Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Elder: A Story

A little story-vignette I wrote three years ago, which I think is rather apt for the season.

The Elder

A crystal dawn. An amber glow piercing the dense blue air of night. 
The elder stood on the edge of the grassy field, her feet wet with dew and her sloe-eyes twinkling as the stars above winked out, one by one. Her feathery hair haloed languidly around her, blown by the soft breath of an early morning breeze. She knew she was coming to the end of her life, her sun-browned skin furrowed with wrinkles from her time outdoors, her limbs now thin as twigs, though her eyes were still as sharp as ever. It had not been a long life, by some estimations, but it had been a full one, glutted with blossomings and fruitings and the passing of many, many moons—glowing and fading, waxing and waning—too many to remember. She had stood her ground in this place for decades, rooted, embedded, and she thrived. 
She often spent her time feeding birds, and had an uncanny way with bees and butterflies, not to mention the badgers and rabbits whose burrow entrances pocked the surrounding fields. She knew this place well. Nearby neighbours sometimes came to ask for her sweet drinks and remedies: spring-scented cordials and heady wines, thick and glossy syrups to ward against winter illnesses, and salves for healing wounds. She was well-regarded in the community for her culinary and healing knowledge and skill, though fewer people came to visit her nowadays.
Summer’s presence still permeated the air, but today the elder proudly wore her autumn finery, a decoration of dark sprays of lustrous beads, worn here and there as she pleased. She could never decide, though, whether she preferred the slowing blush of autumn or the quickening thrill of spring, with her springtime garb, all pale and wispy white, in readiness for sunshine and the resurgence of warmth. She particularly loved to wear perfume in spring. In summer she wore green, the kind that changes hue when the light passes through it, that merges with the patchwork of flourishing that sprawls across the landscape of that season. She knew she would not see another summer, which saddened her, but in the end she decided that each season had its charms, even winter, when her attire was unadorned and grey. 
As the sun rose higher into the clear sky she saw her old friend Rowan in the next field, leaning on his trusty walking stick. He waved to her, and she waved back in greeting and farewell. He had always been such a steadfast companion, with his own unique knowledge to share, and a great many feasts and celebrations had taken place in his presence once upon a time. Though he was older, he was smooth-skinned and red-cheeked, plenty of life in him still. She was sorry to be leaving him behind, but she would have to pass on soon. 
She constantly had visions of her death and a great pyre, built by Rowan himself, on which her dry old bones would blaze and turn to ash, while mourners played reedy music on handmade flutes to sing her to the other side. Then her remains would be scattered into the wind and she would fly before settling back down onto the earth to become one with the soil. She would not be gone, as her children and grandchildren, and a scattering of great-grandchildren, populated the district, and she intended to provide for them as her mother and grandmothers and great-grandmothers had nourished her. She would live on through them and she hoped her knowledge would too, an heirloom passed down through the generations. She could ask for nothing more.

The birds came to eat from her hands, and she spread food for the bold rabbits who came to feed at her feet, but as the day turned and came to its dusky end, the wise elder took one last look at the blue sky and then closed her eyes.

Elderberries, Sambucus nigra (Source: Wikimedia, by Isidre blanc)


  1. i love how you made the elder live in personhood here. there's a deeply pleasing sanity in recognising the consciousness in all life, and in the way the elder views herself and her passing. to live in harmony, in community; to nourish through one's life and in death too.

    1. Thank you. I wanted to play with the double meaning of the word 'elder', and to make people ask, is this story about an old woman, or a tree? Or perhaps both?


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