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, 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.