Trying to Stay in Shape

Judging from the sheer number of posts, you might guess I spend most of my life on vacation and birding. As much as I’d like that to be accurate, it’s not.  Actually, we’ve spent far too little time vacationing for the last three years.  

I suspect I might have spent most of my time sitting on my exercise ball staring at the computer monitor, but, mercifully, I have no way of tracking that. 

I do, however, have a way of measuring the time I’ve spent exercising, thanks to my Apple Watch, my iPhone and an app.  I was pleasantly shocked at the results after installing “Fitness Stats” a few months ago.  If I’d been told at the beginning of the year that I would have to walk 817 miles, much less 1,749,187 steps, to stay in shape I would have thought that was an impossible goal and might have given up before I started.

Since I have loved walking as long as I can remember, the 10,940 miles of walking and (sort of) running don’t particularly surprise me (especially since it includes most of our hiking miles). It’s only recently that I discovered that Apple had added a “hiking” category so the numbers in that category are way too low.  

I don’t love exercise, per se, but I don’t absolutely hate it, and I’m willing to exercise regularly so that I can continue to hike and bird.   

The largest missing category, perhaps because this app was written before Apple added Tai Chi as a category, is Tai Chi.  Leslie helps lead a Tai Chi class M/W/F, and I also practice Qi Jong exercises at home semi-regularly. 

I regularly try to fit in either weight lifting or a half-hour walk while Leslie teaches Tai Chi Swords. When I was younger, stronger, and more flexible, I preferred Yoga to Tai Chi, and still fall back on it when my back is bothering me. Now I generally prefer Tai Chi’s gentler, more meditative approach to exercise.  So, a good part of those 320 exercise hours was probably devoted to Tai Chi.

I would like to believe some recent studies that indicate that “adults over 65 who did strength training two to six times per week lived longer than those who did less than two, according to study author Dr. Bryant Webber, an epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” but, considering that I nearly died of throat cancer at 57 when I might have been in the best shape of my life, hiking up to 25 miles per day in the Columbia Gorge and The Cascades three days a week with Bill Wastradowski, I don’t have much faith that being in shape will ward off cancer or other ailments.

I have always tried to stay in shape, but now that I’m retired I spend more time exercising than I ever have before, except, perhaps, when I was in the army and played football, baseball, and even some basketball in addition to doing PT six days a week. 

I’m not totally unaware of the irony that despite all this exercise I’m probably half as strong as I used to be while exercising twice as much.  

I’d be tempted to say that my time might be better spent reading all the books I have sitting in my den if my mind didn’t seem half as sharp as it used to be.  

Colorado, Finally

I finally got my long-anticipated trip to visit the Colorado Websters.  Although it was a hectic week for everyone, we managed to get there in time to see Sydney’s Saturday afternoon game and her Sunday morning game.  It’s been over two years since I last saw Sydney play soccer, and I was a little surprised by how improved she was.  When I last saw her, she was a defender, not a wing player.  More importantly, she plays a lot more aggressively now than she used to.

I would have loved to have seen her get a goal, but sometimes the ball was just a little too far away to chase down 

and this shot was about an inch too high, hitting the upper crossbar and bouncing away.

While a goal would have provided a nice highlight to the game, I was impressed by Sydney’s aggressive play.

In most of Sunday’s game, she was paired up against number 9 on the other team, and it was clear neither of them was going to let the other get the advantage.

The referees called the game rather loosely, and I suspect that there might have been a foul somewhere in this play, but nobody appeared to get hurt and it was exciting to watch how competitive the two teams were.

Sydney’s team ended up winning the game, and the tournament,  in a shootout, providing a nice end to our first weekend there.


I just finished reading the last of the poetry books I bought in Port Townsend a couple of years ago.  Both of these books are by local poets, but that is about the only thing they seem to have in common, except for a word I had never encountered before: “equipoise.”  In fact, I’m pretty sure that is why I bought Kathleen Halme’s Equipoise — that and the exquisite cover and eloquent fonts.  The other book is Songs for a Summons by David Guterson, who is best known for his novels, particularly Snow Falling on Cedars. Strangely enough, two of my favorite poems of his use “equipoise.”

I’ll have to admit it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t the intended audience for Halme’s poetry, though I might have been in college since she makes a number of references to Andrew Marvel’s poetry, and his “To My Coy Mistress” was one of my favorite poems in college.  At 79, I no longer see sexuality in everything around me, perhaps because at my age I’m searching for “equipoise.” That’s not to say, though, that I can’t still appreciate the cleverness of a poem like “Island Incarnation:”

Island Incarnation 

 I have seen a king snake whip and twist itself around 
 a longer rattlesnake, and when the other's 
 gorgeous hiss and length went limp, 
 as the moment spread itself out holy, 
 and the sea grass bristled a scraping lisp, 
 I have seen the king make straight 
 the long black wand of rattler and take her in headfirst: 
 a gradual assumption of saintly concentration, 
 until I have seen the very tip, the crenellated rattle 
 —black cowrie tossed back into the only ocean— 
 disappear inside the waves of snake.

Despite the fact that I have a phobia of snakes, or perhaps because I do, I was rather fascinated with this poem.  Having never witnessed such an event, I have no idea whether this is an accurate description of how a king snake kills a rattlesnake, but it definitely seems possible.  It’s also possible, but unlikely, that there are no sexual innuendoes in the poem but considering the sexual innuendoes found throughout the rest of the book that seems unlikely. If it were simply a factual recording of a king snake killing a rattler I wouldn’t have found it at interesting.  However, the poem reminds me of a number of blues songs I’ve liked in the past, like John Lee Hooker’s “Crawlin’ King Snake” or Johnny River’s “The Snake.” 

Though my phobia of snakes prevents me from personally seeing them as a phallic symbol, it’s certainly an ancient symbol, as suggested by the temptation in the Garden of Eden. I will have to admit that I’m a little put off by the literary/psychological tendency to see a phallic symbol in every object that looks vaguely like a penis, but the snake symbolism with its combination of attraction/fascination and attraction/repulsion is a powerful symbol. At 79 it’s easier to look back to see what effects sex/love and sex/desire have had on your life, both downright depressing  and uplifting. Someday I’ll tell you how I ended up in Vietnam by dating a very popular girl in college and how another girl saved me from depression and binge drinking after I returned.    

Songs for a Summons by David Guterson was my favorite of the two books. Though the collection as a whole didn’t seem compelling,  I identified with poems like 

 In the dark field,
 the question is the same.
 Desiring to sit and not sit
 in one place.

 And write nothing about birds
 with diaphanous wings,
 how slow the elderly beneath spangled trees—
 how thoughtful their retreat.

 One bottomless pot.
 But I can’t keep Dogen from my thoughts,
 Tu Fu taking impressions of ferns,
 the birds again,

 hemlock tops, stockbrokers in a sunlit corner.
 The shadow of my pen
 meets the words, Authentic peace is possible.
 On the far hill, rain over view houses.


where Guterson seems to be grappling with Yin and Yang, doing and not doing because those are issues I have been struggling with recently.  After a lifetime of “doing,” of being as active as possible and trying to accomplish as much as I could in the limited time I had, it seems wrong to just sit, doing nothing even if I feel calmer and more relaxed when doing so. I’ve walked or hiked my whole life, but it in the past usually I was concerned with how far I could hike or whether I could reach the top of a mountain.  I walked and hiked to get, and stay, in shape. I still do partially for the same reason, but since I can no longer reach the top of the mountain I’ve learned to revel in the peace I sense just being there.  Birding has been both the result and the cause of becoming more aware of my surroundings.

Unfortunately,  believing authentic peace is possible does not ensure that you will find it and reside in it.

“Tension of Equipose:”  

 Dispassionate equality of sunrise and sunset,
 rose thorn and stigma,
 and from an unlit house, the visible dawn.

 Between I depend on habits,
 on the timely appearance of shadows
 and ghosts, and on poems.

 No past or future,
 but still l want to feed my dog
 to have done what must be done.

 Yesterday, l was drawn to land.
 Buffeted by sleep, that steep intervention,
 today I’m drawn to water.

 Up from the well now,
 in this second half of life.
 Today I’m pushed forward and drawn back.

Equipose is defined as “a counterbalance or balancing force.”  The Taoist Yin Yang symbol 

illustrates equipose and the tension that exists between those perfectly balanced forces. Ideally the yin and the yang are perfectly balanced.  If that’s possible, and I’m not sure it is, it is a dynamic balance that’s hard to attain and even harder to sustain.   Ideally, you live in the moment, but how do you live fully in the moment if you don’t fully understand your past and come to terms with it?  What would this moment be like if you had never planned for the future? Equipose is a worthy goal,  but life’s demands  (feeding the dog, washing the dishes, preparing the meal) constantly pull us in different directions.  

Everything Falls Away Eventually

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have than its imminent loss.  I’ll have to admit that, despite all the work we’ve put into it in the last few years, I seldom take advantage of the opportunity to admire our yard.  It wasn’t until the recent weather forecast for freezing temperatures that I took the time to go out and photograph some of the plants and flowers still growing strong.

And it wasn’t until I was looking through the lens of my camera that I appreciated the beauty of the leaves on this annual that Leslie planted.  Who needs flowers when you look this good all the time?

Anyone who visits regularly knows that my favorite spot in Pt. Defiance is the dahlia garden, so it probably comes as no surprise that I had to buy some of my own.  I bought a three-pack from Territorial Gardens in late winter.  I wasn’t sure when to plant them, so this variety struggled mightily at the beginning, looking like it was going to fall victim to the slugs while the other two steadily climbed skyward.  In the end, though, it was the healthiest of the three and had far more flowers than the other two.

My favorite flower of the three is this one, but such beauty must come at a heavy price because there was never more than one or two flowers on the plant at a time and they faded more quickly than the other two plants.