The summer my boy turned four, I answered an ad for work as a part-time gardener, no experience needed. The job was simple, keep the farmer’s personal garden looking good. I was allowed to bring my boy along and set my own hours. It was perfect at the time. I could use some of my wage as trade at the farmer’s stand, so we ate good, fresh veggies all summer, and my boy and I loved spending a few hours a week in the open countryside.
There stood amidst Oregon grape and ornamental shrubbery an Elder tree. She was a spreading, drapery sort of individual with boughs big enough to create pockets where my boy could nestle to get out of the hot sun. I loved the hours that took me into her shade, pulling weeds and adding wood chips about her base. She had a cool, comforting air about her. In that open hot, sun-soaked field, she was a stand of shelter like no other. Even the wisteria bedecked gazebo with its floral beauty and thick shade couldn’t cut through the hot dry summer like my Elder friend could.
That first summer marked a turning point for me, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. While I cared for my friend the Elder tree and the space about her, I was building a deeper connection to the Spirits of the Willamette Valley. She became a gateway into the wilderness, a teacher who introduced me to the first of many Folk of the area and who showed me how to best express my respect and reverence for this place. She was a guide in my new homeland.
That first summer, as Elder’s berries ripened, I was astonished that she offered them to me. I was working nearby the elder on a temperate, dry morning in late August, or maybe it was early September. It’s been long enough now I don’t rightly remember the date. I was trimming the sage and pulling grass and other weeds from the sage bed. I was thinking of asking the farmer if I might keep some of the sage clippings for a tincture. As I worked, I had this nagging feeling. I’d glance over my shoulder, see nothing but the Elder, look around to spot my boy elsewhere not getting in trouble, pull a weed, glance over again, pull another, glance, pull, glance, over and over I don’t know how many times. Finally, I stopped for a drink of water and sat staring at the Elder. The sun seemed to sparkle off her cascades of ripe berries.
How wonderful a mead would taste made with Elderberries, I thought, and just as I thought it a joyous giggle rose up through me. I rose and crossed to the Elder tree. I carefully plucked a berry and ate it. As I registered the strong tannis and barely there sweetness on my tongue, I felt a wave of relaxation wash over me like a cool relief to tension I hadn’t realize was there.
I gratefully accepted Elder’s invitation, both into the unseen realm she guards and to create mead with her fruit. It’s now been several years since I was last back to visit my Elder friend in person, but I think of her often, especially as the wild elderberries ripen and on those cold winter nights when we pop open another of the divine wines I made from her fruit. I see her from time to time in my dreams, but somehow she’s never in that farmer’s garden so much as she’s home. I have since found a home of my own, a garden of my own…and Elder has moved on in to share my space. I’m most deeply and humbly grateful of the gifts she’s offered me and mine then and now.
Read more about Elder medicine in Elder: Boundary Keeper (The Practical Herbalist’s Herbal Folio Book 4)or search this site for Elder to learn more.