Moving Towards the Dark… Elderberry Musings

“I wake up under a tropical dome that has been with us most of August. The thick air feels like it is smothering me, and with emphysema that may not be my imagination. I can no longer walk or hike in this weather. Migraines and other peculiar headaches come and go – dizziness too – the former probably due to changes in pressure; As yet I have no diagnosis for the latter. I am feeling old because I am getting old. I move into my 77th year trying to adjust to increasing physical limitations.”

On the first harvest moon that occurs in August, (according to ancient teaching by Northern Indigenous peoples) I harvested elderberries under a burning sun, sloshing through mud, thorny bushes and cattails to reach the clusters of ruby beads that would soon become a tincture that I knew would help me resist colds flu and perhaps also the Covid variants. The world health organization in Europe is presently researching elderberry because studies have indicated that it apparently block viruses from entering cells (it does with H1N1 virus), but I have been using this remedy for years and know that it mitigates the effects of colds and prevents flu, at least for me. While removing the berries from their tree –like stems my fingers were stained the most beautiful purple, reminding me of a story I had written when I turned 70 about becoming an old woman… In this tale I imagined that an Elderberry woman came to guide me into the future. 

My 82 year old friend Blaine, a veritable fountain of historical/wild orchid knowledge and fellow hiker calls me ‘Sunshine’ often remarking that aging requires a special kind of courage. He has demonstrated this in own life in concrete ways.  Always an outdoors person and once an avid mountain climber who has topped every peak here in Maine he continues to hike today even after two hip replacements. I have been hiking with him and his wife for the past 15 years. These days we have to restrict our outings to cool mornings and make slow, sometimes labored climbs but these outings have been the highlight of this difficult summer. I have mentioned that I am worried about the future, and he and Margaret know first hand about some of this fear, although they have a support system that I do not. … It does take courage – enormous courage to stay with the truth of what is. And certainly I am not alone facing this dilemma. Aging is hard, not just on body but also on psyche soul and spirit because all are intimately interconnected.

Lately I have been asking myself why I haven’t written about the perils of aging even though I am aware of the answer. SHAME. Shame silences us. The most humiliating part of growing old is the shame I feel at not being able to take care of myself like I used to. I also feel shame when I have to ask for help even when I PAY people. I have been self sufficient for perhaps too many years. Ironically, I am also an extremely generous person who is always ready to help others. Generous to a fault.   

 How do I develop the ability to ask for help without feeling shame? At present I have no answer to this burning question, although I carry the awareness that it’s up to me.

Today is September first, my birth month, and it is blessedly cool. Yesterday’s river walk catapulted me into the moment taking much joy from passing the beaver ponds, inspecting moss covered trunks, hearing the bear crash through the woods knowing that on this land at least, the bear would be safe. Generous people bought up mountains and valleys protecting the protecting the forests and allowing them to thrive… I offer them gratitude every time I walk on this hallowed land. These hikes and others I have taken alone helped me move through a difficult summer. For a time at least, all worries cease…

As I move towards the dark of the moon, a few days away, I lean into the dark that hopefully will allow me to sleep deeply… Perhaps then the Elderberry woman might send me a dream.

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