How Willa Became a Witch — Chapter Three

Winter Grave with Raven3

But it wasn’t until her red-headed farmer married a village girl — Hannah, the preacher’s daughter, although she looked a good deal more like Mr. Rollins than she looked like the preacher — that Willa, herself, realized that she was a Witch. Willa’d been glad to hear of his marriage; she’d left the farmer a long time ago and they’d remained friends. He still supplied her with some of the best pot around and she knew that he needed a wife on the farm.

The wedding was a village affair; Willa wasn’t invited, but, then, she hadn’t expected to be. The bride insisted that people throw rice, although rice was scarce as coffee in those days; transporting it up from the south was almost prohibitively expensive, especially as “the south” (as in, a place warm enough to grow rice), kept moving farther and farther away. And the minister objected that fertility came from praying to God, not from throwing food, but Hannah would have it and her mother insisted that the minister pay for it. He reluctantly agreed: Hannah had never been his favorite child, but appearances mattered and he told the acolytes to sweep it up after the procession and to be sure to keep the birds away. If nothing else, he could rent it to future couples for their weddings.

Things hadn’t gone well. An historic murder of crows showed up as soon as the first grain of rice hit the ground and the birds immediately pecked up every single bit. The happy couple was off to the parish hall, but the minister watched a small fortune in rice disappear into the crows’ stomachs and he turned crimson with anger. There wouldn’t even be so many crows around if it weren’t for that woman who ran the pot store. She was an unbeliever and it was her kind that drew God’s wrath in the form of bitter winters, expensive rice, and wives who had affairs.

The very next morning he and Hannah appeared at the door of the pot store. Willa was surprised. Hannah usually slipped in just before closing to buy her pot, slyly suggesting that Willa not mention that she’d been there, and Willa assumed that, now, Hannah would have all the pot she wanted. And the minister had never come to her store.

“Can I help you?” Willa asked, petting the crow on her shoulder who was suddenly agitated.

“You can pay for my rice,” the minister said. “Go on, tell her, girl!”

Hannah squared her shoulders and said, “I know you’re jealous. I married the only man you’ve ever loved. You sent your crows to eat all the rice at my wedding. You don’t want me to have his children, do you? Your birds ate up all my fertility!”

Willa was, for once in her life, speechless. She didn’t even think to say “crow crap,” although, later, she wished that she had.

“You’ll have to pay for the rice,” the minister insisted. “I’ll have your shop shut down. I’ll take your house on the edge of the village. I’ll have every bird in this entire town shot.”

Willa shrugged. “The crows ate your rice. Go ask them for it. I won’t pay you a penny and you’ll never have a grandchild to dandle at your knee. Not that this girl’s children would have been your heirs, at any rate.”

“Witch!” the minister yelled, pointing at Willa and shaking with anger.

“Witch!” Hannah yelled, knowing at last that all the whispered stories were true.

“Yes,” said Willa. “I am. I am a Witch. I am beloved of the crows. I am a woman beneath the Moon, robed in magic, a practitioner of the Old Ways. I am a Witch. And now you need to leave my store.”

Her crow spread its wings.

They left.

It was a few years later that the winters became so bad that the birds had to abandon the town. They could fly south, but Willa was old, and arthritic, and couldn’t leave. Her familiar stayed on her shoulder until the very last crow had gone. Then that ancient bird went out and found Willa a brown, shiny seed, gave a heartbroken caw, and flew away. Willa called her brother, Wesley, who had become a mason.

And it was Wesley who carved the stone and Wesley who came and found Willa after she’d eaten the seed. It was Wesley who buried her in the forest, beneath the stone she’d wanted, and it was Wesley who placed a red glass bead, an old penny, and a bit of shiny gum wrapper on her breast for the archeologists to find all those years later.

That oddly-early Spring, when his granddaughter was born, Wesley said, “I think that you should name her Corneille.”

Corneille had a daughter, who had a daughter, who had a daughter, who had a daughter who grew up to take pictures on archeological digs. She had shiny black hair, as dark as crow’s wings, and she could always seem to find things when they went missing.

Picture found here.

How Willa Became a Witch — Chapter Two

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Wesley remembered how they’d stand at the bus stop, holding their bagged lunches and watching the crows gather on the power lines alongside old woman Rian’s house. All birds loved Willa, but crows, especially, seemed to show up wherever she was.

“Look,” Willa said, “I bet I can get them to come down from there.”

She’d reached into her lunch bag and pulled out some crackers to throw to the crows. Within minutes, Wesley remembered, they were surrounded by dozens of shiny black birds. He’d opened his own bag, as well, excited by the birds, and thrown Cheetos out for the crows. That afternoon at lunch, Wesley was still hungry, but Willa was just busy drawing crows.

It was that evening that Willa came home to find a red glass bead on the windowsill outside her bedroom. She showed it to Wesley and then slipped it into her pocket. The next morning, there were more crows at the bus stop and Willa gave them her crackers and her peanut butter sandwich. Wesley remembered being hungry, and he looked away, and then got interested in Paul’s discussion of fantasy baseball. That afternoon, there were two pennies and a shiny bit of gum wrapper on Willa’s windowsill. Willa took a shoe box of out her closet and labeled it “Gifts from Crows.” Wesley went on line and looked up ways to select players for fantasy baseball games. It drew a lot of expensive electricity off the grid and his dad yelled at him for it, but Willa gave him one of her pennies and told him not to cry.

Things were never the same again, really.

Willa’s mother encouraged it all, at first. “Maybe she’ll be an ornithologist and work at the university or a zoo,” she said. “She might be a scientist or write books about birds.” Willa did like to read books about birds. She’d read every single one in the local library, but she seemed more interested in just watching and drawing them than in categorizing or dissecting them.

When the winters became increasingly bitter, Willa and her brother shoveled walks and ran errands for homebound neighbors. Willa saved all of her money to spend on food for the crows. Even her mother began to find it a little bit weird: the way Willa wanted to care for the crows and the way the crows kept leaving gifts for her.

When her mom lost the bracelet she’d gotten from her old college friend, Willa “talked to the crows,” and they brought it back to Willa’s windowsill the next day. “I think Willa took it and then said the crows returned it,” Wesley said. That afternoon, the crows took Wesley’s locker key. He never got it back.

People mostly couldn’t get to work in the ever-snowier winters. Some people, the ones who worked on computers, were able to keep working for a few years; they could “telecommute.” But the ice and the winter winds began taking down towers and wires on a more regular basis and almost no one got paid in the winter anymore. Offices and stores closed down; you couldn’t run a business when your workers and customers were homebound five months out of the year.

Everyone was scared; when all the religious men got together and said that the bad weather was due to too much science and not enough religion, well, people were willing to listen. They wanted their winter paychecks back, their cable TVs, their grocery stores with strawberries in February, the years when flu didn’t kill their children, their vacations to Disney World. Giving up science seemed a small price to pay.

And so Willa never did get many real science classes and she never did become an ornithologist, or work at the university, or have a job at a zoo. The school board kept the science requirements in place, but the books now said that evolution was a lie, that “man” was destined to dominate the Earth, that animals had no feelings and no souls, and that it would put people out of jobs to say that animals had “intelligence.” The chapter on birds discussed the dove who brought a branch back to Noah. Willa decided it was all “crow crap,” and sat sullenly in the back of the classroom, drawing pictures of crows in the edges of the textbooks.

Willa dropped out in 10th grade when they cut the art classes for lack of funds. All of the good, Christian art had already been made, they said. No one wanted sketches of crows. The other kids called Willa “Bird Girl,” laughed, and threw crumbs at her to make themselves feel safe as they chaffed their arms and scratched their chilblains. Willa just crossed to the other side of the street and it was never long before crows showed up to eat the crumbs.

Willa dressed all in black, wore too much eye make-up, and paid an old man in the back alley to tattoo a crow on her shoulder. It got infected, but Willa rubbed it with some leaves that the crows brought her and it cleared right up.

Willa took a job at the local pot store. One business that continued to thrive was pot — now that it was legal, everyone seemed to want some. As long as you bought a supply by around late October, you’d have enough to get you through a long, cabin-fevered winter. What else was there to do, now that the tv towers no longer worked and the religious men had burned the library books? When the store owners decided to move to Mexico, Willa offered to buy them out and they were glad to sell. Willa saved her money and bought a tiny house on the outskirts of town. It had a fenced yard, lots of trees, and a solar-powered bird bath so that the crows could drink water all winter long.

It got to be known that you could visit Willa in her tiny house — she wouldn’t talk to you at the store — and ask her to help you find something you’d lost. If you’d lost it outside, Willa could often return it to you, in return for some vegetables, some bird food, some wool. Whatever was returned, Willa would say that the crows brought it to her. People began to whisper that Willa was not just weird; Willa was a Witch.

For an even more serious payment, Willa could sometimes find out things that were meant to be secret. She told Hope Rollins that her husband was having an affair with the minister’s wife. She watched the skies for a week and then told Starren Beriaman that he would, indeed, soon die of the lump he felt in his balls. She gently told old woman Rian that all of the money had been siphoned off by her darling son. It got to be known that you should only ask Willa questions that you honestly wanted answered.

Willa did fall in love, once. He had red hair, and strong arms, and a voice that gave Willa goosebumps. He grew pot for her store, but he could grow anything that you wanted, even in the short summers, and he had learned a lot from his old grandfather, who taught high school science “back before it got sanctified.” He was a farmer and he wanted Willa to move out of her tiny house and onto his farm. But Willa couldn’t live with a man who put scarecrows in his field, who shot at birds to keep them out of the corn, who went to church every Sunday and prayed that God would reinstate “man’s” dominion over nature.

And, so, as the years slipped by — one long, long, longer winter after another — Willa spent less and less time with people and more and more time with her crows. One old crow adopted her and there came a time when no local child had ever seen Willa without that crow on her left shoulder. Willa still opened her shop every morning and closed it every afternoon. And she still opened the door of her tiny house to those who had lost something and wanted it found; Willa had never turned anyone away, it was said. Well, anyone but Rian’s son, and even the crows would have been hard-pressed to find his squandered fortune.

/To Be Continued

Picture found here.

Tuesday Evening Poetry Blogging

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Abide

~ Jake Adam York

Forgive me if I forget
with the birdsong and the day’s
last glow folding into the hands
of the trees, forgive me the few
syllables of the autumn crickets,
the year’s last firefly winking
like a penny in the shoulder’s weeds,
if I forget the hour, if I forget
the day as the evening star
pours out its whiskey over the gravel
and asphalt I’ve walked
for years alone, if I startle
when you put your hand in mine,
if I wonder how long your light
has taken to reach me here.

/hat tip: NJ at Eschaton

Picture found here.

Monday at the Movies: More & More, Most of My Spiritual Practice Revolves Around This

Talk about knowing your mission statement, about having mastered your “elevator speech.”

Sunday Ballet Blogging

How Willa Became a Witch — Chapter One

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It was an old, moss-covered stone, deep in the woods. They almost didn’t see it, covered, as it was, by mushrooms, lichens, and early Autumn leaves. But, once the archeologists saw it and cleared it off, there it was. A flat piece of marble with Gothic lettering:

The world has called me by many names: Lilith, Succubus, Cunning Woman, Hecate’s Child, Heretic, Whore. But they do not see my truth; they cannot guess the essence of who I am. I am a woman beneath the Moon, robed in magic, a practitioner of the Old Ways. I am a Witch.

“I wonder how it started?” the young woman with the camera asked.

The Spirits who had gathered round laughed, although the students and their professor were far too scientific to hear them. They laughed, glanced with love into each other’s eyes, and nodded with remembrance.

“I remember,” great, great, great grandma Cordellia said.

“No you don’t,” great, great, great grandpa Soren said. “You were mostly senile by then. I was dead, but when they brought her to you in the nursing home, you’d been watching birds outside your window. So you called her the “Bird Whisperer,” but that was just you being silly.”

“No,” said Cordellia, “I wasn’t being silly. You see now how I predicted the future.”

If you’d have asked her mother, though, it didn’t really start in the nursing home with great, great, many times great, grandma Cordellia, although they’d always been proud of themselves for braving the bad smell of the nursing home and bringing baby Willa to meet her almost ancient ancestress. Willa’s mother would have said that it began one afternoon at a Starbucks.

They had lots of Starbucks, back in those days, before it became too expensive to import coffee from South to North America, and suburban mothers would meet at Starbucks in the afternoon for adult conversation. It was on a sunny Wednesday in early March, her mother would later remember, that Willa, tucked under a crocheted blanket, sitting happy in her stroller, and basking in a small patch of sun on the patio, first watched a bird (her mother remembered it as a pigeon) peck at the crumbs scattered under the outdoor tables. Willa’s mother and her friend were sitting outside, sipping coffee, and picking at a shared scone. Her mother handed Willa a bit of scone and Willa gladly gummed it, dropping as many crumbs on the ground as she managed to place inside her mouth. And it was the crumbs, really — those random, unpredictable crumbs — that, in the poet’s words, “made all the difference.”

It was those dropped crumbs, Willa’s mother remembered, that drew the pigeons. They gathered around Willa’s stroller and, as they pecked up the bits of scone, made Willa babble with delight. From that moment on, you couldn’t feed the child anything outside but that she would break bits off and see if she could bring the birds. Birds seemed, her mother would say, to flock to Willa like fish to flies, like dogs to bones, like humans to humor.

But it was really at the bus stop, Willa’s brother, Wesley, would recall, that Willa first began to become a Witch.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

Story inspired by this.

In the Dark

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I wake up early to have time to sit in my warm, cozy cottage, drink coffee, and meditate.

This morning, I was up early enough to finally hear my CSA, From the Farmer, make their delivery. A box on my doorstep with apples, oranges, shallots, mushrooms, lettuce, carrots, a parsnip, beets, and some cider. My bedroom is near the front of the house and I’ve been wondering how they manage to slip up onto my step, leave my box, and disappear without waking me. This morning, I saw; the delivery person — swathed in coat, hoodie, hat, gloves, scarves, and sweat pants — almost tip-toed up to my door.

And I stop to bless them; to thank the workers who grew and harvested the food, the warehouse people who packed it, the silent driver who delivers it to my door.

About 45 minutes later, I made a second cup of hot, sweet coffee and heard the trash man come and empty the recyclable bins. My town does two trash collections on the same day. The first is for recyclables and the second is for the small bit of trash I have that isn’t recyclable and that I can’t compost. It’s cold, dark, dangerous work this time of year, with the sidewalks and roads still icy and temperatures before dawn hovering around 15 degrees. It’s dangerous, hot, and smelly work in the Summer and it’s not well-paid.

Derrick Jensen notes that:

“All gave some, some gave all,” read the bumper stickers, but no one ever mentions, at the huge police funerals or elsewhere, that garbage collection is far more dangerous—with a far higher mortality rate—than police work; and don’t hold your breath waiting for the next Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise action flick about courageous garbage collectors putting their lives on the line to clean up the mean streets of New York or L.A.

I stop to bless them, the people who carry away what I no longer need, who recycle what can be recycled, who work in the cold, and the danger, and the dark.

With whom would you find yourself in relationship if you woke up early to sit?

Picture found here.