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, February 25, 2024

Present day moments

Our water taxi at rest in the harbor

Yesterday my friend Don and I walked around Squalicum Harbor under cloudy skies with the occasional spit of rain, covering around five miles. But it was actually quite mild and very nice to be there. Friend Steve is under the weather so he didn't join us. We saw the water taxi that has become such a great source of new adventures, moored in the harbor. We had heard that it has two new propellers; they do look sort of new and shiny. I've gone on three separate excursions into the San Juan islands with them and expect to enjoy many more.

After last week's look back into past adventures, I realize how lucky I am to continue to be able to experience so many new exploits. My new acquaintances made through the Bellingham Senior Center continue to add new excitement to present day moments. After having considered what seniors like me need to have in their lives to continue to be healthy, engaged in the world, and willing to embrace every day, I realize once again how important it is to keep a positive outlook on life.

And looking forward to my next phase of being alive, I realize once again how fortunate I am to have my health and the ability to walk unaided at my age. While on the harbor, I see many older people exercising with the aid of a walker, or a cane, or being pulled along by a frisky dog. I also realize that one of these days, it might be me out there needing assistance of one sort or another. If so, I do hope I can remember to be grateful for that ability and not moan about what I've lost. When you are an octogenarian, you need to remember that every single day is a gift, and being able to have a brisk walk is not guaranteed to anyone at any age.

It also makes me think about that next and final adventure I have ahead: going into the long night. Of laying down in my bed for the last time and closing my eyes to the world I've known for so long. What's ahead in that journey? Will I be suffering from ill health, will I be hoping for release from pain, or will I just fade away? You don't get to my age without thinking about these things, unless you are pretending that it won't happen to you. Everything and everyone that lives must one day transition into its opposite. Some people face it with grace and beauty, while others are angry and bitter that it is happening to them. 

What occurs to me this fine Sunday morning is to ponder what can I accomplish with whatever number of days, years, decades I have ahead of me? I'm not at all sure that I want to live for decades longer, since I'm losing my eyesight and my walks and adventures have become more circumspect. When I looked back last week at my hikes up mountains in Colorado, I was reminded that I cannot do such things any more. But until I thought about it, I didn't feel any sense of being different today than I was half a century ago. Slow attrition brought about by all these years of living an active life, perfectly normal and expected, unnoticed day to day, but nevertheless a one-way journey we all experience, if we're lucky.

There is one thing that hasn't changed: my ability to think and reflect on life. I love to read, which is becoming quite difficult while trying to read books, but I can use my Kindle on its "low vision" setting and read just fine. I can also, I notice, see to read on my laptop and iPad because the light is coming from behind the text, and it's much easier on my eyes that way. 

There is so much to continue to learn and discover, and I intend to spend the rest of my days doing just that. I want to learn how sages navigate their final years and emulate them. As you know, I am a fan of Buddhist literature, and I also enjoy studying how those who have not been given my advantages learn to cope with adversity. Just learning about the journey Helen Keller traveled through life, after having lost her eyesight and hearing at 19 months, inspires me every day. She lived to be in her late eighties and was grateful for all her life, ending up writing dozens of books and learning to read (through Braille) four different languages, reading books in all of them.  She made an indelible imprint on the lives of so many, including me and others who read her books today. Not many authors continue to have books in print for more than a century, but she has accomplished that; her books continue to inspire others to remember the importance of living a good and honest life.
Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained. —Lao Tzu

 Today I will have an extra hour in the morning, before John comes to pick me up and take me to a different restaurant than usual. He is being treated to a special breakfast by our friends Lily and Lamont to celebrate his 84th birthday. I am also going along because I am usually with John on Sundays, I guess, and they invited me. They have been doing this for several years now, and it's become a tradition. In any event, I don't need to hurry this morning, with an extra hour that will evaporate quickly. It amazes me how just sitting and reading blogs and the news gobbles up time, and as I looked just now at the time I realize that I've already been dawdling and that extra hour is almost gone! Oh well, it happens when you're having fun and not paying attention to time.

I do hope that you will have a good week ahead, and that you'll spend some part of it thinking about your life as it exists today, and consider what you might be able to accomplish during the week. Remember to spread some of your goodness and honesty into the world around you, and I'll do the same. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Remembering adventures

Mama and me in 1943 (or 1944)

This cheeky little girl was me, long ago. I didn't know what the world would hold for me, but I knew I was loved and cherished by my parents. Daddy must have taken the picture, and since I was still in diapers, I figure it must have been my first or second year. Mama had created the outfit, probably even knit that adorable beret. And of course Daddy had to get his car in the picture, too. Is it a Packard? I have no idea, but it sure needed a bath.

I went rummaging around in my pictures, looking for some inspiration for today's post, and it occurred to me that I have always been an active person, looking for adventure. Although I grew up as an Air Force brat (as we were called by those who stayed put in their lives, while we moved all the time), I never doubted that my parents loved me and would provide me with everything I needed. When you're born in such an environment, there is no uncertainty clouding your days. When I think of those children born in a war zone today, filled with uncertainty in every respect, I feel bad for them. What a different world. If I were Queen of the World, it wouldn't be like that for anyone.

But I'm not and now that I'm on the other end of life, I am remembering some of the wonderful moments of exhilaration and discovery that I've experienced. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, before I got pulled into the skydiving world, I spent plenty of time in the Colorado mountains, hiking many of the fourteeners with friends. "Fourteeners" is the epithet used for the numerous Colorado peaks that are at least 14,000 feet high. There are, I believe, 52 of them. I've climbed exactly half: 26. Some I have climbed more than once, like Longs Peak, which has a direct route (the Keyhole Route) that doesn't require technical skill, and a climber's route on the East Face where you need ropes and at least one other person. I ran into a group of climbers in Boulder who were willing to train me to use crampons and ropes, and we did climb what is called Kiener's Route once many years ago. I found those two links and in reading the descriptions of the routes, I am simply amazed at what we accomplished.

On top of Long's Peak

Of course, I was young then, and in looking at that picture of me I don't remember having long hair but I did, although I remember very well that yellow and blue hat. The Keyhole Route is 15 miles, and I remember starting before dawn to be able to get up and back before the usual thunderstorms formed. I remember the Boulder Field that seemed endless, and the scary part where you hug a sheer cliff with a long drop down on the other side. But I did it, and I remember feeling really exhilarated when we reached the summit. It's almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

On the other route, the technical one (Kieners Route), we roped up often as we ascended. I well remember looking at what is called "Broadway," a long stretch below the Diamond shape of the wall, where of course we were roped. You might get a bit of the heeby-jeebies when you look at the picture of it because of all that exposure.

Climbers on Kieners Route, from internet

These days, thinking of completing such a long and arduous climb under those conditions simply amazes me, but reminds me that I have indeed gotten much more circumspect in what I attempt these days. More than 70 people have died on those Longs Peak routes, the last one in 2022 when the weather turned bad and the guy got lost. 

I am not done with adventures, but I have had more than my share already. Now that I am getting towards the last years, or months, or days (who knows?), I realize that many of my adventures have never really left me. They are still there to be remembered, shared and enjoyed. And if I am lucky enough to experience in retrospect once again the fearful moments, I'll consider that to be a bonus! A frisson of fear courses through me now and then, but these days it's for more mundane reasons, like stumbling on an uneven spot on  the sidewalk. 
Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Some of us seek out those fearful moments, because they remind us of just that: we are still alive, and we can see and hear just like always. Well, maybe some of us need some help in that regard, like needing eyeglasses and hearing aids. But still, we can continue to live each day with an adventurous spirit. It is so much more fun to approach each day that way, so much better than to be fearful of everything around us. Even if we are not in the best shape of our lives, we are still able to have lots of adventures, different from our youthful days perhaps, but still adventures.

Why, just thinking about this post has been an adventure for me. When I went back and refreshed my memory of those strenuous hikes of yesteryear, I experienced the same sense of accomplishment that I felt decades ago. I look forward to what the day ahead will bring, and I look forward to spending some time with family and friends, reading all your blogs and learning what's going on in your lives today. I am hoping also that perhaps you will look at your life with a sense of adventure as you move through the moments, realizing once again how incredibly lucky we are to have another day to enjoy being alive. 

Soon I will climb out of bed and begin the rest of my day. My dear partner, as usual, still sleeps quietly next to me as I type, and now that we are approaching springtime, the light in the morning sky greets me, instead of the darkness of winter. The magic of writing this Sunday morning post has once again catapulted me from drowsy dreams to looking forward to what the day will bring. And of course, my dear friends, I hope it will bring you whatever adventures you desire. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things. Be well.


Sunday, February 11, 2024

Mixed emotions today

At the Great Wall of China 2003

So much time has passed in life since this picture was taken, both SG and I in China visiting the Great Wall. I was in attendance at a conference that my boss Mickey had arranged, and we were taken by our Chinese hosts to see the sights. Of course this was included, and we were so lucky to see it and have a chance to walk along part of it.

I was looking for a picture among the thousands I've amassed, one that would be relevant to our history, as well as part of our present-day life. We are fast coming up on our thirtieth wedding anniversary, one that felt impossible when we first met, both of us in our fifties. Who would have been able to predict that here in 2024 we would be happily growing old together? Certainly not the two of us. But here we are, octogenarians with a rich life of adventure and travel behind us, and settled into our daily lives with joy in the present and hopes for many more years ahead. But who knows what the future will bring?

I have been following the news, as much as I can stomach anyway, because it has a tendency to make me sad or angry, and there's not much I can do to change things. But I can express myself in this blog, say what's on my mind, and know that many of us are in the same situation. What is happening in Israel and Gaza keeps me awake at night. What is happening in the political arena here in the US also makes me fearful for the future. But again, there is little I can do other than give a few dollars to those organizations I feel can make a difference. 

I am just ten days younger than Joe Biden. When he was first running for President four years ago, I felt he was too old. After all, I couldn't fathom myself having the energy to do that incredibly difficult job. And if there was anyone else who might run, I would definitely consider supporting a viable candidate. But nobody has come forth yet, and I will vote for Biden and Harris again, if I have the chance. And he has done a really good job during  his first term, in my opinion. But to have another five years in the cauldron that is American politics today? It is worrisome. However...
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

 The entire conversation about age and ability is everywhere right now. And of course, as one who is already well into old age, it sure looks like "ageism" to me. That because of some verbal slips by Biden and Trump, they are not cognitively fit for the difficult job of the presidency. And they may be right. We will only know after the fact, but I find it very troubling that this is the metric that many are using to make their decision about who to vote for. Both of them are old! But one of them has made tremendous positive strides forward for the country, while the other has been just plain wacko. How can so many people feel he is not a threat to democracy but a good idea? It boggles my mind. So I'll get off this contentious subject and turn to more positive thoughts. 

I feel very fortunate to have such a great place to live, and having moved to the Pacific Northwest when I retired in 2008 has been one of the best moves I've ever made. I am so glad to be here, and even if it is a little rainy, the result is plenty of vegetation, flowers, and trees that flourish everywhere. We even have lots of domestic wildlife, such as birds, deer, and squirrels that also enjoy the mild weather. It's true that we get the occasional snowstorm during the winters, and the occasional windstorm as well, but there is no place in the world that has better weather for someone like me. And I have a plethora of rain gear for the wet days, like today.

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, and we have entered the Year of the Wood Dragon, whatever that means. From what I can surmise, for those born in the Year of the Horse, like me, it portends a chance to create our own stories this year and carve our own path. Our natural charismatic and optimistic nature will benefit us in this endeavor, according to astrologers. That sounds pretty good to me. I hope we will all have a good year ahead.

It's also Super Bowl Sunday, the annual celebration of the two football leagues having it out with each other. I am rooting for one of the teams, but I really don't care all that much about the game. I don't usually watch it because I get all wound up in it and it's not good for my ability to stay neutral. I just hope nobody gets hurt and that everyone enjoys themselves. How anybody can afford to actually be there in person astounds me. I think the cheapest tickets cost more than most people can afford. But then again, if you've got the money, it's yours to decide how to spend it, right? Many years ago, I would watch the game and felt very invested in it, but now I am wiser and have better things to do with my time.

Today after I have breakfast with John, I'll call my friend Lily and we'll make plans to spend some time together. We were going to go for a nice walk, but she's not keen to walk in the rain, so maybe we'll go to a movie, or who knows? The main thing is to be together. She is a dear friend whom I don't see often enough. 

And friendships and loving relationships are central to having a good life. It's worth spending some of my time just hanging out with good friends, as well as my partner, who of course still sleeps next to me this morning. I laughed at one blogger who wonders how he deals with the incessant tapping of the keys as I write, so I asked him once again how he feels about it. He says he not only doesn't mind, but he finds it soothing, unless he's just trying to make me feel okay about it.

Well, that wraps up this Sunday morning post. I am filled with all sort of emotions, some good and some not so good, but I am also happy to be alive and in good health, for an old bird like me, anyway. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Halfway to spring

Lake Padden on a winter's day

We here in the US have finally visited the rodent who predicts the weather,  Punxsutawney Phil, on February 2, to see if he will be predicting that we'll have an early spring or not. It's the day when we have reached the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Apparently he doesn't have a very good track record, since he's only been right 39% of the time. Maybe we should be considering that, since he's predicts an early spring this year, it will be late.

Whatever. It's fun to speculate and spend some time with such antics, but one thing I know for sure: the days are getting longer, there's a bit of light in the sky when I walk to the bus in the early mornings, and that soon I'll be seeing sprouts of emerging daffodils and primroses beginning to show the change of the season. It's been a confusing winter so far, with extreme cold and snow, followed by extreme warmth and rain. At one point last week, we had a warm front come through where the day's heat just kept on rising, long after sunset. We reached a record of 68°F (20°C) at 7:00pm on the 29th! And I saw on TV that Seattle had three nights of record-breaking high low temperatures during that same period. Very strange weather indeed, and it seems like just a few days ago we were buried in more than a foot of snow and extreme cold. Now we're almost back to a normal weather pattern, but there's no question that things are definitely not following the usual norms.

I really didn't know what I wanted to write about today, so I went over to my favorite quote library, brainyquote.com, and I got interested in reading about Helen Keller once I found this quote by her:

Once I knew only darkness and stillness... my life was without past or future... but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. —Helen Keller

 Many years ago I saw The Miracle Worker (1962) movie and enjoyed it very much. I actually might have seen it a time or two later, but I don't remember much from it except Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in two memorable performances. What I didn't relate to at the time was what it must have been like to be both deaf and blind and unable to understand the world around me. Not only did Helen overcome her handicaps, with help from her teacher and others, she ended up attending Radcliffe College and graduating cum laude in 1904. She wrote 14 books and her biography is still in print.

Helen on her 80th birthday

It's almost impossible for me to imagine how Helen became so proficient in everything she attempted. To only know the world around you by the tapping of someone's fingers into your palm, and having that be enough to open the doors of perception so wide that you could become a world-renowned author. She traveled to dozens of countries and gave interviews with many world leaders. She was acquainted with many famous people, including Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more. She helped to create the American Foundation for the Blind, which offers an archive of her works, which is available here

And I was pleased to learn that she lived a good long life, dying at the age of 87, a few days short of her 88th birthday. Until she suffered a stroke in her 80th year, she continued to be active and engaged in many pursuits. Afterwards, she lived a quiet life and probably spent her time reading, but I don't know for sure. She died in 1968.

To each one of us is given in some degree the power to create and distribute happiness, and that is about the best thing any one of us can do. There is no surer way to keep the fire of happiness burning in our own hearts than by sharing its brightness with others. —Helen Keller, 1924 speech

When I think about all the wonderful people who are alive today, carrying on the work that Helen started, to reach those who were not given the abilities we take for granted, I am truly humbled. But she is right: we are all given to "some degree the power to create and distribute happiness," which is what I attempt to create every Sunday morning with these posts. Helen came alive for me today and has reached through the mists of time to inspire me, a fellow traveler. And I will purchase a copy of her biography to read on my Kindle.

Are there people who inspire you to become a better version of who you already are? I know that now that I am old, I am impressed with others my own age who have found ways to do that. We are at a crossroads in our lives today, with so many of us becoming frail and aged, just when we are getting ready for more upheaval and strife all around the world. But I refuse to give up my pursuit of happiness and will try to keep Helen's words uppermost in my thoughts: that there "is no surer way to keep the fire of happiness burning in our own hearts than by sharing its brightness with others."

As I sit here with my laptop, typing these words into a device that can carry them to the farthest reaches of the globe, it's important for me to realize the gifts that I already have, and take advantage of them in the moment. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and I know that John will be coming to take me to breakfast soon. It is quiet and serene in my world, as I prepare to wind this post up and send it out into the world. For you, my dear virtual family, I am hoping that you will find some way to share the brightness of happiness with others. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well, dear friends.