Moving towards the Dark… “Elder”berry Musings…by Sara Wright

“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 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.


Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.

Categories: Community, Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, Grief, Healing, Nature, Relationality, Women and Community

Tags: , ,

15 replies

  1. Thank you Sara for writing so openly about your process, feelings and thoughts! September is also my birth month, I hope to turn 44 at the 28th :-). I live with an auto-immune condition, which creates a regular reality of not being able to do what ‘other’ people seem to find very normal. I often feel I’m being a spoil sport if I cannot engage in pre-planned activities. I do resonate with the sense of independence you describe, becoming so self-sufficient that asking for help is rarely necessary. My usual pattern is to take myself out of the equation rather than ask for a different game plan. But it does make me question what conditions us so strongly regarding this enormous emphasis on independence. What can we learn from its opposite? If asking for help was more normalised? What can we learn from collaboration, sharing, greater inclusivity? This question has been turned around for me, through being a long term student of Jonathan Horwitz (from the Scandinavian Center for Shamanic Studies). He teaches that ‘a shaman works by asking for help’. As apprentice to the spirit worlds, for me it is a great relief and resource to be able to learn to ask for help there… even if I don’t always manage to ask for help from other humans!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Asking for spirit/body guidance seems much more natural to me than asking for help from people…I fear rejection a lot. I think it’s very important to learn how to ask for help – and for me – not to be crushed when it doesn’t come.


  2. Hi Sara, I resonate with your fears around ageing and needing help.

    You ask how you can do this without feeling shame and it occurred to me that asking for help provides an opportunity for others to give it.

    That in itself is valuable: by helping you, whether paid or unpaid, and by your authentic pleasure in that help, an energetic connection is made that enlivens and strengthens the helper – so, in fact, you are helping them…

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I always feel this way when offering help or giving my time/ attention etc to others but really struggle with receiving… So far no response to the shame aspect – wonder if this is just about me?


  4. Thank you for this important and insightful post that I think will resonate with many, many people. It seems to me that some of the solution to people being able to ask for help without being shamed or feeling shame has to do with our understanding of “independence.” While “independence” is valued in our society, I think we often don’t see that no one is truly independent. We are all interdependent, no matter what our age or physical situation. No one can eat, be sheltered, be educated, be transported, receive medical care, etc. without the help of other people. Our communities function better when we see ourselves as part of a web of interdependence where we deserve the help we get because of all we give as well as because all beings deserve respect and care. For example, we all depend on you, Sara, for the beauty and insightfulness of your writing, for example, and the animals who you care for add to the diversity and joy of the planet we all live on, among many other of your contributions. So you deserve to be cared for in return. I remember a conversation I once had with a gentleman from Uganda who owned a home care agency here in the US. He told me that starting the agency was natural for him because in his village everyone just assumed that elders would be cared for by everyone because they were such an important part of the village community. That seemed like a really healthy perspective to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you so much for your honest and compassionate response. I am deeply grateful. You know the strange thing is that it is utterly real to me that we are all part of the same fabric, and yet, when it comes to asking for help I am often paralyzed. I know what’s happening but I can’t stop it and writing about it really helps. I never wanted to be independent – I am such a relational sort of person but people are difficult – I think I am too intense and too honest for my own good sometimes… I can’t believe that I am the only elder/older person who feels this way. I don’t think it helps that I live in a rural area where families are extended – I am still an outsider and always will be – part of the problem I believe. Thanks again Carolyn.


  6. Poignant post Sara, There are so many layers of issues here. The one I honed in on was SHAME. I wrote a blogpost about shame in Nov 2019. I think it is one of the tools of patriarchy uses to “put us in our places.” In other words, shame . .. and I would add guilt, changes the way we view ourselves and the way we interact with the world. When we are too busy being rendered helpless by shame and guilt, we we aren’t speaking up or causing trouble and are far too easily controlled. (See Texas to see the upshot of that!).

    Bullies and abusers never experience guilt or shame. Those of us who have experience abuse and shaming have, and due to a messed up psychology I don’t understand, its up to us to clean up that mess.

    And so Sara. . . don’t let them get to you. Shame is not yours to carry. Shame silences by design. Recognize it for what it is, a tool of oppression and send it right back to those who deserve it. And that’s not you! We are human and need stuff at all stages of our lives. If we don’t ask we are unlikely to get it. As we age, every single one of us will need more help. That is part of what it is to be human. Independence is a myth anyway. Please don’t carry the weight of this on yourself.

    You are valuable and special because of who you are!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh you are so right Janet – shame is one of patriarchy’s weapons – a deadly one – and this independence thing is downright stupid and this is when I see that patriarchy lives through me – disgusting I know. Thank you so much for your compassionate response. I think its absolutely courageous to acknowledge our shame!!! As hard as it is to name it – at least initially.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In German, the elderberry is called “Holunder,” after the Goddess Holle. My German family loved to make pancakes from the flowers.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Oh how fascinating! Holle is a goddess of winter – and the fact that elderberry flowers and berries are used for jams and all sorts of edibles aside from the medicinal speaks to the power of this plant. Thank you so much for sharing this tidbit.


  10. I always love those posts and conversations among us women, it’s inspiring and supporting. Thank you all for your intelligent comments and posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a beautiful and poignant post. Elderberry is so powerful, and as you say, it has the power of the Elders right inside it, so rich and dark, purple, wise, and strong. It has been my friend many a year. Thank you for this offering.


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