Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Climbing Mountains

     I just finished reading a provocative new book by David Brooks entitled The Second Mountain:  The Quest for a Moral Life.  It seems to be partially autobiographical as he struggles with what it is to live a meaningful as well as moral life.   As he is a mid fifties man I suspect this book is partially inspired by a mid-life crisis at least partlly instigated by a failed marriage followed by remarriage.   As an octogenarian geezer skier my lens for assessing his writing is what it is like to go beyond the second mountain metaphor. 
    As related to skiing when we are climbing the first mountain of being successful in our careers and raising a family our ego reigns supreme.  Self absorption is a daily attitude.  If we are wise enough maybe we can put aside ego to the extent we can be present with our partner and children.  Too often however, we are neglectful of their needs and perhaps as well the greater needs of society.   Our passion for skiing is in tension with our other commitments.  We want to be climbing the metaphorical mountain and also want to be climbing the snow covered mountain.   In climbing the first mountain there is always tension between the free time used for pursuing our sport and the recognition that society asks more of us in family and community.   So in this first climb where do we find happiness and even more importantly joy? 
     I'll confess in my early days I was extremely goal oriented and obsessed with achieving success to lift myself out of economically deprived roots growing up on a farm.   I fed on increasing both my financial status and professional achievements.  But just as David Brooks points out, these achievements can leave an empty spot in your soul.   I am thankful that I did not fully sell my soul to the achievement god and did find solace in some level of service to humankind in my teaching, advising and worship.
      Setting off to climb the second mountain of focus on relationships, community and serving rather than feeding ego sometimes can be thrust upon you in unexpected ways.   Late in my 59th year I was struck with kidney cancer.   I was merrily moving along in my career and enjoying a responsible administrative post at Cornell University.   However, facing the possibility of a premature death, I was able to make a radical departure in my life to climb the second mountain.   My early  retirement shocked many of my colleagues!   However, I was delighted to move on to a more servant ordered life.   People would ask me "What are you gong to do?"   Eventually I put together a calling card with a list of my activities.   My life became filled with giving back to both my family and my church and my community.   I found myself happily and even joyfully doing mundane activities.   I was both able to serve and find great satisfaction in just being.   With the freedom from work, I was able to both give back and as well reward my passion for skiing. 
      Just as David Brooks points out, even though we have moral intentions and desires to be more relational, we are still flawed human beings.  I guess we continue to be works in progress so even though we may have made progress in climbing our second mountain, there is still work to be done.
     As I look forward to skiing in my 23rd year of retirement I am first of all blessed to have sufficient health to keep "climbing" the mountain.  Also I a pleased to still have the energy to do volunteer work with my church, local museum and with the Red Cross.   In the area of relationships, I am still working on being a better spouse, parent, grandparent and friend.   As our Greek Peak Geezer Skier group ages out I am thrilled that whether we are still on the slopes or not, we are in a committed fellowship of monthly lunches throughout the year.   I hope our little community is an example for others as we climb another mountain toward our final destiny.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Advances in Technology

    It is nice to have perspective on advances in technology.  If you have lived into geezer territory you have seen a lot of change.  Especially if you are an octogenarian.   Geezer skiers surely have benefited from the development of shaped skis along with just about everybody else on the slopes.   Many of us can also remember the days when bindings were quite primitive and leg fractures we commonplace.   Also from the point of view of safety, the development of comfortable safe and effective ski helmets is a boon.   We also must be grateful for the advances in snow making technology that enables snow making for efficiently even at higher temperatures. 
     Beyond skiing we are also blessed with a plethora of technological advances in computing, medicine, automotive safety and so on.   This post has been prompted by my use our newest toys!   My wife and I took delivery of e-bikes this past Tuesday.   It took some time to assemble them since they were shipped from the west coast.   Today we enjoyed a neighborhood ride as we adjusted to this new bike technology.   What a great joy it is to have power assist on the hills.   I have ridden a ten speed mountain bike in the past and when I was in my 60's I could downshift and pedal up the hills with reasonable speed.  Now in my 80's that is not as easy.   Thus my old mountain bike has been donated to charity along with my wife's beach bike.   We are both thrilled with our new machines and once again can enjoy rides without the agony of challenging hill climbs.
    I am truly pleased with the advances in battery and control technology that breathes new life into getting out the road with a bicycle.   And this activity can also be another mode of conditioning for the arrival of ski season.

Thursday, September 5, 2019


   Yesterday I had the pleasure of lunch with fellow Cornell Engineering Emeritus faculty at the Statler Hotel on the Cornell Campus.  The current dean Lance Collins is a gracious host who is very appreciative of the past and continuing contributions of this group.    It is truly a gathering of a gaggle of geezers.  Engineering of yore was male dominated and yesterday our group was graced by only one female emerita.   The rest of us are grizzled geezers. 
     Since I have a long history at Cornell that started with undergraduate studies in 1953 I have had a long acquaintance with the likes of the emeritus faculty.  I moved from student to graduate student to professor to associate dean during my active time so I can flashback to to a host of experiences when I encounter my colleagues.   The most remarkable flashback yesterday was an encounter with professor emeritus Arthur Ruoff.   Believe it or not I took a Differential Equations math course from him when he was a young assistant professor.   He was a hard charging character then and he maintains that character today.   He is and was a brilliant engineer.   Among his accomplishments was the development of high pressure compaction that has led to the production of artificial diamonds.
    As I looked around the room I noted that although many were showing physical signs of aging, they were still mentally sharp.    It was a delightful couple of hours with long time friends and associates and it was a pleasure to hear from the dean the progress of the many ventures of the college.   A most notable recent accomplishment is a collaboration with the Metropolitan Transient Authority of NYC to facilitate the L train tunnel rehab that without having to shut down the train for several months.
     Closing on the flashback note I am reminded of the thrills of past projects I was involved with.   And I am appreciative how Cornell support the geezer guys like me to still be involved with students and projects.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Is There A Gene for Skiing?

      Recently I read an article on on the influence of genes on a number of behaviors.   Genes can even influence which kind of foods you like.  Some of us like broccoli  but there are many who absolutely abhor this vegetable.  They have a gene that makes them sensitive to an element in broccoli that is particularly bitter to them.  Remarkably there is some evidence that genes can determine to some extent whether we lean to the left or the right politically.  Maybe that is the reason we often find it difficult to calmly discuss our political views.  Maybe we are hardwired to behave one way or another.  I am not totally convinced that this is true.  Thus we have the nature versus nurture debate.
     So as a geezer skier I am pondering if I am blessed with a unique set of genes that generates my passion for skiing?   Even as a poor child, I somehow acquired a pair of hickory skis with a simple strap so  I could glide down hill.   The only thing I could do was point them down the hill and hold on!  Eventually I took up skiing in my late twenties and more than five and a half decades later I am still at it.  Essentially all of my biological children have becomes skiers.   Some are extraordinarily committed to the sport.  The passion for skiing has also been passed down to most of the grandchildren.   Out of the nine biological grandchildren six are expert skiers.   The youngest of the nine is only three so it is yet to be determined if he will take up skiing.   For the moment his parents are only occasional skiers.   The jury is out whether the descendants  will become geezer skiers.  Time will tell. Obviously one could argue that the offspring were influenced by nurture and perhaps that is the dominant factor.
     Meanwhile I am waiting for the biologists to find the ski gene!  I would be happy to provide a DNA sample!

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Optimum A

    I read a New York Times article today touting the idea to strive for the good not the perfect.   It makes me think about my efforts to be a better skier.  Among our geezer skier group we often kick around ideas and suggestions to perfect our skiing.  One would think after all the years on the slopes we would give up on the idea of being perfect.   I guess not true.   Perhaps we need to back off on the idea of perfection,  forget about all those little adjustments of technique and enjoy being good at it.    That ought to be the goal.
     The article also reminded me of my graduate studies at Iowa State University in the 1960's.   Our group was always striving to be "perfect" in our studies.   That was the aim to ace every test and succeed at the highest level in all courses.  Ultimately we discovered we did not have the time or energy to ace everything.  The bottom line became getting the "Optimum A" in a course.   That was doing just enough to get an A grade and no more!  Except for one course I am happy to say it worked for me!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Cannon Fodder

I have been a long time fan of the game show Jeopardy.  The current champion's run while awesome in terms of success is disturbing.  His challengers are like cannon fodder to be mowed down by his radical strategy.  It is now no longer a contest on equal footing for all the participants.  As a long time participant in the New York State Senior Games I have had my share of ups and downs.  However, I never have felt like cannon fodder.  My opponents in my age category have similar credentials to mine and granted some are more skilled that others, it is a rare time that we have bageled scores for the losers.    If in the senior games we had retired pro tennis players in the mix, we would likely be crushed.  It would no longer be fun for anyone.  Both the winners and losers would be losers.   Of course no financial awards are involved.
     I guess we will see the current run will ever end before the show is ruined for me.  Somehow it feels like injustice.   Perhaps I have seen too much of good people being crushed by unusual circumstances.  Maybe this is evidence that I have gone soft on the reality in my geezerhood that bad things happen to good people.   I can always turn off the TV and ignore the show until sanity returns.
We shall see!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Another Sign Your Are a Geezer

       It is my birthday today.  I am well into geezerhood at 84 and enjoying the kind wishes from friends and family.   Of course there was a happy birthday from my membership in AARP too.
     As I reflected on my origins I was reminded of my birth story.  I was the second child born to my mother in her second marriage after being widowed at a an early age and then married to my father.  In the era of my birth in the mid 1930's home births were quite common.  Thus my mother gave birth to me in the rented farm house at the intersection of Preemption and Wayne Center Roads in Wayne County, New York.  The equivalent of a mid-wife was in attendance.  I was told it was Aunt Louise who must have been the sister of my grandmother Emma Tange.   
     Somehow my wife and I began conversing this morning about birth certificates.  I couldn't remember whether I had one in my possession. However as usual she went right to the appropriate file and showed me mine!  She was wondering what my birth weight might have been.  That information was not shown.  As one would expect the date of birth was shown along with the parent's names and my designated name.   However the date of the official registry was two years after I was born.  It wasn't until 1937 I was officially on the books.
      So what does this have to do with being another sign I am a geezer?   My guess is that almost all births in the United States post WWII  were hospital births.   So if I am trying to determine if someone is a geezer beyond observing them close up, I can ask them if they were born at home or in a hospital.  My guess is if they were born at home there is a high probability they qualify for geezerhood.