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, March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday 2024

Daffodils for miles

This was taken a few years ago when I visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and there were still plenty of pretty daffodil fields to see, like this one, as well as tulips emerging. But this year, the fields of tulips are still to come, and my friend Lily and I will go sometime during the month of April, but right now we're not sure when peak blooms will happen. We'll be watching the bloom map closely.

When I think back on the incredible number of Easter Sundays I've had, dozens and dozens of them, most of them fade into the background except for a few images, experiences, and tastes that still resonate with me today. The first that comes to mind are those pretty Easter baskets we always found at the table when we came to breakfast. Something about that shiny green "grass," with little treats hidden here and there, like colorful jelly beans and individually wrapped chocolate truffles, sticks in my memory. There was often a big chocolate bunny, and of course we dyed hard-boiled eggs. I don't remember exactly when we did that, was it the night before or the day of? My sister Norma Jean probably remembers, but my memories revolve mostly around eggs, a big decorated ham, and of course, chocolate. We were not a church-going family, so I haven't any memories of church or the reason why Easter is, well, Easter. That all came much later in life than during my early childhood.

Wondering how bunnies laying eggs got mixed up with Easter, I found an interesting article in Time Magazine that tells the tale:
According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests.

Fascinating! I now have a different feeling about all those traditions as they emerged from my childhood and how they became the norm for my generation. It doesn't take away from the innocence and happy Easter morning feelings I remember from back then. 

Yesterday, my friend Steve joined me for part of my walk along Boulevard Park, and we noticed several dozen little wooden Easter eggs nestled here and there along the trail. Someone decided to give us a little Easter treat, I guess.

Pretty wooden egg

Now that I know where the idea of Easter eggs came from, I have a new appreciation for all those Easter egg hunts going on today, all around the country. Maybe the world, who knows? Not everyone knows about Oschter Haws, or cares to celebrate an egg-laying hare. I always enjoy learning about how traditions come about.

One of my favorite memories of Easter as a grownup comes from one long-ago year when I was a skydiver. I went on an Easter egg hunt early on Sunday morning, since we skydivers had been told there were plastic eggs hidden around the Drop Zone, with treats of varying value inside. I found one, and inside was a slip of paper telling me I had won a free skydive. I don't remember the jump, but I sure remember my sense of delight when I opened the egg and found out what I had won. I think the big prize was a parachute, worth many times the price of the jump, but I felt so happy with my little prize.

I promise I won't be making a habit of writing posts like last Sunday's, where I chronicled the pain and loss of those loved ones. It was good for me, though, since it cleansed my heart and gave me a sense of peace afterwards. But I cannot go back and read it again, because it doesn't seem very helpful to me or my readers to wallow around in sadness. I appreciate all the thoughtful comments you left for me; those I will read again, since your heartfelt condolences fill me with gratitude for your caring. Life is filled with so many wonderful moments that we can share with one another, it doesn't seem right to concentrate on past losses. There are instead so many delights surrounding me right now, with the magic of the internet and my connection to you, for one. And the presence of my beloved partner, who sleeps next to me on this Easter Sunday, for another. I am filled with love and joyful anticipation for the day ahead.

Happy Easter!

Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things, and that you will find yourself surrounded with love. Be well.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Lost children

Top: Chris; bottom: Stephen and me

 I don't often write about my two sons who have passed away, but I was looking at pictures of all sorts, and I realized that I still have a great deal of sadness around not having them in my life any more, even after all these years. I stumbled upon a scrapbook filled with pictures of Chris' wedding, and I realized I couldn't even open the cover and look at them. I like to think that I am completely over their loss, but it's not true. I guess you never are really healed of such loss, you just learn how to cope.

Another thing I have lately come to realize is that I owe it to my lost babies to keep their memories alive. Although it's been more than half a century since Stephen died, he still continues to be a part of me, an infant whom I loved immeasurably.

He was a perfectly healthy year-old child until he contracted spinal meningitis. It killed him within hours, and within a day, my life had changed forever, along with Chris' life (he was not even four at the time), and my husband Derald's life. I fell into a huge pit of grief and felt as though my own life has ended. But of course it didn't. I have a memory of Chris telling me not to cry, he would go up to heaven to get Stephen and bring him back. Looking back on that time, which ended with me divorcing Derald and me trying to get back to some semblance of normal life and not doing it very well. I still regret that I was unable to mother my remaining child properly and how much he also suffered because of my grief. Somehow Chris turned out just fine, in spite of how much he went through. 

I have a memory of Chris waiting in front of our home for the school bus to take him away for the first day of kindergarten. He wore of look of stoicism, dressed in his new clothes and shoes, and I cried as he boarded the huge yellow bus. These days kids don't do that anymore; I would have driven him to school and waited for him to disappear behind the school walls.

Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself. —Walter Anderson

Chris was forty when his wife, Silvia, called me from Germany to tell me he had died. He had been jogging with his squadron when he fell over with a heart attack. He died right there in sight of his fellow soldiers, but they were unable to revive him. I like to think he didn't suffer but lost consciousness quickly. 

I traveled to Germany to attend his memorial service and spent some time with Silvia, whom I had never met before. She had been married previously and had a young son, but he didn't speak any English, so I didn't get to know him well. Silvia, however, was wonderful to me and we spent some sad time together. I was there for almost a week, I believe, and was able to address his fellow soldiers and get to know them a little, too. I was almost sixty when he died, and now I am an octogenarian filled with old memories.

Not only have I outlived my two sons, but also my parents and one sister. Neither of my parents made it out of their sixties; Daddy died at 62, and Mama at 69. It was heart disease that took both of them, too. Chris got bad genes from both sides of his family, but he seemed healthy and had recently passed a physical. He died in 2002, so it's been almost a quarter century, but I still cannot open an old scrapbook and look at pictures of that happy day when he married Silvia.

My life has not followed the path I expected it to follow, back when I was a young mother of two beautiful young boys. In my life I have amassed many regrets, but none as large as the failure I brought into my son Chris's life. I wish I had been a stronger person, but I was only 22 and not very cognizant of any alternatives I might have had. There was no such thing as a support group for grieving parents, not where I lived anyway, and I managed to muddle through. 

I retired from my job and career in 2008 and moved to the Pacific Northwest from Colorado and fell in love with the beautiful green, lush countryside. We have always been happy that we made the move, and I am still able to enjoy getting out and hiking around the area. As long as that is true, I know where I will be spending many of my days. The Senior Center here in Bellingham is one of the best, and it offers many activities for older people, so I think I will be fine for however much time I might have left. You cannot escape the inevitable decline of physical abilities, but you can find ways to continue to be engaged and involved in life's pleasures.

So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good. —Helen Keller

And I continue to be inspired by Helen Keller's incredible life story. Her ability to find joy and peace, even missing what most of us consider to be life's greatest pleasures, to be able to see and hear, is inspiring. How can I continue to harbor grief when so much of life calls to me to be grateful? Gratitude is taking a moment to reflect on how lucky you are when something good happens, whether it's small or big.

And the magic of the internet allows me to spread gratitude far and wide, to my beloved virtual family, and to all others who share life's joys with one another, and with me. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

More than a quarter century ago

Machu Picchu

It was in 1981 when I went to Peru, my first international trip. I had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu, but I had never gone farther afield than Mexico before I spent six weeks in Peru, adventuring in what was supposed to be a solo trip. My friends were horrified that I would even contemplate doing such a thing, so they hooked me up with another young woman who was looking for a traveling companion: Marla (I have forgotten her last name). She knew little to no Spanish and was a strict vegetarian to boot. This was a long time ago, before cellphones, before even the internet communities that we rely on these days were even around. 

Me and Marla, high in the Andes

It was on the flight to Peru that I first realized that we were very different people, with different ideas of what we would be experiencing in Peru. The one thing I wanted (other than to see Machu Picchu) was a chance to get into the Andes and walk among those magnificent mountains. Marla was looking for adventure, and someone who would help her navigate a foreign country (which I had never been to, so why she was so determined that I was the perfect traveling companion, I will never know).

Anyway, I just looked back in my old posts and found that I've written about this Peruvian trip before, so I'm going to lift some of the text from 2011 and 2021 posts, since in re-reading them, I can't make them better. But then I'll return to the current moment to finish the post. Is it considered plagiarizing when you lift from your own stuff? 


Marla knew not one word of Spanish and needed someone to help her with the language. Although certainly not fluent, I knew enough Spanish to get by. And so, in October 1981, we flew to Lima and stayed at a hostel, before deciding to travel to Cusco, where we would be able to take a train to the beginning of the trail. Most people took three or four days to travel through the minor Incan ruins before coming to the main attraction, Machu Picchu. 

I have learned since then that traveling to Machu Picchu is entirely different today. Now there is a luxury hotel near the site, and a cable car takes tourists from there to the main ruins. A friend went there a few years ago, and the pictures he showed me looked nothing like the place I visited so long ago. You even have to queue in long lines to get in. Totally different from my experience.

Marla and I took a local train to Kilometer 88, where we began the 26-mile-long trip. We got off the train with about a dozen other hikers from all over the world. I think we were the only Americans and nobody else spoke any English. Everybody strapped on their backpacks and took off at a fast pace. We waited until the last, and then when we were on the trail itself, we saw very few other hikers during the next days. I found this site that tells about the trip.
The trip begins in the town of Qorihuayrachina, at kilometer 88 of the Quillabamba railway - Cusco and takes 3 to 4 days of strenuous hiking, it is the road that takes tourists to Machu Picchu. The route consists of an impressive variety of altitudes, climates and ecosystems ranging from the Andean plain to the cloud forest.
Today, you are expected to stay in the campgrounds that exist along the trail, but in those days you just had to find a place to camp on your own. There were no porta-potties or even water sources that seemed safe. We used iodine drops in our water to keep from picking up bacteria. It was a very memorable adventure, and it reminds me that I have been making long and difficult hikes for much longer than I remembered. I made this trip a full decade before I discovered skydiving and stopped everything else, including backpacking and strenuous hikes. 

During the two months I spent in Peru, I made four different trips into the mountains, two with Marla, and two with other solo hikers I met while staying in hostels that catered to tourists like me. These days, I am actually a bit surprised and impressed with the adventurous spirit that I seemed to have back then. And so much has transpired in my life since that time. Looking back, I am so glad that I was able to have such exciting events and still have a few memories that recall such a distant adventure.

Although I am much older now and my hair is white and my body much used and abused, I can still walk several miles at a time and enjoy being outdoors, breathing fresh air and taking in the sunshine. I will continue to do all this until the day comes when I must stop. Fortunately, it is not happening today or tomorrow, I hope. I will give it all I have until that day comes.
If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. —Jim Rohn
We carried a tent and iodine drops to treat whatever water we might find. After those three days of hiking, we crested a hill and looked down on Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu (the big mountain behind the ruins) resplendent in all its glory. 

When we arrived early in the morning, there were only a few fellow hikers there, but as the day went on, busload after busload of tourists arrived from Cusco so they could walk around the ruins and then be transported back to town. I climbed to the top of Huayna Picchu after touring through the ruins. I felt that the bused tourists' experience of the place could not be anywhere like mine, since I had actually WALKED there.

I don't even remember what kind of camera I had with me, but of course it had film back then and I didn't see my pictures until I arrived back home in Boulder. Funny, now that seems so strange since I'm used to seeing my pictures instantaneously. Life has changed a great deal, in ways that no one could have predicted. But one that is the same today, I'm still hiking.


Okay, back to the present moment. It's odd to re-read what I wrote about this trip so many years ago, but the memory is still very strong and continues to be a bright spot in all my years of living. I also realized, in finding this information, that I have been hiking for longer than I had recalled earlier. I was going on week-long backpacks in the mid-1970s, so it's been at least a half century of hiking, with a brief quarter-century interlude with skydiving, which caused everything I'd been obsessed with before that fateful day in September 1990 to disappear, when I made my first jump.

But now, in my early eighties, I am back to the original passion of my life: hiking. Now that I have the Senior Trailblazers from the Senior Center to hike with, I've continued to enjoy that exercise. And I continue to meet new like-minded friends. Although I miss my old hiking partner, Melanie, when she moved away, we spent the entire pandemic hiking together. Now I am again in a couple of groups, the "Happy Wanderers" and the "Relaxed" hikers. I've left the "Half Fast" group, because they tend to hike faster than I'm comfortable with these days. I no longer feel any need to be completely worn out after a hike.

My tea is finished, my post is written, and my dear partner still sleeps next to me. It's dark outside, but not for long. We are just a few days away from the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun is expected to shine unremittingly all day long, just as it did yesterday. The trees are flowering, the daffodils are up, and soon it will be time to visit the tulip gardens in Skagit Valley. We made it through another winter, and I am happy to report that my aging bones are still able to carry me out the door and into the Pacific Northwest paradise. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I hope you have a wonderful few days, too. Be well.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Another week just flew by

Me, Mt Shuksan, and bird

I'm finding it almost impossible to believe that yet another week has gone by, and here I am once again trying to decide what to write about. I found this picture among my collection, and I thought it's worth another view. I was on a snowshoe trip in the High Country one February day a few years ago, when we were inundated with these camp robber birds, also known as gray jays, who were trying to eat our lunch before we had a chance to ourselves. I had some trail mix in my hand, and the bird confidently landed on my fingers and chose a couple of almonds (if I remember correctly) before flying off again. I remember the strength of his talons; he wasn't going anywhere until he got his treat.

I've been taking winter trips to this area for many years. This was one particularly beautiful sunny day with no wind, and we enjoyed ourselves before heading back down. I was at least as happy to be there as the bird was. I had to return to sea level, but the jay was in his element. One time years ago, I remember one of our hikers lost an entire half of his sandwich to a hungry bird! If you were so careless as to put it aside while you took a sip of water, for example, you might turn back to see that you had indeed been robbed.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. —Albert Einstein

I have spent much of my life in the presence of natural beauty. When I was a girl, moving around from place to place with my family, I didn't much appreciate my surroundings. I was living my extroverted life, making lots of friends everywhere, and believing in the tight-knit family nade up of my parents, my sister Norma Jean, and then my sister PJ, born when I was seven. I never doubted my place in the world, and as I grew older and began to experience the enjoyment of physical exercise, I learned to dance and became a high school cheerleader, my first real foray into pushing myself to do hard tasks that didn't come easily. I rode my bike all around our neighborhoods, and spent more time outdoors than inside. 

It's really different for kids today, who spend so much time in their heads and not playing like we did as kids. We used our imaginations as we played together, Statue, Hide and Seek, Hopscotch, the game of jacks, and Norma Jean and I played with our dolls together a lot in Mama's flower garden. We also read books to one another and sometimes, for fun, we would pull out the dictionary and pick out words to learn. But the main thing is that we were very comfortable being outdoors in all kinds of weather.

These days, because of technology, so much has changed. That, and the fear of children being abducted or accosted by weirdos. Now many kids don't walk to school, even if they live close by, and if they ride bikes to school, they don't go alone very often. And just like their parents, they usually have smartphones in their hands, unaware of their surroundings. They live their lives in what feels like a different universe from the one I had while growing up. I wonder what the children of today will experience with their own kids one day. 

What I was looking for in those last few paragraphs is trying to find out when I began to spend so much time outdoors. It seems I always did. Do the parents of today's kids still tell them to "go outside and play" like I heard all the time? Or do they just sit somewhere inside or close by and play on their phones? Hard for me to say, since I don't spend much time with little ones any more. My young friend I met at the coffee shop years ago, Leo, grew up, and I haven't seen him in years. He and I spent many hours at the coffee shop playing together, but now he's a teenager and nowhere to be found in my own daily life. I miss those days.

This past week I went on two different hikes with the Senior Trailblazers, and on the other days I walked from Cornwall Park home, covering a few miles each day. There are only a few days when I don't get outdoors and enjoy the greenery all around me. And I don't take it for granted; my life would be very much less enjoyable if I didn't have the ability to walk around outdoors. That may come one day, but it's not today.

We lost an hour of sleep last night because of the time change. When I woke this morning, not feeling quite rested, I knew I wouldn't have as much time as usual to write this post, and sure enough, the minutes are slipping by and I still hadn't decided exactly what to write about. I always like to think of something positive and uplifting, since that's what I need for myself to begin my day. I think today's positivity comes from realizing that I am a happy octogenarian on the brink of true old age, but still mentally feeling like the youngster I once was. There's still a spring in my step, even if the feet are now a little arthritic. Where did that bunion come from? I'll just put on a bunion guard and pull my socks over it and keep on going. One day I might need to use a cane to walk, but I will still go outdoors and feel the wind in my thinning hair and raise my face to the morning sun. Or rain, whatever, and be grateful for the many years of time I've had to become who I am today.

There are so many things for me to be grateful for, but one that I haven't mentioned in awhile is you, my dear virtual friends. I look forward every week to reading your blog posts and finding out what you are doing in your own part of the world. From my many Canadian friends to those on the other side of our beautiful planet, I am so very grateful for the technology that allows me to connect with you like this. The world has changed, it's true, but some things never change: the need to connect with like-minded people, however we do it these days, will always be an integral part of my life.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. —Albert Schweitzer

Yes, dear friends, that is what this post is about: keeping our own lights shining brightly for as long as we have breath, and helping our fellow travelers find their own light when the need arises. So, until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Head still above water

Don and Jane at Bellingham Bay

Yesterday, Don and Jane and I walked along the Boulevard Park path for a nice morning outing. It rained a little, not much, but the cool temperatures and stiff breeze meant we didn't shed our jackets quickly. Jane turned around at this point and went back to her car, while Don and I continued on to the Ferry Terminal and ended up getting six miles in all. 

I really needed this walk. Steve is still sick, but I think he'll be back next week. I've got a need to change my unsettled state of mind. I have been watching too much news, and I again woke in the middle of the night in distress, unable to rid myself of the images and stories from the news and allow my mind to quiet.

The best way I know to change my state of mind is with a walk. I went to the coffee shop and met Don and Jane, drank coffee and shared some muffins (Jane always buys something to share) and set out in the blustery wind. Before long, I realized that I was feeling better, more centered and happy to be outdoors with good friends. My spirits lifted and I was feeling grateful for the surroundings, the company, and the ability to raise my body temperature to stave off cold hands and actually begin to feel warm as we continued our brisk walk.

Last night I slept much better, and I think I got at least a half hour of deep sleep and more than an hour longer in restful sleep than the night before. A good night's sleep is really important for me. Another way I have of changing my mood is to pull myself out of my concentration on the immediate world around me and look at the longer view. Insead of thinking about what body parts hurt this morning, I take a look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day to see what amazing picture it has to show me. My favorites are distant galaxies, millions of light-years away from this tiny insignificant blue ball in the outer reaches of the Milky Way, our own galaxy in the vast universe of stars and nebulae and black holes. It never fails to uplift and changes my perspective for the better. 

Sunday is the only day in the week that feels different to me, more like a holiday from routine, although I have a quite specific routine for the day, it's significantly different from other days. If I haven't been getting my usual exercise during the week, I know I will get a longer walk in the afternoon, if the weather cooperates and isn't blowing or raining too hard. I know that my friend John will pick me up to take me to breakfast in Fairhaven, and I know that I will spend some quality time with SG later in the day. Although it is definitely part of my usual routine, it feels different on Sundays. And very much needed to round out the week, giving me a chance to step back from my usual activities and take a look around at how my life has evolved in today's world. Having been born halfway through the last century, I realize that pretty much everything around me could not have been imagined back then. 

I remember the days when I would come rushing home from school to listen to a program on the radio with my family. We gathered around a huge box and listened to programs like Baby Snooks or Fibber McGee and Molly, which were very popular and something that we enjoyed experiencing together. Today, everyone is lost in their own smartphone, separated from everyone else and not having a shared moment. In 1950, I could not have even begun to imagine the world of today, and I'm pretty sure that many of my readers were not even born when these radio shows were popular and available. If you want to learn more about that era, check out this Wikipedia link, The Golden Age of Radio. It's fascinating to realize how different social media was back then. And now look where we are.

That's another thing I would never have imagined: Wikipedia. When I was young, door-to-door salesmen sold massive volumes of encyclopedias to the population. We had an Encyclopedia Brittanica set, and I spent many hours perusing the information about subjects that interested me. It is still in existence. I learned this today:
The encyclopaedia is maintained by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. The 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages, was the last printed edition. Since 2016, it has been published exclusively as an online encyclopaedia.
I'm surprised that it lasted for so long in print, since our world is now almost completely digital. I visit Wikipedia almost daily, for something or other than I am curious about. I also pay them for the privilege, although it's a pittance when I consider how expensive our brown encyclopedia volumes must have been. Just thinking about the enormous changes that have occurred in our world during the time I've been alive, it does make me wonder what the next century will bring. I won't be around to see it, but I can certainly imagine it. I hope we will learn how to exist on this tiny planet together without war. That is my fervent hope.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes to Dr. King. Yes a hundred times over. And now it's time for me to begin the rest of my Sunday routine, now that my post has been written, and I'm feeling ready to spring out of bed (well, maybe not spring) and enjoy whatever is coming my way. I do hope that you will find a good way to spend your day ahead, and that you will be surrounded with unconditional love. Why not? Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.