Forests and Aging
Every time I visit my adult children these days I have aging on mind. My recent hike in a forest brought it all back.
Signs of death are everywhere. Like a slow dancing rain, falling leaves drift down and around us. A seemingly sturdy tree, rotten from the inside out, lies collapsed under its own weight, apparently brought down by a sudden storm or wind. Several large pieces of the trunk lie directly in front of us.
This isn’t Longwood Gardens, where cosmetic surgery is performed every day of the week. Keeping everything picture perfect. Almost, but not quite devoid of fading blooms or leaves yellow before the official start of autumn.
Here in the forest death seems as normal as life. Picture perfect photos aren’t possible. Which is how I feel these days about myself.
I look at old photos that I thought weren’t quite as pristine as I may have wanted. But they all look perfectly lovely now. Sometimes I wish I could time travel back and relive those moments.
Then again, I can’t always remember what came right before and right after the photo. Except that life went on—much of it lovely, much unlovely.
In the forest, life springs from death and decay. Everywhere. Without cosmetic surgery or attempts to create photo opps. Mushrooms and other life forms thrive on decay. So, in a way, do I, even though I don’t always understand how or why.
An aging (my age!) colleague, a historian, loves to remind me that we stand on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands who came before us. We inherit their successes and breakthroughs.
We also inherit the price they paid on behalf of the next generations. The price of telling and living the truth as they saw it, despite often being judged ‘wrong’ or ‘misguided.’
It takes courage to live and courage to die. It also takes courage to feed on what is rich with nutrients and live-sustaining wisdom. These days my mind and spirit feed on the lives and wisdom of older women and men long since dead.
They aren’t wise because they were old and are now dead. Soren Kierkegaard reminds me that wisdom doesn’t necessarily grow with age. It can, in fact, deteriorate with age and grow with youth.
That said, I’m grateful for those whose wisdom was laid down with their deaths—via writings and other records of their courageous moves that now may seem elementary.
When I die, I want to be an old, decaying log lying in a forest somewhere, becoming something I couldn’t have been in this life. Fertilizer and food for tiny mushrooms and ferns. I’d even welcome the birds who discover juicy insects thriving in what used to be me.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 October 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, October 2015