The Elderwoman Newsletter
Issue #30, June, 2011

Welcome to the June 2011 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.

We have passed the solstice now and our Westcountry lanes are bathed in the mingled scents of meadowsweet and honeysuckle. The weather has been a little disappointing of late, but there are still two months of summer left here in our hemisphere so we can still hope for some golden days.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, those of my friends who have had the good sense to adjust their cultural rituals to fit their climate are getting ready for their ‘Christmas dinner’ feasts.

This newsletter is coming to you much later than intended, for three reasons. The first is that Sky and I took a longer than usual trip this spring. For those of you who haven’t seen the report of our journey around Sicily, here is the link.

The second reason is that since we came back I have been busy with the publication of my new book on downshifting and with the Summer issue of the GreenSpirit Journal, which it was my turn to edit. And the third reason is that for the first time I can remember there were very few submissions for this newsletter. I am not sure why this, as I know there are a lot of excellent writers in our Elderwoman community. But I suspect it is because we all find our attention pulled in so many different ways nowadays. There is an incredible amount of traffic on the information superhighway, lots of it fascinating, and it is hard to be creative when you are reeling from ‘input overload.’ Anyway, next time I shall send out reminders on Elderwomanspace and hope to get more material from other people..

In the meantime, here are a couple of my own pieces which I hope you will find thought-provoking, and some links to stories from elsewhere that I thought were interesting. 

Blessings to you all, my elderwoman friends, wherever you are,



On Being Available

We were walking in single file because the trail was narrow at that point and wound uphill, snaking and turning amongst the trees. This was old-growth, temperate rainforest, never logged, precious and beautiful. It was a Sunday afternoon in summer and the sun was shining but down here, among the trees, it was cool and damp. I remember the peacefulness of it, the all-pervasive scent of eucalyptus, the lacy green of tree ferns and the fact that my young daughter, walking a few yards in front of me, was wearing a red shirt that appeared and disappeared before me like a flag as we went around the corners.

My legs were weary from the uphill climb, but it was a good, healthy weariness: the sort that comes from muscles being used the way they were meant to be used. 
And, as often happens when you walk, the workaday world had finally 

begun to fall away and the steady rhythm of placing one foot after another was gradually coaxing my mind out of its habitual busyness into a state of calm reverie.

Then something bizarre happened. As I turned a sharp corner, I glanced down to my left. And there, nestled among the exposed roots of an ancient, twisted myrtle beech, I saw a cream coloured telephone—the old-fashioned kind, with a dial on the front, because this story happened in 1977. It was ringing, a shrill, intrusive ring that shattered the stillness of the forest. I picked up the receiver. The call, of course, was for me.

The coded messages from our night dreams can be hard to decipher sometimes, but the dreams and visions that come to us during daylight hours are far less subtle and much easier to understand. I knew immediately that this one was a warning to me about the stressfulness of my job and the importance of taking time out. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was how significant that image of the ringing telephone under the tree really was or what it said about my basic nature. Neither had I any idea how deeply it would etch itself in memory so that now, more than three decades later, it remains as fresh and clear as if it had happened yesterday.

 Now, every time I am out and about amongst people and someone’s cell phone rings, I am reminded of that phone I ‘saw’ under the tree and I shiver with the thought that had cell phones been invented forty years earlier I might never have had a peaceful, uninterruptable weekend. I might never have known the joy of being out in the countryside, alone or with my loved ones, beyond the reach of the world’s needy demands on my time and attention. More than likely I would have collapsed under the stress of it all.

These days, most people who are the age I was in 1977 have embraced modern, electronic technology in its entirety. They have computers and iPods and iPads and smart phones and so much gadgetry in their lives and dangling from their earbuds that I sometimes wonder how they manage not to get strangled, both literally and figuratively, in its wires. Amongst us older folk, however,  there seems to be more of a love/hate thing happening around all this. I have three friends—one a year younger than me at nearly 74, one in her eighties and one in her nineties—who adamantly refuse to have anything to do with computers or the Internet. They still write letters by hand and post them and when they want to find something out they go to the library to look it up. So completely have I incorporated this particular technology into my life that it seems amazing, now,  to recall a life without Google. What’s more, the Internet has made it possible for me to live in a wonderful, peaceful place in the depths of the countryside and yet feel fully connected with others all around the globe. So I love it.

But for me, just as for these Luddite friends of mine, there is a point beyond which I cannot and will not go. I do have a cell phone. And when I go away somewhere I take it with me. I even take it with me when I go hiking, for what if I fell and broke a bone? My son-in-law, who once fell down a cliff, owes his life to someone’s cell phone, and I am grateful that we have this technology. But the technology is here to serve us, not the other way around. So when I am travelling, the most I will do is switch that phone on every few hours to check for text messages. The rest of the time it remains firmly switched off. And that is the way it will always be. For an introvert like me, there has to be a limit to my availability. That is where I have drawn my line in the sand.. If you want to speak to me and I am out in the woods, you are out of luck. But feel free to send me an email. I’ll answer it…eventually.

Soul Stages 

There are several books that have had a big impact on my thinking in these last couple of years and one of them is Nature and the Human Soul  by the depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin. The blurb for this book describes it as “…a visionary ecopsychology of human development that reveals how fully and creatively we can mature when soul and wild nature guide us…a model for a human life span rooted in the cycles and qualities of the natural world, a blueprint for individual development that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation. 

It is a full book rich with metaphor, a visionary book and one that took the author many years to write. And as someone who has always been interested in theories of human development (and particularly in our relationship with the rest of Nature), I found it fascinating. As one inevitably does with books of this kind, I found myself looking back at the trajectory of my own life to see where it matched and how well I could relate to the stages. 

Like other life stage theorists, Plotkin emphasizes that there is no direct correlation between life stage and chronological age. Let’s face it, we all know people who are 50 going on 15 and young folk who show a maturity way beyond the norm. The important thing about stages is the order in which they happen and the fact that one invariably leads to the next.
Especially interesting for me, of course, both personally now that I am in my seventies and also because of my interest in elderhood, were the later stages.

 Stage 6, he refers to as ‘The Artisan in the Wild Orchard.’ This the time of your mature adult life when you have become so good at what you do that it seems to happen effortlessly. “There are moments” he says, “ when you feel like a wizard, a magician, a sorcerer or  a sorceress. You astonish yourself and yet, at the same time, you know you can personally take almost no credit for what flows through you. You are an instrument, an agent for the Mystery or the Muse. Perhaps the most essential talent you can claim as personally yours is the ability to get out of the way of your own soul. That’s when you feel most alive. At your best moments, it doesn’t even feel like you’re making choices. You’re simply assenting to what wants to emerge into the world through you. Your soulwork requires increasingly less effort. You’re in the flow. 

Stage 7, which is the beginning of elderhood, he calls ‘The Master in the Grove of Elders.’ This when “…the hub of your life…has moved from the depths of your own soul to the depths of the community soul, from the innovative performance of your art to the integrity and well-being of the world.” It is in this early elderhood stage that you find yourself gradually moving from a life of ‘doing’ to a life of simply ‘being’, Joanna Macey likens this to becoming a seed crystal. Just by being you, you cause subtle changes in those around you. 

Once that shift from doing to being is fully complete, you are in the final stage, late elderhood, which Plotkin calls’ The Sage in the Mountain Cave.’ 

These descriptions ring very true for me. I have been aware, as the years passed, how my centre of gravity gradually shifted from care of my home and family to service in the wider community and ultimately to a feeling of wanting to care for our beautiful planet. But the doing/being shift is the trickier one. 

Right now, I sometimes feel like a kelp plant, moving and swaying with the push and pull of my soul’s tide. I feel the currents of change and I am also aware of the joy and satisfaction of being me and doing what I do. Sometimes it is hard to be still, and yet at other times movement makes me weary. There is still a lot of doing and yet I am drawn, more and more, towards the joy of just being. In  some ways this feels a bit like adolescence: a pendulum swing between two very different states. But now, with the eyes of experience and understanding I am not confused the way I was at 14, nor even the way I was at the beginning of menopause. Now I know pretty much where I am going, even if where I am going is into new territory and even though I don’t know how I shall feel when I find myself living there. I know that I can relax and let be and all will be well.. 

I am not sure how old Bill Plotkin is. But although his hair is turning grey he admits, in his book, that cannot yet call himself an elder. So in order to write about these later stages of human development, he spent a lot of  time doing in depth interviews with two people who to him (and also to me) epitomised the successful achievement of conscious elderhood: Joanna Macey and Thomas Berry. This was a wise decision and a great beginning. However, the full charting of this soul territory, the full exploration of these inner, spiritual aspects of elderhood, is a task that remains wide open to all of us.

As I wrote in Elderwoman, a century ago very few people could expect to live much beyond their fifties and elderhood was brief. This is new land we have created, just as the people of Holland have reclaimed thousands of hectares of fertile farmland from the ocean. It is up to us to write the story and to make the maps that will guide our daughters in the years to come.

Back to top



Offline Reading

On June 1st, at Watkins Bookshop in London, my publisher, O Books, launched the first five volumes in their new 'Made Easy' series. These are small, introductory books on a wide range of topics and the aim is to publish at least a hundred of them.
The topic that I chose was one very dear to my heart. My book is called Downshifting Made Easy: How to plan for your planet-friendly future.

Many of you who are members of Elderwomanspace or Facebook friends of mine will already have seen a link to the video of the short talk I gave at the launch, but for those who didn't see it, here it is again.

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention that there's a discount on the e-book version of my novel, The Bird Menders. You can get it for $2.40 until the end of July.
See The Coupon Code is DF64U
Online Reading

'We Age from Our First Breath' by Lewis Richmond

A long – but excellent – article from Orion Magazine about ageing in wild animals


Michaela Oldfield writes:
"I've come across two web resources lately that I thought you might like to know about, if they're not already on your radar.
 I don't have any particular insight into the people behind them but the first is a person who clearly appreciates the style of older New Yorkers -
And Andrew Zuckerman's work on Wisdom:  "

Thanks, Michaela. These are both great sites. I especially enjoyed the style one and have been back to it a number of times.


A Message from Diane Wright...
The good news is that death rates for many major diseases - HIV, stroke, heart disease, prostate cancer, and breast cancer - are declining. Sadly, we can't yet say the same about Alzheimer's. This year, the first of the Boomer Generation turns 65. To bring urgently-needed attention to the risk facing the Boomers, Alzheimer's Association recently released a groundbreaking study 'Generation Alzheimer's: The Defining Disease of the Baby Boomers.'

We'd love your help in getting the word out  about the important information in Generation Alzheimer's, so we can make sure the public understands what can be done to conquer this devastating disease. I've put together a microsite, making it really easy to grab banners, video, text -- anything you think you can use -- so we can make sure as many people as possible have access to this information:

Please let me know if you have any questions and are able to post or tweet about this. I'd love to know about it if you do, so please send me the link!

Thank you so much,
Diane Wright


Online Watching

"Old on Purpose" Trailer -


Contributions for this newsletter are eagerly sought. Please send in your writings, your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an announcement or news item that you think would be interesting to others, a comment on one of these articles, a subject you'd like to see, an anecdote, something that moved you - whatever snippet you want to share.  Don't be shy. You do NOT have to be a professional writer, artist or photographer to send pictures or pieces of your writing to this newsletter. I look forward to hearing from you.


(Thank you, Gloria, for this one)

We Didn't Have The Green Thing Back In My Day

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren't good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained: "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right, that generation didn't have the green thing in its day.  Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be  washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn't have the green thing back in that customer's day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn't have an  escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn't have the green thing in her day.  Back then, they washed the baby's diapers because they didn't have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy  gobbling machine burning up 220 volts, wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn't have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a  handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electric machines to do everything for you.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right, they didn't have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids walked, rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.

And they didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have the green thing back then?

(And thank you, Jan, for this one) 

An older lady was somewhat lonely and decided she needed a pet to keep her company. So, off to the pet shop she went. She searched and searched. None of the pets seemed to catch her interest, except this ugly frog. As she walked by the jar he was in, she looked and he winked at her.


The old lady figured, what the heck! She hadn't found anything else. So, she bought the frog. She placed him in the car, on the front seat beside her.

As she was slowly driving down the road, the frog whispered to her 'KISS ME AND YOU WON'T BE SORRY..'! 


So! The old lady figured, what the heck, and kissed the frog. 


Immediately, the frog turned into an absolutely gorgeous, sexy, young, handsome prince.


The prince then returned the old lady's kiss. 

Suddenly the old lady felt herself transforming from his kiss. Now can you guess what the old lady turned into? 

come on, guess! 





She turned into the,,,

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, June 2011
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 
NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please remember to insert OKEM in the subject line to make sure you get through my three layers of spam filtering!
Unfortunately, the filters are a necessity to stop my in-box flooding with spam.
 - oh and when you write to me, please remember that my name is spelt MARIAN with an 'A' (the same as Robin Hood's girlfriend) 

Back to top