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, April 28, 2024

Rain for days

Carpet of pink

We were on track to have the driest April on record, or close to it, when it began to rain on Thursday, which caused me to skip my usual hike. We now have had plenty of rain, for days on end, with more to come. I guess somewhere around an inch has fallen here, bringing some of the flower petals down from these lovely pink blossoming trees. It makes for a pretty scene.

Yesterday, I went to the coffee shop and found my two hiking friends unwilling to venture out into the heavy rain. So, I decided too that maybe it was a better idea to stay inside myself, rather than walking in it. I went grocery shopping and then headed home. By around 2:00 in the afternoon, the rain had dwindled to just a few sprinkles, so I went out for a nice three-mile walk. Since I was alone, I listened to a podcast, one of my favorites, Hidden Brain, the latest episode of which was about how children need to have some time to play without parental supervision. The host brought up some interesting research that shows how important it is for kids to be allowed to play in their own ways, not necessarily following the rules set up by others.

He reminded us of the book written by William Golding in 1954, Lord of the Flies, a classic novel about a group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island and their descent into savagery. It explores themes of power, human nature, and the dangers of mob mentality. Then, in 1965, a real situation occurred with six young Tonga boys stranded on a desert island for 15 months. Their full story is told here.
In June 1965, six Tongan teenage boys set out on an adventure that turned into a real-life version of “Lord of the Flies.” The boys, stranded on the uninhabited island of ‘Ata for more than a year, survived by relying on primitive instincts, teamwork, and an innate desire to live.

 It seems that the desire for cooperation and to survive is more likely to happen when all involved are willing to work together and find a way than the more pessimistic view that young people without supervision are likely to turn into savages. In any event, the podcast host suggests that children need to find ways to play that allows for creative thinking. 

It made me think back to my own childhood, spent playing unsupervised with my sister Norma Jean, who is more than two years younger than me. We were often told to "go outside and play" when doesn't happen much these days. Apparently children are supposed to be supervised by an adult at all times in most settings, not allowed to have unsupervised playtime. I think this is caused partly by the fact that there are so many more people now than when I was young a half-century ago. And there is now a fear of "stranger danger" that might have existed when I was young, but nothing like today's situation, with sick predators seeming to concentrate on kidnapping young children.

Life is definitely more complicated for kids today than it was when I was young, but I think it's important for parents to find ways to allow their children to find out what they are best at, what makes them happy. One researcher said he believes that many of today's unhappy children need to learn to play, and that the opposite of happy play is depression. That explains to me something I've wondered about: why are so many kids today filled with anxiety? Perhaps the remedy is finding ways to let them express themselves with one another without an adult telling them how to do it.

My memories are full of happy times that the two of us, me and my sister, would explore the neighborhood, finding what lay ahead in the next street. We had each other, and that was enough. Back then it was acceptable to tell your kids to "go outside and play."

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.  —Graham Greene

I am not fortunate to have any young children around me these days. Those grandparents who are able to be around theirs are very lucky indeed. I am not in situations where kids hang out, but I suppose if I wanted to, I could volunteer at an elementary school. But I don't think that's what I'd most like to do with the remaining days and years I might have ahead of me. Instead, I am happy to hang out with my fellow hikers, most of whom are a bit younger than me, even though they are seniors. I am quickly growing into the "really old" category, not just someone in her sixties, or even seventies, but dipping into the category of someone in her eighties. It's a different place, let me tell you. If you're lucky, one day you'll find out yourself. The chasm between a toddler and someone like me is vast. Maybe that's why grandparents were invented, eh?

It's still raining. As I sit here in the dark, I can hear the rain drumming on the roof, but I know that John will be here in a short while to take me to our breakfast place. When I come home, my dear partner will be up and about, and we'll probably spend some time talking about what we intend to do with the day ahead. I give thanks for his presence in my life every day. Just like my sister was my childhood companion, he is my current confidant and friend. 

I am quickly running out of time to be sitting here writing. It's time to start getting out of bed, finishing up this post, and getting on with my day. And I always give thanks for the presence in my life of you, my virtual family. It is much less lonely to have your virtual hand to hold when I'm in need. I do hope the coming week will be a good one for you, and that you will be surrounded with love and light. Until we meet again, be well.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Observation from my vantage point

A perfect trillium

You know, I am beginning to realize that the world does indeed look different from an octogenarian's point of view. Last Thursday, as I struggled on the more than 1,000-foot upward trek from where we started to our destination, I saw many beautiful sights that I've been privileged to see many times before. This spring's trillium are beginning to emerge from the dense forest, and they once again remind me of the beauty of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest. I realized that not so long ago, after we moved here in the spring of 2008, before the pandemic changed so much of our daily lives. Also, how many times I've gone through the seasons with the Senior Trailblazers over the years, and how many friends have come and gone. Some of them permanently. through death and/or disease. It's one of the concomitant problems of hiking with fellow oldsters. We don't have the luxury of keeping the vicissitudes of aging and becoming debilitated out of sight of our daily activities.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. —Lao Tzu

I may have used this quote before; I love noticing the many times this ancient Chinese philosopher's words reach through the sands of time to my own heart and mind, alive and current today. He lived in the sixth century BC and still today gives me words to ponder and reflect upon. 

Lao Tzu was a semi-legendary ancient Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, the foundational text of Taoism along with the Zhuangzi (Wikipedia).

 I am now eighty-one years old, an age that few in my family have reached. Most of my relatives have died because of heart disease, but my siblings and I are all taking statins, which makes a huge difference in those born with hyperlipidemia, which runs all throughout my family. My son Chris has already died of it, at the young age of forty; one of my sisters also died at 63 of diabetes and heart disease. And I have been taking statins and staying away from certain foods in hopes of prolonging my own life. I guess it's working, since I am in my ninth decade and don't seem to have any signs of it. My aunt Quetita, my mother's sister, lived to be 93, the oldest in my immediate family. I wasn't born with good genes for longevity. We also don't know whether Alzheimer's Disease runs in our family, because until now, nobody in our family has lived long enough to find out.

On our last hike, we had three new members. Since we carpool to the trailhead, I sat in a car next to one of them, Eric. I listened as he told some of his life story to us, and I kept glancing at him, wondering if I had already met him; he looked vaguely familiar but finally decided that I didn't. When we finished the hike and drove back to the Senior Center, he told me that we had already met; he was my partner in the eight-week-long Senior Center strength-training class, and I had seen him several times each week in that setting. Once he told me that, I realized that I did indeed remember him, but I was chagrined that it had taken me so long to put it all together. I know my memory is not as strong as it once was, but am I beginning to lose my ability to remember, as in mild cognitive impairment? It's a little scary to think that.

Growing older means losing much of my ability to function as I did in my earlier years. My eyes are failing with AMD (age-related macular degeneration), I wear hearing aids every day, and I cannot smell certain odors at all, and those I do smell are sometimes distorted. Chemical smells can be overwhelming, such as some perfumes, while other natural odors are simply absent. I can smell roses when they are sitting in sunshine, but the sweet smell of lilacs no longer makes it to my nose. 

A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was surrounded by strong smells, and I could recognize many that have long been missing. I remember in the dream thinking that those smells are always there, whether I am aware of them or not. When I woke and pondered the dream, I could almost still smell the fragrances. I find that mysterious and reassuring; they are not gone at all but simply unavailable to my nose in daily life. 

Yesterday, I went for my usual Saturday walk from the coffee shop, and my friend Don joined me. We walked more than five miles down to the harbor, a favorite place to visit, and the cloudless sky meant it was cold to start but quickly warmed up to a delightful temperature. We chatted as we walked, and the miles flew by. I am so happy to be able to exercise like that, and I must say it gives me great pleasure to know that I am in good enough shape to keep up with my fellow seniors, even if we aren't going to set any track records. So, instead of lamenting the losses as I age, I think I will instead concentrate on what is such a blessing: being able to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors as we begin yet another spring here in the Pacific Northwest.

Peaceful Squalicum Harbor

I will not be joining my fellow Senior Trailblazers on many of the harder and longer hikes in the mountains this year. I will be more selective and remember to pace myself as I hike the trails through the myriad flowers and streams and take in the vistas. Life is good and it looks possible I might make it through yet another summer of forest delights. I take none of it for granted, but continue to be grateful for all my blessings. 

I still have my dear partner sleeping next to me in bed, my tea is gone, and my post is pretty much finished. Now I will think of the day ahead and what I might accomplish before the sun goes down tonight. I am so fortunate to virtually know many of you dear friends, and your day ahead will also be on my mind as I read your posts. I hope it is a good one, filled with love and light and happy thoughts. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tulips 2024, not war

River of blue

Another April is here, and yesterday I made another trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I've been doing this every year for more than a decade. I only missed one, when they didn't plant any tulips because of the pandemic. I just went back and looked at posts from previous years and realized that 2011 was my first tulip visit, and I've come out to see them with many different friends over the years, but lately it's been my friend Lily and me spending time tiptoeing through the tulips (no, not really; they frown on it). I will do a post with lots of pictures, maybe on Monday, but for now it's time to consider what else is on my mind.
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. —Albert Einstein
I am truly concerned with the direction of world events, which seems to be moving us closer and closer to World War III. Everywhere I look, there is another indication that things are not getting any better, and just because we can watch missiles being blown up on my TV screen as one hostile nation pummels another nation and innocent people continue to suffer, it does not make me feel safer. I offer a prayer every morning after my meditation, part of which asks that all sentient beings may be free from pain and suffering and enjoy robust good health. Wishing for peace on earth has been a constant hope for as long as I can remember, but the entire world seems to be getting closer to outright war with every day that passes.

I was born in 1942 and have known relative peace here in the US during my entire lifetime. Even though my father was in World War II, and we had all those other wars afterward, Vietnam and Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, just to name a few, I always felt they were outliers and that we were moving into the possibility of peace becoming a worldwide phenomenon. I guess I was just kidding myself, or at least not being honest with the facts as I consider them. I don't know what will happen in the near future, but I do know that the illusion of worldwide peace and prosperity grows ever more distant.

I am afraid that this last barrage of drones and missiles from Iran to Israel will not be the last of it during this latest war. I have been more than a little distressed at what Israel is doing in Gaza, but the only thing I know to do, other than to pray for peace, is to give money to Doctors Without Borders and hope that some of the much-needed food and supplies will make it to those starving and displaced people. I know I am not alone in my wishes for some kind of meaningful resolution to all of this horror. It is hard to sit down to eat a wonderful meal when I know that so many people in Gaza, innocent people, are dying of starvation and deprivation. One politician who has gained my appreciation is Bernie Sanders, who continues to demand, over and over, that it is wrong for Israel to do what it is doing and suggests that the US do whatever it can to get humanitarian aid to Gaza. I wonder what the escalation of the war with Iran will do to Israel now. But I cannot sit around and wail over it; I must petition my lawmakers to do the right thing. But what is that? I just don't know.

So I am determined to find something positive to consider instead. It does absolutely no good to allow my distress over the world situation to engulf my spirit and take me away from the wonders all around me. Just yesterday when I was taking in all those beautiful flowers, my eyes were surrounded by nothing but loveliness. I could instead concentrate on that, look at my pictures once again, and let the ugliness of war and strife slip away. Another way of being in the world is to concentrate on the grace and elegance of the Pacific Northwest in springtime. Why not do that instead? I can choose, and that is also one of the wonderful benefits of becoming an octogenarian: that much of the world's pain is put into a wider perspective as part of being human, but it is only part of the journey. I also have so much to be thankful for, and I am not alone as I put one foot in front of the other, as I walk to the top of mountains, as I allow love to prevail in my heart.

Tulips smiling back at the sunshine

I do hope you, my dear friends, will find some way to let love win, and let the beauty of being alive overtake your troubles. I am now finishing up this morning's post, and I have to say I do feel better than I did when I began, and I sincerely hope some of the positivity is finding its way into your life. My tea is gone, my dear partner is snuggling back under the covers, and I am ready to continue my day. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Daffodils and blooming trees

Steve's photo taken on Western's campus

 Yesterday, my friend Steve and I walked from the coffee shop up to the Arboretum lookout on Western Washington University's campus. Although I was there a few weeks ago with the Senior Trailblazers, we went a different route and I seem to have forgotten quickly just how steep it is to climb to the lookout. Or perhaps my legs are not quite recovered from Thursday's ascent and descent on the Chanterelle trail. I keep forgetting that I am not young anymore and think I can do whatever I put my mind to. Still. Sometimes I just need to rest more and slow down a little, but I forget.

When I set out from home, I checked the weather and it told me there was no rain expected, so I didn't take a raincoat. Big mistake. You'd think that someone who has an entire closet full of different raincoats would take one, just in case. When we were on our way up the trail to the Arboretum, it began to rain. And it didn't stop for the rest of the duration of our walk. The funny thing is, I didn't really mind the rain and kept smiling and enjoying being outdoors in nature. It helps to have a good friend along who is willing to lend an arm and tell some good stories as we walk.

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours. —Mark Twain

I just re-read an article in the New York Times about a new discovery in cosmology: that dark energy, which makes up around 70% of the Universe, may have different properties than previously understood. The term "dark energy" relates to this odd substance that doesn't act like anything else, and since it doesn't emit light, we cannot see it. But there are some ideas about it:

The only real answer to the question "what is dark energy?" currently is "we don't know" as unsatisfactory as that may be. Scientists aren't completely in the dark, however. There are some leading candidates to account for dark energy. These include the vacuum energy of space  —  particles literally popping in and out of existence in empty space — and a "fifth force" responsible for the negative pressure that might cause the accelerated expansion of the universe.  (Space.com)

You might need to have a subscription to the NYT to read the first article, but in looking around I found Space.com that has lots of explanations about the cosmos that I didn't already know about, and it's free. It's so fascinating to me to consider that we know so little about the Universe, which is, of course, everything. If I had my life to live over again, I think I might have wanted to become an astrophysicist, since that whole area of astronomy has always drawn me in. It's the reason I've always loved to read science fiction, since it provides so much fodder for my imagination. 

We live in a time when we can learn just about anything we want to know by opening our laptop and asking Google to point us in a direction to learn more about anything that appeals to us. I'm one of those people who uses Wikipedia often enough that I feel I should help pay for it, so I do. Modestly, of course, but still.

View of Bellingham from the lookout

Finally, I think I have figured out why I am such a fan of routine. I don't want to believe that things change over time, and that if I do the same things every morning, and that every afternoon has its own pattern, I'm simply repeating one day after the next, and somehow I can keep in my own groove and continue on like this for the foreseeable future. But it doesn't work that way, does it? Every breath is its own, every dawn comes after the long night and does its own thing. The days come and go, the weeks and months slide by without much difference, but when I look around at the blooming trees and burgeoning leaves, I know that spring is here, and summer is not far behind. Life flows and changes constantly.

I am also reminded that I didn't wake up one day with white hair. Very gradually my light brown hair changed, one strand at a time, to become a colorless silver. I've certainly used my body over the years, some might say abused, but it's held up pretty well. I can still walk and even run a little, if necessary, and I am grateful for all that still is within my reach. But there's that word again, "still."

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. There is nothing permanent except change. —Heraclitus

Heraclitus lived around 2,500 years ago, wasn't very old when he died, and only wrote one little book, which didn't survive the passage of time, but many quotes from it still exist. I knew of Heraclitus as an ancient Greek philosopher, but not much more. But few have not heard that phrase about impermanence, I think. 

When I ponder the immensity of the Universe, much of which we know nothing about, and then I think about someone like Heraclitus, who graced this planet for a short while thousands of years ago, I am quite sure that he is right: nothing is permanent except change. Nothing in our power can change that, nor would we even want to. I will continue to watch my breath, appreciate the burgeoning springtime, and keep on enjoying the procession of the seasons and the gentle rain that continues to fall. Why not? What else do I have to accomplish while time passes?

And that, my friends, is the foam that arises from my brain on this early Sunday morning. It won't be around in a thousand years, I assure you, so I'm not trying to create a philosophy or even much of a worldview, just fulfilling my self-imposed duty of a weekly post before getting up from my bed and starting my day. My dear partner still (that word again) sleeps quietly next to me, the tea is long gone, and it's time to sign off and continue the cycle that repeats... until it doesn't any more. I do hope the coming week will be a good one for you, and that you will find yourself smiling often. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things, dear friends. Be well.