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

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

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Falling into fall

Late summer beautifulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Those who came before

Today's late summer roses

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

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

Taken sometime around 1900, perhaps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve, new friend Don, and me

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2023

It happened in Marrakesh

A home gone, people dead (WaPo image)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Holiday weekend already

Fragrance Lake last Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

After a skydive

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

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

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

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