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, May 26, 2024

Feeling purple

Purple flags

 I suppose I should probably put up a flag or banner to mark Memorial Day, but instead I'll just share here a picture of some purple iris flags instead, hoping that maybe it will be sufficient to convey my current state of mind. Yes, Memorial Day is an important holiday, one that should be marked with plenty of fanfare, but I live in a town that is completely taken over this weekend by the Ski to Sea race, a multi-sport relay race that starts at the Mt. Baker ski area and ends at Marine Park in Fairhaven. I have never joined the race, but a couple of times I volunteered to put packets together and went twice to the finish line, watching the kayakers (the final leg) pull their kayaks out of the water and stagger to the finish in order to clang the bell to end the race for their team.

Usually each team has one participant for each of the seven events, with two canoe paddlers, but the others race individually in their segment. It has the following events, following a race map that shows the entire race:

A Ski to Sea team consists of three to eight racers competing in seven different sports: Cross Country Ski, Downhill Ski/Snowboard, Running, Road Bike, Canoe (2 paddlers), Cyclocross Bike, and Sea Kayak. Beginning in 2018, racers will be allowed to participate in up to three legs on race day, for one team or multiple teams. Teams will have a minimum of three racers and a maximum of eight. The Race course runs through the towns of Glacier, Maple Falls, Kendall, Everson, Lynden, and Ferndale, finishing at Marine Park in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham.

When I first moved to Bellingham, I was an active skydiver and would leave town early Sunday and drive south to Snohomish, where I could spend the day playing in the air with fellow skydivers. I saw the enormous number of cars filled with race participants heading the opposite direction on the highway. That is almost a decade ago, since I made my last skydive in 2015. Since then, I've mostly stayed away from the incredible crowds of revelers. Blasting music, lots of beer, and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds just never have been my thing. If you want to see what it's like, you can check it all out by mid-week on this link.

 This year's event sold out in March, with 500 teams competing at all levels, from recreational to elite competition. The same teams seem to win year after year, and they have come up with some delightful team names, which I enjoy perusing online. I found these gems: Kicked in the Nooksack, Gang Green, Lumberjills, Beer Runs Downhill, Dukes of Haphazard, and many more. (The Nooksack River is part of the race course.)

These days, I do my best to skirt around the mayhem and stay close to home. This past week I spent many hours mourning the loss of my right eye's central vision, and will be seeing a retina specialist before I write here next week. I have researched the two different treatments that are now available for geographic atrophy, which is the end stage of macular degeneration. I am so hoping that the injections will be available to me to save my other eye, and that my insurance will cover at least part of the expense. Both require monthly eye injections but work in different ways. Neither treatment can restore what has been lost, but the hope is that the shots will slow the progression. This treatment has been around for less than a year, but there is no time to waste if I am not going to become completely, legally blind. Left eye, I am crossing my fingers for a good outcome for you!

And thinking of my family and friends who are no longer with us, on this weekend when we remember those who served and paid the ultimate price, I salute you. And I am very happy to still be around to celebrate the holiday this year. I found this quote from Obama that says it all for me:

We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense. —Barack Obama

 There are so many things to be grateful for today, and I should focus on those things rather than what I am losing. There are many worse situations that people find themselves in, and I am not the first person to go blind, my probable future. I can hike and walk in the beautiful environment in which I live, and I have a warm place to shelter in and a wonderful partner to share my life with. A place with a great bus system, and ways to get almost anywhere I need to go without driving. A really outstanding Senior Center with plenty of activities, people to interact with, and a plethora of hiking buddies to join me at every level. When I look at all my blessings, I definitely feel appreciative.

I also acknowledge that nothing stays the same, we all are a week older than when we met here last week, and that everything moves on through the river of time in which we exist. I am grateful for it all, and I wish there was some way to expand my own good life to encompass the entire world. And even if this environment were to change for the worse, I have been incredibly lucky so far. My heart is full, and I am almost ready to spring from my bed and begin the rest of my day, looking forward to a visit with my friend John during our Sunday breakfast, and coming home and visiting with my life partner. What's not to like? I wish you, my dear virtual family, every good thing that life has to offer. Be well until we meet again.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Losing faculties one by one

Brilliant pink flowers at the harbor

I needed a good mood elevator yesterday morning, when I went for a nice walk at the harbor with my friend Steve. He left early so he could get to a breakfast meeting, and Don was obviously busy elsewhere, so I was alone for much of the time. It was really quite cool, with the temperature not reaching 50°F and a cold wind blowing off the water made it seem even colder.

That said, I ended up walking more than five miles, and it really did make me feel better. As I mentioned before, my AMD (age-related macular degeneration) is continuing to progress. I went on Friday to have my eyes dilated and checked, and it was the first time since I have been going annually that, with my right eye, I couldn't even see the image on the screen at all. I am definitely legally blind in that one, but my left eye is still 20/20. The atrophy has not yet reached my central vision there. My eye doctor said I am still capable of driving and continuing my activities, as long as I have one good eye. For now, that is what I have. It does explain why my depth perception doesn't work any longer: I essentially only have one good eye. Peripheral vision is not affected in either eye by this disease, but it's distressing to learn about the progression.

I knew it was happening; it's been gradually getting worse over the years, and with dry AMD, there has been no treatment. Until now, it seems: he told me he would refer me to a retina specialist, one I saw for years until they decided it wasn't useful, as they couldn't help me. Just recently a treatment has become available for dry AMD, to slow the progression of the atrophy. I will call them next week to see if they can set up an appointment. I also need to find out if my insurance will cover some part of it as well. With new stuff like this, it's possible it's not yet available. I'll find out. 

If I lose the ability to focus in my left eye, I will no longer be able to read anything at all, recognize faces, drive (obviously), or continue writing my blogs. That is a possible and probable future, but it's not inevitable. I spent some time walking around looking at things with just the one bad eye, and I realized that I could not be reading this at all, or typing without being able to check my spelling. I looked online for some possible magnifiers that can help me to some extent. Anyway, I managed to let myself get pretty discouraged yesterday, but yesterday morning's walk certainly helped my mood.

Let's see: hearing aids for my dwindling ability to hear, going blind, and the damaged ability to smell that came about because of a medication I took for years. I do have some things I can smell very well, mostly chemical aromas (unfortunately), but I  always stop to smell the flowers anyway, because I can still smell some of them, especially if they are in the sun. Roses, my favorite flower, are still able to delight my nose.

That leaves two senses still intact: my sensory and tactile ability, and my ability to taste. But one by one, I'm losing those wonderful senses, and it's really a little bit unsettling. Is this Nature's way of gently helping me to let go? Sometimes I do wonder.
You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. —Brian Tracy

Yes, I am in the process of trying to master the enormous change that I seem to be facing at the moment. And I know that I'm not the only one who has to figure out how to continue one's daily life when something happens that changes everything. There is a young woman I see who rides the bus daily. She is obviously completely blind and has a lovely support dog who helps her get around. I'm probably not going to live long enough to get to that state, but you never know what's ahead. A dog would not allow me to continue to read and write, though; and that is what I will miss the most, if it comes to that. 

I learned awhile ago that Judi Dench, the 88-year-old actor, continues to work, even with advanced AMD that no longer allows her to read scripts. She just finds a way to work around it, but she has a photographic memory, which helps. You know what they say about "where there's a will, there's a way." And yes, I can also control my attitude and learn to appreciate what's still possible. Once again, I researched all the ways one can slow the progression of AMD, and I have been doing them all for years now. Who knows what my eyesight would be if I hadn't done them? There's only one of me, so I can't do a study to learn the answer to that question.

As I sit here in the dark, with the illumination of the room that comes from my laptop screen, I can see well enough to be quite happy and content. But I also realize that nothing stays the same, and hopefully I can find a way to stop it. Having injections in my eyes (yes, that's how the new drug is administered) might be in my future, and if it helps I will endure it. If I get the chance, that is. Yesterday I had no idea that a treatment has come out, and I look forward to seeing if I qualify. You'll be one of the first to know. I can still read and write and will do everything I can to keep it that way.

What else is happening in my life? The days are growing longer and longer, and I now need the eye mask I bought last year in order to sleep before it gets dark. I have grown more tolerant of the sounds of summer that waft through the open windows, with the distant sound of playing children actually rather soothing. There's one kid who loves to scream, and that's a bit of a problem, but it doesn't happen every night. These kids, though, love to play until we can't see anything at all. I remember doing that as a kid, not wanting to stop and being reluctant to go inside.

This morning I will head to Fairhaven with John to have our Sunday breakfast together. I will continue to work the Wordle puzzle and Connections, two ways I have grown to enjoy the New York Times subscription I pay for every month. I also read several articles every day, and I really appreciate their Sunday offerings. There is always at least one good read. So that is what I will do once I return home after breakfast. I feel incredibly fortunate to have these activities available to me in the near future, and I'll do what I can to make that a reality for as long as possible.

My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and my tea is long gone. I will spend some time before I get out of bed to read the dozen blogs that have appeared in my news feed, and then I will begin the rest of my day. I do hope you will have a wonderful week ahead, and I look forward to finding out what's happening in your lives. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

A turbulent week

A pink trillium, almost gone

In the middle of this picture is a pink (dying) trillium, captured last Thursday on our hike to Lookout Mountain. They are pretty and white, these three-petaled flowers, until they are on their last legs, and they turn pink, then purple, and after that drop those petals onto the ground, waiting for next year's springtime to rejuvenate the next batch of three-petaled flowers. It takes a minimum of seven years for a trillium plant to finally flower at all, once they begin their journey to reproduce themselves, and each plant has only one flower each year.

It was truly a lovely week hiking in the wilderness this past week. On Tuesday, we went on a five-ish mile hike in the Hundred Acre Woods and over to the Chuckanut Falls overlook, in mild temperatures and in great company. Then, on Thursday, I joined the Senior Trailblazers Happy Wanderers group to hike around at least eight miles on Lookout Mountain. Both hikes did two things for my health: one, some elevation and exercise, and two, wonderful companions to visit with, enjoy and (in some cases) commiserate with. Both nighttime sleeps afterwards allowed me plenty of deep sleep to repair my aging body for yet more exercise in the late springtime environs around town.

I am happy and content in my life, although the world news brings me down if I let myself get too wrapped up in it. I try to keep myself engaged in positive pursuits so I don't lose perspective of all the wonderful moments I can enjoy every day.

And you know what today is? Mother's Day! Although my mother has been gone for more than thirty years, she is still very much present in my daily life. I think of her often and sometimes feel like I can even hear her voice, her laugh. And sometimes I realize it's just me laughing in the same way she did.
I want to say a little something that's long overdue, the disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I wanna offer my love and respect till the end. —Adam Yauch

My mother was a force to be reckoned with. She bore seven children and took care of us all, over the years, and must have read almost every book in every library we lived near. She literally would bring boxes of books home after each visit, and she would then sit down and go through each one, sometimes reading just a little of it (if it wasn't all that interesting) and other times read every single word and absorb every picture. I learned to appreciate how important reading is to one's education.

These days, my reading is mostly on my Kindle, because as my eyes age with macular degeneration, I can only spend a short time reading before words blur and I must stop for awhile. I can read on laptop and computer screens for longer, because the bright light behind the letters seems to help. Even then, I must stop for longer and longer periods of time to let my eyes recover. This is not a complaint, just an observation. I am an octogenarian, after all. The fact that I am still very active and my brain seems to be intact are causes for celebration.

Last week, I discovered a glitch on my other blog. Apparently I have a "corrupt post" that has caused my right sidebar to navigate to the bottom of my posts. I read everything about how to fix it, but so far I am unsuccessful. If you are reading my DJan-ity blog and want to "fix" it for the moment, you can click on the blog's title and the sidebar will magically appear where it's supposed to be. I will get this fixed, but it's not high on my to-do list. If anybody has any ideas, I'm listening. In the meantime, it's just another one of those little nuisances that tend to crop up when you're least expecting it.

And then there is that magnetic storm from the Sun that has caused incredible auroras to be visible much farther south on the continent than usual. I went to my favorite Facebook page, Seeing Bellingham, and marveled over the pictures that many regular readers captured of the last two nights of magnificent auroras. I didn't even try to stay up myself, because I was busy catching up on my sleep! And I figured that others would be up snapping pictures to share; I was right.

My mama and me

And on this wonderful, sunny, beautiful Mother's Day 2024. I can say that I am so happy to be alive right now, relatively healthy and active, and know that without a doubt the world will one day settle down into peace and tranquility. Until that day comes, I will do my best to facilitate it, from my own little corner of the world. And that world radiates out to so many places through this post, into your own little corner of the world, and we can surely feel the love we share. Dear friends, I wish you every good thing and hope to "see" you here again next week. Until then, be well.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Feeling gratitude

Crossing a small stream

 Helen took this picture of me as we were crossing a stream on our Blanchard Mountain hike last Thursday. It was a pretty hard hike for me, for some reason. Sometimes they seem fairly easy, and I've done this one dozens of times. During those pandemic years when I was only hiking with Melanie, we skipped the North Butte section, which is steep and adds a bit more elevation gain but rewards with a great view of Samish Bay. I wrote about it with pictures here, on my other blog. 

I was surprised to see this picture of myself, since it is nothing like what I think I look like. This could just as easily been a picture of a man, but it's really an elderly woman who no longer wears the trappings of femininity to accent her femaleness. What difference does it make anyway? Today, my guy and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. When we got married in freefall thirty years ago today, neither of us believed we would make it this far. Both of us were in our fifties, it just didn't seem likely that three decades later we would still be together, and doing really well in the life we have created.

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. —Simone Signoret

We met through skydiving. I was at the beginning of my journey, with only a few hundred jumps under my belt, and he had retired (he thought) after thousands of them. He was writing about his experiences on a newsgroup about skydiving, which I had recently discovered. When I read some of his writing, I knew I wanted to meet this person, thinking he might be able to help me understand this new thrilling activity that consumed me so completely. We began an email correspondence, which continued to evolve, until one day we began calling each other on the phone. We happened to be the same age, and during the time when we learned so much about each other, we still had not met.

One day he made the decision to fly from his home in San Francisco to mine in Boulder, Colorado. We were so sure we would know the person that we passed each other as people exited the plane, not realizing we had such different ideas of who we were. But we finally connected and spent three days together, getting to know one another. It was not the romantic encounter I expected, but we did learn that we both wanted to continue our exploration of the long-distance relationship. These days, lots of people met their partners online, but we were ahead of our time. 

Eventually, he made the decision to quit his job and move to Colorado. Our early days were very rocky; he moved into the home of a friend of mine as we learned more about each other. He began to skydive again, and he joined me in freefall and taught me everything he knew, much of which I think made me a much safer skydiver. When I think back to those early days, I could not have imagined that thirty years later, we would be so completely content, and to have managed to craft such a wonderful relationship out of our bond.

On our ten-year anniversary, we jumped out of an airplane together to celebrate. And between our first ten-year anniversary and our second, we moved away from Colorado and found our new lives in retirement in the Pacific Northwest. I was still skydiving, occasionally, but he had stopped once again. By the time skydiving was all behind us, I had made over four thousand skydives, and he had around the same number, most of which were before we met.

When we moved here in 2008, I took up hiking once again, as I had been very involved in the outdoors before skydiving took me on such a tangent, and for the past sixteen years, I have continued to enjoy the beautiful countryside and made many friends through the local Senior Center. It has never been a passion of his, but on our second ten-year anniversary, we hiked to Fragrance Lake, one of my favorite places. We gazed out over Bellingham Bay from the viewpoint, and then headed back home. Today I have ordered a couple of pizzas from one of my favorite restaurants, and we will enjoy a repast together in our own kitchen.

Thirty years ago today

And we will continued to enjoy our life together for as many more years as we can. But the possibility of another ten-year anniversary is quite dubious, since we are now both well into our eighties. And my eyesight continues to deteriorate, which means that one of these days I will become legally blind. He continues to maintain his health after having had a stroke and developed a blood cancer, which is currently stable. But it's not likely that we will still be in such good shape as we are today. But who knows? More unlikely things have happened. In the meantime, I will cherish each day, each year that passes that I share with my dear partner. Life is such an adventure, isn't it?

And now I have completed this Sunday task of writing a post and sharing it with you, my dear virtual family. He still sleeps quietly next to me, and I sit here composing this post in the dark, thinking of the day ahead. My friend John will soon come to take me off to breakfast, and when I return home for the first of several heartfelt hugs with my honey, I'll be once again feeling gratitude for all my incredible good fortune. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.