Becoming an Elder

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The Elder Berry Woman

 

Preface:

I began this story 5 years ago, put it away unfinished, and just recently completed it. Because it’s autobiographical it deals with my personal issues. However there are universal elements that people may identify with…  this tale attempts to deal with some of the questions and the problems associated with aging, fear of death, and dying. I would greatly appreciate feedback!

 

Part 1

 

I turned 70 a month ago crossing an invisible threshold. With this birthday I reluctantly entered the first year of my ‘elder’ years. “Red Birds” awakened me at dawn. The two cardinals spent the morning hours chirping and hopping around the grapevines outside my bedroom window. I felt deep gratitude for these feathered presences that seemed to understand that this birthday was charged with a heaviness I couldn’t diffuse myself. My intimate relationship with these particular birds was reaffirming that Nature responds to the longings of the hungry heart.

 

I have reached the conclusion that aging is a subject that no one wants to touch in case it’s catching. We sprout platitudes. We pretend that age won’t rob us of our abilities or our autonomy. We “forge on” with military precision until we discover that even raking leaves can pull muscles, creating new inroads for pain like I did just last week. Others “soldier on” hiking or scaling mountains when feet, ankles, knees, and hips are starting to complain. Forced snow – shoveling strains back muscles sometimes to the breaking point, as does heavy garden work. In our culture this bull –like ego driven behavior is lauded while bodies weep. “Keep busy” pancaked women chime with false Barbie-Elsa faces cracking under the strain of deadly smiles. “You’re only as old as you think.”

 

I don’t want dishonest behavior to mark the third and final chapter of my story. The price that denial extracts is a forced separation of mind from body. Escaping into the world of technology, ideas, work, fun or other distractions while ignoring our bodies leaves them vulnerable to bear the burden of aging alone. After spending so much of my life ‘walking on air’ I want and need to be present for my body as we make our body/mind way into the future even though death is most certainly in the forecast.

 

I suspect everyone crosses the threshold into “old age” at a different age – some do at retirement but it was not that way for me because turning 65 seemed to be a time of ripening possibilities. I was hopeful then, brimming with plans and new ideas. For five years I hovered on that edge. I searched for a winter home. I made plans to write a book, and created new intentions to heal broken family relationships. At 70 I am still circling the same issues.

Most disturbing is the fact that my depressive episodes are increasing in length if not severity. I don’t know whether or not my depressed state is age appropriate because few talk about aging honestly. Is it my psychology that’s the problem or is there a relationship between depression and aging?

What I do know is that I am in the midst of a crisis of meaning. Am I simply waiting to die? I feel invisible, powerless, enervated. I experience mindless fear; a great loneliness has attached itself to me. I guess it’s not surprising that I feel depressed.

This fall I harvested clusters of berries from my Elderberry bush and made a tincture. Elderberry is an ancient folk remedy that has antiviral properties and I planned to use it during the winter to help me ward off colds and flu. I am especially attached to this bush, loving both the delicate pearl white flower umbrals and the deep purple berries. I am also fascinated by the name: “Elder –Berry”. I am desperately in need of help from some natural force wiser than myself and I wondered if it might be possible to contact the Spirit/Soul of this plant to help me.

After my birthday, I began a story about meeting up with a well – ripened old Berry Woman with this idea in mind. I imagined her as purple fruit – a tree with ripe plums, a patch of sweet blackberries, a heavy cluster of bruised grapes hanging outside my window, and most of all as a single purple berry.

One day after I started my story I had a vision that materialized in front of me as I was meandering through the woods around my house during a writing break. Stunned by the sight of a purple berry hovering in a cloud of mist around the bark of a fragrant green balsam tree I froze. Elderberries are very small but this one was a giant, the size of a very large grape. I thought I was imagining things until this purple Being greeted me with a strange remark.” I have been waiting for you, ”she said simply. She was real! Without preamble, I asked her directly:

“Would you consider becoming my teacher? I don’t have anyone to instruct me on how to live now that I have entered ‘old’ age.”

Beseeching her with my eyes I slid down on a smooth black stone that buttressed one my trees gazing up at her intently, waiting for an answer.

The lush purple berry rocked back and forth on a twig jiggling. I thought I could see something moving inside the translucent skin – a seed?

“It will be a pleasure” she replied. “ I have been watching you for a long time. Do you remember the dream you had of the green vine snaking its way along the forest floor with its purple leaves and the single eye that was embedded in each leaf?” I nodded.

“ I appeared to you as a creeping vine to demonstrate to you the importance of listening to the Earth through the roots of plants as well as their flowers and leaves. I was inviting you to learn to see through insight. By staying close to the forest floor you are in a position to seek guidance from below.”

Vaguely, I wondered about roots, dirt. The underground. I felt uneasy about that world below. Besides I was more focused on the extraordinary beauty of each living plant or tree that was visible above ground.

“That was you? But…”

“I can shapeshift at will. You have met me in many flower and tree guises throughout your life – why do you think you call yourself a ‘plant woman’? We have always had an intimate relationship.

I thought for a moment and realized that she was right; my love of plants/trees stretched back to my first experience with a sunflower that expanded and shrunk over my head. I was just a baby lying on my back in the summer sun, my feet tickling the grass.

“You remember me well!” She laughed, crinkling her shiny skin.

I almost blurted out that I was still questioning that what I was experiencing was real even though we were talking and I could see her, even after I harvested her berries… but didn’t finish the thought… That the Berry Woman was discussing a dream I had thirty years ago, a dream I never understood but knew was important, floored me, undermining the skeptic. The sunflower’s behavior was emblazoned in my psyche… I was having a conversation with a giant purple berry.

Starflower was excited, buzzing around my body like a bee.

What I needed most was an open mind.

“Yes!” the Berry Woman chirped, in response to this thought, wrinkling her purple skin into the shape of a grin.

“Old Age scares me because I feel the loss of physical energy and worry that I won’t be able to take care of myself. I feel as if I am an ocean of regrets. I obsess about broken family relationships that I have no control of. I fear that aging will intensify what I already struggle with.” I finish quietly.

Words are pouring out of me like water.

Solemnly she nods.“ You will have to deal with loss of physical energy, regrets, and for a while, the obsessive need to focus on what’s broken in your family relationships. Your depression must also be acknowledged. Illness too. These are facets of aging that affect all humans, although not equally. And they will probably intensify for you at least periodically. You are not alone here. I promise; you will learn that you can deal with these issues if you are willing to confront them with courage, honesty, and integrity.

“All I know is that I want my life back! I feel like it’s been overshadowed by Past and Future.”

The Berry Woman nodded, “ I want to help you but in order to do that you have to trust me.”

“I want to trust you Berry Woman but I can’t let go of my fear.” I feel ashamed admitting the truth.

“You endured the legacy of abandonment and this has given you great strength, but you have also been cut away from your ability to trust, and the safety of being Earthed. You are like a tree without a taproot, vulnerable to collapse in heavy winds and storms. If you can lean into me just for a moment you will feel a difference. Shut your eyes. Try it.”

I close my eyes. I breathe deeply, sudden images of hearts thrumming, soft skin next to mine… then I feel the warmth of my two little dogs. I am totally relaxed; I trust my dogs implicitly.

“That’s right, start with who you do trust – you are well aware that your dogs have been your most powerful teachers since childhood.”

I get it.

Start with what I have, not with what I don’t. I think about Nature whose benign presence is palpable in all but my most despairing moments. Isn’t this how the Berry Woman came to me? If I trust Nature I there must be some part of me that trusts her too.

“ Let’s leave the trust issue for now and move on to the second problem. You have no faith in your ability to persevere. You are strong but you must say no to the negative voices that undermine you, and to do that you must be able to listen to what they are telling you.”

“They always say the same things Berry Woman – that no one cares if I live or die, that I am worthless and needy, that I have no power to effect positive changes, no authority…” I could go on here but I don’t.

Listen to me carefully. You are not invisible or powerless. The good news is that if you refuse to accept these messages eventually they will begin to lose some power. At the same time it is important to be aware that during cycles of depression those same voices will return to haunt you when you are most vulnerable. This is the hardest part. But you know how to endure and during these periods you must lean into that strength and hang on. Starflower has to develop roots that interpenetrate yours, and you have to strengthen your roots, grounding them deeper in Nature.”

How did she know about Starflower? In my forties I discovered that Starflower was the name of the child that lived in the air and water around me. I let my right (non dominant) hand draw a picture of her. She was both – a star and a flower, and she gave herself the name.

For a moment I was caught in the joy of Starflower presence… Then I sighed, sagging under the weight of the Berry Woman’s words. What she was asking me to do seemed impossible.

“I never said this would be easy.”

Waves of the Berry Woman’s compassion flowed around me; I was not invisible to her.

“I need to leave you now; but I will come again. We’ll talk more about these problems, I promise.”

Suddenly, I realized I had been in the forest all afternoon and it was twilight. “Goodnight.” Her voice trailed off as the sun sank into the horizon, radiating a golden luminescence that lit up the purple jewel cloaking her in indigo at dusk…

I quickened my steps back up the hill and entered the house to feed the dogs. I felt much stronger – and certainly less depressed. An irritating voice kept nagging that I had made the Berry Woman up because I was caught in a crisis of meaning. I ignored it. I needed her help too badly.

I felt calm and starry eyed as I peered out the window that evening, determined to reflect more on what scared me so much about aging, dying, and death. I tried to stay with my fears to examine them more closely.

As I continued my writing Death took center stage.

A few days later I heard my purple friend chirp, “Good Evening” just as twilight set in. Shadowed by grape vines, she was hovering in the air just outside my bedroom window. Oh, I was so glad to see her.

“ Death really scares me.” I began in a rush to get the words out, feeling shame and embarrassment, tears welling up and spilling over unbidden. “I have lost so many people – my children – animals and trees that I have loved; all of nature seems to be dying. I am unbearably lonely and filled with grief.”

“Yes, I know because I know you and because I am very old; I live inside every tree and plant that you have ever loved,” she replied.

How can that be? I wanted to ask the question but I didn’t want to interrupt her.

“Let’s begin to talk about death by looking at the bigger picture – a good example is what happens in your forest. Pay attention to that mossy hemlock stump with its twisting roots. You often visit that spot near the brook. The white cedar fell over during a storm leaving its jagged trunk and roots behind, but this is where you chose to plant partridge-berry. And look – the little ground creeper is climbing over that emerald green decaying bark birthing ripe red berries even as the stump disintegrates. Lacey cedar seedlings are thriving along its base. This is a perfect window into the ‘big picture,’ and intuitively you already knew this when you chose the place to plant your creeper…One of your strengths is that you are such a keen observer; we appreciate this… Death in the context of Nature can’t be separated from life. The two are inextricably tied as one process and not as separate events.

We?

I was pleased that she acknowledged my seeing. I also knew she was right about the big picture but I still couldn’t feel the truth of her last words.

“You make death sound so natural. Why then am I so afraid to die?” I am deliberately emphasizing this question.

“When you die all the cells of your body must give up their individual lives, the cells of your heart, brain, veins and arteries, blood, tissues, muscles and bones are all made up of cells that cooperated and collaborated to create you out of one fertilized egg cell. Fear of death is part of your complex cellular structure. Every single one of those lights must go out. Remember what happened when your teeth were extracted last summer? You grieved for the loss of parts of your physical self. Dying means coming to terms with grieving the loss of your whole body through each of its cells. You must enter the unknown without your physical self.”

The Berry Woman’s voice sounded sad as she continued. “You were born with the awareness of being unwanted/abandoned; you couldn’t help abandoning a body you couldn’t trust as a baby. We’ll return to this point in a minute. Next you lost your brother tragically, and you were barred from knowing what happened to the remains of his body for 32 years. When your grandmother died alone in a hospital two years after your brother’s death the trauma of loss of body was repeated a third time; You were abandoned, your brother had simply disappeared, your grandmother died alone when you ached to be with her, and you desperately needed to find a bridge to both of them to create a bridge to yourself, because with those deaths you officially became an orphan. Much later you learned in the Amazon that the child/soul self never incarnated in your body in the first place because living in a body that faced annihilation was too threatening. As you have written repeatedly, you have spent a life ‘walking on air’. You have done an enormous amount of work to become embodied as an adult; but the child can’t overcome her visceral fear of moving into her/your body even though you long for her to join you. You now know that you were almost aborted as a fetus – Today, the disembodied child is blocking you from moving forward beyond this point.

I nodded in agreement. I had already had foreknowledge of these truths through dreams and intuition, but conversing with the Berry Woman made them more real. Fear of my death was intimately tied to that abandoned baby’s fear…

The Berry Woman continued…”To compound matters, you were taught by your culture that life is not lived in the round. Life is split away from death.” Look at what happened to you – you crossed a psychic boundary at your 70th birthday, and that event was tied to the arrow of time that supposedly flows in only one direction.”

This of course was true. In postmodern western culture, death is supposed to occur at the end of (a linear) life, and death is final. Whatever happens afterwards is a mystery, a journey into the unknown; one perhaps dependent on personal belief.

I thought of the 30 years I had spent celebrating monthly and seasonal changes through earth – based ritual. Every rite had one requirement that included some kind of letting go, surrender, or death of a quality/attitude no longer needed. I had learned that some types of ‘dying’ were part of an ongoing cyclic process requiring endless repetition. But in all these years I had not been able to feel my physical death as part of that round.

“Could it also be that dealing with the fear of death was partly developmental? Maybe I am just moving into this psychic region of influence now? At 70 I am starting to feel that, one day, in the not so distant future I shall die.”

“What you just said is important. Dealing with dying on a personal level is to some extent developmental. The fact that you are starting to feel death looming as part of your future may seem frightening, but is actually another positive development. You must be able to feel those feelings and one day the child must join you in order for you to reach a point of acceptance.”

“I am so tired of stupid fear,” I whisper, sighing audibly.

“For now it is enough to admit this truth,” the Berry Woman replies kindly. Her voice is fading and I realize for the second time that twilight has fallen.

For the next few weeks I kept on writing, though I was experiencing more confusion and uncertainty as to where I was headed with such a difficult and upsetting story.

The Berry Woman hadn’t materialized again, and I was starting to feel nagging doubts…

I wrote about recent illnesses and my growing distrust of doctors. A positive result of this distrust is that I was starting to take responsibility for my health on a level that I never had before. I tried to listen to my body more carefully. I was taking Elderberry daily.

I recalled my recent oral surgery. When I first looked in the mirror after the extractions I saw a toothless old woman staring back at me. Vaguely, I recalled the fact that all the women in my family lost their teeth around the age of seventy. Lightening struck. I had gotten stuck in two “events” that were related. I turned 70 and had teeth extracted three weeks before! This surgery and my birthday had forced me to encounter the “old woman” in myself.

And I had to admit that I was very much afraid of her.

 Up until mid-life when I began to celebrate ritual everything I believed about old women came from the biased (Christianized) fairy tales I read as a child, the actions of my mother, and my experience of them. In fairy tales the “old woman” is toothless, ugly, and mean. And as I later learned as an eco – feminist, she was also a figure that had fear and tremendous hatred of old women (and the earth) at her roots.

In contrast, years of celebrating ritual had introduced me to the ‘old woman’ as a more positive figure. For example, Baba Yaga lived in the woods in a house that moved around on chicken feet. She was ugly, toothless, ruthlessly honest, and powerful. She was not the least bit sentimental. Oozing false declarations of love was not part of her nature. She could be fearsome but she could also choose to help when approached with honesty, integrity and respect. I wanted desperately to embrace this more positive older figure, but the child’s fear of the old woman was the stronger of the two in my psyche.

I had just finished this sentence, when the purple berry appeared on a twig of one of the grapevines. It was a soft pale blue afternoon. The Berry Woman was dancing in front of me- a translucent oval twirling around in a small circle of light. Now I could clearly see the seed inside her.

“ Berry Woman, I am so happy to see you. I have to acknowledge the mean old witch of my childhood fairy tales as a shadow part of me don’t I?”

“Yes, you must! You know the phrase ‘keep you enemies near’ and this is sound advice. That old troll can strike when you are least expecting it. She’s at home just below the threshold of your awareness. She’s full of envy; she’s dishonest and manipulative; she’s either a killer or uses “kindness” and dismissal as a weapon. Often, she’s most deadly during the monthly full moons. She also holds hidden power, the root of your fear of her. Your mother unfortunately had many of those qualities and she wielded power at the expense of relationship, so you have some idea what you are up against. It didn’t help that your mother refused to see you for the last twelve years of her life. How she dealt with old age is a question that will never be answered. To do more work around forgiveness will help you. You also need to tap into the kind of power I have to use it in a positive way; this is a challenge because you learned that power destroys relationships. Finally, it’s critically important to recognize that both you and your mother were socialized into a culture of woman hatred.”

Her words about my mother upset me greatly. I believed I had come to terms with who she was. I thought I had taken full responsibility for my part in our disastrous relationship. (Woman hatred was a reality I simply lived with and was forced to accept as a member of this culture). The thought of returning to the mother issue again filled me with dread.

Before I could express my concern the Berry Woman’s translucent body began shrinking into a single point of light that pulsed like a star and then, pouf, she was gone. No doubt she knew exactly what I was thinking.

I mulled over what she had said about my mother and forgiveness, my mother and power. In my heart I knew I had more work to do. I also owned that my fear of my mother was tied to the mean ‘old witch’ of fairy tales and for that reason I needed to re-examine this figure. I wandered outdoors into the mist- laden forest, papery orange maple leaves crunching under my feet. When I reached the brook I lay down on the moss covered ground between some rusty red pine roots and stared up at the evergreens feeling a deep sadness wash over me. My eyes grew heavy and I slept.

In the dream I have a clear image of three bare trees. The biggest of these trees, the one in the center, has black puncture holes in her trunk and some dark resin pours out from what appears to be deep wounds. Although all the trees are leafless, it is after all deep autumn, two seem quite healthy. But the holes in the center tree make my stomach ache. I imagine invisibility, loneliness, depression, loss of physical strength, fear of dying… how can I attend to such wounds? My stomach clenches with involuntary fear as I awaken. This is the Mother Tree.

I must have slept through the night because the sun was streaming through the trees when I awakened. In front of me leaning against rough bark perched on an evergreen branch the Berry Woman sparkled – plump and ripe. With a shock I note that I spent the whole night outdoors in the cold and never felt it.

I raced up the hill to take care of the dogs.

Then we continued our conversation. “I saw the Mother Tree in my dream – she’s me isn’t she?”

“Of course. I hope you noticed that she was very much alive, despite her wounding.”

All I had seen were the holes, the dried blood that poured out of her center. Now I imaged the whole tree in my mind, as if seeing her for the first time. She wore a silvery crown of graceful bare branches, and despite the oval black holes in her body she was elegantly dressed in gray ribbed bark. She wasn’t dying.

“You never saw her before – all you noticed were the holes, not a resplendent tree standing between her two sisters. You have a tendency to focus on what’s wrong and that limits your vision. Some of your favorite woodpeckers made those holes and raised children in them.” Woodpeckers create space for new beginnings…and most holes, even those that weep, do not kill the tree. Note that you have two sister trees and neither have holes. You are not alone!

When the Berry Woman spoke again, her voice was stern. “ There is nothing you can do to heal the mother wounds, they are part of who you are, but you can learn to co-exist with them. Unfortunately, when mother dominates your psyche/body you can’t imagine a life not predicated on pain, and this bias has merit because you have suffered deeply.”

I feel sudden fury rising. I am sick of pain.

“ Think about it. As soon as you were able to begin growing up you did your best to give others the best of what you had to offer. You discovered a way to live your life creatively through academia, teaching, counseling, your writing, and by learning how to Love through Nature. Your dogs, dove, bears, the animals and plants of the forest have been lifetime teachers. I can promise you that a creative fire is still burning inside you even if you cannot feel it.”

“ You think so? The fire in me feels like it has turned to ash. ” For an instant I see the three Red Birds that appeared during my ritual on All Hallows Eve and speculate on their message…

“ I want to change the subject. Can we talk about the Universe?”

The Berry Woman nods crinkling smooth opaque skin. I love the way it folds over her like an accordion.

“Of course we can,” she replies.

For me, the Earth seems friendly, but the Universe seems unfriendly. I had a sudden thought – Had black holes in the mother tree biased my thinking about the Universe?

” Good question, chirps the Berry Woman. The Universe isn’t unfriendly it’s the ultimate unknown! Perhaps you need to start to practice thinking about the Universe without attaching a negative judgment to it”.

She continues, “it is very important for you to heal the split you have created between the Universe and the Earth.”

 “The Universe is so immense, so abstract, seemingly so empty that it is beyond my capacity to imagine feeling at home in it, let alone safe. Yet my senses also tell me that the Universe is much more complex than physicists imagine. It may be that the Universe is also intuitively tuned to all its inhabitants from quasars to photons just like the Earth is.”

“Ah, good thinking!” The Berry Woman is pleased, and I feel grateful. The grape is wrinkling her skin into that engaging smile.

When she slides into the rough bark of the tree I don’t question it, although I always feel regret when she leaves. Nothing the Berry Woman does now seems strange to me. With surprise I realize that I have started to trust her a whole lot.

Stiffly, I get to my feet, stumbling over those rugged tree roots and returned to the house. I am exhausted from all this thinking/conversation, and very much needing to return to the mundane world and the love of my dogs.

My personal history may be a challenge but receiving help from Nature certainly helps neutralize the depression it causes I wrote a couple of days later. Somehow I must figure out how to locate myself in the bigger picture. How I can help the dis –embodied child enter our body still seemed to be an impossible task. All I had gleaned so far is that she lives through the holes of my “mother” tree.

I thought about my lost Universe connection. Up until the last few years I had always been drawn to the night sky.

I wrote about how I lost my cosmic connection by way of the stars and moon. First my dog Morningstar died after a prolonged and painful illness. The light of Venus darkened perceptibly. The following summer when the Perseid meteors struck on the night of my son’s birthday I stayed indoors. He had severed our relationship so completely despite years of prayers and pleading. These days, after viewing the Great Bear constellation in the Northeast sky, I was ready to return to the house.

For thirty years I had been in love with the moon turning to her each month during her fullness to help me heal my broken relationship with my body. But the moon eventually turned dark. At first it was her trickster grandson aspect, rabbit, that seemed to send me frightening dreams, or topple my life upside down each month when the moon was full and bright; more recently the specter of death hovered – the moon kept me from sleeping – death fears soared as she masqueraded as the Old Woman whose scythe cut the cord of life. Had I neglected her/his dark aspect until it overcame me? It wasn’t lost on me that restoring this relationship to the moon and stars was my first bridge to reconciliation with the rest of the cosmos.

Every word I wrote seemed to create more questions; more challenges but no answers emerged. I was feeling discouraged.

One day about a week later I walked down to the tree trunk by the brook and put my hands on the nubbly bark where I had last visited the Berry Woman. I wanted to tell her how grateful I was to have someone who seemed to understand what I was going through. I noticed the tree seemed to be gurgling almost inaudibly, and before I could say how much I missed my friend, she chimed in from above.

“Here I am!” I craned my neck upwards to get a glimpse of her. She was perched on a slender branch.

“I thought that since you have been writing about stars and the moon that I’d visit from a tree that catches stars every night in her branches. I’m glad that you see how one -sided your relationship with the moon and stars has become.”

“Uhmm…” I nodded sadly.

The Purple Grape continued.“ I want to remind you of part of your story… A long time ago you turned to the moon and stars – the Universe for help – you put your trust in possibilities that never materialized, and eventually your hope bled out like the resin still bleeds out from the mother tree. Feeling unworthy, you also made your son a guiding star instead of putting that trust in yourself… that was a grave mistake. When your son betrayed you the last time, part of you crumpled into a heap born of despair. You never recovered. You couldn’t bear to watch the meteor shower last summer because your grief has finally caught up to you and it is starting to seep through your body. Healing tears still do not come. The positive aspect of this process is that you are beginning to become more physically embodied through this torment. As I said before, this journey to become an Elder is difficult; most choose not make it. I am also compelled to tell you that learning to live in your body as receiver, with increasing awareness, means opening yourself to even more pain and fear. It’s just how it is.”

The Berry Woman was silent. I wondered if she was giving me a chance to absorb the enormity of what she just said. Then she began speaking quietly.

“ I am making you a promise. One day when you least expect it you will once again feel joy, marvel at the unfathomable mystery around you and wrap yourself in the cloak of the moon and her stars… Perhaps then Starflower will finally be able to find her way home. I can’t promise that, though. ” How much I loved the fact that The Berry Woman was so honest; no wonder I had come to trust her so completely. I started to thank her but she stopped me.

“I’m part of you, don’t you know that yet?” She had no sooner uttered these words, when my friend’s voice started to lose substance. I noted this abrupt change with alarm. She couldn’t leave me now… The frightening sense of impending loss was intolerable. Not again…

Transfixed, I watched as my Berry Woman wobbled precariously on her branch. When she toppled from the tree a jellied blob hit the ground disintegrating into the rich detritus of the forest floor. I gasped in disbelief. Only a single seed remained.

“This seed is my gift to you.” I barely heard her whisper.

“Thank you, thank you for coming. I will never forget…”

I bent down to pick up the gift – the seed that was her life- my life? – I held it reverently in my hand as I trudged up the hill to the house. I wondered then if the power of the Berry Woman’s seed could keep me attached to the rough road ahead. There was no way to know.

The End

Portals…

(portal made of willow fronds)

 

Lately, as I meander around the Bosque and down the paths to the river I am seeing portals everywhere I look. I walk under one made of golden cottonwood boughs, another graced by willows, a few created by rusty iron or wooden gates – all pathways to the beyond.

 

Portals are gateways or doorways into other worlds, or a different way of seeing and it is not lost on me that perhaps I am “seeing” portals everywhere in Nature because according to the Celtic/Native American calendars we are approaching the end of the wheel of the year here in Northern New Mexico as well as elsewhere. Perhaps I need to discover a new way of seeing. I can set this intention for the coming year even as I pass through each gate…Climbing through this mountainous twelve month cycle of steep ascents/descents has exhausted my soul, body, and spirit.

 

All Hallows, the Feast of the Dead, All Souls day, mark the end of the yearly cycle for many including me.

 

Then we will enter the space in between to emerge at winter solstice…

 

Although Indigenous people’s calendars are more fluid, around here, for example, the Tewa speaking peoples will tell you that in November “they do nothing” as one man from Santa Clara Pueblo recently quipped. The Harvest is in. Frost is on the horizon. There are no tribal dances until the winter solstice. Around us our beloved Cottonwoods are slowly losing their golden canopies. The owls are silent. Migrating Sand hill cranes serenade us with their haunting collective cries. Only the tracks and scat of animals remind us that our wild companions are still out and about.

 

image1.

 

Some Indigenous peoples from the North call this full moon “the leaves falling moon” or “the white frost on grass moon” names that seem particularly apt when describing what is happening. I could also name this moon “making tracks in the mud moon.”

 

The period that we are about to enter in about a week is a space where the veil lifts… It is a time of rest and reflection, a time to dream the world (and ourselves) into another way of being, perhaps. A mystical time for those of us who are sensitized to All That Is.

 

It is my favorite time of year.

 

In Northern New Mexico it is also the ‘season of light’. The dance between the sun star and her shadows is a source of ongoing amazement, exhilaration, and deep wonder, peaking at dawn and at eventide with each becoming a portal into the other.

 

As scalloped hearts and bear paw leaves drift to the ground and branches (some curved like claws), stretch their limbs and fingers towards an ever deepening blue or shark gray sky, I watch juncos, sparrows, and nuthatches feasting on fluffy chamisa and golden aster seeds. Last night the almost full moon hid her face behind rose pearled clouds.

 

I create a conscious intention beginning with this poignant and oh so beautiful “leaves falling in drifts” moon to find a way to move through this next year with more grace and less chaos in my life acknowledging that I am not certain how to Earth myself in a more generous way except by developing a new way of seeing.

 

Extremes of every sort have defined my days this year with me plunging into despair and grief over climate change and woman hatred.

 

Eerily, my concern for the Earth has often been mirrored by personal crisis. The veil between Earth and self seems to have evaporated like the mist that rises over the river in delicate plumes reaching towards a now golden sun or ever deepening dusk. I can’t help wondering if this merging might be a natural response to aging and/or my heightened sensitivity, a result of being in such an intimate relationship with Nature?

 

Perhaps as Earth Chaos intensifies I will continue to experience my own extremes even more deeply? If the latter is the case my hope and intention is to carry the awareness that this state is “natural” under the circumstances.

 

To accept what is, might be I the greatest challenge I face.

 

One portal to acceptance as I already mentioned might be to shift my awareness into a different way of seeing. I can create this intention without knowing exactly what I mean…

 

As I pass under the portal of the end of this year entering “the space in between” my earnest hope is that I will not lose myself, even when I stand alone in a sea of humanity whose (personal and political) behavior mystifies me, or that I will not succumb to despair, or make an unnecessary descent into rage or sorrow.

 

I remind myself that to stay with the truth of what is, as I experience it, is also heroic (although I never feel this way) and that others who cannot be present to their lives in a meaningful way will try to dismiss my life as inauthentic (too emotional, too sensitive, too fill – in – the blank, blah, blah, blah,) because witnessing human horrors is too threatening to them.

 

Rape is still rape regardless of disbelief.

 

Like the deer in my dreams who bed down in tall grasses before the open gate may I too surrender to what is, and to that which is unknown. Animal Peace is the gift offered when we are present to the moment.

 

And like the worms living in my compost heap who create ‘black gold’ in the process of living out their lives, may I find a way to do the same… perhaps through a different way of seeing.

 

A lot to ask for, I know.

 

Still, as I pass under this next portal the help I need is near… All I need to do is to follow the tracks of the animals that are so dear.