Tag Archives: A Place Without a Witch

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Forty-One


“Gem-me!” Susan said, striding uninvited in to Gemmy’s cubicle and using the pronunciation of her name that sounded kind of like a baby, happy to have learned how to make sounds. “You busy? I’m dropping by — part of my ‘managing by walking around’ technique — just to have a friendly chat with you about this request that you sort-of submitted.”

Gemmy grounded, Goddess help her, she did. Thankfully, it had become almost second-nature by now. And she drew in a deep breath before responding to Susan, who, within a period of 48 hours, had managed to alienate nearly everyone at Interior.

“What do you mean, ‘sort-of submitted’?” Gemmy asked. “I did submit a request to use a fraction of my accrued leave. Is that what you mean?”

“Well, Gem,” Susan chirped, “of course I want people to take their legitimate leave. It’s good for morale and that’s good for my departments. Of course, you seem to have failed to really explain the purpose of your leave. You just wrote, ‘Personal Time,’ which doesn’t really tell me what you’re doing. And now that I’m in charge of productivity here, I have to know WHY people want leave before I can sign off on it. So I’m not approving this request. You’ll need to work these days,” Susan said, giving Gemmy a long, slow, direct look.

“Look, Susan,” Gemmy said, “You and I both know that ‘Personal Time’ is what everyone writes to explain their use of accrued leave. You don’t get to decide what is, or isn’t, appropriate. But since you seem to want to know, I’ll tell you. I am going to take those days off to go to Virginia Beach with Paris. He’s going to a conference and he asked me to go with him. We’re looking forward to spending more time together and telling each other our stories. I understand that’s rough for you. I get that you’d hoped that you two could rekindle your high-school flame. But Paris and I are together, we’re going to Virginia Beach, and you’re not going to stop it. Am I clear?”

Susan stood for a long, long time, glaring at Gemmy. “Oh, well, in that case, go ahead,” she finally chirped. “You could have just said so. No one here cares.”

A few days later, Gemmy slid into the front seat of Paris’ truck. He threw her suitcase into the back seat and handed her a steaming latte, bowing and laughing, “Your beverage de travel, Mademoiselle.”

“Merci,” Gemmy laughed, inhaling the scent of roasted coffee beans and grabbing Paris’ hand. “I can’t wait to get to the beach. My neighbors are feeding Peschecat. I have a new bathing suit. My work e-mail is turned off for the next few days and you, my love, are going to tell me all about your childhood in the French city of lights. Go ahead, I’m all ears and we have a long drive ahead of us.”

Paris laughed. “You’re going to be bored. My childhood was boringly, pedestrianly, normal. You see, my hippy parents moved to Paris in the 60’s . . . .”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Forty


“He can leave a message,” Gemmy thought as she turned off the phone. I’m not ready to talk to him yet.

“What I am ready for is a very long, very hot shower and about an hour of serious yoga. Dale’s futon was a goddessend, but I’m not in college anymore and I’m stiff all over. And I need some time with Minerva, I think.”

Hours later, a refreshed and centered Gemmy was out in her tiny back yard, weeding her pots of tomato plants, marigolds, beans, and mint when she heard someone knocking loudly on her front door. “Just a minute,” she called; I’m coming.” Brushing her dirty hands off on her denim shorts, Gemmy went through the house and opened her door to see a frazzled Paris.

“Gemmy; thank goodness you’re OK,” he said, visibly sagging with relief. “Where have you been? You weren’t here last night and you won’t answer your phone. There was a terrible thunderstorm after you walked off. You had me worried!”

Gemmy stood for a moment looking at Paris, unshaven, with dark circles under his eyes. She stepped back and said, “Come on in. You look like a man in desperate need of a glass of sweet tea.”

“After you left, I called and called,” Paris said, following her into her kitchen and sinking down into one of the spindle chairs at her table. “When it got to be ten and you still wouldn’t answer, I drove over through the thunder and lightening to make sure you were OK. But you weren’t here and I didn’t know where to look. I’ve been calling ever since this morning, too. Gemmy, I know you were mad, but why wouldn’t you answer? Even just text me and say, ‘I’m OK,’ or something? I left you a voicemail asking you to do at least that. You’re not usually deliberately cruel,” Paris said, hiccuping back what sounded suspiciously like the beginning of a sob.

“Paris, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be cruel,” Gemmy said, pouring tea into two glasses full of ice. “I spent the night on Dale’s futon and I wanted to get my own feelings sorted out before I talked to you, is all. I didn’t realize you’d be so worried.

“I got home this morning and needed a shower and some time to meditate and then I got busy working in the garden. If I’d listened to your message, I would have texted you. I wasn’t trying to worry you and I’m sorry that I did.

“On the other hand, while we’re on the subject of phone calls, it would have been nice if you could have called me before I walked into the store last night and found Susan there, busily taking full possession of her domain.”

“Look, Gemmy,” Paris said, gulping the tea she placed on the table and grabbing her hand, “the only reason I didn’t run after you last night was because I had to be honest with Susan, explain to her that we’re never going to be anything more than old friends.

“I told her not to come to the store, not to drop by anymore. I guess that, ever since her marriage broke up, I could see where she thought things were heading and I should have been more direct with her. I felt bad for her, but that’s no excuse. I think that, well, when she showed up and kind of invited herself out with us, I thought if she saw us together, saw you and me together, how happy we are, even just going out for burgers after closing and simple stuff, I figured she’d understand and I wouldn’t have to play the bad guy. I should have warned you and I should have been blunter with her earlier.

“When I thought maybe you’d been hurt or something . . . . Gem, I was beside myself.”

“Paris, I wish you’d been more, let’s say ‘proactive,’ too. But I understand. I wish that I’d asked you to step into the office and talked to you before just storming off, told you how I felt, heard what you had to say. But the whole thing felt so, I don’t know . . . . You two ‘NoVa natives,’ happily working together in your family store, Susan gloating over it, I just . . . . I think it reminded me too much of how Timmy and I broke up, but you didn’t know that and it’s not your fault. Dale helped me sort things out.”

“Look, Germaine Marron, I’m crazy about you. You’re smart; you’re brave; you’re a grown-up; you’re gorgeous; you’re full of mysterious surprises; I’d rather make love to you than do anything, ever, except maybe watch you laugh, and I really, really, really don’t want anyone or anything to come between us. Can we add this to our ‘lessons learned’ file and go on from here? I know we’ll probably have other fights, but can we agree that we’ll at least text each other and say we’re OK? Because I really never want to spend another night wondering whether, if I start calling hospital emergency rooms, I’m being sensible or stalky. Ever.”

“OK,” Gemmy laughed, “It’s a deal. And you know, I like to watch you laugh, too.

“Paris, seriously, I never wanted to drag you through the whole, sad story of my breakup with Timmy. But, talking with Dale last night, I realized I probably should tell you more about what happened. We’re both working so hard right now; I hate to spend the time that we do have dredging up old history. But we probably both need to learn more about each other.”

Paris got up and brought the pitcher of iced tea over to the table. He poured himself another glassful and topped off Gemmy’s glass.

“You make mighty fine sweet tea for a Yankee, Miss Marron,” he joked, reminding her of the time he’d taught her how to make the Southern concoction — in his kitchen, naked. There had been, Gemmy remembered, a Full Moon.

“Gemmy, I love the store, but one of the problems with it is that it’s really hard to get away. To get a real vacation. And what I’m going to say will sound like a bit of a busman’s holiday, too. But you’ve got a ton of unused leave. And in two weeks, I’m off for a 4-day weekend to that trade show in Virginia Beach. You know, the one I mentioned?”

“Native plants and pollinators?” Gemmy asked, dredging up a memory of something Paris had mentioned a few weeks ago.

“Yes. There are supposed to be some good sessions on selling native plants that will encourage pollinators. Also supposed to be some suppliers there whose stock of native plants isn’t sprayed with the very chemicals that kill pollinators. I do think there’s money to be made here, doing the right thing. So I jerry-rigged help for the store and got my accountant — you remember Gus — to find the funds for me to go.

“Look, Gemmy, I will have to work part of the time, but you could drive down with me, hang out on the beach while I work, maybe even go to some sessions if they interest you, and we’d finally have some time to really be together and talk. I want to hear more about your mom dying, your dad, your aunt, your thing with the chestnut trees, you and Timmy, your coven up there, your bonsai, you know, everything. Why don’t you put in for the time? Dale would come over and feed Peschecat, I bet. Come with me to Virginia Beach.”

Monday morning dawned muggy and hot. Despite her morning shower and freshly-pressed cotton blouse, Gemmy arrived at Interior frizzy, sticky, and hot. But the arctic air conditioning in her wing of the building soon had her shivering and dry. She spent an hour answering emails. She wrote up her final report on the Zodiac Fountain. She submitted her request to use a bit of her accrued leave for the six days down to, at, and back from the Virginia Beach conference.

“This is going to be good for us,” she thought, imagining the drive down and long walks on the beach at sunset as she and Paris told each other their deepest secrets, their silly stories, and their hopes for the future. She made a mental note to buy a new bathing suit and some sunscreen. “Maybe I’ll sit in on that session on pollinators and trees that conflicts with Paris’ time with suppliers,” Gemmy thought, imagining the two of them later selecting saplings for Paris to sell at the store.

At noon, Gemmy grabbed a pad and headed to a scheduled all-hands meeting. Her boss was sitting on the stage and opened the meeting with a series of slides that showed yet-another impending reorganization of the various departments. “And I’m sure you’ll all join me in welcoming Susan, who will now head up all of these previously disparate departments,” Gemmy’s boss announced.

Susan walked onstage and smiled, “I’m looking forward to working with each of you. I think this is going to be great. We can work together to make our departments the most productive in the federal system. There’s a lot to be done, but one of the first things I’m going to work on is our scheduling. Effective this morning, as of nine a.m., all leave requests come through me and must be fully justified,” she said. “Fully,” she emphasized, looking directly into Gemmy’s eyes. “Now, let me explain a few changes that I’m going to make . . . .”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chaper Thirty-Nine


It was 10:30 at night.

Dale, dressed in an ancient Lanz nightgown, peered through the peephole in her apartment door, even though she rather imagined that she knew who was knocking on her door at this hour on a Saturday night. As she’d expected, the specter standing outside her door was Gemmy, tear-stained, bedraggled, and wet.

It had taken Gemmy a long, teary, walk to metro in the rain, two bus trips, and another long walk, aided by Googlemaps, to come, finally, to Dale’s 13th-floor door.

Gemmy wasn’t happy about it.

In Gemmy’s ideal world, she’s have marched off from Backyard Garden Center and never looked back. She’s have gone directly home, done some kind of brilliant magic at her altar, gone to bed, and awakened fresh from the fight. Paris and Susan would have realized immediately how they’d hurt her and would have been completely chastised by what they’d done. Paris would have sent Susan packing and Susan would have come to beg Gemmy’s forgiveness, sorry for traipsing onto Gemmy’s territory and mostly concerned about her own professional friendship with Gemmy. Paris would have shown up later with roses, eager to administer a backrub, full of apologies.

It hadn’t worked out like that.

Instead, Gemmy stood, soaking from the recent thunderstorm and still weeping from hurt, outside what Gemmy hoped was Dale’s apartment in the highrise part of Northern Virginia. Gemmy was hungry, tired, miserable, and she needed desperately to pee. If this wasn’t Dale’s apartment, Gemmy was going to be in trouble.

“Oh, my,” Dale said, opening her door. “Come in. The bathroom’s on the left. I’ll make a pot of very hot tea.”

Ten minutes later, Gemmy sat sniffling on Dale’s teal-green futon. She cradled a Japanese cup of tea in her hands, letting the warmth bleed into her soul, and watched Dale, moving with grace and ease within her tiny kitchen, steaming rice and warming the strong broth that Dale would pour into a rice bowl to hand to Gemmy.

“Tell me everything,” Dale said, cradling a cup of green tea in her hands and sitting just across from Gemmy, who was now warm from a hot bath and whose hair was now wrapped in a terry-cloth towel, on the futon. “Is this about Paris?”

“Well, yes, Paris. Well, no, more about Susan, well, no, it’s mostly, I guess . . . . sob . . . . about Timmy, or, well Susan, or well, you know.”

“Here,” Dale said, handing Gemmy a rice bowl filled with vegetable broth, rich with slivers of garlic and bok choy. “Have this first and then tell me what happened.”

“You know,” Gemmy began, drawing in a deep breath that felt as if it would sustain her, with a tummy full of rice and tea, and wrapped in Dale’s warm shawl, “I always thought that what happened to me and Timmy, well, to Timmy and me, well what happened to us was all due to the recession. I mean, that’s what I told myself. We were doing fine and then, all of a sudden, suddenly, all of a sudden, we both were out of work and our fights were all about money, even when they seemed to be about other things. If the economy hadn’t gone bad, I told myself, we’d have been ok.”

“And . . . .” Dale said, sitting back against her own futon and waiting for Gemmy to come to the point.

“Well,” Gemmy said, followed by a long stretch of silence, “well, it’s the same thing that happened with Timmy. He started coming home late and, when I pressed him, he’d admit that he’d been out late with his old girlfriends. You know? Just like Paris being out with Susan. Only after I pushed and pushed and then he’d admit what was going on.”

“Has Paris been dishonest with you?” Dale asked.

“Well, no, not exactly, but he’s doing the whole ‘Gee, I’m a male and I don’t get what’s going on,’ thing,” Gemmy said. “You know, the way they pretend that the other woman isn’t moving in, at least, until it’s all over and they can’t pretend any longer. That’s what Paris is doing that makes me furious.

I’m not going to play any games with Paris.”

“Why?” asked Dale.

“It’s just, I don’t know,” Gemmy said. “I didn’t come here to play games with Paris or anyone. I came here to make a career, sink my roots, build a home, and become a ‘real’ Witch. Paris can do whatever he wants, can deal with his own old issues, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to navigate the space between the current Paris and the old-time Susan. I feel as if he’s betrayed me, as if he is choosing not to keep up with me.”

“And that’s because . . . .” Dale asked.

“Because, well, because I like him, but I’m not willing to . . . . I’m not willing to pretend for Paris. If that’s what he needs from me, well, I’m not willing to give it to him. I didn’t come here to do that,” Gemmy said, only realizing the truth as she said it.

“OK,” Dale said, taking Gemmy’s teacup and pushing Gemmy back onto the futon, and then, a minute later, smoothing the shawl up to Gemmy’s neck and across Gemmy’s upper arms. “Sleep warm until tomorrow,” Dale said, “We’ll figure it all out then.”

Later, many hours later, Gemmy stepped into her own townhouse and opened a can of catfood for Peschecat. She felt strong and sustained from Dale’s morning bowl of oatmeal and mug of Earl Grey tea. “Here you go girl,” Gemmy said to Peschecat. Just then, her cell phone sounded: I Love Paris in the Springtime.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Eight


Gemmy sent Carla a long, chatty email, updating her on the goings-on at Interior, Peschecat’s continued cuteness, Compost’s activities at several community gardens, and her now-rather-serious relationship with Paris. She concluded, “It’s a lovely day and I’m going to take Deena’s bike for a spin; give everyone my love.”

Gemmy considered heading out to the Aroboretum to visit her favorite bonsai tree, but somehow her bike seemed to steer itself towards Capitol Hill. There were lots of other bikers out and about, along with joggers, walkers, and even a group of tourists on Segways. Gemmy rode past the museums on the Mall; she was almost ashamed to admit that she hadn’t been inside any of them yet. She kept thinking she’d wait until Carla came down for a visit. She pedaled past the Capitol and the Supreme Court and was just thinking of heading home for lunch when she heard it again: the unmistakable sound of a panpipe playing The Lark Ascending.

Gemmy followed the sound and found the same young man, in the same birdfeather t-shirt, sitting on the edge of the Neptune Fountain outside the Capitol. Gemmy stopped her bike and listened to the notes go up, up, up, and up. When the busker finished, she pulled some coins from her pocket and dropped them into his upturned hat.

“That was lovely,” Gemmy said. “I’ve always loved the poem by Meredith and the tune by Vaughan Williams.”

“I’m glad that you like it, lovely lady. I’ve seen you before, haven’t I? Over by the library. I’m Peter and you are?”

“Gemmy. Short for Germaine. You’re the only one I know who plays it on a panpipe. I’m used to hearing it on strings.”

Peter poured his earnings out of his hat into his hand and said, “I’m going to Eastern Market for lunch. Want to come?”

“I’ve heard about Eastern Market, but I haven’t been there. Is it nearby?”

“Not too far at all,” Peter replied. “You bike, and I’ll pipe you on. They have crabcakes there, and, if we’re lucky, cold watermelon.”

Eastern Market was a magical bazaar, with stands selling everything from baked goods, to fruits and vegetables, to shiny fresh oysters, to local fabric sculptures. There were people collecting signatures to stop a planned WalMart store and a preacher standing on an honest-to-goodness soap box, yelling about sin and damnation. Nearby, a small group of women stood beside a flower vendor and debated whether to buy peonies or lilacs for their art class to paint.

Gemmy and Peter wandered around, sampling local cheeses and organic juices, before finally buying two crabcake sandwiches and a huge piece of watermelon. They sat on a small bench, ate, and chatted. Peter had grown up on Capitol Hill and he told Gemmy the tale of how Eastern Market had once burned almost to the ground and of how it had been rebuilt.

Now you, you fishmongers, and fruit hawkers, you schoolchildren raising money for a trip, and you locals shoving past the tourists to buy your groceries, you may well have seen Gemmy and Peter, laughing, chatting, exchanging cell phone numbers. You may have overheard Peter telling Gemmy about his partner, now rather ill as the doctors experimented with yet another HIV cocktail to try and make him feel better. Or you might have heard Gemmy telling Peter about growing sunflowers to pull toxins out of soil and about Peschecat. Or maybe you heard Peter playing Chopin’s Winter Wind Edtude or watched him pull a feather from behind Gemmy’s ear. But you wouldn’t have paid much attention; the city was full of happy people, out enjoying the warm Saturday afternoon. You might have just walked right by.

Several hours later, Gemmy looked at the angle of the sun and said, reluctantly, “I have to get back. Got to bike back over the bridge and get cleaned up for dinner. Thank you so much for showing me Eastern Market! Let’s stay in touch; I’d like to meet Sam when he’s feeling better.”

Peter smiled and began to play Windy, waving to Gemmy as she biked away.

Gemmy walked to the parking lot of Paris’ store just as the last customer was pulling away, car full of potting soil and tomato seedlings. She let herself into the store, expecting to find Paris back in his small office just off the aisle with birdseed and squirrel-proof feeders.

“Hi, Gemmy,” said Susan, walking out of the office towards the door. “We’re just closing up. What can we do for you?”

Gemmy covered her surprise a little bit better than she covered her sudden anger. “I’m here to see Paris; we’re going to go get burgers.”

“Oh, are you going to come with us?” Susan asked.

Just then, Paris came inside, carrying a tray of petunias back in from the side parking lot. “Gem! Hi! I asked Susan if she wanted to come eat with us. I figured you two could catch up.”

“What’s Susan doing here?” Gemmy heard herself asking and not managing to sound too nonchalant about it, either.

“Oh, I’m helping Paris out, didn’t you know?” Susan said. “I’ll just slip into the office and change out of this old apron.”

“No,” Gemmy said, looking at Paris. “I didn’t know.”

“Gem, look, she showed up this morning, upset about her breakup, needing to talk, and she said she was bored and wanted to help out. Why are you upset?”

“We’ll talk later,” Gemmy said. “After I tag along on your dinner date with Susan. No, actually, you know what? Two things aren’t going to happen. One, I’m not going out with you and Susan and, two, you’re not going to play the clueless male who doesn’t get what’s going on. Call me if and when you figure out what you want,” Gemmy said as she slammed the door, desperate to get home, or at least out of sight, before she started to cry.

“Where’d she storm off to?” Susan asked, coming out of the office and linking her arm through Paris’.

“Susan, look . . . ” Paris said, scratching the back of his neck and unhooking their arms.

/To Be Continued

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Six


“Aegis,” Gemmy read. “Is that ‘a-gee-is’ or ‘ege-is'” she wondered, looking over her notes and trying to remember her high school Latin. “Ege-is,” I think, she decided.

At some times, it seemed to designate the breastplate worn by Athena/Minerva and, at others, a symbol on the breastplate, usually the head of the Gorgon, one of three sisters whose faces turned people to stone and whose coiffures were made of snakes. The fringe shown on later pictures of the Aegis was considered to be a stylization of those snakes.

Gemmy read in Herodotus that the aegis may have come to Greece from Libya: “Athene’s garments and ægis were borrowed by the Greeks from the Libyan women, who are dressed in exactly the same way, except that their leather garments are fringed with thongs, not serpents.” And she bookmarked the page in Robert Graves that noted that: “the ægis in its Libyan sense had been a shamanic pouch containing various ritual objects, bearing the device of a monstrous serpent-haired visage with tusk-like teeth and a protruding tongue which was meant to frighten away the uninitiated.”

Gemmy turned back to the small postcard she had of Minerva in the Library of Congress. Such a serious young woman, with short brown hair, held back by a band of gold. On her chest was a breastplate of snake scales, snakes, and the Gorgon. Yet that seemed the least important part of the picture, less important than Minerva’s spear, or scroll, or the small statue of Nike in front of the scroll. “Is my dream really about the aegis and not the scroll?” Gemmy mused. “From what do I need protection?”

Alone, in a kitchen on Capitol Hill, Susan dialed up a number on her cell phone. “Paris? Are you there? Pick up; it’s Susan. I really need to talk. Paris?”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Five


Gemmy stood silently at the bottom of the staircase, looking up at the giant mural of Minerva. Each detail stood out, almost as if backlit, and Gemmy was transfixed, simply standing in awe and looking. Slowly, Minerva detached herself from the mural, spear and scroll in hand. Her breastplate glimmered and each step that Minerva took down the stairs caused Medusa’s headfull of snakes to writhe and hiss across the breastplate. Minerva’s expression was thoughtful, and not unkind, but the magnificence of the apparition caused Gemmy to quiver and wish that she could cover her eyes.

Minerva stopped at the bottom of the staircase, a few feet away from Gemmy. She held out her scroll and Gemmy squinted, trying to read the shining letters. Minerva lifted her spear, touched Gemmy on the forehead with it, and then Gemmmy sat straight up.

“Peschecat!” Gemmy gasped. “I had that dream again. At least, I think it’s a dream.”

A glance at her alarm clock told Gemmy that it was, at any rate, nearly time to wake up, and Peschecat began to knead Gemmy’s shoulder, clearly not intending to allow Gemmy to go back to sleep without first attending to the now-empty bowl on the kitchen floor. Still, Gemmy sat back against her pillows for a moment, idly stroking Peschecat’s apricot fur and remembering as much as she could of the dream. When she did move, it was to pick up a small notebook on her bedtable and to jot down the dream. Her final note: “I still can’t seem to read Her scroll, no matter how many times I have this dream. What DOES it say? Why CAN’T I read it?”

An hour later, showered and with a big mug in her hand, Gemmy stepped outside for a moment to stand in her tiny back yard. She and Paris had done a lot back here. There were pots with herbs, a few tomato plants, vines covering the ugly fence, marigolds along the edge, and a ceramic birdfeeder that seemed to attract mostly sparrows and squirrels. Gemmy poured a tiny offering of tea to the Rubenesque statue of Gaia perched on a small bench by the back door. She stood still and simply listened and looked, taking in the sound of the birds and nearby traffic, the not-far-off rumble of the metro train, and the way the sun and clouds were playing with each other this morning.

A few minutes later, Gemmy entered the almost-empty room on the top floor of her townhouse. She opened the window and turned on the electric fan; heat rose quickly here in humid northern Virginia. Gemmy spent about half an hour moving mindfully through a Sun Salutation and then sat gratefully down at her altar. She took some deep breaths and grounded, calling in the Elements, and, then, focused on the small postcard in the center of her altar.

Tight as her budget was, Gemmy had, after her writing workshop, ventured downstairs to the Library of Congress gift store to buy a book about the Library’s many works of art and two postcards that showed the lovely mural of Minerva. One, she’d addressed to Carla with a note that said, “This city is crammed full of Goddesses! You’ve got to find a time to come down and visit!” and, the other, she’d put on her altar. This morning, as Gemmy focused on the postcard, a thought came to her: “I’ve been trying to read the scroll, but maybe it’s the breastplate I’m meant to see.”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Four


Gemmy grabbed her phone, but whoever was calling hung up before she could click “Answer.” She waited a few seconds to see if they’d leave a voicemail, but no one did. “I guess they’ll call back if it’s important,” she thought, going through the massive doors and then catching her breath as she walked into the Library of Congress, or LoC, as folks in DC government tended to call it.

“This place is gorgeous,” Gemmy thought, “a cathedral to books,” as she idly tucked the white feather into the pocket of her “serious” navy blue suit. She consulted the signs by the door and determined that her workshop was up on the second floor. She turned around, walked a few feet to the bottom of the staircase and then caught her breath. In fact, for just a second or two, Gemmy grabbed her chest just above her heart and could feel her heart stop, beat too quickly, stop, start, and then beat two quickly again. She felt suddenly too icy and sweaty-hot all at once.

“Are you alright?” the young woman asked. She couldn’t be more than 25 and she, too, was dressed in what was likely her one “serious” suit. Her badge identified her as LoC Staff. She took Gemmy’s arm and guided her to a bench. “Are you from out of town? It’s easy to overdo the site-seeing thing and . . . .”

“No, thanks, I’m fine,” Gemmy said. “I live around here. Sorry, just a bit startled by that giant mosaic, but I’m fine now, really. Thanks, ” Gemmy ended, embarrassed and wanting to get on to her workshop.

“She’s lovely, isn’t she?” the young woman asked, oblivious to Gemmy’s embarrassment and haste. “She’s Minerva, an ancient Roman Goddess. I think they associated her with the Greek Athena. See the owl, the shield, and helmet? Those were symbols of Athena, too. The small statue is Nike, an old Goddess of victory. And that scroll that Minerva holds in her hand lists all the important areas of human knowledge, the ones that might save us from war, so she’s perfect for a library, isn’t she? And Minerva was also the Goddess of learning. Again, perfect, don’t you think?

You look better now; more color in your cheeks. Do you want me to get you some water?”

“No, thanks, really, I’m fine,” Gemmy assured herself and the young woman. “I’m here for a workshop on Writing Government History and it’s just up those stairs and to the left, if I’ve read the notice correctly. I’ll head up now, thanks, sorry to worry you, but it’s nothing.”

“No worries,” the woman replied. “And, yes, it’s upstairs, first star on the left and straight on ’till morning.”

Gemmy smiled and walked slowly up the steps. Each step brought her closer and closer to the mosaic of the Goddess.

Now, Gemmy, my most patient darlings, my sweet slices of buttermilk pie, my early-Spring peas, Gemmy was not one of those Witches who had been called to the worship of any particular Goddess or God. Gemmy had been called to priestess chestnut trees and it had always worked for her to invoke simply “The Goddess” or “Mamma Gaia,” or “Mother Earth.” For Gemmy, God was simply the Green Man, Cerrnunos, the Stag Lord, the Woods.

And, living in DC for these past months, Gemmy had almost gotten used to seeing Goddesses everywhere. Whatever today’s Christian right thought, America’s founders had been eager to populate the young republic’s capital with Greek and Roman Goddesses, Gods, and allegories. DC, in fact, took its name from the Goddess Columbia, who stood atop the Capital.

But now Gemmy, having climbed to the top of the stairs, stood directly in front of the mosaic of the Goddess that Gemmy knew, without any doubt, had claimed her. From this day forward, for Gemmy, “the Goddess” would always be this serious young Minerva with reddish-brown hair, a spear, and a scroll. Gemmy stepped forward to read the scroll. “Education, History, Economics, Government, History, Printing, Botany . . . .” Somehow, it mattered deeply to Gemmy that Botany had been so important to the young republic and to this Goddess. She stood there, in front of the mosaic, absorbing and being absorbed. Finally — Gemmy couldn’t have said how long she’d been standing there — a middle-aged man in a sweater vest came up the stairs, huffing and puffing a bit and looking worried.

“Is the history workshop up here?” he asked Gemmy.

“Yes, I’m going there too,” she said, making her feet move. “Its left and then straight on until . . . .” She chuckled, just now getting the Peter Pan reference and causing the sweatered man to give her an odd look. “And then straight on until that wooden door, if I don’t miss my guess,” she said, casting one last glance over her shoulder at a Goddess who cared about botany. “And I know just what bit of DC history I want to write.”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-Three


Gemmy chuckled and walked towards the Library of Congress.

Ever since she was six years old and had obtained her first (and quite soon dog-eared and grubby) cardboard library card from the local public library, Gemmy had been in love with libraries. All through the scary and confusing period when Mom was dying — and for years thereafter when Gemmy was in pain and Dad, doing his best to raise a daughter, was distant — Gemmy had found refuge in the library and in the books she could bring home to read beside the fireplace, in her bed, at grandma’s formal and forbidding house, at fishing camp while Dad and his friends caught dinner. “Temples and places of magic,” Gemmy had called them to herself when young.

And a temple and a place of magic was what she’d found when she went off to college and walked for the first time into the university’s library, hushed and scented with old paper and even more ancient leather. The statues on the steps, the wall full of tiny drawers full of cards that, once you knew the proper incantations, would lead you to all the world’s wisdom, the mythical, slightly scary, long and secretive “stacks” — Gemmy’d been immediately entranced. She quickly claimed “her” favorite cubicle desk, one with great light from the old glass windows, with a view of an ancient oak.

And, so, it made to Gemmy perfect, and delightful, sense that Congress would have its own library. A Botanical Garden, sure, nice, a lovely thing to have if you could have anything by decree. But a library — well, of course the governing body of the United States would need its own library, its own homage to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Gemmy had meant to visit here before, but had somehow been a bit intimidated.

More than the Library at Alexandria, more than Trinity College Library in Dublin, more than the New York Public Library in New York City, even more than the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C., the Library of Congress was a sacred collection of as much of the world’s knowledge as it was possible to collect in one place. This temple to books was every bit as much a part of her landbase as the Potomac River, as the soil strata beneath Capitol Hill, as metro, as her own little garden outside her townhouse.

And so Gemmy grounded as she looked at the entrance, called on her ancestors, and spent a few minutes preparing to be at once overwhelmed and completely at home. Just then, her cell phone rang.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thrity-Two


“I’ve submitted it with my strong endorsement, but you know how tight funding is for any off-site training,” Gemmy’s boss had said, shrugging and sounding discouraged.

And, yet, somehow, just on the final day for registration, Gemmy’d gotten approval for the “Writing Government History” workshop she’d been wanting to take. And so it was that Gemmy found herself climbing the broken escalator steps at the Capitol South metro station at eight o’clock on a steamy Summer morning, pausing, and looking around to get her bearings. Just as she sighted the Library of Congress, she heard music. The musical buskers at metro stops were, as far as Gemmy was concerned, one of the more delightful things about public transportation in DC.

Standing nearby was a young man in tattered jeans and a white t-shirt, printed to look as if it were made out of bird feathers. He played an old-fashioned pan-pipe. Gemmy listened, enchanted, as he performed The Lark Ascending — a piece Gemmy had only ever heard on strings. Her budget was tight, but, when he finished, Gemmy walked over and put some coins in his hat. “Thank you,” she said. “That was lovely.”

“Lovely music for a lovely lady,” the musician said, pulling a white feather from behind Gemmy’s ear and handing it to her with a flourish.

“Oh, you do magic tricks, too,” Gemmy chuckled.

“No, no tricks. I do magical treats,” he replied, winking at her and launching into a pan-pipe rendition of the sixties hit Windy.

Gemmy looked at her watch, realizing she was about to be late for the workshop. As she began to turn towards the Library, the musician stopped mid-note and said, “Enjoy your encounter with Minerva,” picking back up with the chorus.

Gemmy shrugged. “Bit of a trickster type for someone who doesn’t do tricks,” she thought to herself. “I wonder what he meant about Minerva.”

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty-One*


After some emailing back and forth, the location for Gemmy’s coffee with Dale turned out to be the grassy hill between the Capitol and and its reflecting pool. On her way out the door, Gemmy stopped, went back to the fridge, and pulled a chestnut seed out of her carefully-preserved stash. Unsure exactly why she was bringing it, Gemmy tucked the seed into her pocket, gave Peschecat a final scritch for good luck, and headed out for the Capitol on a sunny, Summer Saturday.

She’d guessed maybe there was a coffee stand there, or a nearby Starbucks, but she didn’t see one as she walked over from the Capitol South metro station.

It took Gemmy a moment to recognize Dale, dressed in a grey twill skirt and what Gemmy’s Aunt Jen would have called a twinset, complete with an old fashioned sweater-guard. She was seated on the grass next to Roy, the man who’d thanked Gemmy for giving up her metro seat. He stood up and waved when he saw Gemmy and she waved back.

“Almost didn’t recognize you two without your peasant shirts,” Gemmy laughed, shaking Roy’s hand and sitting down on the grass next to Dale.

“Oh, we can be surprisingly normal,” Dale joked. “Or at least pass for it.”

Dale pulled a thermos out of her large straw bag and Roy took three small mugs out of his backpack. “I hope you like it hot and black,” Dale said and Gemmy nodded.

“It smells great,” she said. “Thank you.”

The three of them chatted pleasantly about the Capitol, Olmstead’s design for the grounds, and the stretch of lovely weather D.C. was experiencing.

“I keep hearing about the humidity,” Gemmy said, “but it hasn’t been too bad, so far.”

“You’re new to the area?” Roy asked.

“Since January,” Gemmy answered. “I moved down here from Pennsylvania to take a job at Interior. I’m living in Arlington, actually, and still getting to know the place.”

“Didn’t take you long to get involved in local politics,” Roy said. “Dale tells us you’ve made friends with a water activist.”

“You could call her that,” Gemmy said, and then asked a question to move the conversation away from the Potomac Nymph: “So tell me who you all are? Are you a church group? What is it that you do?”

Dale reached over and tapped the pentacle hanging under Gemmy’s t-shirt.

“We’re eclectic,” she said, surprising Gemmy, who somehow hadn’t expected them to be even vaguely Pagan. “I’m a Witch, like you. We have several Druids and, just recently, a Celtic Reconstructionist. Roy’s a Unitarian and we have one couple who are Radical Faeries. But we’re mostly people who care deeply about dirt, soil, earth. We learn as much as we can about it and we do energy work on the soil in local gardens, parks, developments. And, as you saw, a bit of political work and political magic, too, when we think the soil is endangered.”

“Right now, we’ve got a few projects going to decontaminate some soil near the Anacostia with sunflowers and ferns, which are great at sucking the chemicals out of the ground,” Roy added. “But then the plants have to be disposed of as toxic waste, and that’s expensive. We do some guerrilla gardening, from time to time; slip in at night with compost and native plants and leave a small spot more alive.”

“What about you,” he asked. “What’s your passion?”

“Trees,” Gemmy answered. “You’re looking at a genuine tree-hugger. I’ve always been fascinated by them and been most at home out in the forest. Studied Botany and Natural Resource Management in college and was working at Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania. I got laid off due to budget cuts in 2009 and my husband lost his job about the same time. We lost the little home we’d bought and our marriage just seemed to fall apart. I’d been looking for a long time when I got the job offer at Interior, writing pamphlets, mostly, but doing a bit of historical research, as well. Not what I’d choose to do, but I need a paycheck. My aunt died and left me just enough money for a down payment on a tract townhouse near East Falls Church.”

“What trees have you met here in D.C.?” Dale asked.

“Have you ever been to the Arboretum?” Gemmy asked. “There’s a tree there that’s really special. A bonsai that was outside Hiroshima when we dropped the atom bomb. I’ve been spending time with it every few weeks; no car, so I can’t get out there too often. There was a grove of trees I loved in Pennsylvania, but my friend had to sell it to help her son’s family keep their home. It left a hole in my heart, but the bonsai is helping me feel better. Anyway, trees are my passion. And trees need good soil.”

“Have you ever been a part of a magical group or a group that did energy work?” Roy asked.

“Before I moved,” Gemmy said, “I was in a great Circle for several years, and I really hated leaving them. We’re still in touch, but email and phone calls aren’t the same as being there.”

“Have you found a new group down here?” Dale asked, pouring more coffee into Gemmy’s cup and then Roy’s.

“I’ve looked,” Gemmy answered. “I’ve met some nice people, but, so far, nothing’s jelled. So I’ve been practicing as a Solitary and hoping that, eventually, I’ll link up with the right group.” As she said it, Gemmy hoped it didn’t sound too leading. She’d come here just expecting to get to know Dale better, not to find a Circle. But she found herself feeling really comfortable with Dale and Roy and interested in what they did.

“If you’re interested,” Dale said, “I think we’d like you to meet a few of our other members. We’re getting together for a dinner on Summer Solstice, just potluck at a little park near one of the community gardens we care about. Nothing formal and no commitments; just a chance for you to meet a few more of us and vice versa.”

“And, I’m bringing my world-famous potato salad,” Roy said. “You definitely don’t want to miss my potato salad.”

“I’d love to come,” Gemmy said. “And I’m a big fan of potato salad.”

Dale laughed, “He’s been ‘perfecting’ this recipe for years, Gemmy. It’s never the same twice. And, to be honest, I think it’s really Melissa’s world-famous potato salad and Roy just takes credit for it.”

“You wound me, madam, you do,” Roy protested. “I peel the potatoes and that’s the most important and difficult part.”

“Well, if Gemmy comes, she can ask Melissa who does most of the work,” Dale teased.

Gemmy had a feeling this was a long-standing joke. She liked the informal, easy banter between this old woman and young man.

“And speaking of my lovely wife,” Roy said, “she’s not a member of our group, but she’s supportive. How about you? Any significant other you’d like to bring?”

“I’ve been dating a guy,” Gemmy said. “He runs the local garden store and we met when I went in to buy some seedlings and pots. He’s native, grew up around here. He’s not Pagan, mostly agnostic, I think, but he’s fine with my religion. I’ll see if he can come, although getting away from the store on weekend days can be tough for him.” She suddenly realized that she wanted Paris to meet these folks and for them to meet him. “I think he’d like you all; just be careful because he can go on about soil pH forever.”

“I like him already,” Roy said.

“What’s that in your hand?” Dale asked.

Gemmy looked down and realized that she’d pulled her chestnut seed out of her pocket and was rolling it around in her hand.

“It’s a chestnut seed,” she said. “One that’s almost full American chestnut.”

“Oh, the blight,” Dale said. “Most chestnut trees nowadays are from Chinese stock, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but there’s a group of people who are working to cross-breed and re-introduce the American chestnut. You know, they used to be everywhere up and down the East Coast. Huge trees. I, well, don’t laugh, but I had a vision a few weeks ago of people planting American chestnuts on a mined-out mountaintop. It was, well, I’m just very inspired and maybe someday . . . .”

“What impact did the trees have on the soil?” Roy asked.

“Well, I never thought about it, but, of course, they had huge root structures. Prevented erosion. There are still a few trees left from before the blight with live roots. They send up trees that live for a few years and then die back. I never thought before how the loss of the roots might have impacted mycellium in the soil. I don’t think we know enough, but certainly the loss must have changed the underground network. The nuts were food for lots of different kinds of wildlife and even people and farm animals. So the shells and the leaves decomposed. It’s an interesting question,” Gemmy mused. “It never occurred to me before.”

“An American chestnut tree on the Capitol Grounds,” Roy said. “Would you like to plant it?”

Gemmy looked confused. How would they plant it here?

Roy took out a Swiss Army knife and casually dug a small hole in the ground. No one seemed to be paying attention to them. He looked up at Dale and Gemmy with a twinkle in his eye. “Ladies?”

Gemmy clasped the seed and Dale placed her hand over Gemmy’s. Gemmy could feel warmth flowing through her hands into the seed. Dale took a bottle of water out of her bag and poured a little bit into the hole. Gemmy carefully placed the chestnut seed into the ground and Roy covered it back up with dirt. All three of them held their hands over the seed and Gemmy suddenly had a vision of a giant tree shading the reflecting pool and the Capitol, feeding the squirrels, restoring the soil.

“So mote it be,” Dale said.

“So mote it be,” answered Gemmy and Roy.

And so, dear readers, may it be for you, as well.

*This chapter is dedicated to CB, whom I love.

Picture found here.