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 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.


Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you have a lovely week enjoying all that Spring has to offer! One has to go forward and do what you physically can do safely! Sorry you cannot smell the Lilacs.

Linda Reeder said...

As I read that quote from Lao Tzu abot life changes, and don't resist them, I realized that is what I am working to do in mny life. I am so much more limited phisically than I had hoped to be, but I am dealing with these changes the best I can and trying to keep a sense of humor and balance. That balance struggle is literal as well as figurative. :-)
I will probably spend most of my day indoors today, as it is cold again. I have a project to finish, and it's easier not to fall over indoors.

Rian said...

DJan, I read Tao te Ching years ago... and yes, I like his words "Let reality be reality"... much the same as "What is... is." (a philosophy I follow). As for loss of memory as we age, I too have a concern about Alzheimer's as it is in our family. But all I can do is try to stay healthy mentally and physically. As you stated, we are privileged to have gotten to this age and need to appreciate that fact, despite aging inconveniences.
Hoping you have a wonderful happy enjoyable Sunday!

Rita said...

I have enjoyed so many of the quotes you have posted by Lao Tzu. Any time I have read quotes by him I am impressed by his wisdom.

I think you are smart to pick and choose which hikes to join. Makes sense to choose to continue being able to be out and about as much as possible and not to maybe put yourself out of commission by overdoing it on an arduous hike. One wouldn't want to miss all those beautiful hikes with friends that you do have so often. Nature is too magnificent everywhere. :)

Red said...

I've cut back on my birding outings as I don't want to cause problems for the group if I have a problem. I have lost much as I age. I know it. It doesn't bother me except when others have difficulty dealing with me. Memory is a challenge.

gigi-hawaii said...

I hope you live a long time. 81 is terrific! Hope I make it.

John's Island said...


It's incredibly moving to read your reflections and how you connect with the timeless wisdom of Lao Tzu. Your experience resonates deeply as you navigate the complexities of aging while embracing the beauty that each season and each hike in the Pacific Northwest brings. The emergence of the trilliums this spring not only marks the change of seasons but also symbolizes the continual renewal of life amid the inevitable transitions we all face.

The way you intertwine the joys of witnessing nature's beauty with the poignant realities of aging within your community is touching. It serves as a reminder that while the vicissitudes of aging are undeniable, there is a profound beauty in experiencing life's cycles with friends who share similar paths. Lao Tzu’s philosophy of flowing with change rather than resisting it is a powerful guiding principle that seems to offer comfort and perspective amidst these changes.

It’s heartening to see how these ancient words provide solace and inspiration, helping to view the natural progression of life not just as a series of challenges but as an opportunity to engage with the world in new, meaningful ways. Thank you for sharing your journey and these reflections. They not only enrich your own experiences but also those of us fortunate enough to read your insights.