No, I Am Not a Tree

In a matter of months I’ll be 65, which is something of a marker. I’ll get some benefits from my government of choice— I’ll get charged less for my eye exam, the ophthalmologist explained when scheduling my next for post-birthday. Because I live in Canada and am visibly handicapped as well as being oldish, I freely and fully get a privilege that we call, in the family, ‘grey-hairing’; people hold doors, offer to hand/lift/carry things for me, stop to let me cross the road, etc. Actually, I can mostly do those things myself but I acknowledge the good intent of the helping-people. Generally, I’m pleased to be assisted; sometimes when I am sitting on my walker in a supermarket aisle thinking about what veg goes with what I am planning and someone bustles up:
“Are you all right? Do you need help? Is something…. wrong?” I’m a little startled.

But grey-hairing is a gift, it’s not a right. It doesn’t come as a result of my getting old, it is a part of the culture that surrounds me. Although (somewhat) elderly, I am just a person and I believe that I deserve only the personal rights that any person should have. One of the rights of a person is the integrity of their own mind, but nobody at all has the right to decide on either what’s ‘true’ (a fact) or what’s a valid religious teaching (a belief) merely on the basis of oldness. Or even years of practice or long-term dedication to a belief system.

As a believer, it is inherently ridiculous that I could advance through a religion being acknowledged by and given awards or status by the people more advanced than I and eventually become an ‘elder’ and get automatic status given to what I said or thought. Firstly, it is the acknowledgement of the Gods that is actually meaningful. The Gods in my belief system don’t say, “Good work, Judith! Now you’re a something-with-a-title :-)”. They say (when I’ve actually done well) “Fine, if that’s the best you can do, carry on.”

Elder 4
Secondly, the other people who worship with me aren’t some kind of acolytes that I dole out thought-wafers to. I might give them advice about what they could read, what I know of folklore, and what my opinions are but only because those are areas of interest to me. When it comes to melodic singing, or doing arithmetic, or carpentry I freely acknowledge that they are likely to be way better at any or all of those things than I am.

On the gripping hand, it’s true that I have a heaping plateful of ideas, beliefs, and opinions.
But that was true of me at all ages; I remember being an opinionated child, teen, and adult. By report I was an opinionated toddler.

I get ideas all the time, they just burst out. Starting small,

they might flower into something sweet and memorable.

Even something that others might want to join in with and share.

Or sometimes, even if they’re ideas I’ve had for a while and grew and worked on, they might just be cold and unusable.

Elder 2Now that I’m an elderly cripple, I can bring the benefit of years of experience to many of my endeavours. I’m very good at making a dinner out of what’s available in the fridge and cupboards, I’ve tried out a number of different presentations of ritual, I’ve read a bookcase-full of lore and religious-ideas books. I can testify through personal experience about being a pre-post-modern (“When I was a girl, there was no Saran Wrap!”), formerly being physically competent (I was a fabulous dancer and backpacked into the Rocky Mountains) and now not, having babies and raising children….
But not only is it personal, it is no more validated by oldness that my being a biologist, an artist, or a poet. If I talk about mitochondria, I reference text or I expect you to look it up elsewhere. If I discuss being a trance seer (Gods-Bothered) I explain that I am speaking from personal gnosis and I leave it up to the listener to believe or not.
If I’m working on a half-ripe idea

“What if the F***ies are sensitive to iron because the lore is about the Bronze Age?”

I would never expect someone to say, “Well, Judith is elderly, Judith is a religious leader, Judith has years of belief behind her—- let’s accept that thought!”

No, I would expect to be listened to politely because I am well-read and a cogent thinker and then I would wait for questions, elucidations, challenges (what we call ‘a good theological throw-down’) to begin. Every idea should stand or fall on its own merit, not on the standing in the community or title of the speaker.
Every idea. If I had a thousand good ideas, it wouldn’t make the spurious thousand-and-oneth any better. If I, sadly, have an opinion or bigotry that reflects my era or local culture it doesn’t make my other opinions any worse or better. Thomas Jefferson had slave children, Dorothy Sayers was an anti-Semite, I was told as a child that French people don’t wash often enough—- our writing on other subjects is as valid or invalid as it would be without those objectionable attitudes. As well, historical people (I’m not quite there yet) have to be interpreted in the context of the historical era they lived in. I read Irish lore; they lived in a classed society. I don’t expect them to be Socialists; when the Lord or Clan-Leader gets different privilege I don’t doubt the wonder and goodness of the rest of it— I decide what applies to me. I don’t cut off my enemies’ heads and drink from their skulls and I don’t call anyone by a respect-title just because they are a leader.
Speaking for myself, I bend the knee to the Gods. If someone offered to tell me a mystery I might be interested but if the price of admission was to call that person ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ they would wait forever.

E;der 5Because no one, to me, is a ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’. We are all just people. Any distinctions we make are vanishingly small in the face of our sameness, our inclusion in ‘humanity’. As a biologist, I feel that there are men and women— it’s the way we reproduce, not using budding or parthenogenesis or insertion of ourselves into other dividing cells. But if we are not in the act of reproducing it’s really beside the point when compared to our ideas, our ideals, and our essential humanness as defining ‘who we are’. Similarly, I feel a little uncomfortable being identified as ‘a heterosexual woman’ because the inescapable assumption is that I find ‘men’ sexually attractive. Most of the time, most men….. not so much. Only those people whom I find sexually attractive (a very small group) really need to know what my definition of sexy is, and only if we have mutuation of interest do I need to establish what my sexuality/gender really is. Otherwise, imo, we are all individuals. What you have done, what you think, where you have travelled, Who you believe in, what you are good at…… all more important than who you find sexually attractive.

How you act in the face of injustice, who you mourn when gone or hurt, how your personal history informs your sense of self, whom you befriend….. All more important than your individual gender. Because gender, if there’s more than two, is as individual as you are and can only be individually defined. I would use the name someone introduced themselves as their name, I would use the pronouns they chose to refer to them, but if they wanted me to typify some group by opprobrious epithets or told me that the correct address for themselves as a Vi-countess is ‘m’lady’ I would call bullshit no matter what their worldly standing.

elder 3Oh….. the photos? Those are Elders. I took all of those photos in my own yard; those are my Elders, whom I respect deeply and love. There is a lot of lore about Elders, they are one of the Ogham trees. You can cook with the berries (I made Elderberry Crumble out of the plateful in the first photo), make cordial out of the flowers, make whistles out of the branches. There are Goddesses associated with Elders.
But I am none of those things, I am not a tree…… at present.


Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


5 thoughts on “No, I Am Not a Tree

  1. I always assumed the respect due to elders was simply because they’d had more time to read more stuff! 🙂 Or to do more stuff. I know a woman who fought in the Greek Resistance against the Nazis and later did time for activities against the junta in the 70s. When she had something to say about radical politics, I listened up! She rarely did, though. She never presented herself as an authority.


  2. A sociologist once advised regarding children around the swimming pool, “Say ‘Please walk!’ rather than ‘Don’t run!'” I agree that the “elderly” should never claim respect as a privilege, but I’d still advise others to respect them (or as it were to “not disrespect”).

    As an aside, the last time I ran into someone that claimed privilege based upon physical age, I raised an eyebrow and asked “Are you sure that you’re older then I?”


  3. Your cat doesn’t look so happy with those elderberries. Tell him or her that one time I found a fat mouse hanging off an whorl of elderberries trying to be invisible.


    1. Lol. Bet the cat didn’t like the crumple either. As someone just a few months younger than the author, I find myself in complete agreement. If people started agreeing with me all the time, I would worry that I lost my mind.


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