do to help, other than send money to one of my favorite places to donate, such as this one at CNN or Medecins Sans Frontieres

Another thing I can do to help is take this as a warning to my own area, since I live on an earthquake fault line, and make sure I know what I would do if this happened to me. Currently, scientists are predicting that there is about a 37% chance that a megathrust earthquake of 7.1+ magnitude in the Cascadia Fault Zone will occur in the next 50 years. That is a bit too long for me to worry about, but I also learned that we are way overdue for the big one to hit. You can learn all about the Cascadia Subduction Zone at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network website. I did check it out, and it made me feel grateful that I will probably not experience it, but it will come, it will happen, whether or not I am here to live through it, as those unfortunate people in Morocco are doing right now. 

I also take this as another reminder to be grateful for every single moment of happiness that I am able to enjoy. Yesterday I walked with my friend Steve to Squalicum Harbor and feel the sun on my face as I looked at all those beautiful yachts and boats of every sort, waiting in the harbor for adventures to come. I admired a beautiful four-story yacht, thinking about where I might be able to visit if I owned it. But then there is the job of upkeep, and as Steve pointed out, who needs all that room? Of course, as yachts go, it wasn't all that big, thinking of the massive yacht that I saw on the HBO series, Succession. It was also a reminder that having unlimited riches does not make people happy; those characters were miserable, but it made for a good story.

On Friday morning, I received my second Shingrix vaccine shot, three months after my first one. I am now more than 90% immune from getting shingles, it seems, but I have to say that my side effects from the shot were not minimal. Yesterday I had a low-grade fever, upset stomach, and an arm so sore and swollen that I felt a need to protect it from even a small bump. It's better today, but still sore, although the other symptoms seem to have lessened considerably. I woke feeling almost normal today.

While I was at the pharmacy, the guy who gave me the shot told me I should also consider getting the RSV vaccine (only one shot, thank goodness) for the illness that is difficult for elderly people to recover from. And now that I am officially old, I will definitely do that sometime in the near future. He also told me that both the Shingrix vaccine and RSV are "strong" and cause significant side effects in some people.

The most common side effects after RSV vaccination reported from clinical trials included pain, redness, and swelling where the shot is given, fatigue, fever, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain. These side effects were usually mild. (CDC)

Yeah, right! I just went through those same side effects and will give myself at least a month before I go through this again. (I can't imagine getting both of them at once, although people do.) There are also the more benign vaccines for seasonal flu and the next Covid booster coming up soon. Too many! But I will receive them all, with plenty of recovery time between shots. I am a believer in vaccine efficacy. Plus, I seem to catch just about everything; my body doesn't seem to discriminate when it comes to germs and invites them all in.

I do wear a mask on the bus and in crowded places, although there is yet another controversy brewing about whether they work or not. Frankly, I am not going to find out by not using one, even if they are no longer required. I have gone a couple of years now without a cold, so I am a believer. 

I was sorry I missed last Thursday's hike, especially when I learned that 17 hikers showed up to make the trip to Ptarmigan Ridge. They split up into two groups, and Al led seven hikers up Table Mountain instead, since there is a 12-person limit to wilderness groups. I'm sure they all had a great time; the weather was perfect, but I just didn't feel up to the hour-long drive each way and the rocky terrain out in full sun. Now I'm sorry I didn't go. Maybe next year.

Instead of hiking on Thursday, I went to the Senior Center and took the yoga class that is held both Mondays and Thursdays, because I am usually not available for the second one, and because I missed Monday as it was a holiday and the place was closed. It was really nice, and I ran into an old friend who was taking the class for the first time. She used to be one of the Saturday walkers and I really enjoyed catching up with her again after a few years. And I really enjoyed the class as well. You give up one thing and gain another, which seems only possible if I get out and about. I always start my weekdays with a bus trip to town and a coffee shop visit. There is my old friend John, always sitting there with his iPad, keeping a seat available for me. He's been really determined to lose weight, and he's making some progress, finally. Almost ten pounds lighter, with a bit more to go. But each pound gone means he can breathe better and has even started ballroom dancing again.

Well, that's about it for me today. I seem to have run out of time, and somehow it got away from me. I did want to end on a positive note, and John helped me do that. I do hope that the coming week brings you all good things, and that when we meet again next week, I will be firing on all cylinders, as they say. Be well, my dear friends.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Holiday weekend already

Fragrance Lake last Thursday

I took this picture during our hike last Thursday. The fog was moving in very fast, and I captured this quickly before (I thought) the fog would obscure everything. But it was gone as fast as it came in, and once others went over to snap a few shots, it was gone, just like that. I was pleased to have gotten this one. It looks almost black and white, but it's just what it looked like at that moment. I made no changes to it.

I find it amazing that it's already September, and that the unofficial end of summer has arrived. The days have grown much shorter, which I prefer, rather than the long endless daylight of midsummer. Fall is definitely my favorite season.

The group of hikers I've been usually joining lately will spend all four Thursdays in September traveling to the High Country. I hope to join them on a couple of them, but even though I really dislike the long drive to the trailhead, it's different in the fall, as the angle of the sun changes and moderates.
There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been! —Percy Bysshe Shelley
Sometimes when I can't think of what I might write about, or concentrate on when I begin these Sunday posts, I go back in my blog and look at what I've said before that might have some bearing on the state of my mind at the moment. One thing has has been on my mind over the years is the understanding of our place in the universe.

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times about the massive upheaval taking place in the world of cosmology. Actually, since it's not possible to study the universe as it's all we know of reality, it bears relevance to all of consciousness. I've written in here before about how curious it is that quantum mechanics and cosmology are so closely aligned when it comes to conscious thought. The article (which I hope you can access through the paywall) tells us some of what the James Webb telescope has revealed and how our current understanding of reality just doesn't add up, if what we presently think about the origins of the universe are true. Is that exciting or what?

Not only that, but the Buddhist sage Thich Nhat Hahn, who died last year at the age of 95, and has written plenty of books and articles over the years, offers us a different idea of what birth and death really are:
Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing. Many of us believe that our entire existence is only a life span beginning the moment we are born or conceived and ending the moment we die. We believe that we are born from nothing and when we die we become nothing. And so we are filled with fear of annihilation.

The Buddha has a very different understanding of our existence. It is the understanding that birth and death are notions. They are not real. The fact that we think they are true makes a powerful illusion that causes our suffering. The Buddha taught that there is no birth; there is no death; there is no coming; there is no going; there is no same; there is no different; there is no permanent self; there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.
Years ago I watched a movie with the premise that a young woman experienced an event that caused her to stop aging. Since the movie is still around, I rewatched it yesterday. The Age of Adaline, is available on Netflix and other streaming services as well. It's interesting to speculate what it would be like to stay the same age while all others around you continue to age naturally. In the movie, the woman's daughter grows up and ages and soon is much "older" than Adaline. Every decade Adaline changes her looks a little and moves to a different place in order to keep her secret. After eight decades of doing this, she has another episode where she returns to normal aging, and is allowed to continue her life as if nothing happened. But it is a reminder that our lives are not just who we are in a vacuum, and that we are connected to all those around us as well.

*  *  *

Today is the 33rd anniversary of my first skydive. Now that is an event that changed my life completely, in so many ways it was like I was given a brand new existence. I continued to enjoy my life, but in such a drastically different way. I spent every waking moment either thinking about skydiving, or actually doing it, and the only reason I kept my job is that I needed a way to pay for all those skydives and the instruction I received in the beginning. 

I met my dear husband through skydiving, and as he sleeps here next to me, I realize that we have a completely different understanding of everyday life because of our experiences in freefall. When you are feeling like you are flying (but really just plummeting towards the planet), it changes the way you feel about life. I was obsessed with it and thought I would never give it up. But as we all learn through decades of living, nothing stays the same. And after more than two decades of jumping from airplanes, I stopped and now look back affectionately at all those years I was an active skydiver, with lots of fondness and recollected joy.

After a skydive

Not to mention how all those years of being in freefall acted almost as a tonic for me, allowing me to continue to feel like a young kid again. Although I didn't make my first skydive until I was 47, it was like an elixir that kept me young. And I kept it up until I was in my seventies, and then when it stopped, I began to turn my attention to the natural world around me, and I've spent the next fifteen years hiking in all the wonderful areas in the Pacific Northwest.

And now I'm still doing it, feeling young enough that I can hardly believe that now I've turned eighty. It's like a joke or something, like a label I could simply peel off and return back to being young again. But there's no going back, only forward in time, unless we discover that time and space are truly just illusions that exist in our minds. Our world is changing every moment, and perhaps we'll find out that growing old is also not the only direction we can travel. Obviously you can tell that I love science fiction and speculation about other existences, but who knows? Maybe before I die, I'll find out that I actually have options about it. Not likely, but again, it's been thought of and speculated on throughout the ages.

I know that the person I am today is built on all that I've experienced previously, and that the body that I love and cherish is simply made of stardust and at some point will longingly decide to return. I'll be happy to take the next step in the beautiful dance of existence and see what's out there. I have certainly been blessed with a wonderful time here, but I know that life is all about change.

The one thing I know for sure is that my life is full and varied, and that my family and friends, both physical and virtual, surround me and fill my heart and soul with happiness. It's a wonderful life, every moment of it. Don't forget that, my dear friends, and remember that we can focus on whatever we wish in life, keeping ourselves and our loved ones surrounded with joy. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Last Sunday in August 2023

Mt. Baker from Boundary Way

I have seen this mountain from just about every angle, including from the air as I've flown over it. This one was taken by a friend a week ago, on that hike I didn't take myself. For awhile I really regretted not going, but with the ability to take shorter and easier hikes on Tuesdays with the Happy Wanderers (Group 3), I don't feel nearly the tug of the High Country that I once did. That said, I will still make it up there at least one more time this summer. Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it should be delightful after the heat has settled down somewhat and I might even have to carry a sweater and a raincoat. All four Group 2 hikes in September are in the mountains, and I think I could do them all if I go more slowly, which is what Group 2 does regularly. I'll wait until I see what the weather gods predict; Ptarmigan Ridge is scheduled for the first week in September. I did it successfully with Melanie last fall, so I'm hoping for a repeat this year.

In trying to decide what to write about this morning, I spent some time going back into previous posts I wrote in some long-ago Augusts. Now that I've been writing here for fourteen years, I can go back and see what I did and what was on my mind back then. Often when I think of the future, I imagine what it might be like in five years, so first I went back five years ago to 2018, before the pandemic but after I had given up skydiving in 2015. When I turned 72, I made one more skydive and then sold my gear to a young woman, giving her a good deal and making myself feel better about giving up something that consumed me for more than twenty years.

It turns out that looking back five years ago is not that different from what I am doing these days. I went on lots of Thursday hikes, attended yoga classes two or three times a week, got a regular massage (from the same person I still see today), and spent time in my backyard garden. However, the pandemic took my yoga classes away as the studio shut down and several others in town also couldn't afford to stay open. These days I take a single class on Mondays at the Senior Center, which is not really enough for my taste, but I know what to do and sometimes actually give myself a "class" performing some of my favorite asanas. For me, it's just not the same without the wonderful instruction I received from my teachers, as well as the feeling of being in an environment with others like myself, stretching and reaching for better postures. I can still remember the instruction, though, and use that as a way to keep trying to improve.

I was surprised to learn that I was struggling on those hot August hikes into the High Country even five years ago. Here's an excerpt:
Lately I have been feeling very out of place on these hot summer hikes, falling farther and farther behind the others as I struggle to keep going. With my legs all a-tremble and fighting back nausea, I considered whether it's in everyone's best interest for me to go along. There are easier hikes, and I wonder whether it's just my own ego that keeps me from going on them. I actually almost joined the other group last week, but they were going somewhere that would be just as hot and, as it turned out, they turned around after a couple hikers got sick in the same way I did, mostly from the intense heat and lack of shade. And I did accomplish the hike without any permanent injury to anything other than my self-esteem. (from 2018)
Yikes! The fact that I kept on trying for so long is a little embarrassing, but then again, they were not all like that. I've never done that well in the heat. However, it's five years later and I'm just now taking the hint that maybe I shouldn't subject my eighty-year-old body to such indignities. Since I've discovered the Happy Wanderers, I don't have the same hole in my hiking activities. And I am not the oldest one in the group, either. That makes a difference. Although we are all seniors, there is a real difference between being simply old and being old-old. I'm so fortunate to have mentors to show me the way forward.

And then I went back ten years, before the pandemic and while I was still skydiving. I remembered that even then I had the same massage therapist and attended the classes at the Y religiously. Those classes are long gone, and now the Senior Center has taken its place for many of my activities. I attend a Zumba class occasionally and always take the Monday yoga class. Looking back, though, I was again reminded what the huge part of my life skydiving was, and now it's faded into memories.
My week is always better when I've been able to get in a skydive or two, since it's an activity that I enjoy so much and know that the days are numbered for us to get up in the air. By the end of October, the season has shut down in this part of the world, and September is right around the corner. I saw a maple tree yesterday that has flame-red leaves already. So soon? It seems so quick, the summer season winding down. In October I will travel to Lake Elsinore in California for one last flurry of skydiving for the season, and then I'll decide whether or not I will continue the activity in 2014. You know I probably will, but I'm reaching the time when I need to carefully consider whether it makes sense. (from 2013)
And yes, it did make sense then to continue. I gradually spent less and less time with my "knees in the breeze," but the enjoyment, the feeling of being in freefall will always be with me. I have to consider how much I've enjoyed spending some time on Memory Lane, although I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to continue to have such a full life as a senior. Although I do have my share of aches and pains, I also have so much to be thankful for, and I just reached over to place a hand on my dear partner's shoulder as he sleeps next to me. He stirred a little but then fell back to sleep.

In five years, I'll be eighty-five and wonder how much will have changed in my life by that time. I will continue to write these Sunday morning posts for as long as I can, and the chronicle will continue until something changes to make it impossible. Until then, I will keep on appreciating the fabric of my life, of my days spent being grateful for all that the universe has provided me. Life is change, so who knows what lies ahead? My wonderful virtual family, of which you are a part, will still be there, and I'll continue to celebrate the joys and sorrows of life and living with you.

Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and that you will find your own joy in the days ahead. See you then!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Wishing for peace and love everywhere

Hikers with Boundary Peaks on the horizon

I didn't go on the hike last Thursday, but Julie (who did) took this lovely picture of the Boundary Way peaks, with a couple hikers in front. I'm not sure who they are, since I wasn't there, but I do recognize the peaks from my own hike there many years ago. While we change and grow a little older every day, the mountains look the same for many millennia. These peaks form the boundary between Canada and the United States on its northern border. I enjoyed hearing about their hike, and I had a shorter one of my own.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world. —Jack Layton

 Yes, let's do that: can we be loving, hopeful and optimistic? I believe we can, if we just set our minds to it. Nothing is gained by wishing things could be different than they are. Realism might be uncomfortable, but it's not useful to sit around and let yourself despair. I admit to having fallen into that state now and then when I look at the world's woes. But I'm going to change that.

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. —Isaac Asimov

Although there is plenty of vitriol to focus on, there is also plenty of altruism in the hearts of those around us, as well as in ourselves. Love is stronger than hate, and it sure feels better to be in love than to be angry and bitter about life. We do get to choose where we focus our intention. Plus, although it seems impossible to imagine when we're feeling down, this too shall pass. This moment, this sadness, everything that makes us feel bad will change, just like everything else in life. Nothing stays the same. Now that might not help you feel better in the moment, but I have to admit that it does help me. I have a few "happiness tricks" that I deploy when necessary and I'll share them with you.

  • Hang Out With Smiling People.
  • Be a Smiling Person Yourself.
Who would think that smiling would be able to change one's mood? I was surprised to learn how effective it is. And it's easy to try: just paste a smile on your face and watch how other people react to you as you walk by. Smiles are contagious, much like a virus, but a benevolent one. Grumpiness is also contagious, I've learned, so I try to stay away from grouchy people when I'm feeling down.
  • Do Something Nice for Someone Else.
  • Volunteer for a Favorite Cause.
I was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed volunteering at the Senior Center, making lunches in an assembly line for a senior picnic. (We created a thousand!) I was encouraged to do it because of some new hiking friends, who volunteer regularly at the Senior Center, but I had never done it before. It uplifted me in a way I didn't expect, so I'll be doing more of that. Volunteering also got me out of the doldrums and gave me some new and interesting people to interact with. 

There are plenty of other tricks I use to stay positive, but the one that emerges above everything else is practicing gratitude. Making a list of all the things in my life for which I am grateful always helps to bring me joy. And there are so many ways I can be grateful: for the day, for my relative health, for my friends and family, for my ability to write and ruminate about life, and on and on. 

Now this is not to say there aren't many events and situations we find ourselves in that make us sad. It's not a bad thing to be sad about, for instance, what has happened in Maui, but it doesn't help anybody or anything to continue to read constantly about all the misery people are experiencing. There are always bright spots in every tragedy, but of course the news media doesn't tell us about them. I was very encouraged to learn that the big banyan tree is beginning to show signs that it will survive the fire, but I had to sift through lots of bad news to find that positive information. It is absorbing water and beginning to produce sap. The roots of that massive tree are very deep, and it makes sense that it will survive, even if it's not going to be the same tree we know and love. Change is inevitable.

I am also struggling to come to grips with my diminishing eyesight. There are days when I forget how much AMD (age-related macular degeneration) has taken from my life, but I can still function much like I always have, although the world looks very different. I am fortunate that I still have my central vision, but it's much different than it once was. I can no longer go down steps without a railing, because my depth perception is impaired. And there are large sections of vision that are just no longer there. Fortunately, the vision in each eye compensates somewhat for the other. I wish I could describe what it's like, but I am not very good at it, even though I try. I will be attending a Senior Center monthly meeting for people with low vision, and I expect I'll learn how others are managing their own AMD. I'll tell you about it once I have attended the meeting next week.

Someday soon I'll stop driving and rely on the bus system and special transit to get around, but for now I can still drive short distances that are familiar to me. I never drive at night or even when it's dark and rainy, but when it's sunny and bright outside, I can see well enough to be safe. And I can still get around easily!

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once, but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have. History has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. —Michelle Obama

That's right: courage is also contagious. Going through life will also test each of us, but we can be smiling and hopeful, even through the hardest moments. Prayer and contemplation also help to change my attitude, and writing this Sunday post, which often challenges me to find joy to share with you, it also helps me focus on what's really important: friends, family, and love. They are always there, all I have to do is look for them. 

And yes, it's time for me to enter into the rest of my morning routine. My tea is gone, my dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I am ready to spend the day in love and joy. I do hope, my dear friends, that you will find ways to spread happiness around. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Keeping my head above water

Beloved old favorite, the maidenhair fern

I am quite stunned by what has happened to a place that I always thought of as Paradise: Hawaii. Although I've never been, I know several bloggers who live and make their homes there, and also some friends from the islands who have family there too. It brings me to tears every time I turn on the news and learn about the incredible loss of life in Lahaina. If more than ninety people have died, then the number of nonhuman creatures that have perished must be enormous, too. I looked at pictures of the beautiful 150-year-old banyan tree that is damaged but hopefully will survive, while just about every single house in the town of Lahaina is simply gone.
That tree is just amazing, even now. From an article in the Insider: 
To understand why the banyan is so special to residents, it's important to grasp the scope of the tree. Its 16 trunks stretch over almost an acre. Green leaves and branches reach over 60 feet in the air, offering dappled shade for the park below.

Well, the park is gone, the building that sat in front of it (the old courthouse) is now nothing but a shell. Everywhere you look, only burned-out cars and flattened homes are all you see. For a town that has 12,000 residents (or did), it is heartbreaking to contemplate. How can they rebuild and, if so, how long will it take? I really hope I live long enough to see it rise back up, like a phoenix. And most of all, I hope that some part of the tree will be saved, even if much of it dies, and that it, too, will rise up to give hope to all who mourn their losses.

 The banyan tree is a rather unique tree. Did you know it is a fig tree? I found this information about it:

A banyan, frequently written “banian,” is a type of fig that grows auxiliary trunks from accidental prop roots, enabling the tree to grow endlessly. It sets banyans apart from other trees with a strangling habit that emerges from their seed in a crack. The term “banyan” is frequently used to refer exclusively to Ficus benghalensis, also known as the “Indian banyan,” which is the national tree of India. However, it has also been used systematically to refer to the subgenus Urostigma (housing.com).

The Banyan represents growth, strength, and self-awareness through reflection. meditation, and a quieting of one's mind. It is said that Buddha found enlightenment after sitting under the Banyan tree for seven days. In Hinduism, the leaf of the Banyan tree is said to be the resting place for the god Krishna. So it's a very sacred tree to many people. And now it is a symbol for the people living in Maui for resilience in the face of tragedy. I really hope this symbol of hope survives.

We here in the Pacific Northwest are just getting ready to face several days of hot weather. We have been spared the awful heat that most of the country, indeed most of the Northern Hemisphere, has endured during the past months. Summer isn't fun when you cannot even go for a walk without suffering. But then again, I never found summer to be easy, since I wilt when the temperature gets above 80°F. Yesterday I walked from the coffee shop with my new pal Steve, and we went east on a trail that was mostly new to me. We covered five-and-a-half miles in sunny conditions, but it was still cool. We ended up back at the Farmers' Market, and I had another Shave Ice, a staple of Hawaiian culture. Steve will be going there in a couple of weeks to celebrate his mother's ninetieth birthday. She lives on the eastern side of Maui and has not been affected by the fires.

The last few weeks I have struggled to find something positive to write about on this Sunday post. Strangely, it's been fourteen years that I've been writing, and I've not yet run out of topics, but lately it's been harder to find uplifting things, and I don't think it's just me. The entire world seems on the brink of some major catastrophe, and everywhere I look there are grumpy or anxious faces, not many spontaneous smiles. Nope, this is a particularly tough time we're going through, I think. It certainly helps to stay away from the news, but I want to know what's happening and not pretend everything is fine. I hope this period passes without anything serious happening in my neck of the woods, although that seems selfish. Perhaps the feeling I have is appropriate, and unbridled happiness is not. I am indeed struggling.

When I read my virtual family's posts, it seems I am not alone in this, because several of you have told me of your own difficulties, and I empathize. But I especially feel good when I go for a "walk" through the lovely surroundings that many of you have, and I commiserate when you talk about coping with the heat. We are all in this together, and frankly, it helps to know I am not alone when going through unsettled times. I picture a time in the near future when I will be filled with joy and happiness, just for being alive and still moderately healthy. That means I won't go into my own bodily ills, since the ones I have are pretty mild, compared to what others are going through.

Another Rose Garden beauty

Today I will go for a walk in the neighborhood, and I'll stop to smell the roses once again, because they always bring a smile to my face. I'm usually alone in the Rose Garden, but I welcome all others who decide it's a good idea to stop and smell them, take in their beauty, and share the loveliness. It's a much better thing to do than to sit around and mope. 

Well, dear friends, I fear I haven't done a very good job this morning, but it is what it is. I will enjoy going to breakfast with my friend John, come home and visit with my dear partner (who still sleeps next to me at the moment), and finding the peace that eludes me at the moment but still exists. Some words of wisdom from one who knew that well.

Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye. —Helen Keller

And with that, I will sign off on this sunny and warm Sunday, giving you a virtual hug, and a pat on the back. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.


Sunday, August 6, 2023

Remembering when

Midsummer flowers

 It's a different world when you can't sleep. Or worse, when you can't get back to sleep after a trip to the bathroom. This is happening to me more and more often, and I'm beginning to think I am being punished for having been so smug about my ability to sleep well every night. The last few nights I have only slept five hours or so, none of it very restful. Why, I wonder, is this happening to me? My mind is busy and doesn't seem to want to shut down. Perhaps it's partly because I'm not getting my usual amount of exercise, because it's rather hot outside for me to have any extended periods of exertion. I need to remind myself that nothing stays the same, and I should listen to my body instead of grousing about what I don't seem to be able to accomplish today.

Last week I went to the garden store looking for an organic pesticide for the bugs that have begun to appear on some of my front porch flowers. While I was at the store, I stopped to smell the beautiful roses in the entryway, and I just loved their incredible odor, as they had opened and released their perfume into the sunshine. I also learned that many roses, hothouse ones in particular, don't have any smell. I wondered if it was my nose or what the story was. The ones I was smelling are bred for their scent, however, so it was very strong.

Knowing that memory is tricky and smells can trigger recollections of prior events,  it's really interesting to remember how faulty memory can actually be. Some researchers have shown that people don't remember events in the same way as time goes on. Memories are not stored in the brain like photographs or audio recordings of events; memories are recreated when they are accessed. And when we access old memories, they are modified in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. I know when my sister Norma Jean and I compare memories of our childhood, our recollections of the same time period can be wildly divergent. I used to think it is because we were different people experiencing the same event, but now I know that time has altered my memories, as well as hers.

It also makes me realize that eyewitness testimony in criminal cases is particularly useless. It's put innumerable people in jail for crimes they didn't commit, because the eyewitness was convinced their memory was correct, and it simply wasn't. Thank heavens for DNA evidence, which has cleared many innocent people. But I never considered how altered my own memory of events and people must be. I know that memories of my mother have altered through time, because I was never as fond of her in life as I am now. All the old hurts and resentments are gone, and all I have left are the wonderful memories, and even some hurtful memories are now affectionate recollections. The sting is gone, and the love remains.

I cherish the memories I have of rest of my departed family and friends. Now that I realize that my memories of them are fluid, not fixed, it doesn't make them any less valuable, but after having been recreated within the chambers of my own mind, perhaps I can forget all the old hurts and resentments I've carried around by concentrating on the good parts and letting the rest be gently massaged into oblivion. Why should I haul out old grudges? They don't do anything but upset me.

Perhaps I can do the same thing with memories of shame and embarrassment I sometimes recall. In a way, I feel like I've stumbled on a technique that might give me peace and contentment about the past that I never before considered. If memories are recreated every time I access them, I must also have some control over their effect upon me. When people get to enjoy something together, it's very exciting for both of us. One of the reasons I love my dear partner so much is all those wonderful years we spent together in skydiving, and all the memories we share. Skydiving has given me many enjoyable memories, along with a few moments of discomfort. It's time for me to let all of that go; it's been almost a decade since I last made a skydive, but the memory of freefall still remains fresh. After all, I've accumulated more than three days there, one minute at a time (61 hours in total). And I don't want to forget the good parts.

I can still enjoy the recall of the days when I taught the First Jump Course to those wide-eyed students who clung to every word, knowing that their lives might depend on whether or not they paid attention. Those were the days before everyone's cellphones became practically extensions of one's arm. I don't know what it must be like to be a teacher these days, when people's attention has been hijacked by their phones. Do teachers have a right to tell students to turn them off? (I think they should.) Let's create a world where paying attention is the most important thing we can aspire to, shall we?
A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows. —Francis of Assisi

Also, I like to think that a single positive thought can drive away many disturbing moments that still remain in the corridors of my mind. I can actively rearrange my memories to shine bright sunlight in those places and drive away the shadows. Why not? Bringing love and joy into those forgotten passageways seems like a happy and productive activity for me, with the only problem being that I need to take out a psychic broom and start clearing out the detritus. I'll take the attitude that forgiveness and love can replace all of the bad stuff, and get started with the easy ones and move on from there. Will it work? You'll probably be the first to know what I uncovered. It seems like great fodder for blog posts.

Well, this post has been a little bit all over the place, and that might be because that's the current state of my consciousness. Once I get a good night's sleep, it might all look very different. But right now I'm still a bit sleep deprived. I am getting ready to start creating some new and exciting memories, as I move from my creative mode into reality and spring up out of bed. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and the day begins with a look forward into a new day. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I hope you have a wonderful time ahead of you. Be well. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Pondering the moment

View of Mt. Shuksan

I took this beautiful picture while on a hike in the High Country more than a decade ago. Still today I can visit these places, but it's a lot more effort for my aging body to get there. But it's still there, even if I'm only able to reminisce about those days. I didn't go on last Thursday's hike to Yellow Aster Butte, not because I couldn't have done it, but because I was afraid I would need days or weeks to recover afterwards. As time is passing, so many things I have long taken for granted are changing, some rapidly, and others more slowly. That mountain and the meadow in the foreground are much the same today, I suspect.

We here in the Pacific Northwest have been spared the intense heat that much of the country is experiencing, spreading throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere and  adding to our summer of discontent. I recently read an article that  unequivocally stated that the climate we grew up with is gone. When we moved away from Colorado fifteen years ago, it was partly because, even then, the summers were getting hotter. It's nothing compared to today's incredibly changing climate. And the ocean waters are heating up way past anybody's nightmare scenarios. Take a look at this chart from the Washington Post:

Source: NOAA and Washington Post

My mind at first simply struggled to take in the import of this map, and then after I read the article, I couldn't help it; I burst into tears and took in the fact that it's true: the worst is yet to come, and there's very little that I can do to change it. All those years I sat in meetings at work and listened to the stuffy scientific conversations about mitigation and adaptation to climate change now have so much more imminence.
The more we reduce emissions right now, the easier it will be to adapt to the changes we can no longer avoid. Mitigation actions will take decades to affect rising temperatures, so we must adapt now to the change that is already upon us—and will continue to affect us in the foreseeable future.

That quote is from an article by the World Wildlife Fund. It's all about the difference between climate change mitigation and adaptation. We all need to adapt, those of us who can, that is. The coral around the southern coast of Florida has all died in the last few weeks, as the water temperatures rose to hot-tub level: 101.1°F. That is astounding to me, and more than a little frightening for what it portends. It's only late July and we have all of the summer to get through before things might begin to cool down a little. 

Yesterday I walked with my new hiking companion, Steve, down to the waterfront and all around, making it about five miles; the area has been on my radar since I first started walking there with the Saturday ladies many years ago. Steve is a Bellingham native and pointed out what has changed in recent years, and how he used to listen to concerts in the park where people now sit in lawn chairs or play frisbee with their dogs. It's a very pretty place to hang out when the weather is nice, like it is right now. Again, I am feeling very lucky to be able to live in a place where you might need a light jacket to be comfortable in midsummer, rather than the searing heat that many of the population is currently experiencing. We need to find a way to live with our situations the way they actually are, and not pretend that the change is not happening.

There are many things to be grateful for, even if the  world around us has evolved to become something different than what we might prefer. Life is change, and I must find a way to enjoy it for what it is, since it doesn't do any good to lament my current life and wish it to be like it once was. This is an old person thinking, and I've got decades of experience to look back on, to look to find ways to spread joy and love into the world, rather than to concentrate on all that's wrong around me. Even if climate change brings us pain, we can look beyond the pain to what is good around us. I think I need an attitude adjustment.

Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained. —Lao Tzu

 After perusing the website brainyquote.com, I found this quote from an ancient sage to help me find a better way to deal with my anxiety. Do you know who Lao Tsu was? He lived in China thousands of years ago, yet here I find many quotes from him are still very relevant today. Lao Tzu's Taoist ethics of “letting things take their own course, yet everything is accomplished” points us toward learning how to correct our subjective state of mind. He wrote the Tao Te Ching and that's when I also learned about the I Ching, which I used as a guide for years, by using stones to cast my fortune and then read what it described as the correct way to approach the current moment. It's been many years since then, and I guess I outgrew it, but it helped me find my way through life when I was a young woman without any strong philosophy of my own. 

And now here I am, living each day as it comes, looking for peace and serenity much as I did when I was young. Reading the news of the day, and looking for a spot here and there of happiness among the moments of existential dread that permeates most of it, I realize, thanks to Lao Tsu, and all I really need to be happy is to change my focus towards goodness and honesty. No matter what else is happening in the world, those two aspects are everywhere, if I look beyond my fear toward the light. 

And with that, dear friends, I realize that it's getting late, and that it's time for me to change my focus from writing this post to the day ahead. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and my tea is long gone, and John will be here to transport me to our Sunday breakfast spot before I know it. So here goes, I'm gathering my energy to find a way to finish this and get going. I've got my exercises and vitamins waiting for me. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Living each day as it comes

Me and new friend Steve at Farmers' Market

We are enjoying what for me is a new treat: I have now been introduced to Shave Ice by Steve, when we went to the Farmers' Market yesterday after our second walk together. This time we went a little farther, down to the Ferry Terminal, giving us about a six-mile walk. Here I thought it was me taking him for walks, but it turns out he walks several miles every day, and I am the fortunate one who gets to join him on his Saturday outings. More about Steve later.

If you read my other blog, you know that last Wednesday, my friend John felt a little woozy and out of sorts, so he took himself off to the doctor's office to get his vitals checked out. He ended up being admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for two days and came home in the afternoon on Friday. So he was back at the coffee shop yesterday morning, Saturday, but things will be different from here on out: he has been told to stay away from caffeine and to follow a low-fat diet. I guess they would like to see him lose a few pounds but to do it without any medications. He opted for a large cup of chai, which has a small amount of caffeine, but hopefully not enough to get his heart rate up. He'll be trying different drinks to replace his daily dose of coffee.

Getting those extra pounds off will be more of a struggle, I suspect. In all the years I've known John, he has tried many different ways and methods to lose weight, all of which work in the short run but just don't last. This is not any different from the myriad sufferers who carry extra weight and try everything they can to lose it. But John has a strong motivator: his COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and asthma will be much improved by even a modest weight loss. I'm hoping that he will be successful with his current efforts. The doctors and nurses weren't able to do much to help him breathe better right now: a new inhaler and an admonition to stay away from caffeine and lose some weight. He's a little discouraged at the moment, I can tell.

It would also help if he could get more exercise, but he isn't even able to go dancing any more, because of his breathing difficulties. That's one of those unfortunate consequences of aging: we lose our ability to do what we enjoy, a little at a time, until all the fun stuff is past tense and it's just a struggle to continue to maintain a positive attitude and keep on truckin'.

About my own exercise: I chose not to go out on that hike last Thursday, leery of the heat and fearful that I might not be able to manage. It turned out that only four Trailblazers attempted the hike, and although they were all strong and capable, they had to deal with bugs and the heat. I'll hear how it all went when I join the Happy Wanderers next Tuesday. Although it's a different hiking group, there is a lot of overlap between them, not to mention hearing tales of derring-do! Now that's an interesting phrase, isn't it? I looked it up and learned this:
In Middle English, dorring don meant simply "daring to do." The phrase was misprinted as derrynge do in a 15th-century work by poet John Lydgate, and Edmund Spenser took it up from there.

 I love having the entire universe of fun facts at my fingertips. And I do take advantage of that ability almost daily. Sorry to have taken us off on a tangent like that, but I couldn't help myself. Now back to my coffee shop adventure and the rest of the walk with Steve.

As we walked, Steve did his thing of petting every dog that came his way after asking for permission. Since I mentioned he seemed partial to larger dogs, he took pains to pet even the little "ankle biters," as I think of them. I was surprised to see he didn't even see to mind when a dog would jump up in his face and lick him. (I personally hate that.)

On his last legs

This sweet dog stopped to allow Steve to pet him for awhile, and the owner said he is a rescue that he's had since he got him as a puppy sixteen years ago. He said a few days ago they thought it was over for him, and the entire family cried about the need to euthanize their dear friend. Then incredibly, the dog (whose name I never learned) rallied and was out for a walk on the boulevard on a sunny day. I am always amazed that even as they lose their hearing and eyesight, and even their ability to walk, dogs seem to be able keep their noses working right up to the end. I feel fortunate to have met this canine soul and to have been part of his final life experience. The worst thing about our pets is that they don't live long enough, but they have taught me that life's best times are those little instants that become cherished memories, not the years that pass by unremarkably.

I have decided that Steve has a heart of gold, and now that I've become one of his admirers, he's tucked me into a corner of that soft heart of his. One of the fun things about walking with a friend is learning more about each other, and although I no longer have my friend Melanie's company, another person has emerged to fill the void. On the boulevard walk, we ran into the Saturday walking group of ladies I joined for years before the pandemic, and they encouraged me to come back again. Since their leader, Cindy, is a retired race walker, they keep up a pace I find hard to match, but they told me that they too have slowed down, and that I should give them a try once again. I might do that, who knows? It's nice to have so many options.

I didn't get much sleep last night, not because of the heat this time, but because one of our neighbors decided to mow his lawn at sunset, and the chaff came into our open window and caused me to start sneezing. After a quick squirt of my allergy medicine, I tried to get to sleep, but then a barking dog interrupted my efforts. It's going to be one of those days, I guess, but I do know that tonight I won't have a problem falling asleep. Our weather the past few days has been idyllic: mid-seventies (F) with a light breeze, while the rest of the country swelters. Actually, the entire Northern Hemisphere seems to be suffering from excess heat, except for a tiny little northwest corner of the US. I won't rub it in, instead I'll enjoy every little bit of it and hope for a break in the heat for you.

As I said in my title, I will continue to enjoy each and every day as it comes, and never take for granted these moments of reflection and contentment. I hope that you will find some joy and beauty in your days ahead, and that when you join me once again, you'll have some sweet moments of serenity to look back on. My dear partner sleeps quietly next to me, and John will be coming by soon to take me out to our Sunday morning breakfast in our new caffeine-less world (for him, that is). 

Until we meet again next week, dear virtual family, I wish you all good things. Be well and don't forget to count your blessings, of which there are many if you look for them. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

A new era begins

Trailblazers in Church Mountain Meadows

Last Thursday, I was actually thrilled to have made it all the way up to the Church Mountain Meadows with my new hiking companions. There are nine hikers in this selfie, with Karen's head barely peeking out from behind Barb (in the front) and Gertie, the gnome, in Barb's pocket making us nine in total.

I didn't know, really I didn't, if I would be able to make it all the way up the steep trail to our lunch spot, but I did it without any complaint and truly enjoyed myself the entire time. The only problem was when my back began to hurt on the long downhill, but it was easily dealt with. It makes me feel more confident about joining other long hikes in the wilderness with this group. I might be investing in a new backpack that allows me to have a good waist belt. I removed it from my current one, since it didn't help and seemed to make it harder to carry more weight.

Yesterday was my first Saturday walk without Melanie. I was grousing about having to hike alone, when my new friend from the coffee shop, Steve, asked if he could join me. I readily agreed, and we walked five-plus miles from the coffee shop to Fairhaven and back. He's an interesting guy: a real dog lover, who asked everyone we passed with a medium- to large-sized dog if he could pet the dog. Of course everyone said yes, and so he got his dog fix, while we together chatted about our lives. He's a chemistry teacher at the local technical college, and we met by me noticing his constant stream of test papers to grade. He has three classes a week for eight weeks. Sounds horribly intense to me, but he is enjoying it. I am feeling so lucky to have found another kindred spirit to walk with. Hope it continues, but I'm not counting on it. His elderly dog passed a few years back, but now that he's divorced, he thinks it would be hard for a dog to be alone for so long, so he gets his dog fix from other dog owners. If this continues, rest assured, you will get a photo.

Today, three days after our hike, I am still feeling some discomfort in my hip joints, but less than I expected. I'm hoping to find out more about next week's trip before deciding whether I can do it or not. I have some unpleasant memories of going up the first part of the Chain Lakes hike in full sun and melting down. But hopefully I'll learn more before making that decision. I am confident that one way or another, I'll have more good hikes with my new friends. Even if I might have to skip a few here and there during the hot summer months.

I had forgotten how absolutely gorgeous it is in the High Country, and thinking that those days were behind me, I had not allowed myself to really miss the activity. Now my desire to go there has been reawakened, and I'll do whatever I can to keep myself in good hiking shape. Here's another picture of that meadow.

Bear country, but we didn't see any last week

As an old person, I know that every single moment I can spend in the wilderness is worth the struggle to get there. We only travel one direction in life, and that's towards infirmity, but these old knees and joints seem to have some life in them still today. I was the only octogenarian on the hike, and I didn't want to make a fuss, so I kept my discomfort mostly to myself. Now I can tell you about it, and I know you won't judge me too harshly. I guess my daily walks are making a difference in my fitness level; I've got Melanie's influence to thank for that. I am going to miss her presence in my daily life. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, she won't be totally out of reach, at least.
So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good. —Helen Keller
Although the temperature here in Bellingham reached 80°F yesterday, it was nothing compared to what many others around the world are experiencing. My family in Texas and Florida are stuck in triple-digit heat, which would mean, if I were there, that I wouldn't feel safe outdoors; even their overnight temperatures are too hot for me. Hoping that this awful heat will break soon and we can enjoy a more normal summer. The sad thing is that our climate is definitely changing, and not for the better. More weather extremes of every sort will become more constant as time goes by. We will need to adapt, but as I've said before, there are some upsides to being old: I won't be around to experience the worst of it. I'm hoping for at least another decade of  active life, but nothing is guaranteed to any of us, ever, so taking stock every Sunday of my many advantages makes sense to me.

As I sit here writing on my fancy new laptop, I can first thank the universe for having allowed me to have enough monthly income to buy such trinkets. I really didn't know what a difference I'd experience with a new laptop, and now I cannot imagine going back to my old one. I've got lots of electronic toys, such as my iWatch, my iPad, this MacBook Air, and of course my iPhone. I guess I've become one of those Apple aficionados, since all of my gadgets are thanks to Steve Jobs. How did I ever function without them? There was a time when I couldn't even imagine the level of connectivity we enjoy today. It causes the world to shrink until I can find out what is happening in every corner of every continent, with just a bit of time browsing the internet. 

Yesterday I ventured out in the heat of the day to buy some more flowers for my front porch garden. It was beginning to look a little sad, with several of my flowers either done blooming, or not being happy with their soil and water, so I spruced them up a bit. Then when I came back inside after being out in the heat, it was so lovely to feel the coolness of our living quarters. We don't have a/c, but most of the time we don't need it; a few well-placed fans and a clever husband who knows how to maximize the airflow helps a lot. We do have all of August to get through, and we will probably have a few days of uncomfortable indoor heat, but drinking lots of liquids and wearing light summer clothes will help a great deal. 

My friend John will pick me up for our usual Sunday morning breakfast, and we'll spend some time together enjoying each other's company. I'll share with him what I learned about Steve, our new coffee shop buddy, as well as find out how he's faring in the summer heat. He's recently installed a/c in his home, so he can be more comfortable. John's health isn't the best, but then again, he's 83, going on 84, and he takes all sorts of medications for his breathing difficulties. But he's doing okay, and I give thanks every day for his presence in my life. Between him and my own dear life partner, I've got a fair amount of masculine energy to deal with and enjoy in my daily life. Friendship and family are both incredibly important for my mental health.

Oh, and I cannot forget the wonderful virtual family that I've garnered over the years, and I do spend a fair amount of time every day reading the blogs of my friends and finding out how you are all doing. The world is much smaller when I can simply click on a link and find out what's happening with my friend in Canberra, or the one in Fresno, or Seattle, or my many Canadian friends. Yes, life is good, and I am feeling very happy to be spending another Sunday morning counting my blessings, and gazing over at my sweet partner sleeping quietly. My tea is gone, it's getting close to time to change venues and starting the rest of my morning routine. 

I sincerely hope that you will enjoy a wonderful week ahead, and that by the time we meet again, you will have had many wonderful experiences and are finding ways to enjoy life in all its richness. Until then, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Feeling grateful for my life

Mel on our Whatcom Falls walk

It's the end of an era. My friend Melanie and I went on our final Saturday walk together yesterday. She will be moving away, in just over a week, to a new home in Oregon, five (or more) hours away from here. Every Saturday for the past several years, we've gone out together, sometimes with a few others, but always the two of us. We hiked every Thursday and walked every Saturday through the pandemic, and now I'll be needing to find another companion, or maybe spend more of these days walking by myself. I've certainly gotten into the habit and don't want it to end.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. —C. S. Lewis

Although she won't be in my usual weekly activities, she will always be here in my heart. I don't know what exactly brought us together when she joined us and started hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, but I know when the pandemic hit, she and I would continue to go out on walks together when everybody else either stayed home, or they went out on small group walks, like we did with each other. Mel is a retired law enforcement officer, and I've learned a great deal about how her experiences have caused her to see the world with different eyes than my own. She would tell me about situations she's encountered over the years, and now I see the world differently, too. Perhaps the two of us have blended our memories and both of us have changed a little in response. I know I will miss her presence in my life.

I know that I owe a great deal to her in terms of my current activity level. She always would push me to do a little more on our hikes, go a little bit farther, and consequently I think I am stronger and more likely to continue to improve as I age, instead of slowing down and stopping. It's always easier when you have a friend who is younger and more fit who is willing to accommodate you and encourage you to keep going. That's what Melanie has done for me, and I will continue to keep hiking and walking, even without her around.

Last week I purchased a new pair of hiking boots, since the Hoka version of a shoe I had been using for awhile, although very comfortable, wasn't adequate for a long mountain hike. I tried on several pairs before deciding to buy a brand that is new to me, Obōz. I tried on several different ones, and finally settled on the Sawtooth Low version. There is a waterproof version, but I wanted one that felt good on my feet from the first moment I put it on, and this one fit the bill quite nicely. And I bought the pair from REI, which gives me the option to return them if for any reason if I'm not satisfied with them. Yesterday I gave them their first test, when Melanie and I went on our 6.5-mile walk over varied terrain. So far, so good: no sore spots, no blisters, and my feet don't feel the worse for wear. I've had many pairs of boots that need to be "broken in," but I'm past those days and now only want good support and less pain. I'll let you know how they are faring in a couple more weeks. For now, I'm happy.

And I am seriously considering doing a hard hike this coming week in the mountains with Group 2: Church Mountain. I am only contemplating going to the meadows, a shorter hike, around three-plus miles, but those three miles also have an almost three-thousand-foot elevation gain. Although I have done this hike many times in the past, it's been since before the pandemic hit that I have been there. I enjoyed it many times and never had much of a problem getting to the meadows, but that was then, and I am older now and not sure of being able to accomplish it without embarrassing myself. But I think I have to try. You will know more next week whether I went and how the adventure played itself out.

I hate to gloat, but I am thrilled that we are experiencing just about perfect weather, while most of the rest of the country is sweltering. Yesterday we got to a sunny 69°F (20°C) and today it will be a few degrees warmer, but I am not seeing 80°F in the forecast for the rest of the month. July in the Pacific Northwest has never been better. Maybe it's a gift from the weather gods, or maybe we will pay the price in August, which is traditionally the hottest month around here. I don't do well in full sun and hot temperatures. My favorite hikes are cloudy and cool, especially when we need to gain a good bit of altitude. Thursday will be sunny and in the mid-seventies here in Bellingham and should be a little cooler in the mountains. Church Mountain is in shade until you get to the Meadows.

For someone who has always been a bit of a risk taker, with more than four thousand skydives under my belt, I'm realizing as I am aging that I am trying to maintain some semblance of that adventurous spirit. But it's different now, my body tells me to take care of myself and not try anything too foolish. It's been almost a decade since I've had my "knees in the breeze" on a skydive, and even contemplating one today makes me queasy. I could probably do it, but as I've said to others, "been there done that." One day I will feel that way about hiking in the mountains, but not yet, not quite yet. I may be losing one hiking companion, but I am gaining quite a few more in Group 2. 

What else is on my mind? I am still enjoying my latest new toy, my new MacBook Air, which has a quiet and responsive keyboard, plenty of speed, and a wonderful screen on which to enjoy some streaming series and movies. My hearing aids have made a huge difference in my life, too, and I put them on every morning before the teapot whistles. Recently I realized that one side was no longer working as well as it did before, so I went off to the audiologist's office to have them examined. They needed a good cleaning, and just like that, they are as good as new. They have a three-year warranty, and I figure after that time I will be wanting some new ones with the latest bells and whistles anyway. Right now I am happy with what I have, and I know they will continue to enrich my life. Anyone contemplating getting hearing aids, I highly recommend the bluetooth-enabled versions. It took some getting used to when the phone rings and I hear it inside my head, but now it feels just right. Oh, and I also love that they can be charged at night at my bedside rather than having to worry about batteries.

Well, that about wraps up my current world, other than my dear sweet partner who still sleeps next to me and keeps me entertained during the day, with an endless supply of puns. He laughs as hard at his jokes as I do, and sometimes harder. It sure makes me happy to watch him slapping his knees and guffawing when he tells a good one. He is a joy in so many ways. We do have our moments of annoyance with the other's foibles, but what the heck, they pass and then we are both laughing together again. I cherish every moment we have together.

And I cannot forget to give thanks for my vast virtual family, of which you are part. It enriches my life so much to know you are there, and to have your blogs to learn what is going on in your lives right now. As is true of all of us, there are good and not-so-good moments, but we share them and that makes them even easier to get through. Or enjoy together. Living through this moment in time, I could not feel any luckier or more grateful for it all. And I wish you, dear friend, all good things to come to you in the coming week. Until we meet again, be well.