Solo Holidays Aren’t So Bad!

It is another deep winter sunrise this Christmas Eve morning and I’m enjoying the slowly increasing light as viewed through the thick layer of condensation on the base of my office window. With an external temperature of -9.9°F (-23.3°C) such condensation on double pane window glass in this area is typical although getting a fire going in the new wood stove will help dry out my humble abode and minimize the condensation. We have not seen double digit outdoor temps since December 20th so it has been a bit cool of late here in Talkeetna.

While staring out my window and marveling at the beauty of the below zero landscape I was reminded of some concerns voiced by some of my well-meaning friends regarding spending the ‘holidaze’ with only the ‘kidz’. In particular one friend was actually worried about me which I found touching but also a waste of her concern. This started me thinking about the whole ‘holidays with family and friends’ routine and why some folks cannot imagine spending said times alone while others find it preferable. I most likely fall in between these two extremes with a definite leaning towards the latter.

I acknowledge the historical preference to spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family and friends and, indeed, for the first forty years of my life I was always with at least my parents and sometimes one or more siblings. But as families ‘age’ there is a tendency to move apart; many develop families of their own and in addition being part of the ‘working world’ limits the amount of time many folks can devote to holiday travel. Add to this the grief involved in just basic air travel and I do not find it surprising that it becomes more difficult for families to gather. But what led me to spend my holidays solo was first the separation of our family; my sister and family live in Monument (CO) which was far away from Dearborn (MI) where my folks lived. My brother lived in Chicago but largely remained incommunicado by his own choice. A bit later on as my folks aged they really didn’t observe the ‘family gathering’ piece; they preferred to attend their church services, mingle with friends but largely avoid a lot of holiday gatherings. After they passed I sometimes spent the holidays with friends but slowly began to just remain by myself. This was accentuated by the fact I rarely had a ‘significant other’ in my life and also had no children.

Everyone has read stories of ‘poor’ or ‘unfortunate’ people who are alone at the holiday season when they so pine for companionship and cheer; given there are so many I can only assume this does happen. But not everyone who is ‘solo’ is lonely or would prefer companionship. I am quite comfortable spending the holidaze with just my canine companions; during some of the past holidays I’ve attended meals at the local VFW but for the most part I truly prefer to be solo and comfortable. As my weight has become more of an issue with age I am much happier avoiding the calorie laden albeit delicious holiday cuisine. And I am able to better maintain the routines my canine companions so prize when it is just us.

It is not that I’m a ‘Grinch’ or someone who hates the holidays; quite the contrary as I truly enjoy the feeling of joy that permeates the atmosphere along with the fun in wishing folks a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. Rather, I prefer to celebrate them in my own way which is on a much lower key than the fondly remembered huge family gatherings around a table almost bowing under the weight of all the delicious food. And I always take a bit of time to honestly remember ‘the reason for the season’.

I truly do understand that some people cannot imagine being alone across the holidays and they extend their own discomfort to anyone who is solo; they want only to have everyone be happy and a part of the festivities. But there are a lot of us folks who really do prefer to be by ourselves during the holidays and it is not for any dark or sad reason; we just prefer it. Ultimately such people are far more comfortable spending the holidays in relative quiet and calm. They are mostly what I call ‘un-holiday people’ and I count myself among them. Again, we don’t hate the holidays; we just prefer to celebrate them in a different fashion.

So to all you well-meaning ‘holiday people’ I would ask this; please step back and think just a bit before you become overly concerned for someone spending Thanksgiving and/or Christmas alone. It is entirely possibly they prefer it that way…

Existence of Open Ended Systems..?

I suppose given the season this piece would seem like a natural extension of the joy and giving so often associated with Christmas but there is actually more to it. Although I had to retire before I really came to understand the value and delight in volunteering I feel very lucky I was finally able to discover what has now become an integral part of my life. So when I read a marvelous piece by another blogger (Athabascan Woman Blog) I follow on WordPress centered on the topic of recognizing just how much we truly have and enjoy the sentiment struck a chord within me. And, in so doing, formed the basis for this piece which is really about the importance of helping others regardless of the time of year.

As I look back upon my life I recognize that as a child I was far too caught up in myself to even consider assisting others although I could be at least charitable to my family and friends. Through my teens and early twenties I was busy looking into myself trying to decipher who I really was and why I did, or didn’t do, so many things. Once I entered the working world my time was slowly but continually eroded by the increasingly more demanding positions as well as my continued need to look within myself. Yet in many ways I remained self-absorbed because I was fixated on trying to start and develop a long term relationship with members of the opposite sex. Sadly this never worked well for me and now that I have the ‘lens of time’ with which to look back upon those decades I understand that my consistent failures were at least as much my fault as my partner’s and probably even more so.

When a shift in marketplace employment needs coupled with my demographics (single, white, 50+ year old male) forced me out of the workplace far sooner than I intended I was left with lots of time to contemplate my past and while some of this was helpful often it devolved into ‘self-flagellation’ sessions with very limited value and generally not at all productive. But this same mix of events also left me time to care for my aging parents and to even become a care-taker for the family’s home while my mother spent her final few years in an assisted living facility. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time Mom was setting the stage for her most wonderful gift to me – the opportunity to experience volunteering. It seemed natural I should volunteer at the facility in which she lived as this gave me a chance to be around her more often; however, it also opened my eyes to the ‘relativistic’ nature of our own perceptions regarding what we have versus what we perceive others enjoy. And herein started my own voyage of discovery regarding the act of volunteering and the motivations behind my need to do so.

Initially I felt the volunteering was something that helped out Mom as well as the staff at the assisted living facility while giving me a chance to work with a variety of younger mainly women. But providing any sort of care to elderly folk, and particularly to elderly dementia victims, requires one be very observant and empathetic. As I increased my volunteering time I began to really get to know many of the residents; with time I stopped seeing them as ‘poor victims’ of a wicked disease and began to recognize them as people with often long and varied histories. Because of the nature of dementia in general and Alzheimer’s in particular one can never really escape the understanding these souls are nearing the end of their lives and doing so trapped by a wicked disease that strips them of their dignity, their memories and eventually their lives. But I also came to recognize most had long and interesting lives which, sadly, were coming to an end under rather unpleasant conditions. Many had been kind and generous people so to be able to offer them even just a modicum of assistance and care in their final years just ‘felt’ right. And the more I could positively impact the better I felt!

In college I remember learning there was no such thing as an ‘open ended system’; that the nature of the Universe was to tend towards disorder and eventual chaos and there were definite limits on energies and dimensions which would not allow for a truly open ended and hence ‘never ending’ system. The classic example of the futility of looking for such systems was man’s quest for the perpetual motion machine. This made sense at the time and I never really had reason to question this premise. Yet 35 years later I was wondering if maybe I hadn’t found an open ended system in volunteering..?!? Without question the more time I spent volunteering the better I felt and the more ‘good’ I seemed to perpetuate. I still marvel that when I volunteer folks are always thanking me for my time and effort when I feel I should be thanking them for the opportunity simply because it makes me feel so wonderful and, indeed, ‘complete’. Regardless of what, or how much, I did I always came away feeling I’d taken in so much more than I’d given out. And this feeling fed my urge to volunteer more time and effort; in effect that mythical open ended system.

With such positive forces driving me on I began to wonder at how this could be and perhaps more importantly ‘why’ this could exist. I believe most human beings are inherently ‘good’ and will always gravitate towards being helpful and caring. Of course there are many exceptions but some can be ruled out simply because they have organic or psychological damage while others are the victims of conditioning be it through upbringing, religions, environments or similar. In reviewing my own situation I needed almost 60 years to finally try volunteering even though I had received lots of encouragement regarding the practice during my earlier years. But what was it that made assisting others feel so very good? It occurred to me that in general I favored assisting others whom I viewed as either needing my assistance or those I felt had so much less than me. This made sense and I certainly felt there were so very many people falling into these categories. I came to recognize I had lived a very full and ‘easy’ life; these revelations almost forced me into wanting to give a little something back to those who I deemed were in need of what assistance and care I could provide.

And the more I did in terms of giving and assisting the more I recognized just how lucky I’d been which in turn drove the urge to help even more. I came to understand that sometimes I could assist by just giving someone a smile or holding a door open or wishing a stranger a good week; this, in turn, showed me it is not the perceived size or value of what one offers as assistance but rather the act of offering it in the first place that really matters. In reviewing what I’ve tried to do for others across the past eight or so years I’ve come to understand the more I offer the more I realize I have to offer. Another example of an open ended system in action! But I also noticed the more I give the more I have to give and this is rooted in a shift of one’s perceptions regarding themselves. I’ve become a so much more positive person thanks to my volunteering and as I’ve become so I learned what I believe is possibly one of the five most important concepts we humans can embrace: ‘attitude is everything’! Nurturing and developing a positive outlook on life can and does affect all aspects of our lives and does so in a most decisive and unequivocal manner. I still marvel at the power and far reaching consequences of truly accepting the immutability of such an apparently simple phrase!

So as I sit here in my semi-rural Alaskan home office living a lifestyle still new but also very dear to my heart in a place I’d only dreamt of living a few years previously I truly understand just how lucky I have been and how much I now have to share. Volunteering is a great means to ‘pay it forward’ and I’ve had wonderful opportunities at Talkeetna’s KTNA and at the Upper Susitna Food Pantry. Without question I hope to indulge myself in even more such opportunities and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit much of my motivation stems from the peace, pleasure and serenity I reap from such actions. At this point I no longer question the how or why of such situations; I just ‘go with the flow’ and reap the benefits knowing in my own small way I can make a positive difference in other people’s lives.

Scientific Truth versus Political Agendas

With the onset of the UN sponsored meetings in Paris covering climate change once again the ‘news’ – and I use this term very loosely – is abuzz with the gamut of views from outright denial to fanatical following. I have made my own beliefs around this topic clear in previous postings; I concur that the earth’s climate appears to be warming but I remain very unsure as to what part human beings have played in this scenario especially as versed with how much of this change stems from some naturally occurring geologic pattern or meteorologically based shifts. And I remain uneasy about the massive programs so many countries want to undertake in an attempt to cut greenhouse gas production; my unease stems for the simple fact regardless of what ‘science’ claims to know regarding the evolution of the earth we still have almost no understanding of long term climate cycles on our planet let alone the rhythms and influences of things like solar output cycles and shifts in the earth’s magnetic field. This entire topic remains one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds today and that is because this topic was among the first to have factual information distorted almost constantly by polar opposite ideologies and political influences. In this sense once more our lame-stream media has failed to do its job and has, indeed, done more to muddy the waters than offer any clear, concise perspectives into the climate change concerns. More than anything else we need to get worthless politics out of the scientific realm and allow science as done by scientists to continue to research this scenario.

I understand that one or two or even three years does not a trend establish and this is exceptionally true regarding weather patterns which require data from hundreds of years to even begin to substantiate a ‘trend’ yet I must admit to having seen a definite warming in the Alaskan conditions during my 27 months of living in semi-rural south central Alaska. While the increase in warmth has been observed across the calendar year it is most noticeable in our winters. A case in point has been November of 2015; we started off the month with the ongoing slightly above normal temps but we soon began to see multiple snow events which dropped around 26” (66.04 cm) of snow before a brief albeit strong cold spell settled in. As it began to mitigate we saw another snow event which dropped around 12” (30.48 cm) of new snow in this area. But right on its heels came the dreaded warm up; we saw 78 consecutive hours during which we never dropped to 32.0°F (0.0°C) and across one of those days I measured 1.19” (3.02 cm) of rain. This period decimated the 35.2” (82.55 cm) of snow pack reducing it to just 15.5” (39.37 cm) of saturated snow which with the return of more seasonable temps has now turned to slippery, rock hard ice.

While I have no long term history in this area I have spent many hours perusing the data compiled by NWS and other agencies so I do have some feeling for what a ‘typical’ Talkeetna winter has involved across the last 60 to 75 years. In addition I’ve spoken at length to many locals who have spent decades if not their entire lives in this area. Without question the general consensus is the winters of 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015 were extremely warm and fairly dry. This is borne out by NWS records showing the winter of 2014 to 2015 was the warmest on record for most of Alaska with the previous winter a very close second. In my mind there are two main contributors to these mild seasons; the warmth of the northern Pacific Ocean which is currently 2°F (0.56°C) above its normal temperature and the record sized El Nino off the coast of South America. It is not just the existence of these events but the effects they have on so many other factors like air density, moisture content, prevailing winds and the Jet Stream to name but a few. While many of these areas have been studied for quite a while we still lack a true understanding of why El Nino generally causes more winter moisture in California while decreasing the moisture in the Midwest. We infer these deductions by reviewing the data collected but any attempts to explain the mechanisms by which these scenarios occur remain just theories.

And herein lies the real challenge to so many of the statements made by ‘learned’ men regarding the climate change situation; all are based on inference and/or logical positivism. While correlations drawn from reputable datum can be powerfully persuasive they remain just that: correlations or inferences which cannot be stated as completely factual without also understanding how and why they occur. Sadly so it is with so much of what has been presented to the world in general and to the American public in particular. Yet somehow the very functions which should be recognizing these situations and delving more deeply into their basis and foundation – the so called ‘Fifth Estate’ or the news media – have instead anointed the climate change believers ‘those who understand’ while writing off anyone who has doubts as being deluded, living in denial or similar vitriolic nonsense. Once again, this is what happens when politics are allowed to enter into the scientific realm. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that so many researchers rely on outside funding to continue their work of which the federal government is prominent as are the large, multi-national corporations. Politics embody having an agenda and when this mingles with the funding from such major contributors the push to support said agenda cannot be denied. This, in turn, can and does lead to results which are not ‘acceptable’ being quashed in favor of those in agreement with the funding body’s agenda. And suddenly science is no longer ‘science’…

So once more I find myself railing against the intervention of politics into pure scientific research; it is fraught with powerful potential negatives and I cannot find one positive in so doing. Far too many of today’s pressing issues are of enough import we cannot allow the ongoing research to be influenced regardless of the results. But ‘we the People’ continue to allow this to happen as though it is the way it has always been which is not true. The United States should be taking the lead in pushing for independent means of financing research free from governmental bodies or the deep pockets of giant corporations. And the heretofore useless lame-stream media should be doing their job and questioning all results, not just those that do not agree with their agendas!