The Witch’s Bedtable


When I was a young woman (oh, and it was many and many a Moon ago), I would read one book at a time. I’d take a book out of the library, read it, and then begin a new one. I was well into my forties before I ever started a book and did not finish it, even if I really didn’t like it. It was a kind of a discipline and a point of honor with me. Until I was in my late twenties, I kept a list of all the books that I read, including textbooks, and the list was into the high thousands when I got so busy that I gave it up.

Today, I’m old. Chemo and the surgeon’s knife have left me bereft of most of the estrogen that used to course through my veins, giving me, as estrogen will, an unlimited attention span, and social media has rendered my attention span even shorter than it might have been. Now, I often have a dozen or more books “going” at a time and I am willing to just walk away once I’ve convinced myself that an author has nothing to say that will benefit me or that s/he can’t say it well enough (I’m snobby about this; sue me and it’s sadly true of too many Pagan authors who won’t pay for an editor) to keep my interest.

And, so, if the same books show up here time after time, it’s because, well, I read as I read and I don’t read one book at a time, finish it, and move on to the next.

* Staubs and Ditchwater by Byron Ballard

The cultures of the mountains are certainly fading and some parts of it are easy to shed, to be perfectly honest. There are, however, plenty of people coming into the area and they are learning from some of the older techniques of resourcefulness — how to preserve food for the winter, how to grow the kind of crops that are nourishing and will keep well, the importance of livestock to a smallholding.

They are learning, in short, how to be subsistence farmers. It sounds peculiar when we think of it that way, but living close to the land and learning the ways of the particular microclimate in which you live are invaluable. As the larger culture begins to fracture, local people are left to help each other, to eat local food, to re-localize every part of their lives as the era of cheap petroleum comes to its screeching end.

Instead of reinventing those particular wheels, we can look to how the indigenous peoples — both American Indian and long-migrated Europeans — survived in a land that was hard. In general, the land here is too hilly and soil-poor for deep farming, too removed for ease of access to markets — the resources must be managed carefully and the yield is dependent on the earnestness with which the land is tended and renewed at each season.

We read old manuals and we talk to old farmers and we try to ken what it is they really know. Here it is, here is the big silver bullet of Appalachian farming — you have to know your piece of land. You have to observe the patterns of wind and rain, you need to prepare for winter, even if — in this age of warming, it never comes. You have to glean out the kernels of predictableness in these mountains of unpredictability.

Knowing the land, knowing the microclimate that is your growing area and knowing your neighbors have saved manyt a family, going back as far as when this land was settled. The first time.

* No Innocent Bystanders: Riding Shotgun in the Land of Denial by Mickey Z

Whenever I write an article or give a talk about the state of global affairs, the first question asked is this: “So what can/should we do?” . . . Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly frisky, I might quote Walt Whitman:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and the sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and the crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning [g]od, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men — go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with mothers or families — re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; your very flesh shall be a great poem.

* Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

In the moment that you reach for the potato chips to avoid what you feel, you are effectively saying, “I have no choice but to numb myself. Some things can’t be felt, understood, or worked through.” You are saying, “There is no possibility of change so I might as well eat.” You are saying, “Goodness exists for everyone but me so I might as well eat.”

When you first begin questioning your core beliefs, you don’t try to fix or change or improve them. You take a breath, then you take another. . . .

This kind of questioning provides a bridge between who you take yourself to be and who you actually are. Between what you tell yourself based on stories from your past and what you sense based on your direct experience now. It allows you to distinguish between outdated familiar patterns and the current, living truth.

Picture found here.

4 responses to “The Witch’s Bedtable

  1. I got my roommate several volumes of the “Firefire” series by Eliot Wigginton some time ago for her birthday. Though many of the books of the series are out of print, you can still find some. Great Knowledge on How to live off the land — it even has a section on how to carve an ox yoke from a tree. You can get most of these books on amazon.

  2. So grateful and proud to be on your bedside table. Today is a writing day for me–too cold to garden!–and I hope to get my thoughts down about the project you, Lit and I were discussing last week. Smooches!

  3. Your post resonates deeply with me and echoes my path. I too have a “witch’s bedtable”. Thank you for sharing (and for the book recommendations!

  4. I wish I could wax nostalgic about my great-grandfathers’ farms in Appalachia. Truth is, it’s one of the most punishing places to try to farm in America. My great-grandfather Johnson had four sons, and not one of them became a farmer. He had two daughters, and neither married a farmer. No one is currently farming the 150 acres upon which my great-grandparents depended to feed their family. I think the mountains ought to be repurposed as places to hike, let nature take its course, meditate, and let nature take its course. When it comes to living off the land, well … it doesn’t burn me up that no one’s farming the old homestead, but it does burn me up to see vacant strip shopping centers in “The Garden State,” where farming could be awesome, all the time. If I had to become a subsistence farmer, I would work the vacant lots in Camden before I’d try to get food out of those rocky mountainsides.

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