April’s Frog Moon Resurrection

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The Frog Moon Mystery

 

April’s second spring moon was almost full as she rose through the cracks of the cottonwoods. The acequias were filling across/down the field and a small amount of rain had fallen two days earlier. Diminutive lime green leaves feathered the trees. I was just walking in the house when I heard the call.

 

I stopped dead in my tracks, stunned. Then wondered if I was having some kind of audio – hallucination. A paracusia, or audio hallucination is a form of hallucination that involves perceiving sounds without auditory stimulus.

 

After all, it had three years since I had heard one of the most beloved sounds that I associate with spring…I kept listening, sat down on the steps, my ears on fire. The unmistakable trill.

 

After a timeless pause, the practical side of me took over. I entered the house, got my recorder, and began recording the song.

 

I have been listening to the musical trill of tree frogs since I was a child, and I knew this song by heart. A gray tree frog was singing just beyond what I call the magic portal, a natural cathedral framed by bowed cottonwoods that opens into the next field.

 

After about an hour of listening and recording even the skeptic in me was forced to accept that this really was a gray tree frog. Sadly, I never heard a female’s answering call. It was also clear that this male frog was not being challenged by other tree frogs (who call out to establish territories as well as to attract females) because there apparently were no others in the area.

 

This latter fact did not surprise me. All frogs have been endangered since the 1960’s and many have become extinct.

 

“In Silent Spring” written in 1962 a brilliant and dedicated biologist, and true “mother of the environmental movement” warned us about the Great Silence that was about to descend upon us as a result of indiscriminate pesticide use, and no one listened.

 

Frogs and toads are the canaries of water, land and air. Because they breathe through their skin they are indicators of the massive amounts of pollution we are allowing to consume our planet “forgetting,” of course, that eventually these pollutants will kill humans too (the ultimate dis-connect).

 

Just before I went to bed that night I opened the door and heard the solitary tree frog crying out to the moon.

 

The next morning I compared my recording with the songs of grey tree frogs online, and of course they were identical.

 

For two days I researched every New Mexican tree frog and listened to about 50 recordings and came up with nothing that sounded like the recording I had.

 

How could this be? Grey tree frogs are denizens of the wetlands and forested areas of the northeast – east of the Rockies.

 

Meanwhile, my beloved gray tree frog is still singing his heart out even during the day, something I have never heard any of the Maine gray tree frogs do unless rain or heavy mist blanketed the mountains. At these times they sing periodically.

 

As of this writing, even in the wind my little friend is still calling – the voice of yearning crying out in the wilderness… Three days in a row.

 

At present I have no answer to this particular mystery and welcome any commentary the reader might have.

 

What follows is a little natural history on these one to two inch frogs that come in every shade of gray to green, depending upon the vegetation they inhabit.

 

The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor. The frog’s ability to alter its skin color also changes with respect to the time of day and the surrounding temperature. When my brother and I were children we would capture these frogs and place them on leaves, lily pads, wild grasses, bark, lichen etc. just to watch how fast they could change color! Their skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.

 

Gray tree frogs hibernate in the winter by taking refuge in trees. They survive sub -zero temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” during which time they also stop breathing while still being able to maintain interior metabolic processes. A virtual miracle, that.

 

Supposedly the gray tree frog’s range covers much of the eastern United States, from northern Florida to central Texas and north to parts of southeastern Canada but obviously, some of these frogs are moving west, or were here in the first place. Tree frogs are an arboreal species that occupies a variety of wooded habitats. They are most often found in forests, swamps, on agricultural lands and in wooded backyards.

 

All need access to trees and a water source. I don’t know when it occurred to me that I am surrounded by the perfect habitat here as well as in Maine. When gray tree frogs are young and newly metamorphosed, they usually remain near the forest floor tucked into bark, detritus, or high grasses; later they transition to the forest canopy. As an adult I have captured some that like to hide in the rough bark of the white pines next to my brook (Maine).

 

Adult gray tree frogs mainly prey upon different types of insects at night because they are nocturnal. Mites, spiders, plant lice, snails and slugs are common prey. They may also occasionally eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs. They search for insects in trees, where they can climb vertically or move horizontally with their fantastic toe pads that cling like suction cups.

 

The males begin trilling in early spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation. In the mid-range areas males begin calling in late April to early May. In Maine I don’t begin to hear them until late May. Males call to females from trees and bushes that are usually close to overhanging streams or standing water.

 

The exact timing of breeding for gray tree frogs varies based on temperature and their location throughout the range. Most reproduction takes place early on, although the musical trilling lasts from late April to early August (May through September in Maine). Individuals may mate up to three times in a season.

 

Males are very territorial and will fight other males to defend their area. Fights may last 30 to 90 seconds and consist of wrestling, shoving, kicking and head butting until the subordinate male retreats. Females are sexually di-morphic (bigger) and initiate mating by approaching a calling male.1,000 to 2,000 eggs which are externally fertilized by the male. Since actual mating occurs while the frogs are floating in water, eggs are deposited into the water in small clusters, attached to a reed or some kind of floating debris. Tadpoles usually hatch after three to seven days, depending on the water temperature. As youngsters, these frogs are painted scarlet or orange-vermilion with black blotches around the edge of the crests, so unlike other species they are easy to identify. Bodies and tails are patterned with many specks of black and gold. Like most tadpoles, they eat algae and organic detritus found in the water. Tadpole development depends on water temperature and is variable, but vernal pools must have standing water for some time, a real challenge here in Abiquiu.

 

After three days of trilling this poor little frog must be exhausted. I can only hope that there is one female that will hear his call…

Personal Note:

I wrote the above piece for a publication after having what for me was and continues to be an extraordinary experience  with a tree frog that doesn’t even belong in the desert – a frog that is so dear to my heart.

My childhood memories are permeated with frogs. While most kids had dolls I befriended a large squealing amphibian which i took to bed with me at night. Additionally my little brother and I loved caught, and studied these remarkable amphibians and I cannot think about frogs without conjuring up my brother’s spirit from the deep. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I finally buried his ashes on my land in Maine (just below the house), nestled against a glacial  granite boulder covered with lichen moss and ferns, the resting place situated just beyond the brook. This burial of his ashes occurred after a waiting period of 32 years… I had no idea at the time that it was Earth Day because i never celebrated it – every day is an Earth Day for a naturalist like me.

Each year around Davey’s burial day I have unusual experiences – usually with a hawk – and indeed one occurred yesterday when a Kestral landed on the porch and just hung out there for about ten minutes even though the bird could clearly see me moving around. I thought, oh, Davey’s spirit is moving close by. I don’t believe in god or any kind of after life, but my lifetime experiences have taught me that something of the person must live on – or can be accessed after death. For me, these apparitions occur as an encounter with some natural force – an animal bird etc and I am always moved from one perception of reality to another – beyond or outside time – this is what mysticism is all about.

It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I realized that the visit from the hawk was only part of this year’s Davey encounter and that another one was already in progress with the coming of Gray Tree Frog. The hawk is a visceral presence year after year reinforcing the power of the relationship between us. But the frog signifies  – dare I say the word? – resurrection from death to life, transmutation, transformation, rebirth, are all part of this creature’s animal powers and are inextricably woven into this story about Davey and me. So, something is shifting here on a personal level, although I don’t pretend to have any idea what it is.

Add to this “holy week”. I have been writing about Earth’s crucifixion every day – submitting a few articles for publication even though I knew how radical my ideas would be perceived. Not surprisingly, only one essay was published – silence – around the others.  Evidently to write about Earth’s Bodily crucifixion during holy week just doesn’t sit well with the DOMINANT christian overlay, the SPLIT OF MIND AND BODY, the SPLIT OF SPIRIT from the BODY OF THE EARTH and the power of its flow even in otherwise broadminded venues… oddly I am not upset – especially because this gives me insight into WHAT IS.

But there is something to the fact that this frog who doesn’t belong here in the first place and surely will not be able to breed here is still crying out on resurrection day.

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The Story of Changing Woman

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Changing Woman – who grows old and then young again. Navajo Sand Painting.

 

Myth and Commentary

I want to begin by recounting the story of how Changing Woman came to be and why she was so important to Navajo mythology. In these dark and tumultuous times I think Changing Woman’s story has a deep resonance for all of humanity. We seem to have forgotten who we are and are in desperate need of guidance that will help shift our current paradigm.

 

The Navajo word Diné means the People (every Indigenous group defines its inhabitants by using the same word in their own language).

 

Navajo mythology begins with the creation of the First World. The Insect People moved through the four lower worlds to the fifth world the place where the Navajo live today. In the first world there was no sun, moon or stars, only the oceans stretched out in 4 directions. A flood came and the Insect people moved to higher ground, the second world. The third world was inhabited by grasshoppers so the Insect people moved again, this time to a fourth world with snow covered mountains and Pueblo people. In the Fourth World the Holy People laid two ears of white corn and two ears of yellow corn on the ground and covered them with buckskin creating First Man and First Woman.

 

Frightened by a flash flood, First Man and First Woman rose up from below from the center of a lake to reach the Fifth World and the place where the Four Sacred Mountains are found today.

 

(One of these sacred mountains may lie to the west of the village of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I presently live. It is said that Changing Woman was found on a flat – topped mesa wrapped in many colors of light. Anyone who has been to the Pedernal can find pieces of rock called chert/flint cast in every color of the rainbow).

 

On a level place below the summit First Man and First Woman laid a turquoise figure on two pieces of buckskin that were spread on the stone from east to west in the sun. Wind and Water Sprinkler were there. When the Holy People began to sing the song the wind flowed under the blankets and a child appeared. The Holy People told the couple her name was Changing Woman and instructed them to take her and raise her as their daughter.

 

By the thirteenth day, Changing Woman had become a young woman, and on that day there was a celebration and the Navajo Night Chant was sung. *

 

Soon after Changing Woman birthed the hero twins.

 

In four days the twins had grown into boys. Talking God and Water Sprinkler tested their strength four times and were pleased.

 

The twins asked Changing Woman who their father was and when they were told they had no father the twins refused to believe her. “We must have a father and we need to know who he is” they responded. Changing Woman was irritated and said “your father is a round cactus then. Be still.” (!)

 

The twins went south to hunt and saw four birds – a woodpecker, vulture, raven and magpie – and when Changing Woman heard their stories she said they must flee because the birds carried a warning: monsters would kill them. Before dawn the twins ran to the West and met an old woman who lived in an underground chamber who told them that she could help them find their father who was the Sun.

 

Because the way was fraught with danger Spider Grandmother gave them a talisman to protect them and a special song that ended in “Walk in Beauty.” The twins continued West on the rainbow bridge overcoming four monsters that threatened to kill them. Eventually they reached the House of the Sun where they overcame two more tests to prove to the Sun that they were his children. Then they told their father that monsters were killing the People and the Sun replied that could make the passage from boyhood to manhood and save the Navajo people in the process, which they did.

 

After a time, Changing Woman became lonely and went to one of the sacred mountains to sit in the sun. The Sun appeared and tried to embrace her but she refused. He wanted her to come live with him. She said no until the Sun promised to give her a house that shimmered on the water and animals and plants for company while the Sun was away on his daily journey across the sky. Then Changing Woman said:

 

“You are male and I am female. You are of the sky and I am of the earth. You are constant in your brightness, but I must change with the seasons. Remember that I willingly let you enter me and I gave birth to your sons. As different as we are, we are of one spirit. As dissimilar as we are, you and I, we are of equal worth. As different as we are, there must be solidarity between us. There can be no harmony in the universe unless there is harmony between us. If there is to be harmony, my request must matter to you. There is to be no more coming from me to you than there is from you to me.”

 

The Sun balked at first but finally agreed that she was right and granted her requests for a House in the West that shimmered in the golden light that stretched over the waters at sunset when the Sun returned from his journey across the sky. In this place they came to dwell in Harmony…

 

In the myth Changing Woman never dies; she grows old and young again with the seasons. In the East she is Earth Woman, in the South Mountain Woman, in the West she is Water Woman and in the North she is Corn Woman.

 

Changing Woman embodies Nature’s as a whole and since the Navajo trace their lineage through a matrilineal line she is the Mother of all the People.

 

According to Navajo mythology the first way Changing Woman saves the world is by birthing the twins, the male aspects of herself. This embodied female/male energy is capable of taking action on behalf of all the people, ridding the world of monsters. It is important to note that the twins require the help of Spider Grandmother’s wisdom, guidance and protection because Spider Grandmother is Changing Woman’s older wisdom aspect, a continuation of her mother – line.

 

The second and most critical way Changing Woman saves the world from “monsters” is because she secures the matrilineal line for the People. The matrilineal system traces descent through maternal roots. Men who marry move to the wife’s residence (matrilocal) and become part of the maternal family. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bring up the children, protecting, guiding, and teaching the children the ancestral family stories. This system unites Navajo society and creates the social structure of the culture connecting generations through kinship.

 

Although in present day Navajo culture Patriarchy has eroded women’s power the four tenets (harmony, beauty, balance, peace) remain part of the judicial system of the Navajo people.

 

Commentary:

I love this story because it demonstrates the evolutionary and eternal nature of Woman; her intimate relationship to Nature, her ability to give birth, to mother, to let go, her ability to endure, her need for animals and plants as companions and her willingness to stand her ground until she is able to get what she needs. Changing Woman matures from a passive figure who is acted upon by the forces of Nature into a self-directed female power who knows what she wants, and one who finds peace in choosing relationships with animals, plants and humans on her own terms.

Initially, Changing Woman is impregnated by the wind – the power of the spirit moving across the land – and not through sexual intercourse. Spirit and the Body of the Earth are the two equally creative aspects involved in her birth. The same holds true for her children, who are male, but conceived and birthed in a similar manner without the need for male insemination (no room for Patriarchy to enter here), suggesting to me that all three are parts of one spiritual/bodily whole that cannot be separated. As creative principles (beyond gender stereotypes) they work together as a triad to rid the world of monsters, to make the Navajo world a safe place, and to secure the matrilineal line. According to Navajo mythology securing the matrilineal line is primarily how Changing Woman saves the world.

Changing Woman’s “divine” birth and that of her children also demonstrates the more than human aspect of Nature and that Nature is both Source (wind/sun) and Context (earth/water) of all there is, a belief that fosters equality of all species and interdependence upon the planet that is our home.

On one level, with the birth of her children we see that Changing Woman recognizes the transient state of motherhood and care – giving, knows that her twins must seek their own destiny and that it is important to let them go. Human mothers must do the same if they are to move into their own lives in the most creative ways.

When the twins seek out Grandmother Spider and are guided and protected by her we see the importance of the matrilineal line expressed as grandmother; the latter also knows how important it is for boys (and girls) to discover and align themselves with the father principle in order to become creative and balanced adults.

The twins ability to destroy “the monsters” that threaten the people suggests defeat occurs only by harnessing both creative female and male powers together because the twins are Changing Woman’s children.

It’s interesting to note that from a biological perspective we learn that the female x chromosome is responsible for creating both male and female children and that all descent comes through our “Motherline” so here we find concrete evidence for the importance of this female creative principle and the physical importance of the matrilineal line.

We live in a time when Patriarchy’s destructive forces – the “monsters” of endemic woman hatred, white male privilege, hubris, and arrogance, greed, war, lust for power, an obsession with technology, and profound indifference to the loss of species and the pollution of our planet – all Patriarchal values – are destroying Life as we know it. We must seek a paradigm that promotes relationships with others that is based on equal power, respect for all species, and one that promotes reciprocity and sustainability for all. This paradigm is the gift that the story of Changing Woman offers us. The paradox is we seem to need to return to our “original instructions” so that we can move on.

To shift the present pattern, we must heal the frightening divisions that Patriarchy has created between women and men. The Sun (son) demonstrates his willingness to comply with Changing Woman’s requests, and only by giving her the respect and equality that she deserves are they both able to walk in beauty and live in harmony. Walking in balance, harmony peace and beauty are the four tenets of Navajo mythology.

In conclusion it must be noted that Changing Woman’s requests include her insistence upon having the company of animals and plants, which demonstrates the importance of the intimate link between Women and Nature and how critical it is to recognize that it is up to women to lead the way in terms of advocating for the future of the Earth and all Life.

 

*Navajo Night Chant:

The origins of the Navajo Night Chant are ancient stretching back into pre- history for perhaps thousands of years to the original Indigenous inhabitants of Canyon de Chelly. This most sacred of ceremonies occurs during the winter months and is a ritual of healing performed to cure those who are ill, to remove chaos, and to restore order and balance within the Navajo Universe. This chant is also a stunning piece of poetry.

 

These words are some of my favorite and were taken from the Night Chant.

 

“Beauty is before me
And beauty is behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful
I am surrounded by it
I am immersed in it
In my youth I am aware of it
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

The mountains, I become part of it . . .
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters,
I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen . . .
I become part of it.”

Letting Go

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For a moment

a blazing star

astonished a mountain

warming

a heart from within.

But stars are made

of rings of fire.

Flaming Light

torches

Evening sky,

as fierce

and deadly sparks

tumble through

thin air,

burn to cinder,

black ash –

Night Sky Bear

implodes –

strikes frozen ground.

Departure

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I stood deep

in a toad hole

slinging mud

at twilight

when the sky

turned lemon

and gold.

They arced

over

my head

in pairs,

loose aggregations –

it seemed like thousands

crying out,

crossing

the river.

Ensouled.

Spirits defying

image or word.

 

A Mighty Migration begins…

 

I shivered.

Tears rose unbidden

Who calls them North?

I call out “I love you” –

Believing they know.

A crescent moon listens

cradled by nightfall.

 

To witness

a sky full

of Sandhill

Cranes

dark red heads

ebony eyes

long graceful necks

curved gray wings

dripping black legs

descending out of the blue

to roost

along this

winding Red

Willow River,

gracing fields

of depleted grain

is a Gift

given

at midnight;

the moment

before

departure.

 

This turning

of the wheel

births

days full of light

and an empty

sky bowl.

 

Haunting cries

in my ears

ring in the silence

of beloved crane absence

for another year.

 

 

Working notes:

 

As almost always (summer is the exception – no matter where I live I tire of too long days and too much heat) the shifting seasons bring me to an uncomfortable edge of personal awareness: It is hard for me to let go. Nature orchestrates this truth to me through her individuals… in this instance it is the leave – taking of the cranes that captures the essence of how loss operates in me… At first I resist. When I let go, I feel bereft. Eventually, I reach a state of acceptance.

 

This morning someone made a comment that said in effect that poetry is about extending human consciousness – making the unconscious conscious. I dislike the word “consciousness” because it conjures up new age – know it all – androcentric thinking – but when I substitute “awareness” for consciousness I know the sentiment is true. Poetry explicates feeling…it brings darkness into light.

 

When tears blurred my eyes last night I was grieving impermanence… the only constant is change, and Nature is my compass directing me towards “True North,” a state of “becoming,” my home. Not a place, but a state of being. It is astonishing to recognize that I have been seeking embodiment of this truth for the last forty years and is probably the main reason I have always lived my adult life near bodies of water.

 

To seek impermanence as a way of being is what it means to flow with the river, or float down a stream. What becomes crystal clear is that this way of being is just the opposite of being human (!) – to be a person is to have boundaries, to be bound by soul and skin. Allowing each of our boundaries to dissolve into all that is, and was, and will be, is a stretch for every human who lives, whether they preach flow or not. Dissolution means an end to what is, creating room for death to enter the river of life as a friend, even as a lover, and one who celebrates change. Spirit is part of every aspect of life.

 

In these days of Climate Change the Great Dying is the center core of each of our lives, acknowledged or not. The loss of non – human species will probably lead to our own eventual demise – not necessarily a bad thing, since humans have made such a mess of things. (I say probably because the future might be an unknown – what I do know is that things don’t look good from where I am standing).

 

But meanwhile, we have now, and the present is filled with beauty, awe, and wonder. For me the Cranes embody all these qualities… after they leave, other wonderful creatures/elements will take their place, perhaps toads or frogs…maybe even a sky full of rain…

 

Cranes are Elders in every sense of the word, ancient relatives and they continue on, some adapting, others following unknown scripts or patterns that stretch back to antiquity. The way they live, migrating out of seasonal necessity, returning to home – places, celebrating through community and song in life and death is a way of being that embodies flowing like a river… And for that, their magnificent beauty and inherent wisdom born of genuine community, I thank them.

 

Blessed be the Cranes…

 

A few words about the natural history of these birds…

 

Sandhill Cranes have been in their present state for 30 million years (perhaps modeling to humans what genuine community might consist of).

 

Most recently these birds have been a presence in my life since last November when they first arrived, I originally thought for a brief stopover, before moving south to places like the Bosque del Apache to spend the winter. When I first came to New Mexico two and half years ago I was astonished and bewildered by their haunting collective conversation even when I couldn’t see them which was most of the time… But this year the cranes not only arrived but many decided to spend the winter here much to my great joy, perhaps a result of Climate Change which is shifting their migration patterns, in some case dramatically.

 

For example, I recently learned that Sandhill Cranes have been seen in parts of Maine. Their normal migration routes take them from Mexico as far northwest as Siberia into the Canadian Shield and Alaska to breed with one major stopover in Nebraska at the Platte river (another group that settles further northeast makes a stop in Mississippi) where 600,000 cranes meet to rest themselves before making the last leg of their seasonal journey. In the fall all northern populations will make the trip south for the winter probably because of inclement weather and lack of food.

 

However, some groups spend their entire lives in one place like Florida, others are no longer migrating further south than Tennessee, although these too fly north in the spring. It is unusual to have cranes living in Northern New Mexico, although I understand that a few have sometimes remained here through the winter.

 

Not in these numbers though. When I first began to hear the cranes I never imagined that I would start to see them or watch them make gracious descents into a neighboring field at all times of the day, every day. But this is a gift that this winter has bestowed upon me, and one I have never taken for granted.

 

Beginning at dawn I listen for the first cranes murmurings, and most morning around 7 AM I see the first flock flying over the river, followed by others, often occurring later. One of the most fascinating aspects of Sandhill Crane behavior is the way they seem so intent upon communal living. They take to the air in pairs, small groups and huge flocks sometimes flying one way, then suddenly wheeling around in the sky to soar in the opposite direction! They never fly in formation like geese do (no one appears to lead), and yet they are in constant communication with each other, which currently begins about a half hour before dawn.

 

This morning a friend sent me an article about the cranes arriving earlier than usual for their seasonal stopover at the Platte River. I am not surprised. For about two weeks now the sense that migration will soon be under way surfaces each time I see or hear the cranes. I think my body already knows what’s coming…

The Age of the Crone

In Praise of Old Women

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Susan Zerinsky, age 66 and 5’1” tall, has just become the first woman to head the legendary CBS News division. Yes, that CBS News, as in Murrow and Cronkite, which once set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, of late severely tarnished by #MeToo scandals necessitating the firings of Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Zerinsky came to CBS at age 20, worked her way up, has produced “48 Hours” for years, exercises seven days a week, boxes, lift weights, does Pilates, and has taken SLT classes because she heard they might make her taller. Of the sexual misconduct at CBS, she vigilantly declares, “#MeToo isn’t behind us, it’s part of us.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is working from home since being released from the hospital after surgery for two malignant nodules on her left lung. She’s 85 and this was her third bout with cancer. She expects to be back on the bench shortly.

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, ran for this seat at age 78, because she was tired of getting mad at Trump and not doing anything. She is the oldest ”Freshman” in her House of Representatives class.

There is enormous press coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest woman in that class (just 29), but little about Shalala, while much press attention to the once and now again Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 78, has been devoted to wondering if she’s too old to do the job. Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California, 80, who now chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee, breathes fire.  Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote for the Presidency at age 69, watched the election get stolen from her, picked herself up after a grueling campaign and devastating disappointment, and now continues doing work mostly in the cause of women’s equality and empowerment.

In praise of old women? You bet. Notice the “old,” not the euphemistic ”older.” Older than who or what? Let’s free the word “old” from all cutesy, infantilizing euphemisms—“senior,” “golden age,” “oldster,” and similar sins against the English language. Not for nothing was the archetype of the Crone born from poetic imagination. After all, what is perpetual youth but arrested development?

Recently, Jessica Bennett, prize-winning journalist, author, and gender editor of the New York Times (at a mere age 38), wrote a terrific piece that reminded me I hadn’t addressed this issue in far too long. Bennett noted of course that men lead major organizations and nations well into their seventh and eighth decades, retaining power and prominence—and, I’d add, welcome or unwelcome access to much younger women. The current “demographic revolution,” as termed by Prof. Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan, is the result of a half century of Women’s Movement activism from the 1970s straight through to #MeToo. And lifespan has a lot to do with it.

Such a demographic shift was unthinkable when women faced a high risk of dying in childbirth or could enter careers political and otherwise only after their children were grown. But in 2016 the average lifespan of women in the US was 81.1 compared with men’s 76.1, and some 18 percent of women age 70 to 74 are employed. Having a job later in life is more common among women with higher education and savings, Bennett reminds us, while those not employed are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and be dependent on Social Security.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture that propagandizes girls of 13 they need to be anorexic to look glamorous and should shave their pubic hair to seem even younger. The Women’s Movement itself has followed this trend by prioritizing the concerns of younger women and supporting emerging young leaders. That’s perfectly understandable, since the future is theirs, as is the task of carrying on the work. But like everything else, it shouldn’t be an either/or choice, especially when we can opt for both/and.

In some people, age can certainly atrophy a capacity for experimentation, risk, energy, and openness to new ideas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, age has compensatory gifts. Not so much “wisdom,” which some folks, old or young, have and some frankly don’t. But with aging you accumulate experience that you simply couldn’t have acquired earlier. It depends on what you do with it, yes, but you need to have acquired experience even to make that decision. Skill, which is formed by practice—another form of experience—can be another privilege of age. For instance, except for the rare Mozart, the longer an artist can manage to live, generally the better her or his work will become.

Then there’s sex. Some women blossom into a fuller or even entirely different sexuality. Others luxuriate in being alone, able to sprawl diagonally across the bed, and pleasure only themselves. One recently widowed friend chuckled to me, “If I miss cuddling, I’ll get myself a puppy.” There’s also such relief at not sweating the small stuff like you used to, because you’ve learned it passes and is ultimately unimportant. In fact, in retrospect you can’t believe you expended such “passion in a waste of shame“ on certain undeserving crises or persons. In any case, there’s a rejuvenation in energy and intellect that resembles the feminist epiphany, when you realize you actually like who you are.

Christiane Amanpour, 61, says a whole new chapter of her life has opened in replacing Charlie Rose on PBS (there is justice after all). My sister-cofounders of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, are respectively 83 and almost 85, and they tire their younger aides out. Oprah Winfrey is 65. I could go on but you get the point: we don’t lack role models; we lack consciousness of ageism, particularly when combined with sexism. Actor Dame Helen Mirren quipped, “As James Bond gets more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

In fact, although US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more people over 65—almost 20 percent—are still employed than at any point since the 1960s, women over 50 have the hardest time finding a job. (Not that they don’t work, even when jobless, given all the unpaid, invisible labor women perform lifelong at home and in their communities.)

This is not plain ageism like discrimination against old men who are neither wealthy nor powerful. Ageism against women is uniquely bound up with reproductive capacity and patriarchal sexual preferences. It always comes back to sex and reproduction, which is why those two basic human rights to self-determination remain both starting place and goal for feminism.

Me, I turn 78 in a few weeks, and the reason I can’t quite believe that’s true is not denial but because inside I am basically, oh, 39-40ish. Do I wish my body was younger and without pains in places I didn’t even know I had? Absolutely. But although I’d willingly exchange this body for one of my younger ones, I would not exchange what’s in my mind and spirit for younger versions by even five seconds. I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I love younger women—mentoring them and learning from them—and I’m grateful for and relieved by their unapologetic, fierce feminism. I’m optimistic and cynical at once. I’m no longer fearful of getting furious when I want to be, and I seek approval only from those I truly respect. All this—plus having had decades to develop a wry sense of humor, a practiced capacity to be mindful of every moment of every day, a fascination with humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe (including the thrills of science and awe at the universe), and a sense of absurdity regarding my creative, clumsy, adaptive, cruel, evolving species—gets me through.

So this is in praise of old women. Especially because this spring, 84-year-old Glenda Jackson is bringing to Broadway what theater critics abroad have unanimously declared the greatest single performance of our era: King Lear herself.

So offend, trivialize, or ignore old women at your peril. Respect, support, and welcome the talents and years we have to offer, and together we become women (and men) for the ages.

My commentary:

I love this woman’s writing but especially this week as she celebrates being “old” a word I now use to define myself at 74. Like Robin, I would not trade this age for another because lived experience continues to widen my horizons, brings me joy, creates a space for gratitude to blossom over the simplest of things.

Unlike Robin, I would not trade this aging body for a younger one, even though I am vulnerable to illness due to a chronic stomach condition and an extreme sensitivity to western drugs and Nature’s plight… Why? because it has taken me a whole lifetime to love this little body that is the physical manifestation of the rest of me, and now I feel the deepest compassion for her – an amazing reversal from a life time filled with the filth of Woman’s self hatred.