Wednesday, May 27, 2009


See that little girl? That's me in 1944 or 1945, depending on how old you think I am in the picture (I'm thinking 1945, but I have a hard time deciding if I'm two or three). The Packard in the background might be good for a clue, but I suspect we'd had it for a while. That's my mother, frowning as she's fixing up some problem, while I geek the camera. Daddy was taking the picture, I'm sure.

I have always considered myself to be blessed. I was a happy child, and since Mama is not obviously pregnant, my sister Norma Jean must be somewhere in this picture. Unless I'm two, and Mama is newly expecting (we are 2 years 9 months apart in age).

This picture awakens all kinds of emotions in me. I just read a post about loneliness, and I realized that yes, I've experienced that feeling, but look at that little girl. She sure didn't know what it was then. She's loved, cherished, cared for, and grew up to be... me, 64 years later.

Now I feel compassion for her, and for all the innocents in the world, who don't know what is coming. None of us knows, of course, but when I think of the myriad life situations I've experienced, and who I am today, well, am I a composite of all that has happened to me and of my genetic makeup? If so, who am I now?

I am still a cheeky broad. I notice that my eyes smile in the same way, 64 years later (all crinkly). Now I have droopy eyelids, but when I was two, it was because I was happy and believed that the universe revolved around me.

Today, my heart aches for all the pain and suffering in the world. When I was little, I didn't know such things happened as what occurred today in Pakistan, with literally hundred of people killed and injured by someone angry enough to blow themselves up in the middle of a crowd. How does one have compassion for that? I am hurting today, not because I am physically hurt, but because my heart and soul long for peace and joy for all people in the world, and we are continuing to suffer and die. And kill each other for reasons that I cannot comprehend. But then again, I am privileged and the world directly surrounding me is relatively peaceful.

Now, I know very well this has been going on in the world for as long as there have been people. But I don't have to like it, and I am sending out a prayer that somehow I find compassion and understanding. Monks sitting in caves in deep meditation, having renounced the world, might be able to understand... but maybe this psychic pain is what drove them into that cave. There is nowhere for me to hide and lose myself.

I am asking you, my dear friends, to add your prayer to mine. If enough of us can open our hearts and minds, is it possible to make even the tiniest difference? I hope so. But here is an Emily Dickinson poem, written in 1862, that succinctly sums up my mood.
It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down -
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos - crawl -
Nor Fire - for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool -

And yet, it tasted like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine -

As if my life where shaven,
and fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some -

When everything that ticked - has stopped -
and Space stares all around -
Or Grisly frosts - first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground -

But, most, like Chaos - Stopless - cool -
Without a Chance, or Spar -
Or even a Report of Land -
To justify - Despair.
Having experienced childhood, youth, motherhood, loss, middle age, and now moving into old age, I feel myself moving toward a place that is just now beginning to coalesce out of the ether. It still doesn't have a name, or a strong reality, but nevertheless, I feel that I am moving toward a new understanding of compassion.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pacific Skydivers

Today (Sunday) Skratch and I crossed the border into Canada to visit Pacific Skydivers in Pitt Meadows, Canada (just down the road a piece from Vancouver). We went to avoid the crowds coming into Bellingham for its signature outdoor event, the Ski to Sea race, held today. This amazing 90-mile relay race has teams of eight people who execute one of 7 legs: it starts at the Mt. Baker ski area, with a cross-country ski leg, a downhill segment (ski or snowboard after slogging UP the slope), a racing bike segment, a mountain bike segment, road running, a canoe team (this is the only place where there are two participants), and finally finishing with a kayaker who comes into Marine Park in Fairhaven, here in Bellingham. Wow! Since we were not participating, we decided to avoid the spectators and the 400-plus teams.

We made two jumps each out of the fast King Air that has just returned from California to the Pacific Skydivers Drop Zone. We zipped up to altitude (13,000 feet) in maybe ten minutes and jumped out into the air over the beautiful Fraser River Valley. How could we be so lucky as to have TWO wonderful drop zones within about an hour's drive? Bellingham has many virtues, and this is a meaningful one for us.

When I lived in Boulder, the Bolder Boulder was the primo outdoor event held every Memorial Day, with more than 40,000 runners finishing last year. There is a wonderful memorial that includes a skydive into the event by the Mile-Hi Skydivers, where I spent the vast majority of my skydiving career. This year is the 31st running of the event, and I think I might have run in 8 or 10 of them myself. When I first started skydiving, I would run the Bolder Boulder and then get in my car and drive to the Drop Zone so I could watch my friends jump into the stadium.

Today, however, I was hosted by Pacific Skydivers for my jumps (say hello to Debbie and Ian Flanagan, DZOs). It's almost incredible to me that although today's skydives with Skratch were fun, and landing was fun, nowhere can I resurrect the thrill that coursed through me during my first 100, 500, even 1,000 jumps. At this point, although I enjoy the experience, it's just not life changing like it was. I go over my emergency procedures, ready for whatever might happen that is out of the ordinary, and then nothing out of the ordinary happens, and I become complacent again.

Next week I'll probably go south to visit Snohomish, because Linny will be there, my favorite person to jump with these days. But today, I had a super wonderful time with my partner, following him down to the landing area after playing in the sky together. The incredible blue sky (where are the clouds?), the mountains, the water, friends, and satisfaction after a day well spent.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. So many things and people for me to remember. Those who are gone from this life, those who mean so much to me who are alive and kicking today (especially my family, some of whom are gathered in Texas for Megan's wedding), those who gather together in the place in my heart, I honor you all on this Memorial Day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Skydiving, skunks, and space

That's Skratch and me on Sunday, coming in for our landings at Harvey Field in Snohomish. I'm in the front, both of us under our Stiletto canopies. That was Skratch's first in a while (see previous post), and I made three wonderful jumps with Linnie and friends, who is the most fun person I've jumped with in a while. She's over 60 herself and has created lots of jumps for low timers and low-key jumps for those of us who can't remember points any more (points are different formations you make with your skydiving friends in freefall).

I learned some fun things about Linnie yesterday. I already knew that in the many years she has jumped at Snohomish, she has never once shown up without some homemade goodie. Yesterday it was Rice Krispy cookies (yum!). Each time we went to the airplane to board, she had a few cookies and a dollar for the pilot. Turns out that she has always done this: she gives the pilot a dollar and says that she will ask for it back if he scares her. (She has only asked for it back once.) She never fails to do this, and she is usually the one who spots, because she's great at it, knowing all the ins and outs of the upper and lower winds. I just love jumping with Linnie. We had a great day.

That's the skydiving part of the title. The skunk part is really weird: I went out the door today for an eye doctor appointment and saw the most amazing scene on the front lawn: a huge skunk (and I mean huge) with a glass jar on its head. It was wandering around trying to figure out what to do: it could obviously see through the glass but couldn't get it off. I ran back into the apartment and called Skratch out to watch, and I reluctantly left for my appointment. When I got home, Skratch said he lost sight of the skunk and didn't know what happened to it. I did find out that one of our long-time apartment dwellers tried to help the skunk, going so far as trying to pull the glass off, until the skunk showed signs of distress (!) and she ran away. She called animal control and the police department; nobody wanted to help. I suppose the skunk will die because it can't eat or drink anything. It must have been rooting around and found the fateful glass jar with some tasty morsel deep within.

The space segment of the title has two parts. This weekend was the annual Welding Rodeo here in Bellingham. Every year there is a two-day-long welded sculpture competition, which works like this: Friday is amateur day, with teams made up of welding students, high school and/or college level, and on Saturday the professional teams compete. They are given a junkyard full of scrap metal and several hours to create a sculpture that is auctioned off at the end of the rodeo. Each year there is a different theme; this year's was "SPACE." We went over on Saturday and saw what the amateurs had created. My favorite was an artistic see-through globe, with continents and a molten core showing through, an orbiting space ship, and what looked to me like rings with rocks welded onto them, like maybe space debris. We watched the professionals working away for a while. (The link should carry photos of all the entries before too long.)

The second segment of Space is the Atlantis space shuttle mission, which has just finished all its work on the Hubble telescope as of today! It has been a wonderful and exciting mission, and we have access here to a link through the University of Washington in Seattle to watch all the space walks. (A certain someone is a little addicted to watching, and it's not me.)

And now on this rainy Monday evening, after three wonderful days of sun and adventure, I am grateful for so many things: living here in the Pacific Northwest, still having the ability to play in freefall with my friends, and feeling a little sad about the skunk out there somewhere near me who is destined to perish for reasons he doesn't understand.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Waiting to jump

Days never end like you think they are supposed to. This one, however, was more so than usual. Skratch and I got up this morning, sure that we would head to the Drop Zone in Snohomish and make some jumps. He promised Elaine that he would make his first jump back with her, after he had been a couple of years away from skydiving, and I came along to document the proceedings. She recently returned to jumping after a year and a half break for childbirth. The picture above shows the Caravan on the left, waiting for jumpers, and the 182 on the right waiting for a wayward jumper. The silhouetted jumper on the couch is just hanging out waiting for his load.

Aside: Star, thanks for the comments about blog names, and the possibility of "The Skydiving Chronicles." But today really showed me how far in the past the skydiving chronicles really are.

Yes, I made a jump, and it was wonderful. But when you have already accumulated more than 63 HOURS in freefall, a jump is, well, a little bit... familiar. I felt the usual butterflies on the way up, looked out at the spectacular views of Puget Sound and the various mountain ranges, figured out my exit order and talked to the guy jumping out after me and made sure we were doing compatible stuff. He asked me where I planned to exit, and I asked him for his help, since I wasn't sure. He suggested exiting right over the lumber yard, which I did. We looked out together, and then I leaped into the air.

Brisk, not cold. Freefall position stable, terminal velocity reached. I look down and see Highway 9 running north and south below me and start tracking due south. A little moderate track, then putting on the afterburners. Nice and stable. Altitude check. What?! Still at 10.7? OK, what now? More tracking, a backflip (not too much of that, since I promised I would stay on my belly). A look around, first at the Sound, then 180 degrees around to the mountains. Beautiful!! A shout of gratitude and for sheer joy. Beepbeepbeep... another altitude check, and it's time to pitch. A quick wave-off, and I reach for my hackey, find it, and throw it into the air.

Whump! I look up, and my beautiful Stiletto is carving quickly to the left (closed end cells). Before I have a chance to react, I'm flying straight. Looking down, I see that the landing area is right below me, and I need to bleed off some altitude before I start into the pattern. Oh, there he is (my fellow jumper), down below me. Great, I can watch his approach and follow it, which I do. I land close to him, nice standup landing (although I flared just a touch too high, should have let the canopy fly a bit longer before finishing the flare). On the ground. Jump finished, a truly wonderful experience.

Skratch watched the whole thing, getting ready for his jump with Elaine. It's after 1:00pm, and they are supposed to meet at 3:00. He's got his gear together, he's ready. I wish he would jump with me, but he promised Elaine, so we wait. I pack up my gear, change the closing loop, glad for my new dacron lines (which slow down the opening to accommodate my aging bones). I see Skratch adjusting his goggles. Time passes, 3:00 gets here. No Elaine. We discuss what to do, because I can see clearly that his resolution is beginning to waver. He's getting past the place where he wants to jump, I can see it in his eyes. 3:30, no Elaine. He calls her and leaves a message, and a few minutes later she walks up, babysitter was late. But he has already released her, released the jump, and decided not to jump today.

We have a long and illuminating conversation, the three of us, but decide to reschedule. Once Skratch had girded his loins for the jump, the fragile moments when he began to put everything away, thinking that today is not the day, the moment for him to jump was gone. To make a jump, you need to be totally, one hundred percent, present and willing.

I was disappointed, but I saw that for some people, a schedule and a commitment might indeed cause the event to happen, but he is not one of those people. I need a schedule and a place to be every day (which is why I attend a daily workout class), because without it I would never get to the gym, I would flail. But he, on the other hand, chafes against a schedule. We are all so different, but it's clear to me that what needed to happen today did happen, but it wasn't a jump by Skratch and Elaine. It was a clarification of the place that skydiving occupies in my life, in my husband's life, and it's not what it once was.

And that's really okay. But if not "The Skydiving Chronicles," then what?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's in a name?

Yesterday I rode the bus home from the gym and saw a sign that said, "Collison Auto Repair." Hey, I said to myself, I wonder if that person is related to Linda Collison. Today, noticing the sign again, I saw an extra "i" in the sign, changing it to "Collision Auto Repair." Oh. Hmm. I wonder how I missed that last time I looked at it.

Names. What are they, exactly? Take my name. I'll bet you might have wondered who "DJan" is, and how did she get that name? Well, my "real" name is Dorothy Jan, first name is one I've never used, and "Jan" what my family called me when I grew up. Turns out that my paternal grandmother, whose name was "Dorothy," snuck into the hospital records and wrote her name in front of the first and last names that my mother had given me. Mama didn't see a need for a middle name. When she found out what my grandmother had done, she was livid, and refused ever to call me by "that" name. (On my birth certificate, lest you think she exaggerated, it shows my first name written in at an angle.)

As I grew older and grew tired of always explaining that, yes, my first name is Dorothy but I don't use it, decided to try to add the first initial to my name, making it DJan. For a while I put a period in there between them, but after a while decided I like the look of it without. I tell people that I answer to "Jan" or "DJan" but not "Dorothy" or (gack!) "Dottie." Who knew that Dorothy would become either Dotty or Dolly?

I want to change the name of my blog. When I started it, it was only in order to post comments on other people's existing blogs. But now it's become a BIG DEAL to change it, because after all, everybody looks at the other blogs to see who is really cool and who's already gotten the name you wanted. I follow "The Retirement Chronicles" now, written by an ex-nurse who retired last year two months after I did, and she does a great job. (She's also got over a hundred followers, already! But she's worth it. I'm one.)

Some of the names that I've come up with are "Sea Change" (I like that, having moved to the west coast after retirement); "Amethyst Rembrance" after an Emily Dickinson poem I love; "DJan's Diversions" (leaving the first part of the name the same so people will know it's me); and a couple others that don't bear mentioning here.

Just one aside: my birds are giving me grief. One just flew into the window, bonking himself silly, as I sit here writing; others have become Crow Bait (that crow sure liked the taste of bird he got here last week); sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for the seamy side of life and death. I know things are not all rainbows and flowers, and I really really want to be part of the solution to pain and suffering, not add more of it to the world. So I keep feeding the birds, making sure they are getting what they need from me and not mothering them too much, grieving over the predators but also thanking them for keeping my other birds healthy.

Life is really not so easy, is it?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flowers everywhere

Washington state "rhodies" are in bloom everywhere, and in every color. I can hardly believe how beautiful these flowers are. Today it is around 60 degrees, so I walked around in the sun and went to the Farmer's Market. These were taken in someone's front yard.
At the market, I saw these two women buying bouquets of lilacs, which, as you can see, are out in full force for Mother's Day (tomorrow). The market is busy, I mean bustling with vendors, customers, children, musicians, jugglers. You would never have known today that there is a recession going on. Everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying the sunshine. One thing you really don't realize in a place that has abundant sunshine all the time: what a joy it is when the sun comes out after days of rain. And it's so lush!

Some friends here in Bellingham laugh at me when I stop and look at the moss-covered trees. To me it's amazing:
A living tree! Covered with moss! Look at that! You also can't tell which direction north is by looking at the tree, either, since there's moss everywhere. (This picture was taken last fall, which is why the leaves are turning. I'll have to take a picture of this tree in the summer when we travel up to the Mt. Baker wilderness.)

I love the weather up here. Years and years of brilliant sunshine have made it easy, at least for now, to enjoy the mist and the rain. And the times when the sun comes out to play.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crows and Squirrels

This morning I saw that one of my pine siskins was sick, huddled in the feeder with head tucked away. The other birds paid little attention and didn't seem to care (but I guess they don't, do they?).

I care, and as I filled the bird feeders, I left the little sick one alone, hoping that with good water and food maybe he would get better. It's possible, although siskins are susceptible to salmonella and sometimes die off in large numbers. I keep my feeders clean and when I see a sick one I use bleach water to clean, more often than usual. I watched him and wondered how I could make him more comfortable. He hopped weakly over to the water and then sat motionless in the middle of the porch.

While I sat inside sending thoughts of healing to the bird, a big crow flew up to the railing and eyed the little bird. I immediately went out to the porch and sent the crow packing. It was obvious to me that he saw an opportunity for a quick meal.

I also have an ongoing kerfuffle with the squirrels. They want that birdseed for themselves, and since they cannot reach the feeders (but they sure try), they come onto the porch looking for droppings underneath the feeders -- and those birds do cooperate; when they are on the feeders, seeds are a-flyin'. We have a whole family of squirrels visiting us. I was on the porch shooing away the squirrels when I saw the little sick bird on the ground. The crow had returned, and he swooped down, put his great huge foot on the little creature and scooped up the bird in his beak. Just my luck to see it... if I had not seen it, I could have believed that my little bird recovered.

But he was carried off to an adjoining roof for a feast. Now the crow seems to think he's found a place to catch other birds, since he's been back many times since, sitting in the tree and watching the birds eat and play. The crow flies away with a long swooping arc, his wingspread close to three feet. Now I know where all those spooky stories about ravens and crows come from: they are opportunistic feeders and apparently never forget a food site. Well, I don't think he can catch a healthy bird.

Too bad they don't eat squirrels.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


My table setting, the ambience, does not hold a candle to my dear friend Linda's, but at her request, I have added a picture of our wineglasses, mine with "T'ga za Jug," and Skratch's with soymilk, which he took up a few years ago instead of spirits. We did cook that salmon (but not a lot!) and added a few greens, beets, and ate the whole thing with our customary chopsticks!

Not exactly what you could call kosher but very definitely eclectic. It was a wonderful feast, and I topped mine off with a little bit of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra, which I highly recommend.

We both got into the habit of eating with sticks when we went off for several extended trips to China, and while there you better know how to use them, even with noodles, or you're really gonna have difficulty getting enough to eat. I do know some people who carried a fork with them, but once you get used to chopsticks, they are simple and easy to use. Here's a little information about that Macedonian wine:

From the Tikves website: The name “T’ga za Jug,” which translates as “longing for the south,” is taken from a historically significant poem by Konstantin Miladinov, considered to be the founder of modern Macedonian poetry.

As for the wine itself, T’ga za Jug is a deep purple-red in appearance with a bouquet of red berries, cinnamon, and subtle oak. Reminiscent of an Italian barbera, T’ga za Jug has a good acidity, strawberry and cherry flavors, and a touch of black pepper on the finish. Great choice with food or poetry!!!

So, Linda, take notice: poetry and this wine go very well together, and since you seem to be on a poetry roll lately, let me know if you find this wine and order it, and what you think of it.

Happy anniversary to us!

This picture was taken exactly five years ago today, our tenth wedding anniversary. Since we got married jumping out of an airplane, for our tenth we decided to jump out of a Cessna 206 just as we had ten years earlier. Today, we will spend our special day here in the Pacific Northwest sharing a lovely salmon dinner and bringing out our very special crystal glasses given to us by Linda and Bob 15 years ago. I'll open one of the bottles of Macedonian wine I brought back.

And who knows? Maybe for our twentieth anniversary we will again pull out the old gear and leap into the warm air over Puget Sound. If life gives us the chance, and we have the willingness, well, who knows? Good day to all, from the windy and blustery Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Springtime, lean time

Ah, spring! After sweeping up the birdseed off the front porch, I walked out in the early morning light to take a picture of the beautiful flowering cherry tree in "our" front yard. That's our rented apartment top left, on the south side. You can see six of the 24 apartments in this picture. The complex extends northwards, 12 on the top, 12 on the bottom. Some have two bedrooms, others have one (we have a two-bedroom, with almost 1,000 square feet, enough for the two of us, especially with that ten-foot-wide covered porch). We walk through three of the porches to gain access to our apartment. The end porches are the only ones that could be considered private. We also have a back door and a smaller porch on the back of the apartment.

We just received our annuity income assessment for the next year and found that we will be receiving 20% less. We put all our retirement funds into annuities and when the economy went bad, we figured there was nothing to do but wait it out. With our annuities, we can move assets from one to another, but nothing was safe. It could have been worse; I know people who lost half their annuity income, and we will be okay, partly because we have a nice rented apartment, enough income to pay the bills, but not enough to feel "well-to-do."

I might have to think about budgeting, if it gets really tight. Keeping us in fresh veggies, the birds in birdseed, and devising ways to keep the squirrels off the porch will occupy my time for the immediate future. My monthly gym cost is paid through April 2010. That, and my Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers (only cost is sharing the gas and bringing a treat for my fellow hikers) is enough to keep this senior happy. I might not be able to skydive as much as I would otherwise, but I'm gradually moving away from that activity anyway.

It seems that health is the truest measure of wealth. Exercising in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the ability to hike around in the Chuckanuts and the Mount Baker wilderness areas, well... I am not complaining. Instead, I am counting my blessings.