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.


gigi-hawaii said...

What a pretty picture to greet us this morning. Yes, you have every reason to be grateful. I am so glad that you are able to hike such long distances with your friends. What a wonderful life. You are indeed blessed.

Rita said...

Yes, you truly are blessed!
Have a marvelous week. :)

Marie Smith said...

It is amazing me what one’s outlook on life can affect one’s attitude and experience. Such an important lesson I wish I had learned earlier but I am glad I learned it eventually. Beautiful description, Jan.

Rian said...

Love that pic at the top of your post, DJan. And glad you didn't hurt your knee too badly. As for Covid changing our lives forever... I do think it has (for me anyway). Living through a pandemic and the loss of so many lives (some known, most not known) changes you. This is probably true of most traumatic events. There's bond to be after effects. And despite it all, I still find the world a wonderful place and am grateful to have had to opportunity to get to this age... and with luck maybe even a little further.

Elephant's Child said...

I love your attitude. And am convinced that you will continue to push/challenge yourself to the end of your days. Which I find inspiring. Thank you dear friend. So much, and on so many levels.

Gigi said...

You truly do send out joy and happiness. This I know because I feel it all the way over here on the East Coast! Have a fabulous week!

Red said...

Yes, I've been thinking about how covid changed my life. My birding has suffered. I have not got in a routine to keep birding.

Anvilcloud said...

You've reminded me to go and do a few stretches. Right now, before bed.

Chris said...

You are still so energetic, I struggle to walk on the flat and wouldn't dream of attempting a rocky terrain, good on you! I'll keep going with my walking aid and dream of mountains, because that's as far as I'll get to them.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I think you are happiest hiking!

Haddock said...

I like that "If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch....." very meaningful.

Tabor said...

A very peaceful and restorative post. You are so correct in saying that we can keep active and exercise, but the minute we stop in old age the strength begins to deplete, unlike when we were young and it would last for months!

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I am glad you can still hike and enjoy the outdoors. Even after my knee surgery, I am not as sure on my feet as I would like to be. You are inspiring to us older folk. Thanks for your weekly blog.

Linda Myers said...

I served on a jury for three days this week - getting around the courthouse and lunch places, I walked two miles each day - more than just about any other day since my May 31 knee replacement. It didn't hurt, but boy, was I tired by the end of the day! I have resolved to get out there and walk as many days as I can.