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, 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.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Love is in the air

Lily and me on Cordata Parkway

It's just one of the prettiest times of the year when the sun is shining, and the trees are lighting up all around the city. I spent most of Friday hanging out with Lily, first in the bowling alley (I got one strike in two games!) and then having some pizza and beer at the Larrabee Lager Company, a new brewery in our town, just across the street from the bowling alley. It was a truly lovely day, and you can see from Lily's selfie how beautiful it was outdoors in the sun.

She is one of my favorite people in the world. Born in Guatemala, she came here several years ago, and her English was not very good. I think she might have gotten into a situation she didn't quite intend, but it all turned out just fine. She has held a green card for years and has worked in the same place for many years now, and is well respected. She also has become fluent in English. Recently, she paid off her beautiful car and things are definitely looking up for her. She has a close friend who takes her to many wonderful places, since he likes to eat out and they travel to Canada often. I am so glad to see how well everything is working out for her, and I'm also very glad to still be part of her life.

Yesterday, Saturday, I went for a nice walk along the harbor with my friend Steve. It's curious how we met, hanging out in the same coffee shop, sitting in the same spot every morning, and somehow ending up taking long walks together on Saturday mornings. It all started when I was getting ready to walk alone, since Melanie is gone, and he asked if he could join me. It was several months ago, and now it's a tradition for us to take off somewhere in the general vicinity of the coffee shop, walking five or six miles before returning to our cars. As usual, when you walk with someone, you learn new things about each other as you carry on a conversation. His love affair with dogs has taught me so much about different breeds, when I watch him make friends with a dog and knowing how much most of them like to have their backs scratched, for example. He always asks for permission before petting someone's dog. There is a mutual admiration going on between Steve and the dog, obviously. I think he is mostly attracted to dogs that remind him of his own companion of seventeen years, whom he had to put down a few years ago. He is still hurting over that, I can tell. Love tends to have that effect on us, when we lose the object of our affection.

Since he lives alone, he feels that it wouldn't be fair to bring a new puppy or even a rescue dog into his life, who he would be leaving alone far too much of the time because of work. Even that shows what a caring person he is. When I am with him, I feel quite privileged to receive his attention, and we spend a lot of time laughing together over silly things. He is a college professor and teaches organic chemistry; the fall semester just started up so he's only at the coffee shop on Fridays and Saturday mornings these days. When we are walking, it seems he knows many of the people we run into, which tells me he's certainly a friend to quite a lot of people who think a great deal of him. I'm glad he adopted me. It makes me miss Melanie less, too.

And when I return home after a nice hike or a walk, I usually find my sweet partner at home, and we greet each other with hugs and smiles. He's probably been doing something practical, like changing a light bulb, cooking, or doing the laundry, while I have been out and about, socializing and exercising outdoors. He lights up my life, and I feel incredibly grateful to have him around. He's got a great sense of humor and often has me rolling my eyes at his latest pun. Although like most couples, we sometimes have disagreements, they are small and fall away quickly, since we both love each other very much and cherish our harmony. We fit together quite well. No one could be more surprised at how things have turned out in our life together; we both had many failed attempts before we met each other and married at fifty. That was more than thirty years ago!

There are many other people in my life who bring me joy. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a large contingent of virtual family members through my blogging activity (which this post is part of), and I look forward to finding out how others cope, as we move through our days. Love and loss are part of life, and it seems the more we love, the more we grieve when we lose a loved one. But that is an inevitable part of being alive: if we love with all our hearts, we feel keenly the loss of a loved one. Today I feel the past reaching up from the depths and reminding me of those who have gone before. My parents, my sons, so many wonderful friends who still live in my memories of them. Sometimes they visit me during a dream, and I rejoice when that happens. 

Yes, love is in the air, and when I feel it surround me, my heart opens to the world, with all its flavors and nuances. I wish there was some way to bring that feeling to everyone. This is the best I can do: write my wish here to bring it to life. Riding the wave of happiness and contentment, which of course doesn't last (nothing does), but for the moment I can share it with you, my dear reader, and hope that you will find some part of it in your day ahead. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. —Lao Tzu