I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Tough year behind us

Fairhaven terminal building

Yesterday morning my friends Don and Steve joined me for a walk from the coffee shop to Fairhaven, where we wanted to see the burned-out building that caught fire and was completely destroyed late on December 16. For weeks the authorities had suspected that a missing man had died in the fire. He had not been seen or heard from since the fire, and he often spent the night there, since he was the owner of both the coffee shop and restaurant housed in the building. They found a body that was identified as likely Nate Breaux a couple of days ago. An autopsy should confirm the identity. Nate's parents have been in the city for the past week, hoping for news, even if it wasn't what they hoped for.

Don, me, JJ and Steve

We walked across the street from the fire and sat down with JJ, who witnessed the whole thing, sort of. He's a statue of JJ Donovan, who moved to Fairhaven in 1888 to build a railroad to bring his coal from Skagit County to the newly established town of Fairhaven. He looks pretty dressed up compared to us, but I guess he was dressed for a special occasion. Maybe he was sculpted from a photograph, but I don't know for sure.

I'm convinced we will find out soon enough whose body they found, and I sure hope they find out two things: how the fire started, and a hope that Nate was not conscious but perhaps died of smoke inhalation before... well, you know. Anyway, it was just one more awful thing that happened during the year we will put to bed tonight. All the climate disasters, the wars, and more. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times put it quite well in his end-of-year post:
As the year ends, civilians are dying at a staggering pace in Gaza and the genocide in Darfur may be resuming. A man charged with 91 felonies is leading in American presidential polls, and our carbon emissions risk cooking our planet.
It's well worth reading the entire article, if you can find the time. This one ends on a hopeful note, and since we are all so tired of the unremittingly bad news, it's well worth a read. After viewing the remains of the building, we walked back the way we had come, covering more than five miles and enjoying the incredibly mild weather and lack of rain. It's almost ten degrees warmer than normal for this time of the year in our part of the country. We will probably get real winter weather before spring shows up, though.

 Last week I got a full measure of exercise, which has been hard for me to get lately, so I was pleased that I was able to hike with the Trailblazers both Tuesday and Thursday, and got almost a full six miles with the guys yesterday. I also worked out in the Senior Center's gym for some upper body exercise. Considering that my ancient body is holding up so well, I am feeling quite fortunate and grateful. I will take this state of happy equilibrium for as long as it lasts.

I'm sure that many of us are parceling the news into our daily diet carefully, so we don't get overwhelmed with it all. There's nothing to be done from my vantage point, although I still cannot help but get pulled down if I don't watch out. And that does nobody any good. Keeping a positive attitude is essential to my own health, and I suspect yours as well. And tomorrow we start a brand new year! Tonight the old year will be retired and the new one, filled with our hopes and desires for peace and tranquility, will arrive. Another milestone comes to give us a marker as we move through our lives.

I have been reading quite a lot on my Kindle lately, which makes it so much easier for me to see with its "low vision" setting. I can read for more than an hour before I need to stop and rest my eyes. If I allowed myself to get all gloomy over my failing eyesight, it wouldn't change anything except to make me sad, in the face of all the wonderful ways to appreciate being alive and functioning so well in the present moment. As I begin this new year, I am filled with optimism and hope.

I am also continuing to study Buddhism and find it very helpful to see how sages of the past went about their daily lives. I recently discovered what Buddhists call the three poisons, three things that make our lives so much better or worse, depending on how we deal with them. Those three poisons are GREED, ANGER, and IGNORANCE. What surprises me is how relevant these teachings are to today's world. Then I realize that we are all, every one of us as we move through time and space, in the same boat. We are humans trying to find ways to live our best lives.

The best part of looking at those three poisons is seeing how I might change them into their opposites in my own daily life. I am not often a greedy person, but I realize I can easily become more conscious of how I can share my bounty with others. It's what I am doing by writing this post, for one thing. Letting you know how I live and function in society. We (hubby and me) are in the phase of letting go of stuff, rather than amassing more of it. For Christmas we didn't exchange gifts; there is simply nothing that we need more of. Instead we enjoyed each other's company, good food, and (for me) some good beer. It is enough.

Anger is a little harder to deal with, since so much of what is going on in the world causes me to become upset and want to change things. Of course, the only thing I can really do something about is my own internal mindset. Taking a deep breath, realizing that my own state of mind is essential to my happiness, and saying a prayer for equilibrium always helps me in the moment. And I don't think that allowing myself to get angry does anything to change the outside world, but it does plenty to disrupt my own internal one. 

And finally, ignorance. We are all ignorant in some aspects, but there are ways to overcome it. Opening my mind to the wisdom of others, educating myself rather than sticking by old prejudices and habits. Ignorance can only be overcome by knowledge. We are all endowed with the incredible ability to learn and change our minds when we discover wisdom. It is available to anyone willing to let go of old ways of thinking. We can all become wise and compassionate.
The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible. —Arthur C. Clarke
Those three poisons are ones that we can turn into their opposites, with enough of us willing to apply the medicine that heals us: loving kindness and compassion. I know it sounds impossible, but just writing about this has opened my heart to new ways of being in the world. Instead of a cramped feeling in my chest, I feel the expansion of love filling it and I feel myself opening up to joy. That is what I wish for you, too.

I am looking over at my dear partner, still sleeping next to me, and I know that today we will hug each other many times and share laughter together. Whether your day looks anything like mine, I sincerely hope that you will find your own ways to mitigate those three poisons and perhaps share them with me. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Truly.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve 2023

At the Capilano Bridge

My routine has been completely disrupted by a sweet gift given to me by my friend Lily. She and another friend decided to treat me to an amazing day and night by taking me to the Capilano Bridge in North Vancouver, Canada. We started in the early afternoon, first by going across the border on Christmas weekend, meaning it took an hour to cross, but we did finally manage. Then driving in horrendous traffic until we found the area in which to park the car for the festivities, which was of course full up. We had to park quite a ways away and be shuttled to the park.

But once we got there, we were just three people in a mass of humanity, the likes of which I haven't seen for decades. Long rope lines kept people moving in the right direction, as we headed towards the bridge itself. This bridge is just under 500 feet in length, and stretches across the Capilano River, a long ways below us. I was truly unprepared for the experience of stepping onto the wobbly suspension bridge, which swayed mightily as the crowds of people went across.

The bridge 

I thought maybe by the time I got to the center, it would stop moving quite so much, but it was just more intense. I never felt good about it, and held onto the side with real fear. It's one thing to be on a suspension bridge, but to be there with so many other people, and having wonky eyesight on top of that, it was quite the experience indeed. I am glad we went, but I was also glad when we made it across to the other side.

Anyway, after the hours-long experience of the bridge and the sights to be seen, we drove to one of Lily's favorite restaurants in Canada and had dinner. This was at 7:00pm at night, and at first I wasn't going to eat much, but I was famished, so I had a wonderful salad and (of course) a beer! But the night wasn't over yet; we still had to get back across the border. This time, however, since it was much later, it was only a fifteen-minute crossing. And then we headed home.  I was home and safe in bed by a little after 10:00pm. This might not sound late to you, but I collapsed into bed and slept dreamlessly until this morning. I am in no shape to contemplate a post, so I decided to give you the treat of an old Christmas Eve post, from 2012, eleven Christmas Eves ago. It was a favorite, and I hope you will enjoy it too

* * *

Christmas Eve 2002

It's been ten years [NB: longer than that now] since Mike McGowan took that picture of me. Every Christmas Smart Guy and I would spend in Eloy, attending the Holiday Boogie at Skydive Arizona. I started going a couple of times every year to Arizona when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. It was just short of a thousand miles away, a couple of long days driving. If the weather looked iffy, we took the southern route; otherwise we drove north to I-80 and then south through Flagstaff on our way to Eloy, which is situated off I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.

My boss Mickey knew I would want two weeks off during the holidays, and every year before I took off he would hand me a check for $500, knowing full well just where I would spend it. This was out of his own pocket, as we didn't get any kind of bonus at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Mickey is a very generous person, and I took full advantage of his largess over the years. (Of course, thirty years of working together meant that he also took advantage of me at times.)

That year, 2002, was momentous for me. My son Chris died in August and I had spent the previous three months grieving for my loss. And then earlier in December I turned sixty, which seemed old, very old to me, especially since I was involved in skydiving, which most people think of as a daredevil sport designed for youngsters. (There are plenty of older skydivers, by the way.)

The night before this picture was taken, I had been sitting in the Bent Prop, the local diner at Skydive Arizona, and Mike McGowan and I talked for awhile about life and loss. He's no stranger to loss himself, and he commiserated with me over Chris' sudden passing. Mike has his own photography business, FunAir Productions, and he spends his days during the boogie getting on loads and taking pictures of various skydives. At the end of each day, we would gather in the hangar looking at the proofs he posted for any interested customer to purchase. I bought many from him over the years, when I would want to have a keepsake of a particular skydive.

I don't remember the skydive I had just completed when the picture was taken, but I do know that Mike was not on it. He had just landed from another skydive when I saw him on the ground in front of me. He used a flash and I saw it light up but thought nothing of it. He's a professional photographer, after all, and I thought he probably took pictures every chance he got. It was Christmas Eve, and the sunset after a beautiful day spent in the Arizona sky was a perfect way to end the day.

A few hours later I was again sitting in the Bent Prop when Mike came over and sat down across from me. We spoke of the beautiful day we had just experienced, and we wished each other Merry Christmas when he handed me a 9x12 brown envelope. Mike waited while I opened it to see the picture. Then he left me speechless, as both of us teared up, no further explanation needed. A gesture of love and a Christmas present like no other I have ever received.

I'm sure Mike is still out there in Eloy taking pictures and posting them every evening in the hangar, but it's been five years since I last attended the boogie. Now that I'm living in Washington state, it's no longer a short drive, and living on a fixed income doesn't give me the same chance to spend money like I did a decade ago. But I still have my memories, and I'm still skydiving seasonally when the weather cooperates. Friendship doesn't go away, and I know if I saw Mike again it would be like old times.

For some reason that James Taylor song Fire and Rain has been going through my mind the entire time I've been writing this post. You know the one I mean:
I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.
Who knows what the future holds? Another Christmas Eve is upon us, isn't it?

* * *

And now, here I am sitting in the dark in my usual spot for Sunday morning, dear husband sleeping quietly next to me, and I need to get myself up and ready for the breakfast that John and I will be enjoying together. Not that I'm hungry, after last night's dinner, but I'll manage. And then life will return to Christmas Eve normality. Until we meet again next week, I wish you the happiest of holidays, dear friends.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Old growth trees and more

Two thousand-year-old red cedar

I found a truly inspiring story about this wonderful old growth tree in British Columbia, which is being protected by those who know where it is, in order to keep it from being logged. Just look at the person in the picture (lower left) to get an idea of the size of this tree. For me, it's unimaginable that someone might look at this ancient specimen and only think of acre-feet to be harvested. I thought that Canada was more enlightened than those of us in the US, but I was wrong to think that. Greed crosses borders without anybody being the wiser. But there is an organization in British Columbia, called the Ancient Forest Alliance, that is working hard to protect the remaining old growth forests in and around British Columbia.

Three years ago, the Canadian government passed a law that any old growth trees of a diameter more than 4.6 meters must be protected and nor harvested. But it turns out that this law has been ignored during the time since it was passed. You cannot just replant an old growth tree and wait for it to grow old. We are such ephemeral creatures. we only last for at most a century, and these trees were around long, long ago that in some places they are older than civilization as we know it today. 

I have seen some old growth myself, while hiking with the Senior Trailblazers, but nothing like the size of the ancient trees I've learned about lately. It is truly amazing to think that anything lives that long, and to think that some people don't find these ancient forests worth protecting just boggles my mind. Anyway, there is so much going on around these ancient forests, and I am hoping that the current initiatives to save them will be successful. They are irreplaceable.

I love forests of all kinds, old and young, and I've had to hike through clear-cut areas all around Bellingham, where the forest has been decimated in order to log the valuable trees, and then replanted with new trees. And I have been hiking long enough to see some forests begin to recover, with trees growing from saplings into ones almost as high as me. But they are just babies and won't be available to become lumber for many decades. I know some people think it's silly to love trees, but I am definitely not one of them. Although I am writing about them, I do hope that it will serve only to bring attention to their plight. It's not my intention to awaken anybody's desire to harvest them. So I write this and hope my readers will take into account their incredible value, and perhaps even donate to the cause. 

So it is with trepidation that I even bring them to your attention through this post. While it's important to be cognizant of the need to protect them, it's also important to retain their secrets and keep them from the public eye. Only then will I feel I've helped and not harmed these magnificent creatures. How about you? What's the biggest tree you have ever seen?

* * *

I am feeling pretty good after having caught my first cold since the pandemic began and I started wearing masks. I think I caught it last week while attending the strength training class. We were all fairly close to one another and breathing hard at times. I first felt a scratchiness in my throat, but it wasn't bad, and then I began sneezing and feeling a little under the weather. Within two days, however, all my symptoms were gone, and a covid test told me I didn't have the dreaded virus. Another one confirmed them, and then SG got sick last night with a sore throat. He took the covid test and it came out negative. We have both been vaccinated and boosted, and have gotten our flu shots, so if we do get sick, it's probably not going to land us in the hospital, even at our advanced ages. (Famous last words, eh?)

What I had forgotten is that feeling of being healthy and happy that comes after the cold recedes. I am feeling better than I did before I got sick, and sniffles and congestion are long gone. And it's been less than a week, so I am heartened that it was just a regular old cold. Today is a new day, and I'm looking forward to seeing my friend John, who will drive us to Fairhaven for breakfast, just like we've been doing for years. I like routine and familiarity, but you probably already knew that about me. Writing this Sunday morning post, for instance, has been going on for many years now. This is my 735th Sunday morning post, which translates into an impressive number of years. I've not missed a post, even while I've been traveling. In 2015, I remember writing one propping up in my bed in Istanbul, listening to the call to prayer outside. Also I've written them while visiting my sister in Florida, surrounded by cuddly dogs. It's been awhile since I've been anywhere other than in my own bed, with my dear sweet guy sleeping quietly next to me.

What is my sense of adventure? It's still there, even as an octogenarian. I have put behind me the chills and thrills of skydiving, but I still dream of those days when I climbed outside an airplane, holding on until it was time for me to let go and join the others who jumped with me. I now find chills and thrills by going on a hard hike and climbing to places with cliffs that show what distance I've covered. I am still an adventurer, but my adventures have changed as the decades have passed. Emotionally I am still young and unchanged from the passage through life.

I am running out of time to finish this post. When perusing brainyquote, I found a quote that struck me with its relevance, but I cannot seem to find any way to build the words around it to make it fit. I thought about deleting it, but I won't, because each time I read it, I feel myself resonate with it. Here it is:

If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. —Ray Bradbury

I can feel myself building my wings every single day that I awake with a new day ahead, with happy moments in my future. That's because I can imagine whatever I want, and hopefully it will all come true. I do hope that the coming weeks will bring many wonderful new adventures in whatever flavor you choose: big or small, but in any event delightful and fulfilling. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.


Sunday, December 10, 2023

Unexpectedly wet walk

String quartet at Adagio's

It sure seemed like it would be a normal walk yesterday, with my friends Steve and Don, as we set out from the coffee shop under mostly cloudy skies to walk to Squalicum Harbor, which is one of our favorites. We walked across the bridge and saw the snout of a seal sticking out of the water, checking out the scene. After we had navigated a couple of miles, suddenly we saw it: a squall of wind and water heading our way. Our nice dry walk turned into a torrent of icy pellets, plenty of regular old rain, and heavy wind. In nothing flat, we were soaked and turned around to head back into town. Steve took us on a shortcut, so we only managed a brief three-miler, but the weather made it quite exciting. Don took off for his car as soon as we got close, but I decided to go inside the coffee shop and get myself a hot chocolate and try to dry out a little. Steve came in for a few minutes, but then he took off too. 

I was surprised to see that string quartet in there, playing lots of Christmas tunes, and it was really nice to be indoors and have a place to gather myself together. Everything I had on was soaked, except for my rain pants, which were snug inside my pack, where I had brought them just in case. I decided it was not worth trying to get them on while I was struggling to stand upright. Once we made it back to the coffee shop, I found an open table and sat down to enjoy an incredibly good (and plenty warm) hot chocolate. I felt quite happy after having a few minutes of relaxation, safe from the storm. It continued to rain and blow, but once I felt ready, I made a beeline to my car and drove home. No desire to set out again for the rest of the day.

And, as it turned out, the rain never let up. Today we are expected to get more heavy rain, which means the streams and rivers around here will finally overflow their banks. It's above freezing, but only by a few degrees, and my heart goes out to all those poor homeless people who are just trying to stay dry and warm. I have a nice warm home, and plenty of warm clothes and blankets. It makes me feel guilty for having such luxuries while there are people all around the world who don't have anywhere to go to escape their misery. I woke in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep, thinking about it all. 

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. —Saint Augustine

The middle of the night has passed, without me finding any respite in sleep. I did wake my guy and we huddled together in the dark, talking about our various states of mind. It never fails to make me feel better when I feel his arms around me, another fellow traveler through this life, sharing the good and the not so good, which is just part of the human condition. I want to spend my days and hours in love, and Saint Augustine reminds me that love is not all hearts and flowers, but seeing others as they are and helping however we can. Right now that help will be in the form of a post, one that will hopefully be uplifting to myself and in the process, help others.

I could easily list the terrible happenings I read about and see on the news every day, but that would not be helpful, plus you probably already know about them. Instead, in this season of dark nights and grey days, perhaps it would be more useful to consider that in just a few short weeks, the days will begin to lengthen (slowly), the sun will shine intermittently, and soon we will begin a new year, another journey around the sun. We will bob up and down in harmony with the ocean swells as we hold onto each other in our little lifeboats in the enormity that is our lives.

Yesterday, while wrapped in a blanket in my easy chair, I watched a wonderful documentary on PBS about Tyrus Wong, a Chinese-born American artist who came to this country in the 1930s and became an influential artist in many areas: as a painter, animator, calligrapher, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer and kite maker, as well as a set designer and storyboard artist. My first experience of his art was when I watched Bambi, as a young child, an animated story about a deer and his friends. It was produced by Disney and came to the screen in 1942, the year I was born. In the documentary, I learned that his art was very different from anything created earlier, using minimalist backgrounds and charming brushstrokes. It has become a classic.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute presented a list of its "10 Top 10"—the best ten films in each of ten classic American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Bambi placed third in animation. In December 2011, the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant." (Wikipedia)

 Although Tyrus was discriminated against because of his ethnicity, he never seemed to take it personally and never stopped trying to create. He married Ruth Kim in 1937 and became father to three daughters. He and his father immigrated illegally in 1920 until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1946. He then became an American citizen and found work at Disney Studios and later Warner Brothers. When I think of how hard his life was, and how successful he became, I realize that there is nothing that cannot be overcome, with (as he said) "luck and hard work."

Tyrus died in 2016 at the age of 106, having changed the face of animation forever, and having created so much that is still being discovered today. For many years, his contribution to Bambi was unknown. After having watched that documentary, I realize that I too was unaware of the depth and breadth of his creative talents. How many other wonderful people have I missed, or worse, misjudged, in my own life? Perhaps it's more important for me to take stock of my life today, as well as my friends and family, and examine it and them for clues to unrecognized talent.

One thing I know for sure: that in taking a look outside of my own life at the world around me, with all its depth and possibility for change, there is a way to be hopeful and filled with love for it all. Yes, all of it, if I can let go of judgment and simply let it in. I realize that just being tuned into the disasters and pain of the world that fills the TV screen are NOT all there is to see and experience. I will not let myself get pulled into the misery, when all I have to do is look over at my dear sweet partner, placidly sleeping next to me as I write, to realize that cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" will go a long way toward healing my worldview.

And you, my dear virtual family, will hopefully find your own way to happiness as you navigate the shoals of your own life. We do get to choose, you know. My tea is long gone, and my day will begin once I finish this post and climb out of bed to enjoy the rain and wait for my friend John to take me to Sunday breakfast once again. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I do hope you find a way to relax and enjoy the moment just a bit. I know I will be doing that, too. I wish you all good things and wish you many happy returns of the season.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Holiday activities ahead

The view from Eagle Cliff

Well, I can now say that I had the best birthday week of my life. Or that I can remember, at least. It started on Monday with a new class, strength training, that will continue until December 22. Twice a week I will get instructed, along with my other classmates, on the correct operation of the fifteen exercise stations in the Senior Center's gym. I have already used a couple of machines that I've never been on before: the abdominal crunch and the low back extender. I started on low weights, since I have plenty of "stuff" going on in those areas. It's also fun learning new skills. 

As the week went on, I got a good acupuncture treatment, a fabulous massage from my regular therapist, and a super-wonderful hike on Wednesday, to a place new to me: Cypress Island in the San Juans. That picture was taken from the high point of our several hikes. It's a thousand feet above the water, and we traversed it in just over a mile's distance. That means, yes, it was steep. I couldn't have done it without my trekking poles. But all twelve of us made it to the top, before turning around and carefully descending to get to our pickup spot with our water taxi boat.

And now I am well and truly into my eighties. I cannot help but wonder how I managed to be in such good shape at this time in my life, and although I've got pins in my back and knees, I still seem to be able to hike nine miles! It must be all the years I've continued to exercise, but I don't know for sure what might be the reason. Good genes? My parents didn't manage to make it out of their sixties, but they didn't have statins and died of heart disease. I sometimes wonder how long they might have lasted if their hearts had been healthy. All I know for sure is that I must continue to be vigilant and take care of my physical self for as long as I can. We all do end at some point not too far into the future. I won't know until I get there.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. —Soren Kierkegaard
Perhaps it's normal, but since I've never been this old before, I do begin to wonder how it will all finish up. Not having grandchildren, or even living children, there is nobody who will grieve too terribly when my demise finally comes. At this age, there are only a few options that I can think of: physical illness, an accident, dementia perhaps. Now that my birthday has passed for the year, I intend to enjoy all the holiday hoopla. Sedately, that is. I will probably attend two or three holiday parties and will see good friends, but for the most part SG and I will just continue to carry on our daily activities as usual. We have a particularly soggy forecast for the next week or so, with as much as three or four inches of rain coming our way through an atmospheric river. At least that means it will be warm and not freezing. At this moment, early in the morning, it's already 41°F with a light rain. Being a Pacific Northwesterner, I have lots of raincoats and rain pants. It is truly amazing what a difference it makes to have proper gear for the weather. I almost look forward to it.

I keep thinking about that hike we did last Wednesday and what a beautiful place Cypress Island is. While the days will continue to get even shorter over the next few weeks, it will not be long before we turn the corner and begin to see more light in the morning sky. By the end of January, it will be very noticeable. That picture above was taken at the end of November with the sun low on the horizon at around 2:30 in the afternoon, but soon we will have reached the nadir. I believe the first day of winter starts on December 21, with it also being the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. I love seeing the changing seasons, and still am amazed that we have summer beginning somewhere on the planet, while some of us begin our winter. It seems that 12% of the human population lives Down Under. 

Yesterday I enjoyed a nice five-mile walk from the coffee shop, with friends Steve and Don. We were ready for the rain, which continued all night, but just for us the sun came out and we saw blue skies. Today will begin with "sprinkles" and change to actual rain by noon or so. I do hope I will be able to get out for at least a short walk, and that I can put on all my rain gear and pretend I'm related to the ducks. When I was a young girl, I remember wearing galoshes and carrying an umbrella. Although I own an umbrella, I rarely use it here, because when it rains, it usually blows as well. You don't see many umbrellas around these parts; mostly used by transplants to the region, I suspect. Just a time or two of having your umbrella blown inside out will discourage its use. 

Taking stock of where I am in the scheme of things makes me ponder once again how it might all change. After all, change is inevitable, and when I look back at the long arc of my life, I'm thinking that there must be a rainbow somewhere that will show the pot of gold at the ending point. I do like to think that instead of dreary grey skies, I'll be looking at rainbows. I am determined to live every moment of my life in love and gratitude for all that I've been blessed with. Counting one's blessings is always a happy task, no matter what your circumstances might be. (There are exceptions, of course, but attitude does make a huge difference in our perception.)

I feel myself beginning to think ahead to the day's activities: John will be coming around in his truck to take me to Fairhaven for our usual Sunday breakfast. Then I'll return home and spend some time talking with SG about the day ahead. He is busy researching what his next computer will be, while I will spend some time watching a few episodes of The Crown on Netflix. It is currently in its sixth season, and I stopped watching it awhile back and have to finish season five before starting on the current season. Since I was young, I've watched the royal drama, and remember well when William and Harry were born. Now they are parents themselves, and Harry wrote a book about what it was like for him being a member of the royal family. It really does seem odd that we still have kings and queens in some parts of the world, doesn't it? It seems an anachronism to me, but then again, we still have never figured out the best way to govern ourselves. I suppose I won't ever see what the future holds in that regard, but I'm content to imagine a future where we all live in harmony with one another.

And with that lovely thought, I think I'll wrap up this holiday gift to my readers, imperfect as it is. When I was a kid, I sometimes created homemade gifts for my parents and family, and I suspect they are just as fondly remembered as anything that could be purchased. The season is upon us, and I wish my dear virtual family all good things in the weeks ahead, and that you will also find a way to count your blessings and share the love. Until we meet again next week, I wish you health, wealth, and happiness.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Pondering and wandering

The season is upon us

Thanksgiving in the country where I live is now behind us, and we are gearing up for the next holiday, Christmas. As I walk to the bus in the morning, each day there are more decorations going up, until the street I walk down will be filled with colored lights and scenes like this one. In this picture, the first light of the day was beginning to decorate the sky, too. The days are short and getting shorter, so we will take the time to bring some light into the darkness. That's sort of what I try to do with these Sunday posts, looking for some light in the darkness, and attempting to spread it around a bit.

It's been hard lately to find joy and happiness in my days, especially if I let myself get pulled down with the news of the world. From burgeoning wars, desperate people trying to stay out of harm's way where nowhere exists for them, people without food, water, clothing and shelter as winter begins. If I let myself, I can get overwhelmed with it all, and that helps no one, particularly myself. So, it's a balancing act between the news and watching escapist TV, or reading an uplifting book to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I also try not to feel guilty for all my good fortune.

As usual, I get my regular exercise to work out the kinks. I always, without fail, feel better after going outdoors and walking in nature for any length of time. Yesterday I walked with my friends Steve and Don to Fairhaven, and we were at first quite cold (below freezing) but since we had full sunshine, it didn't take long before we were shedding hats and coats. Just being able to walk 6+ miles fills me with gratitude. I am losing some of my abilities, but I am still able to walk at a three-mile-an-hour pace for awhile. I cannot be unhappy about that!

My eyesight continues to deteriorate, and I realize now that my right eye can no longer focus well, since the missing vision has almost completely covered its focal point. It means that now I have little depth perception, and although both of my eyes' peripheral vision is good, the left eye has become my better and more dominant one. I don't wish macular degeneration on anybody and am just glad that I can still drive short distances with care. Those days are numbered, though. Thank goodness we have such an extensive public transit system here and, given enough time, I can get anywhere around town I need to go by bus.

Do you have nightmares? I hardly ever do, but the other night I had one that won't go away. It was so real and detailed that I can still, three days later, see scenes in my mind's eye that occurred in it. I had been looking forward to taking a hot bath, and in my dream I had settled into the steamy bathtub when I realized that my mother was in the bath with me, propped against the side of the huge tub. But she didn't seem to be breathing, so I tried to arouse her, with no luck. Then I realized that she had slipped under the water and had drowned. I tried CPR (which I have never given) and kept trying to get some reaction from her. Nothing. So I pulled her out of the water and tried to find help, but when I tried to scream, only a little squeak came out of my mouth. That is when I woke up, realizing it was a dream. Mama has been gone since 1993, so where in the world did that nightmare come from? Perhaps it is from trying to keep my own head above water as I deal with the helplessness I feel.

What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to one's piece of debris? What's the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood? —Buddha

When I look around at the beautiful and peaceful environment that surrounds me, I can only wish that I could somehow give that gift to the suffering world. And I must remember that it helps absolutely no one to allow myself to give up and sink into despair. There is so much to be thankful for in every life, and that should guide my mental wanderings, not to focus on the hard parts, but look for the joy that exists everywhere, even in war zones. Although the world will not be peaceful for many centuries to come, it will always have little pockets of happiness to be uncovered and appreciated. Love is always somewhere to be found and I will do my very best to love as many fellow travelers as I can. When my heart is filled with love and joy, it's like a little candle I have lit and I can look for others to share it with, lighting their own candle from its light. Soon, just like the colored lights on my neighborhood street, the darkness can be pushed back a bit.

Several remarkable things will happen for me this week: I will start a strength training class at the Senior Center that I signed up for months ago. It will continue until December 22 with eight sessions, when I will then have finished the training and can then use the facilities whenever I want. On Wednesday, I will join some other Senior Trailblazers as we make another boat trip on a water taxi to spend the day hiking around Cypress Island. Last month we went to Sucia Island. I've never been on this island before and look forward to a great adventure. Then on Friday, I will celebrate my eighty-first birthday with a massage and another strength training class. 

A full week, and I am so blessed to have such good friends to enjoy it with. And of course, I always look forward to hearing what is going on in the lives of my dear virtual family, of which you are part, hoping that you will be close enough to someone's little candle to light up your days. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Thanksgiving week

Lake Padden on a calm day

Anyone who has lived in Bellingham for awhile, and who also likes to go on some easy to moderate hikes, has discovered this gem: Lake Padden. If you take the loop around the lake, it's 2.6 miles, or twice around for a perfect workout distance. At least it's just right for me. I've taken this exact picture many times over the years, but there is usually at least a little breeze to stir up the water. Not on this lovely calm day, however. The lake is a smooth as glass.

It's Sunday before the big holiday when thousands, if not millions, of turkeys give up their giblets in order for the entire US to indulge in the first of the holiday traditions: overeating and consuming lots and lots of food. This year, if I had just one wish, it would be to transport half of the haul to Gaza to feed those starving and displaced Palestinians. But I cannot, so I will instead send some money to Doctors Without Borders to help them to get something, anything at all to them, along with my heartfelt prayers for better days ahead.

I've never been alive without wars going on in many different places on our beautiful blue globe. However, it's never seemed like we've had so many major conflicts at once, but it could just be because I'm paying closer attention in my waning years. The only thing I can be really positive about is that I will not live to see a harmonious free world during my lifetime. This lifetime, anyway. Maybe if I come back in a hundred years, maybe as a bodhisattva, I'll be able to be more sanguine about things. What is a bodhisattva, you ask? In Buddhist teachings, it's a being who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion for the suffering of others. Until that day comes, if it ever does, I'll be spending my remaining time helping others in whatever way I can.
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. —Nelson Mandela

 Nelson Mandela lived a long and fruitful life, even if almost three decades of it were spent behind bars for his work to end apartheid. He was deemed a terrorist and a danger to society. Of course, that was because the ruling party didn't want to give up their power over those they held down. And they were facing a huge disparity in numbers, five to one, and they were scared. But as you know, once Mandela was freed, he ended up being elected to be the President of the country and apartheid in South Africa became obsolete. It must have been a very difficult time to live in South Africa. Yesterday I read the entire Wikipedia entry chronicling the major events of his life. He lived to be 95, and during that long life, he received many accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize. And he never became bitter or angry, even after all those years locked up behind bars.

Amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president. (Wikipedia)

 I wonder if someone like Mandela might emerge once again to help heal the conflict going on right now with Israel and Hamas. Although it's unlikely, there is no reason not to hope for such an event to occur. Anything is possible, and with enough motivation, perhaps the apartheid existing in Palestine will one day be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Well, I certainly took a swerve away from what I was originally going to talk about, which is all the many reasons I have for being grateful during Thanksgiving week. I have never been directly exposed to conflict and displacement myself, but I can well imagine it. Instead, my decisions will revolve more around how to prepare for the big dinner, and whether or not I'll be able to get in some exercise. No Senior Trailblazer hikes on Thursday, it seems.

This year, I decided to buy the local community food co-op's Thanksgiving feast, all prepared and assembled for me. I don't need to do anything more than pick up the  pre-cooked dinner. I'll make some nice side dishes, maybe, just so I can get into the spirit. I'll arrange everything on separate plates, and SG and I will sit down to a stress-free Thanksgiving meal. It's my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving, although I have so many childhood memories of my mother's wonderful spread, including (of course) pumpkin and apple pies. She also made a wonderful turkey hash out of the leftovers, which for me was my favorite part of the holiday. I've tried, but I never was able to duplicate that delicious dish. Mama's magic ingredient was always missing.

A rainy hike five years ago

In all these years of hiking in the Pacific Northwest (fifteen so far), I've been incredibly fortunate to have so many wonderful places, and wonderful people, to enjoy the outdoors with. It still continues today, although the faces change, the camaraderie and mutual enjoyment of our beautiful environment does not. I will continue on this way for as long as I can, and then when it's finally time to settle into my armchair for good, I will be content. Until then, I wish you, my dear friends, a very happy and fulfilling Thanksgiving. Be well until we meet again.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Thanksgiving just around the corner

Cornucopia of veggies

Yesterday I ended up walking by myself from the coffee shop. Steve had company from out of town, Don had a plumbing problem, and John is back in the hospital again. Not because of Covid this time, but he began to feel really woozy and called his son to take him to the hospital, and they admitted him. He was barely able to walk. They discovered that his potassium level, for one thing, was highly elevated. Last week he started taking a different medication for his heart, and the doctors thought perhaps that might have caused his symptoms. He stopped taking it and feels better, but he'll be there for another day or two to be sure he's out of the woods. Plus they will start him on another medication and will monitor his progress closely.

He is, you know, elderly. He'll be turning 84 in a couple of months, and I remind you what they say about aging: there is only one way to keep it from happening, and hardly anybody is looking forward to dying. It will eventually catch up to all of us, but I, for one, am in no hurry to take that final journey. Sometimes when I'm relaxing quietly in the dark, waiting for sleep, I take stock of my day's activities and look ahead to tomorrow, realizing that my considerable good health makes me happy to be alive. Although I'm not immune to various aches and pains, I seem to be hanging in there for the moment, and for that I am grateful.
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

I am also working hard to stay positive and not overwhelmed with the awful news of the world. I was very pleased last Tuesday to see how well the Democrats did in the off-year elections, although I was disappointed by some of the local Bellingham races. And by the fact that only 44% of eligible voters participated in Whatcom County was discouraging as well. You could hardly make voting much easier than it is here in Washington State: all you need to do is fill in the ballot that was mailed to us and mail it back. You do need to figure out who and what to vote for, but that is not too hard.

Sorry, I didn't mean to get on my soapbox. It's not what I really want to spend my free time doing. I have stopped watching the news channels in the evening that were once something I wouldn't miss. It seems like it only seems to grow more dire, and there is nothing I can do about it, except distract myself with other activities. And the holidays are right around the corner! Less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, which has already occurred in Canada. This year I once again ordered our Thanksgiving dinners from the local co-op, and on Wednesday I will pick up our dinner rather than fixing it myself. It's a good way to support our local grocery store and not cook. I did it for the first time last year and was quite pleased with the quality and quantity of the Thanksgiving feast.

Red leaves

The beautiful red leaves in the picture above are now fallen, after we had a windstorm that pretty much took the last of the deciduous tree leaves down. But we still have many evergreen trees that never lose their lovely branches, although many bits were strewn across the lawns and streets after the storm. We didn't lose power, so once it was over without much damage, I was feeling quite lucky.

Just watching what is happening in so much of the world is difficult enough, but it sure feels hard to find joy in the day-to-day life I lead. I am figuring that as the years pass and I get older, I look at the world news knowing that many of the situations that dominate the headlines today will not be resolved before I die. So, it behooves me to find ways to increase my own equanimity and stay positive. There are a few tricks I've found that work for me.

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity. 
  • Dedicate yourself to others. 
  • Connect with your spiritual side. 
  • Discover something new. 
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low. 
  • Pay attention to the good. 
  • Conversely, limit negativity. 
One of the ways that I limit negativity is by watching uplifting shows on TV and turning off the news. That doesn't mean I don't pay attention to what's happening, but you can let yourself get dragged down, which does no good for anybody. Also, I have found that letting myself have a good cry really helps sometimes. I watched Diane Nyad in the recent Netflix movie about her attempts to swim from Cuba to Key West. She tried five times before finally accomplishing it, and she was 64 years old when she did it, in 2013. That movie really gave me a chance to have a good cry, all right.

And now it's almost time to get up and begin my unusual Sunday morning. John will be having his own breakfast in the hospital (I don't recommend it) and I will find somewhere else to enjoy a solitary breakfast. My dear partner never eats breakfast until around noon, so I will be partaking of a simple breakfast, maybe at the food co-op, maybe somewhere else that catches my eye. But first is my daily routine of exercises and a few moments of meditation on the breath. And then I can really start my day, reading your blogs and commenting, as well as hopefully solving today's wordle.

So, with that, my friends, I am wishing you a wonderful week ahead, and that you will find some joy in your daily life. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

November is here

Boulevard Park walk yesterday (picture by Steve)

I love these leaves, big leaf maple that lined the trail as Steve and I walked from the coffee shop to the Taylor Dock before turning around and heading back. He got both the flu and Covid shots on Friday and wasn't feeling a hundred percent. I also wasn't anxious to be outdoors in the wind and rain, as we kept having frequent squalls of rain and bouts of wind, but then it would calm down again. We didn't go far, but it made me feel so much better just to get in a little exercise. These pretty leaves won't look so nice once the rain pounds us, as it's forecast to do.

John is back at the coffee shop, too, but he's still recovering from the aftermath of Covid and the treatment he was given. He'll pick me up this morning, however, and we will make our way to Fairhaven for breakfast. It's amazingly warm right now, but that is also expected to change soon. November is famous around here for extremes in weather. When you see that the forecast says to expect "rain with partly sunny skies" you know you need to be ready for anything.

When I got my latest massage on Friday, my therapist scheduled the next session for one month from now, and it turns out that will be on my birthday! How did that happen, where did this past year go? It makes me realize that the older I get, the faster the days, months, and seasons seem to rush by. And there are so many fewer ahead of me than behind. But I cannot complain: I've lived a full and event-filled life, with lots of thrills and chills, with good times and bad times, as every one of us who gets to become an octogenarian can attest to. 

I woke this morning at the usual time, according to my sleep cycle, but the clock says I got up an hour earlier. During the night, the time changed on all our clocks (except for the microwave); our devices and electronics didn't even seem to notice. It will take me a week to get adjusted to the time change, but it gives me an extra hour to write this post, just for today. For whatever reason, I slept well and feel quite serene and happy with life for the moment. The news of the day hasn't been dealt with yet, and I might just keep it that way for awhile. Nothing is making me anxious to find out and spoil my mood. The only thing that changes when I read the news is me.

People who are kind and good hearted all feel the same right now, I suspect: wishing there was something that can be could to make things better. My technique is simple and effective, which is to spend some time in following my breath and then making a gratitude list. Who would have thought that paying attention to something we do unconsciously most of the time could be helpful? But it is. We breathe from the moment we are born until we take our last breath when we die. Most of the time we are completely unaware of that essential element in life, and paying attention to it is rather calming. It also makes me aware of those times when I have difficulty concentrating, but bringing my mind back to my breath without judgment is also a gentle way to train my "monkey mind," the ever-present mental processes, into serenity.
Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. —Khalil Gibran
And then there is gratitude, such a wonderful addition to anybody's life. I am grateful for the ability to think, to contemplate, to move through my days with the ability to grow. Even as an elder, the expansion of one's horizons never really stops, unless you choose to allow it. All around every one of us are myriad possibilities for growth. Today I'm going to see if I can infect others with the benign virus of love. Why not? It seems like just the thing for a windy, rainy November day.

Well, will you look at that? The hour that I gained last night has just been spent in happy contemplation of the day ahead. It's now time to think about getting out of bed and starting my usual activities. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I can hear the wind moving through the trees outside my window. John will be here soon, and we will climb inside his chariot and transport ourselves to Fairhaven for breakfast. I do hope you will have a truly wonderful week ahead, with plenty of company in whatever form suits you best. Two-legged, four-legged, winged, wild or domestic, I wish you and your world all good things until we meet again. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

To everything there is a season

Freezing temps at Bellingham Bay

Sometimes I worry just a little bit about how easily I have adjusted to the cold wintery temperatures we've got going on right now. (Good clothing helps.) Friend Don took this picture on our Squalicum Harbor walk yesterday. Do I look cold? I should, since the temperature fell to 2.5°C (37°F) overnight, and these blasts of cold air should continue until late next week when, in fact, the nighttime temperature will be higher than we are reaching during the daytime hours at present. Our apartment owners have weatherproofed all that they can, for now.

We walked for about four+ miles, and our conversation meandered all over the place, except we stayed away from the state of the world and all its permutations. Instead, we talked about our own lives and past events, like how we ended up in Bellingham. He and his wife moved here from Idaho, and they are both much happier here, preferring the weather as well as the political climate. He is a retired middle school teacher, and his wife is an artist who has found a thriving community in which she can grow. Don has begun taking one or two hikes a week with the Senior Trailblazers, which is how we know each other. These new friends I am making are partly because of the huge hole in my life that opened up when Melanie moved away, but it's filling up with new friends, much to my relief. I check out Mel's adventures she posts on Facebook, but otherwise I stay away, remembering what a time sink Facebook once was for me.

John is still recovering from his bout with Covid. He takes a blood thinner, which meant he couldn't take Paxlovid, but his doctor prescribed another antiviral medication, which he just finished taking. I talked to him yesterday, and he was not feeling very much better, but maybe now that he's finished that medication, he'll start to feel like his old self again. I've missed him, but I'm glad I didn't catch it. In another week or so, I should be protected from the flu as well by the vaccine I received last week. That of course doesn't mean I can't get it, but if I do it should be less severe than without the vaccine. There is so much stuff going around right now, and it's not even November. But we'll muddle through, and before you know it, we'll be seeing signs of spring popping up. We do have the rest of fall and most of winter to navigate before then, however. Counting one's chickens, well you know what they say about that! It does seem a bit premature to think of spring before we've even begun the winter months.

Such a pretty sight

One of the best parts of fall, for me, is seeing the colorful leaves everywhere, both on the trees and on the ground, as we walk through the beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery. Of course, the evergreens don't shed their leaves, but instead little needles fall off that break down pretty quickly, but make for good nutrients to feed next year's new growth. And once the rain returns, it also breaks down the leaves into mulch and this pretty scene turns into soft brown gunk. Nutritious for the plants, perhaps, but the beauty of the scene lasts only a short time. I enjoy it while I can.

This morning, another without a trip to breakfast with John, allows me the luxury of lounging in bed until I want to get up. It means that after I finish this post, I'll be able to make another cup of tea if I want, before deciding where I might rustle up a good cup of coffee. I did peruse the espresso machines for purchase on Amazon, thinking maybe I should just get one for myself, but then I realized that, given the option, I prefer to have coffee socially with friends, instead of solitarily. I guess that is one place my extroversion asserts itself.

I have felt hampered in my ability to watch the news on TV, since it seems to be unremittingly bleak. So many terrible events are happening every day, which never seemed so imminent and ceaseless as they do today. It's telling that I have come to prefer the commercials to the actual news shows. And the thing is, I know there are still plenty of good and positive things happening worldwide, but they are not newsworthy, I guess. So instead of watching the news, I spend a good bit of time looking for uplifting programs that bring me joy. I have rewatched a couple of series that I enjoyed in the past, like The Queen's Gambit on Netflix. Although I enjoyed it a few years ago, it was even more enjoyable the second time around, since I knew what was going to happen and could concentrate on the story and the incredible acting. In fact, it was so enjoyable that I watched the last episode again (there are seven hour-long episodes).

I don't want to be one of those people who sticks her head in the sand about what's happening in the world, but wouldn't it be possible to include some of the really positive events too? This year, a wonderful thing happened:
The James Webb Telescope, the largest space telescope ever built, reached its destination in orbit around the sun in January, following decades of planning and a million-mile journey from Earth. Since then, the $10 billion observatory has captured mesmerizing images of a planet outside our solar system, nebulae where stars are born, and distant galaxies.
Every morning, I look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day, which always helps me to put the world's problems into perspective. When the picture is of a distant galaxy millions of light-years away, and the commentary deems it to be in "the neighborhood," it does make me realize that our problems diminish in importance the farther away from them we get. Perspective is everything.
It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. —Arthur C. Clarke
To that, I say YES and let's have more positivity and gratitude in our lives. I am so grateful for this opportunity I have, every week, to share these thoughts with you, my dear readers. It's also possible to concentrate on the happiness I can find in my simple little world, and from there I can take a leap out into the vast universe of loving kindness and joy. Please, dear friends, be well and content until we meet again next week. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Golden days

Friend Don and me

Yesterday started out a bit on the weird side, as I got to the coffee shop before John. Friend Steve was already there, working on some tests he gave earlier this week in his chemistry class. Frankly, when I see the amount of work he puts in to teach this class, I just hope he is being adequately compensated. I don't ask since it's none of my business, but I do wonder.

I met Don on one of the Senior Trailblazer Tuesday outings awhile ago, and he joins us on Saturday mornings at the coffee shop to walk with Steve and me on occasion. Steve had other plans for the morning, so it was just Don and me who set out together. It was misty and overcast for the entire six-mile walk, but it didn't rain and the wind was also quite mild. So, it turned out to be very nice.

John never did show up at the coffee shop, but he finally called to say he had overslept and wasn't feeling well. He thought he should probably stay away from others until he figures out whether he's coming down with something or not. But it certainly felt weird when he didn't come. I guess I'm on edge with all that is going on in the world, and I felt that anything out of the ordinary was enough to cause me additional anxiety. Late last night, he called to tell me he definitely has Covid and will isolate until he tests negative. So no breakfast together this morning.

That said, once Don and I began our walk, it was a really lovely time to be out among the golden leaves of fall in the Pacific Northwest. A passerby took that picture of Don and me on the boardwalk at Boulevard Park. After the wonderful golden walk, we went to the Farmers' Market where Don treated me to a delicious marionberry scone. From there it was a short walk back to our cars, and I headed home to have a proper lunch and warm up. My spirits rose as I moved through the myriad golden leaves and gentle pathway along Bellingham Bay. There is nowhere else on earth I would rather be than right here, right now.
A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's morning. —Carl Jung
There must be something I'm still intended to accomplish here on earth if I am still going strong as my eighty-first birthday approaches. What might qualify? Although it gives me pleasure to write these posts, and to read those written by my fellow bloggers around the world, it seems that I might be missing something about writing. Since I'm not getting any younger, it behooves me to explore that question with true resolve. Plus, the older one gets, the more one's options begin to diminish. That's perfectly normal, and probably one of the reasons that most people my age are not looking for direction. I've had my career, I've accomplished all the employment that I'm ever likely to have, and through my retirement annuities and Social Security, I've got enough income to maintain a modest lifestyle. It's the life of the mind that attracts me. And yes, I still have one of those.

In some cultures, the aged are respected and revered. But in our current situation here in America, that is not the case. Once you turn eighty, you are considered feeble and irrelevant. That might certainly be true of a percentage of elders, but so are many who are in their sixties and still active. And there are people a generation older than me who are still mentally sharp and maintain their mental acuity. There's no template that can measure what one might accomplish if given the chance, or given the desire to forge new pathways in one's consciousness. 

There are a few ways to consider my final years. I could keep on going in the direction I'm headed, riding the bus daily and walking with the Trailblazers, spending time reading and writing until infirmity forces me to stop. That's one, or how about deciding to volunteer at the Senior Center on a regular basis? That appeals to me because we have such a good one here in Bellingham, and I meet so many interesting people there. You can check out the activities it offers on their website here

Or maybe I should just wait and see what each day brings to me. When I think about where I was a year ago, much has changed and evolved in my daily life. I now spend some time each month hanging out with my friend Lily and (who would have guessed) bowling. I walk on Saturdays with my friends Steve and Don, and have joined a more moderate hiking group. All of that is much different than last year, when my activity revolved around my friend Melanie, who decided to move to Oregon.

One really positive thing about keeping this blog is being able to look back and see what I was doing a year ago, or even a decade ago. I volunteered for more than five years with a group that helps people make choices about their End of Life wishes and got certified as a facilitator and notary public. I enjoyed that work, but the group lost its funding and after several years, I decided to move on.

Of course, the huge effort I spent during the quarter-century of skydiving will never actually leave me, although it still amazes me that I have so little interest in the sport today. In the early nineties, every waking moment that I wasn't at work was spent thinking about when and where I would be skydiving next. I traveled a lot as I went to "boogies," where skydivers from all over the world would gather to jump out of novel aircraft and make big formations as well. But times change, and interests morph from one form to the next. It's natural. Perhaps it's also natural that I simply settle into my routine and let it gradually move into the next phase of life, without any need to direct it.

There are definitely guidelines that have appeared in my life, and I think if I adhere to them, all will be well. Spending as much time as possible every day in a state of loving kindness is essential. Also a few moments every day in meditation, and keeping myself active all help to ground me in the present moment. Plus spending some time every day interacting with my life partner, making sure we are connected and happy with our life together. We are, thankfully.

And yes, there is my extended family and friends, my digital family whom I visit every day through your posts and comments on mine. You feel as solid and permanent in my daily life as any other part. I worry about you, and celebrate your accomplishments, and love to feel your presence as I go about my day. Please keep yourselves safe and keep on blogging, dear friends. You have many admirers who look forward to finding out how you are doing today. Until we meet again next week, dear ones, I hope you can find yourself surrounded with love and joy. Be well.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Signs and portents

Crescent shadows

On our Saturday walk, we saw these crescent-shaped shadows, caused by the annual solar eclipse of the sun that created them, as the moon crossed in front of the sun. There were nearby cities that saw the entire "Ring of Fire," but here we were only able to see a partial eclipse. Tom Warner Jr, who put a series of wonderful shots on his Facebook page, captured the picture below.

From Tom Warner Jr Facebook page

Tom is a magnificent photographer and has many amazing shots that you can enjoy, if you can  access his page from this link. In any event, it was fun to be out and walking with a couple of good friends as the eclipse unfolded. We walked to the Squalicum Harbor and saw lots of people who had set up telescopes and had myriad ways to view the eclipse. They were also more than willing to share. We feared it would be cloudy and/or rainy here, but the clouds parted, seemingly just for the viewing, because they came back after it was over.

What does the phrase "signs and portents" mean, anyway? I gave this post that title because it came to me as we watched the eclipse shadows, and because of all that is happening worldwide. It seems to imply that change is coming.
An omen (also called portent) is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change. It was commonly believed in ancient times, and still believed by some today, that omens bring divine messages from the gods. 

The quote is from Wikipedia. And, as many of us are feeling, major change seems to be upon us. The events in Israel and Gaza, in Ukraine, as well as three large earthquakes in Afghanistan, one after another, do feel a little bit like we are being given a "heads up" from the Universe.

 I know I am not alone in having serious problems trying to wrap my head around what is going on in the Middle East. For years I have heard that World War III would start there, and we seem well on our way to some sort of wider conflict. But I cannot go there in my heart and mind, since it does no good for me to dwell on it, and I can only affect my own environment. The only thing I know to do, other than prayer and meditation, is to pay attention to my own spiritual development and take steps to stay grounded in loving kindness. That's not always so easy, but it's a start, just thinking of what I might be able to accomplish by paying attention to what I feed and nourish my body, mind, and spirit with.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. —Friedrich Nietzsche

In the practice of yoga, I have learned of the principle of ahimsa, a Sanskrit word that means nonviolence. Gandhi practiced it as his first and foremost principle. In my yoga classes, we were introduced to the concept of ahimsa, and for the month of September (in my new class), we spent a few minutes before each class hearing a short reminder of what ahimsa is. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night (a common phenomenon lately) and the word came to me. Somehow it seemed to calm my mind and allowed me eventually to fall back to sleep, as I thought about it.

When I woke and began this post, I looked up the meaning, just to be sure I had gotten it right, and I learned that there is a difference between ahimsa and mettā (the Sanskrit word for loving kindness) and realized that if I spend my waking hours concentrating on these two concepts, nonviolence and loving-kindness, there will be much less room in the dark corridors of my mind for worry and sadness. Those of us who are concerned about the state of the world should realize that, not only does it do no good to fall into despair, it only adds to it. I will bring peace and equanimity to the world one soul at a time, starting with my own.

Of course, I am also not living in a war zone but surrounded by a beautiful green (and right now quite wet) environment, nothing like I see on TV, and for that I am feeling very grateful. If I were Queen of the World, that is where we would all live. But it seems we humans must learn some hard lessons in the present moment. I do remind you, my dear friends, to take care of yourself and your own state of mind, because it truly is the only thing you can control. And, if you're like me, even that is a challenge, but it can be done.

And with that admonition, I wish you all the very best of weeks ahead, and that you will find peace, joy, and happiness to surround yourself and your loved ones with. You are strong and capable, and I believe if we put our minds together, we can do just about anything. Be well, dear friends, until we meet again.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

A little bit of good

Me at Marine Park

It truly is the most beautiful time of the year in this part of the world, right now and right here in Bellingham. Steve took this picture of me when we were walking yesterday, and you can see how brilliantly the October sun is shining, and how much the leaves have turned. It won't last, and soon the weather will turn to wind and rain, but for now, I am doing my best to make the most of it.

I woke Saturday morning and heard the news about the awful attacks by Hamas on Israel. That, combined with what is happening in Ukraine, unrelenting attacks on innocent civilians in a war they desperately didn't want, has caused me deep psychic pain. I cannot see a good outcome for all this tragic killing, and the only thing I can do is turn my attention away, for now, and walk in the beauty that surrounds me everywhere. It helps nobody for me to allow myself to be dragged into anger and indignation. What can I do except take care of myself and my loved ones in my own little corner of the world?

Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. —Desmond Tutu

Yes, that's all I can do, and I will spend my time writing this posting looking for those "little bits of good" that are possible from my perch, here in the darkened room with my sweet partner asleep next to me. There are definitely ways to look at the world that don't require my own personal angst to be triggered. But I need to look up from the news and narrow my focus into my own world. That is not only possible, but today it is required.

On Friday, I had my annual wellness visit with my primary care physician, a lovely woman I got as my PCP last year, after my previous doctor moved back to Canada. I asked her to order some blood tests for me, so I can find out how everything is doing inside my veins and heart. Tomorrow morning, Monday, I'll head to the clinic for the draw. I no longer can walk in first thing when they open, because now you must have an appointment, as well as coming to the realization that I can no longer drive in the dark. Since I need to be fasting, this will be a rather uncomfortable morning for me. But it's necessary, so I figure I can get up and do my exercises and meditation before I leave for an 8:10 appointment across town. So, no coffee shop for me (obviously) and no time to spend with John before my regular yoga class. 

I figure I can stop at the local grocery store that is on the way, after I get my blood drawn and grab a coffee and breakfast before driving to the Senior Center for the class. It sure makes me realize what a creature of habit I am, that such a change will throw my entire morning into flux. But by the time I get to my class, I should be back into my usual routine. I feel very lucky that I still have the ability to drive in familiar surroundings, but my eyesight is not very good anymore. 

It also reminds me that as we age, our faculties begin to break down; it's the normal passage of time and not anything to be alarmed about. My doctor was very pleased to see that my vitals are all good, my blood pressure and weight all the same as last year. And now that I am back doing some hard hikes with my new hiking group, I'm hoping that my good cholesterol will still be high, even maybe a little higher than last year's. But in any event, I am in good physical shape for the moment, and that gives me hopefully another season or two of being out and about. I cannot, however, deny that the person in the picture above is now officially elderly, and that means that high activity can no longer be taken for granted.

I decided to skip last Thursday's hike because it was more demanding that I was comfortable with. Eight people ended up hiking up to the Church Mountain meadows in the High Country, probably the last for the season (although local hikes will continue). I learned that one person had a really hard time on the return trip and had to be helped and supported by the other hikers, in order to reach the cars. He is 83 and just ran out of steam, and his legs buckled under him. After returning home and recovering, he sent around an email explaining that he is now just fine, but he will not be attempting such hard hikes in the future. I worried that such a situation might happen to me, and I really don't want to put my friends through it, all because of not being willing to acknowledge my limitations. My eighty-first birthday is right around the corner.

We are all built differently, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the passage of time changes us all. Every day is precious and cannot be taken for granted. Every wonderful walk in the sunshine, every slog through rain and wind as well, are to be enjoyed for the moments they give us, and as we age we must not pine for what was but enjoy and appreciate what is still within our reach. It is a good lesson for me, and I am glad that I didn't have to be rescued. There are times, when I look back, that I needed help on the trail, and my friends were more than willing to help, but who wants to be in that situation? A wake-up call indeed. Maybe my fellow hiker's situation was my own personal wake-up call.

That said, I had a delightful six-mile walk yesterday with my friend Steve, and I tried out my latest purchase, a new pair of Hoka walking shoes. They are purple! I love the look of them, and you know if you can walk that far in a new pair of shoes without any pain, they are a really good fit. Awhile back I bought another pair, a different brand, but after a few walks in them, I realized that they were trying to break in my feet, rather than the other way around. They will not be given the chance when I've got such good options with these new purple beauties. They are actually kind of lavender, and I catch a little flash of color when I walk in them and glance downwards. 

Today is the last day of such beautiful weather, as we will be returning to rain for the next few days tomorrow afternoon. I'm hoping it holds off until after I've driven to the clinic for my bloodwork, but since it will be light enough outdoors I should be fine. Gone are the days when I felt comfortable driving in the dark and rain, but I can still drive and for that, I am grateful. There will come a time when I will give up that privilege, but not today. I once could run a half-marathon, or jump out of perfectly good airplanes, or ride a bike across the entire country. Not anymore, but gosh do I have a plethora of memories!

So, having reached this place in my morning's journey when I think about what little bit of good I might have found in here. And there it is: joy and happiness for all that I continue to enjoy and appreciate in my daily life. John will come to pick me up in his chariot in about an hour, and before that happens I need to get dressed and go outside onto the dark front porch and do my exercises, then come inside and sit in meditation and watch my breath. It's now one of my favorite times of the day, and I don't miss it if I can help it.

And you, my dear virtual family, will soon be reading this and hopefully thinking about how you might find a little bit of good in your day and share it with others, helping to spread that love and healing our planet with our small little contribution. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.