Aging and the Ancestral Dark? by Sara Wright

Unfortunately, an inner darkness has been with me all fall hiding in the corners of my mind and disturbing my body creating headaches and stomach troubles during the day. Although I attempt to protect myself from a culture that I cannot control by not listening to news, watching television, movies or perusing social media I am painfully aware of the fact that politicians on an international level cannot even agree to discuss what to do about climate change – this after 30 years of doing absolutely nothing – creating in me a mindless fury that leaves me in black despair. The time of acting locally and thinking globally is long past. Thinking and doing must occur on a global level. Novelist Richard Powers states the obvious: “People can better imagine the end of the end of the world before the end of Capitalism”. Then we can move to the moon.

I have also been forced to acknowledge how difficult this year has been on a personal level. Aging is affecting my energy level, increasing the severity of depressed states, my sense of inner and outer balance. I am vulnerable and know it although I do my best to begin each day with gratitude as I first peer out at my beloved trees, a little nuthatch or chickadee, gaze at a silver crescent, or celebrate a pale pink dawning.

I began this year in crisis on the cultural new year’s eve shoveling ice that blocked my door and breaking my foot in the process. And this was only the beginning…

I had no help and couldn’t get any. My little dogs had to go out and I used snowshoes to create paths for them in the snow each dawning re – injuring my foot repeatedly … the ice was extreme…every step a threat… getting up the hill to the car was an almost impossible ordeal.

By the end of February I was in such a state of terror that I put my house up for sale, signed a contract in four days and then discovered I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

The day I contracted to sell this beloved property I went out to stand under the white pine, the one I call the “Mother Tree” asking her to understand why I could do such a thing. When I came indoors to eat my oatmeal I pulled pine needles out of my mouth. The tree had spoken; I had been forgiven.

After making frantic trips to look for houses for seven weeks I backed out of the contract and took a financial hit that left me numb.

I finally ended up on a waiting list for an old person’s –(women’s?) home located in a nearby town but I have to wait until someone dies or moves out to move in…

I lost my mind last spring and have not retrieved it. The trauma was evidently so severe that it has had a permanent effect on my short – term memory.

Normal sleep remains impossible. I am haunted by terrifying dreams which have been my constant companion all year long.

I am exhausted all the time and wonder if this illness is a psychic phenomenon or has some other cause. Perhaps it’s both.

All spring, summer, and fall, I tried to strengthen my foot by walking as much as I could. I finally faced the fact that this injury is permanent as is the pain, something I need to live with.

Snow and ice in mid-November ended my ability to take solace in the forest I love. Too dangerous. The last time I was there was on November 9th, the anniversary of my father’s death. Although I was not close to my dad during his lifetime I stood up for him when he died, and this initiated an ancestral relationship that stretched across time; one I have come to cherish and honor each fall by visiting the beavers, one of which he became. Except for my brother, the rest of my family, living and dead, are lost to me by accident or design. Most of the Ancestors I feel close to seem to be non – human.

I keep writing to save my life.

Each year in November I light my beautiful Norfolk Island pine in honor of all the evergreens that remain intact on this planet. This year I lit my tree with a heavy heart. During the winter months I honor conifers (just as I celebrate the glory of deciduous trees leafing out and blossoming during the other three seasons of the year).

I remind myself that this act is my ‘Thanksgiving’ for the gift of nature that sustains me – in particular, the trees that help me breathe; trees with whom I share 53 percent of my DNA and who are my beloved Ancestors.

One day my ashes will help nourish one hemlock that bows and hums to the Sandborn River, even as s/he purifies the water and mediates the temperature of the forest in which s/he grows. Witch hobble, partridgeberry wintergreen and mosses thrive nearby. I’ve known for a while that I would be buried under a tree but I thought it would be here next to my brother and near my father’s grave until I dreamed a year ago that my brother was roaming free in the  20,000 acre forest I spend so much time in. Because he loved the wild places and that forest is protected it made perfect sense to me that his spirit moved on, as mine must. I wondered which tree in that protected forest would receive my ashes.

There was no revelation; one afternoon in September a vague nudge stopped me before a two hundred year old hemlock. I stood beneath her, rubbed ribbed bark and hugged as much of the tree as I could while peering up into her canopy… Here she was, my tree; she told me, but I don’t know how.

I do believe my land will weep for me as I have wept for her knowing what’s to come because land has memory; s/he knows I love her…When I die this property will be chopped up, her trees cut, the legacy of having not one person in my life who cares enough to protect her… In the mean – time I stay, give thanks for trees and plants, the birds and deer and take comfort and pleasure in my living indoor tree, a Norfolk Island Pine, and gaze out my window at a forest of bare trees…

Except for nature I deal with aging alone.

BIO: Sara Wright 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: Aging, environment, General, trauma

Tags: , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. Your writing always touches me so deeply, and this perhaps the deepest of all. As I read I see myself amongst your trees, I can feel the magic of your soul, and the importance of your place within that landscape. Reading about your alone journey into older age is so important, I appreciate you sharing it with us. I send you love. Keep writing.

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  2. Sara, I hear you! Thank you for sharing your journey through the darkness. I don’t know if it’s appropriate/supportive, but I have a lovely qi gong group on Thursdays which may make the road feel a little less lonely… be in touch, if you want via [info at elinekieft dot com]. Sending love and support!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know one thing all these comments are helpful not just to me but for all of us….so often now we don’t comment on each other’s writing – and this is such a good example of what happens when we do… I’m proud of all of us!

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  3. Dear Sara

    Thank you very much for sharing your very inspiring journey with us. This piece in particular is most inspiring. Bravo for the courage you exude and thank you for reminding me to stay true to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Land does indeed have memory and knows when we love her, and loves us back. You are such an inspiration, making your home and your family among the trees in a way that most of those of our century have forgotten and facing aging with truth and courage. Your writing is not only your salvation, but a beacon for so many of us as we navigate our own aging and way through life and nature. I love that you have lit your tree – it is beautiful, as is your gratitude to all the trees she represents.

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  5. A thoroughly moving and beautiful piece! You really have had a difficult year. I admire your courage and strength in dealing with it all, and the beauty of your reflections. And hope that next year will be easier. I could certainly identify with all your grief as I am having my own struggles with my eyesight going which has similarly resulted in lack of sleep and other disorders. Thanks for your quote from Powers, it really says it all.

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  6. Oh, Sara, this is heartbreaking and inspirational. There are so many in similar situations, dealing with illness and aging alone. Would that there was an organization that could preserve your land.

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    • Yes, I like this heartbreaking and inspirational – you saw it! We can break this silence and it is BOTH – I was told by someone that this piece wasn’t even about aging – just a deeply personal story – hmmm aren’t they all? Thanks!

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  7. It took courage to write about aging, grief and death, a subject that western culture wants to avoid. But none of us can avoid it. It is best to confront it head on, like you have done and discuss it for when we share, we become informed and united in the process and we do not feel as alone.

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  8. Sara, I love your living and am inspired by your writing – you truth-tell in courage and vulnerability. I struggle to be vulnerable, which means I struggle to be courageous. Mary Daly wrote that courage is a practice – a habitus – you get by courageous acts. “You learn courage by couraging.” You practice courage a lot. I love your spirit and wish for you to also have some ease, rest, and comfort. I send you a hug through time, space, my kindred sister.

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    • I think you are very courageous and you do yourself a dis service by not owning it – we all have different ways….. I do agree with Mary Daly that courage takes practice – this is partly why I. Writing this stuff – it’s interesting because I can hear a voice that tells me to shut up but I won ‘t listen….and thank you so much for these remarks – I think you know how much I value your opinion….

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  9. Thank you for continuing to write Sara – all this hard stuff. I’m glad you have your friends there – the trees and birds and your dogs.
    I feel the aging.
    I am encouraged mostly by young ones I am blessed to know who are doing life differently, with much more care and consciousness, who are taking up the baton for Life.
    I wish you some ease and comfort.

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