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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Fall 2014, Issue XI In Conversation with the River: A Call to Conscious Elderhood

In Conversation with the River: A Call to Conscious Elderhood

On the Oso mudslide, listening to the land, and the path of conscious elderhood. By Kathie Gillet, ROPJ Board Member

In Conversation with the River: A Call to Conscious Elderhood

by Kathie Gillet, ROPJ Board Member


In every place on this planet there are haunting stories about what people have done to breach our relationship with nature. In the spirit of Aboriginal storytelling, outside the Western preoccupation for exact meaning, there is a shared wisdom expressed by conscious elders who share stories, and the imagination of experiencing the world as alive. These stories are for everyone, if we are listening.  I am answering the call of the elder, to see as the elders see, and to hear as the elders hear. I am listening. This is one woman's journey to conscious elderhood, and a conversation with the river. 

It had only been a few weeks since I returned from living in Alaska, before record rain fall near the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River led to the historic Oso mud slide.  My attention was focused on the town of Oso, the people who were injured and killed, their surviving family and friends, the land, and the river that runs through it. As the local news headlined stories about Oso's tragedy I contemplated the universal experience of sorrow that we experience in the face of natural disasters, and reflected on the power human beings have to set aside their differences, and come together during times of tragedy and heartbreak.

Shortly after the last identified body was pulled from the muddy shores of the Stillaguamish I made a pilgrimage in search of how the land might embody signs of hope. As I mourn the loss of a town that now lies sleeping under the mire surely the river still has another song to sing. Like so many communities who live beside her Oso's future with the Stillaguamish may be a vocal partnership, or a silent one depending on who is listening. As civil engineers and attorneys debate the cause, and communities converge to supply the displaced with food I hear the call of the river.  Who will speak for her?

The Maiden: Memories bring many a day filled with childhood wonder bathing on rocks warmed by the sun. The fish and the fowl make a place for me by your side, and I delight in your reflection of clouds painting castles in the sky.  Taking refuge from a world that grows too loud you welcome me with your song, and the wind caresses my sun kissed face.

The River: I will never turn you away. My great delight is the joy of currents fat with fish, polishing glassy rocks, paving moss and fern paths to where the birds sing. When everything is said and done I accept that I must go on. You build your homes on the hillside, and pluck the trees that hug my shore.  I rise during the storm to give warning, but still you come and build even more.  Have you failed to hear my plea? When the rescue workers comb the sludge will they be searching for you, and yours?   

The Mother: Oh mighty Chiwawa river run with my tears, falling from distant dreams of yesterday, as my prayers glide to the heavens at eagle speed. In your quiet place of reverence my heart swells with the vision of this passage from maiden to mother. Your reflection is my aging face, and a body rapidly changing as the season of the crone approaches.  Like the river, I have learned to cradle everyone  I've known and loved, as their presence flows through my heart.  Is there anything the river can learn from me?

The River: The sound of thunder roared, and the earth bubbled with mud, while I bend my course the force of homes crashing down the clear-cut hillside are too great.  Oh that I could  seize your attention before the fatal day, and beckon you to once again sit beside me under soaring cedars, so that we could consecrate this space, and stand tall.

The Crone: And the day came when the prayers were answered. With the dam removed how long would it take for the salmon to once again run as free as the river? I vow to keep the story of sacred beings alive so the children will never be lost, and like the salmon in the river they can find their way home.  

The River: You failed to hear my plea, and now the cry of mothers clinging to their young hangs in the damp air. I weep with you, and wash away the stains from the storm.  We both wait to see what tomorrow brings. When all is said and done I accept I must go on.  I dream one day your children's children will play on my shores, and hear the bird's song of spring.

On my return from Alaska I followed an intuitive voice to connect with community by attending a weekend sponsored by Rites of Passage Journeys, and joined others who are also interested in harvesting the gifts that come with every stage of life.  My experience of being human is very different than it was five years ago, or twenty five years ago. The felt weight of a lifetime of experience that has been transformed into knowledge and wisdom, and channeled into activism, does not ask to be forever young. Something inside of me is shifting.  I recognize this as the call of the elder, and now is a time of preparation, where I see myself in a larger context of where I have been, and what I want to do with my time on this Earth. This is a time for deep inner work, and for stepping fully into the work of the world. As I prepare to step into the coming year the question that most interests me is: what does it mean to live, and age consciously, and what will I do with the time I have left on this Earth?


Our Conscious Eldering program continues this winter with Walking the Medicine Wheel as a Conscious Elder

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