Tag Archives: A Place Without a Witch

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Thirty


“Gemmy, short for Germaine,” Gemmy said as she held out her hand. “I’ve never been to the Anacostia before; it’s beautiful.”

“Never? I’m Dale, short for Dale,” the woman joked. “Have you lived in the area long?”

“Just since January,” Gemmy said. “I’ve met the Potomac, but not the Anacostia.”

“‘Met,'” Dale said. “That’s an interesting way to put it. What brought you out here today?”

“Well, I made a deal with a friend of mine who really cares about the Potomac and the Anacostia,” Gemmy disclosed. Somehow, she had a feeling she could tell Dale the truth, or at least, most of it. “I promised her I’d try to defeat the bills that would allow dumping in the rivers if she’d plant some chestnut trees for me. I’ve been working for years with some groups that are trying to bring back American chestnuts.

How about you? What brings you to this protest?”

“Actually, the dirt,” Dale laughed. In response to Gemmy’s confused look, Dale explained, “Waste that gets dumped into the river can work its way into the soil of the river banks and contaminate the dirt. And I just have this thing about soil. It’s, well, I think you won’t laugh when I say that it’s spiritual for me.”

“Not me, the dedicated tree-hugger,” Gemmy responded. “I’d never laugh at that. Seriously, though. I do know what you mean. Are you part of a church group or something? I’ve seen you all around — at least, folks wearing those same kind of shirts.”

Just then the organizer mounted the makeshift stand and began speaking into a bullhorn, talking about the proposed bill and how it could impact the river. Gemmy and Dale listened and were eventually separated by people pushing forward to hear the speaker. At the end of the protest, Gemmy looked around, but didn’t see Dale or her group anywhere.

It wasn’t until she was on the metro, riding back home to get ready for her date, that she saw the note stuffed into her backpack. “Email me if you ever want to get together for coffee and talk about dirt.”

“Maybe I will email her,” Gemmy said to herself. “Maybe I will.” All of her Witch senses were tingling.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Nine

Solitary Esbat Ritual

Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner: A Guide to the Wheel of the Year.

“Here it is,” said Gemmy, pulling the book off of her bookshelf. “I knew I’d unpacked it. I just didn’t think”, she sighed, “that I’d be needing it.”

The last few weeks had been busy ones for Gemmy. She’d checked Witchvox only to find that there weren’t too many groups listed for the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area. Gemmy was glad to be car-less. It was better for the environment. Depending on walking and bike riding was healthier. And it meant that Gemmy was saving a lot of money to throw at her student loans. But it also meant that Pagan groups in southern Maryland, or Baltimore, or western Fairfax County were outside her reach.

Undeterred, Gemmy’d hunted down some blogs by local Pagans and had made a list of the few covens and circles that had Facebook pages or websites. As she made her list, she couldn’t help remembering her own history as a practicing Witch. . . . . .

Back in college, it had been easy: there was a campus coven and Gemmy’d joined right away after stumbling, in a course on folklore related to trees, across Margot Adler’s discussion of modern Druids and Wiccans. All it had taken was an ad in the campus paper for a Full Moon Circle and Gemmy belonged to a coven. No “year and a day” requirements at college; those who weren’t meant to belong generally dropped out. They’d all been young, inexperienced, willing to try most anything, regularly reading about rituals in books and “trying them out” for themselves. Belonging to that group had been almost as much an education as her classes, those last few semesters.

Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner was a graduation gift from her campus coven. Gemmy’d read it and used it as she moved around the country, going from research project to part-time job, camping out with Timmy between his photography gigs, and then, for a short time, when Gemmy’d landed her job at the State Park. It provided a structure for her practice and Gemmy, a woman who believed in work and effort, was able to use the book to keep herself growing and connected. Each New Moon, she’d read the chapter on “New Beginnings,” take a ritual bath, do the meditation on Air, charge her own “Cake and Ale” with her new intent, and consume them to make them incarnate. Each Sabbat, she’d read the chapter on the relevant theme, decorate her own altar with colored eggs, or flowers, or ears of corn, or pictures of her ancestors, and would spend a night alone with the Mysteries.

But she’d been happy to abandon solitary practice the day that she’d met Deena on a bike trail in Promised Land State Park. Deena’s expensive, new bike had gone too fast over a bump, and the wheel was bent. Gemmy came along in her State truck and offered Deena a ride back to the parking lot. As they loaded Deena’s bike into the truck, Gemmy’s pentacle slipped out from behind her Promised Land t-shirt and Deena had touched it, then pulled her own pentacle out from behind her “Don’t mess with old bikers. They don’t just LOOK crazy,” t-shirt.

“I’d love to introduce you to some friends of mine,” Deena had offered. “I think that you’ll like them and they’ll like you.”

As was always the case when Deena made predictions that didn’t involve her own son, she was correct. Deena’s circle had become Gemmy’s spiritual home and leaving it behind had been almost as difficult for Gemmy as walking out of her marriage.

But here Gemmy was in a new place and she was determined to find a new Circle.

Gemmy’d made email contact with the most likely-sounding group and met with three of its members at a DC Starbucks. The group billed itself as “eclectic,” which Gemmy considered an advantage. Two of the three members were over twenty minutes late, but Gemmy enjoyed her talk with the earnest young man who was waiting for her in the coffee shop. When the two other Witches showed up, joking about “Pagan standard time,” Gemmy repeated her answers to the questions about how she’d come to the Craft, what she did for daily practice, what she thought she could contribute to a group. She’d sent a polite “Thank you for meeting with me; I’d be very interested in getting to know your group” email and had never heard another word.

Gemmy went to a Tarot workshop at the local Pagan Community Center and had enjoyed her conversation with the other class members at lunch, but none of them were aware of any groups looking for new members.

Gemmy’d tried a few Sundays at the local Unitarian Universalist Church and had gone twice to their Thursday canvas-labyrinth-spread-on-the-community-center-tiles events, but — other than an older guy who’d slipped Gemmy his phone number, winked, and said that he’d love to “worship the Goddess in her” — Gemmy hadn’t made any connections there.

A local group was doing an open ritual for Litha and Gemmy went, bringing to Dupont Circle, as instructed, an offering for the altar and a “covered dish” for the gathering afterwards. Being told to call the group’s leader “Teacher” and to rise when “Teacher” arrived hadn’t gone down too well with Gemmy, but it was the slow pace of the ritual and the complete lack of organization that had made Gemmy cross that group off her list and had led her to send several polite “no thanks” emails in response to their increasingly strident demands that she attend their next ritual.

Gemmy met with another group at a local coffee shop, Northside Social, and again had the discussion about how she’d come to the Craft, what she could contribute to a group, what her daily practice entailed. She attended two of their meetings, but just didn’t seem to click with the six members of the group, all of whom appeared to be involved in a shifting polyamorous relationship and who hinted that membership in the group involved polyamory.

And, so, on a misty afternoon in early Summer, Gemmy found herself sitting on metro and refreshing her memory of the rituals in Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. She put a bookmark in the book, slipped it into her backpack, hopped out at the metro stop nearest Anacostia, and walked over to the table where a small group of activists were handing out armbands and poster board signs marked “Save the Anacostia.” Gemmy got in line and was surprised to find herself standing behind several people in peasant shirts, jeans, and sensible shoes. Each of them took a sign or armband, placed a dollar-bill in the “Donations” coffee tin, and went to stand alongside the Anacostia to protest the proposed bill that would allow commercial waste to be dumped into the city’s river.

“I’m here to speak for the Anacostia,” Gemmy said, when it was her turn at the table.

Dale turned back, still wearing her armband and holding her posterboard sign. “I’ve seen you before, on metro,” she said. “Want to come stand with us?”

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Eight


And yet, on most days, as you, my loves, already will have divined, Gemmy did not consort with water nymphs, take ritual baths before meeting with County Commissioners, or drink Maywine while making Beltane love to a man named Paris. Nor did Gemmy spend most days sitting in communion with the river to celebrate Imbolc, traveling through time to view chestnut trees, or meeting bag ladies who sent her off to an astrological fountain in the middle of the city.

No. On most days Gemmy, sensible woman that she was, got up at six-thirty, had oatmeal and tea (with fresh fruit on the days just after payday). Gemmy went upstairs and did some yoga. Gemmy sat at her altar, grounded, cast a circle, and did some meditation (well, on the good days she did some meditation; on the other days, Gemmy sat at her altar and tried to meditate).

Gemmy dressed, grabbed the lunch she’d packed the night before, and walked to the bus stop, trying not to stew about work or her bills but to, instead, be present to all of the plants, animals, and people she met.

Gemmy worked all day and Gemmy came home.

Gemmy fed the local animal she’d adopted and spent some time pulling a cloth mouse on a string to entertain her. Gemmy threw most of the mail in the recycling bin, but saved the bills to pay, according to plan, on payday. Gemmy made her dinner out of as many local ingredients as she’d been able to buy; tonight’s dinner was chicken, kale, and barley soup and the chicken and kale were from local farmers. The barley was organic, bought on sale, with a coupon. Gemmy vacuumed the floor and packed tomorrow’s lunch: left-over soup and a piece of pita, along with an apple from the farmers’ market.

Because the night was so lovely and the light was so long, Gemmy went for a walk after dinner. It was just around her neighborhood, but it was good to get outside, look at everyone else’s gardens, and have some space to think about which of the local Pagan groups that she’d found online she should approach first. The graspy couple next door were never outside, nor was the guy with the big truck. Sometimes, Gemmy waved to a dog walker or picked up a frisbee and threw it back to the kids who were playing with it across the street corner. And, because it was Thursday and she was thinking about the weekend, Gemmy checked the weather on her cell and decided that, if it really were going to be sunny and seventy, she’d pull Deena’s bike out of her laundry room and ride down to the Arboretum to spend some time with “her” bonsai tree, maybe check out their herb garden for ideas, take some pictures to send to Carla.

Day by uneventful day, Gemmy lived on her landbase, cared for a local animal, learned how the seasons unfolded in this new place, and did her best to be grounded and present. Day by uneventful day, Gemmy paid off her loans so that she could be free to do work that she liked better than Interior, although Interior wasn’t bad and she was making friends there, helping to mange natural resources. Sometimes, before she sent a report up the chain of command, Gemmy would focus on it, find her place in the web, ground, and pluck a fiber of the web here in order to make the web vibrate over there. Day by uneventful day, Gemmy paid attention to local politics and did what she could — a letter here a phone call there, an occasional spell when called for — to nudge those in charge of the landbase in the direction of balance, care, preservation. Day by uneventful day, Gemmy fell deeper in love with a native of this place, fought with him a few times, and occasionally felt a bit uncomfortable about Susan’s persistent interest in him. Gemmy shrugged it off, told herself she was being silly. Day by uneventful day, Gemmy watered the plants in her “pottager garden” out back, scooped good compost out of her tiny compost bin to add to the pots, and waited, patiently, for her harvest.

One weekend, Paris and a friend came by with a jackhammer that Paris’ friend was about to return to his shop. In exchange for coffee and Gemmy’s carrot muffins, they broke up the cement in Gemmy’s tiny yard and carted it off for fill. Gemmy looked in despair at the caked clay and construction mess they’d revealed, grounded, talked to the land, and began spreading her compost each week on the yard, one square foot at a time, instead of using it for her pots.

As Gemmy rounded the corner back towards home, her cell phone rang: Au Champs Elysees.

“Hey, gorgeous; how was your day?” Paris asked.

“Not bad,” Gemmy said, “did you make that sale to the apartment complex?”

“Am I not named for the capital of France?” Paris joked back. “Hey, Gem, Commissioner Hind dropped by the store today to buy some strawberry seedlings. She told me the measure to allow dumping in the Potomac failed. The chairman was apparently a last-minute switch. I knew you’d be happy. But the measure in DC, you know, the one to allow dumping in the Anacostia, may go foreward. There’s some kind of protest march or demonstration or something this weekend, just ahead of the vote.”

“Well that’s great about Arlington,” Gemmy said. “And thanks for the info; I may see about heading out to the Anacostia thing this weekend instead of hitting the Arboretum.”

“We’re still on for Saturday night, right?” Paris replied. “I’m going to make my famous chili and we’ll head over to Susan and Dan’s for dinner and a movie. I can pick you up about six.”

“Sounds perfect,” Gemmy replied. I’m going to make dad’s strawberry-rhubarb pie. I miss you.”

“I miss you too. Get some good sleep.”

And, so, Gemmy did. Gemmy showered, put on a cotton nightgown, and slipped into bed. Peschecat followed a few minutes later, already purring slow and strong. Gemmy fell asleep listening to Peschecat.

There was absolutely nothing weird or eventful about the entire day. It was the typical day of a typical Witch. Wasn’t it?

/To be continued.

Picture by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Seven

May Wine

May Wine

Friday afternoon was too nice for Gemmy to eat lunch inside. She almost didn’t hear her cell phone ring over the sound of the guitar busker, playing outside her office.

“Gemmy, how are you?” Carla asked. “Everyone misses you. I wanted to call and let you know that I just left the FedEx office. Deena’s bike is on its way to your place in Virginia. It’s taken a little while; you know what dealing with her son is like.”

“Oh, thank you for doing that,” Gemmy answered. “The weather’s turning nice down here and I’m looking forward to getting out and doing a bit of bike riding. It’ll give me a chance to explore. How is everybody? I miss you all, too.” Gemmy sat on the bench outside Interior, drinking the last of her tea and tossing her sandwich crust to the pigeons. It was good to catch up with Carla and hear about her old friends. Finally, Carla said, “Listen, I’ve got to run. You have any luck finding a new Circle down there? I know you said you weren’t looking forward to the ‘dating process.’”

“No, I haven’t and I’m not, but I do need to get started,” Gemmy replied. “Guess I’ll check WitchVox and go from there.”

“So you’re spending Beltane alone? Gemmy, I’m sorry.”

“Well, in fact, I’m spending Beltane going up into the Blue Ridge with a rather interesting guy I met. He’s promised me a trip to a tree farm and dinner at a funky diner and then we’ll see where things go from there,” Gemmy laughed.

“Well, well, well, Blessed Beltane to you,” Carla said, and Gemmy could almost see her wink over the phone.

Beltane dawned sunny and warm and Gemmy, my loves, fair lept out of bed to go wash her face in the dew from her backyard plants. Her morning yoga and meditation felt easy and full of new possibilities. “Beltane!” Gemmy exulted. “It’s been a long, tough winter, but Beltane’s here, and I can feel the promise of warmth and growth. So mote it be.”

Gemmy dressed for the day in her favorite jeans and a not-quite-Ren-Faire blouse made of soft blue cloth with darker blue embroidery on the fluttery sleeves. She was just deciding to whether to wear her keds or her summery sandals when Paris knocked on her door and held out a mug of coffee. “Strong and sweet, just the way you like it,” he said. “Ready for a day in the Blue Ridge, Ms. Marron?”

“Thank you! Yes, I am!” Gemmy said, giving him a kiss on the cheek and slipping on her sandals.

“I should bring you coffee more often,” Paris joked. “That was for the coffee, right?”

“The coffee, and the trip, and, well, I know you don’t celebrate it, but for Beltane, too” Gemmy replied. “Today’s Beltane and I can’t help but be happy.”

“Well then I’m all for Beltane,” Paris said. “And, besides, Raven told me that Beltane is all about making love in the woods and, heck, I’d be crazy not to celebrate that. Now, hop in,” he said, opening the car door. “I’m about to take you to the prettiest mountains in the world. I’ve even got some old John Denver songs on the CD for you.”

The drive to the mountains was Gemmy’s first trip away from the city since she’d moved there in January. As much as she was learning to like D.C., it did feel good to get out into the country, see some new sights, and watch Spring slowly spreading across the landscape.

“You know why they’re called Blue?” Paris asked, steering with one hand and sliding his other over to rest gently on Gemmy’s open palm.

“No, why are they blue?” Gemmy asked lazily, staring out the window and curling her fingers around his.

“And you, a woman who studied trees!” Paris teased. “The trees make the mountains look hazy and blue from a distance by releasing isoprene into the air. “

“Oh, no, don’t tell the climate-change-deniers,” Gemmy laughed. “They’re convinced that it’s trees releasing isoprene that’s really causing global warming, and not industrial carbon.”

They entire day passed in easy conversation and friendly banter. Paris liked the trees he saw at the tree farm and ordered a number of them to be delivered next week to the store. The chicken and dumplings turned out to be all that Paris had promised and Gemmy surprised herself by eating an entire serving.

“Need to get you out in the mountain air more often,” Paris said. “I love to watch a woman eat a good meal.”

It was dark outside by the time they pulled up in front of Gemmy’s townhouse. “Want to come in?” Gemmy asked. “I have Maywine in the fridge. It’s traditional for Beltane. “

“Oh, I’m very interested in Beltane traditions,” Paris chuckled and his chuckle seemed to resonate somewhere deep in Gemmy’s veins.

She was about to respond, when he stopped her, just outside her door, and looked into her eyes in a way that made whatever she’d been about to say vanish from her throat. They kissed and Gemmy knew then that she didn’t need any wine at all to feel lazily drunk and lightheaded. And, in fact, it wasn’t until several hours later that she slipped on a robe and came back from the kitchen with two glasses of icy wine, scented with sweet woodruff.

“Blessed Beltane,” she said as their goblets clinked.

“Blessed Beltane,” Paris replied.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Six


The next morning, Gemmy rose early, giving herself time to go to the Tidal Basin before the office. The city was still waking up; a few early morning joggers ran past the World War II Memorial while a Secret Service helicopter circled the White House and headed West. A souvenir vendor set up her wares alongside Constitution Avenue and some squirrels watched Gemmy from a nearby tree. Gemmy took a deep breath, filling herself with both the morning’s peace and its promise of the coming activity of a busy city day.

She knelt down by the Tidal Basin and pulled two floating plastic bottles out of the water. For a moment, she held her tiny bottle of charged water, filling it again with her intent. “Waters of the Potomac and Anacostia,” she whispered, “I return you to your Tidal Basin. As I release this charged water back into the greater waters, so I release the energy of my intent into the greater world. May those who make decisions about these two rivers be inspired by their beauty, awed by their mystery, guided by their history, and made brave by their might. May they keep developmental waste out of the rivers, to the good of all and the harm of none. This is my will, so mote it be.”

As Gemmy stood up and carried the plastic bottles to the nearby recycling bin, she thought she saw a blue pigeon flap by, headed towards the Potomac. “I like you better without the earplugs and mohawk,” Gemmy laughed.

That evening, Gemmy got off the metro train at Union Station; the place was huge, full of rushing commuters and slow-moving tourists. Gemmy consulted the map on her cell and made her way towards the main entrance; Susan’s place should be just a short walk up the hill. The few blocks of restaurants quickly gave way to a residential district, old rowhomes that had generally been lovingly restored or creatively modernized. Another look at her map and Gemmy turned onto Susan’s street.

There, she spied what could only be a community garden, directly across the street from an old AME Church. A few people, already home from work and changed into gardening clothes, were pulling weeds, or tucking seedlings into the ground, or digging radishes and cutting late Swiss chard. Gemmy slowed down, watching with delight and wondering if she could find space in a community garden in Arlington. As she watched, she realized that a few people were simply walking slowly around the interior boundary of the garden. They wore the same peasant shirts as Dale’s group, although neither Dale nor the man who’d spoken to Gemmy on the metro were present, and suddenly Gemmy’s dream came floating back to her. She crossed the street to get a better look. These people weren’t scattering compost or anything else, simply walking silently and mindfully around the garden. None of the busy gardeners seemed to pay them much attention and Gemmy was just on the verge of asking one of the walkers what they were doing when Cory came by in her motorized wheelchair.

“Gemmy, hi! Are you looking for Susan’s? It’s the next house down. I’m glad I ran into you; Susan’s got two small stairs and I may need a bit of help getting up them. Do you mind? I’m so glad it’s a nice night. This will be my first cook-out of the season. You like IPA? I brought a six-pack I heard the new Secretary’s coming to visit our division tomorrow to talk about ‘revisioning our mission.’ We’ll probably all need more beer after that.”

Gemmy was caught up in Cory‘s enthusiasm and, when they got to Susan’s, by the generally carefree mood of the dinner, although Gemmy alone seemed to sense an undercurrent of tension between Susan and Dan. Gemmy shrugged it off: “None of my business,” and by the time she left to walk back to metro, it was dark and the garden was empty. “I wonder who the heck those people are,” Gemmy thought as she rode home on an almost empty train. “They keep showing up.”

Now as Gemmy feeds Peschecat and heads for bed, you, you darling lightning bugs and peepers, you, of course, will already have guessed what was going on, because of course, we know that Gemmy’s story is really about the only two stories that there ever can be. It is both about “A Stranger Comes to Town,” and it is about “Someone Goes on a Journey.” And so you will have already guessed that those people were indeed The People Who Keep Showing Up. Now sometimes they called themselves that, only half-jokingly, in the way that strong groups have of both reinforcing their central practice and of making everything fun. And sometimes, they called themselves Dirt Worshippers and sometimes, as Gemmy’s dream-self had already intuited, they called themselves Compost. And they did, indeed, like to spread themselves around.

Now, places, of course, need priestesses and priests. Places need Witches. Places need Druids, and Magicians, and Heathens who practice the old ways of honor, and home, and hearth. Places need magic and places need listening attention. Places need people who live within, and can help to turn, the Wheel of the Year.

And just as there are priestesses and priests of the Antarctic wastes, doing magic to sustain and heal that icy place, The People Who Keep Showing Up were a carefully-assembled group devoted to the dirt, the soil, the actual ground, the Earth of Washington, D.C. Their rites, like their ceremonial shirts, were simple and comfortable, but their training could take several years and those who completed it emerged part historian, part geologist, part urban agrarian, part environmentalist, part pedologist, part edaphologist, and, of course, entirely workers of the deep magic made mostly of paying attention. They had no web page, no Twitter account, no way for new people to seek them out. The People Who Keep Showing Up had learned that those who were meant for their group would find them and that those who were not would never even know they existed. The People Who Keep Showing Up liked it better that way. They did not send members to the local Pagan Pride Day celebration and they did not get involved in Witch wars over the Pagan community temple — although they had quietly gone there one weeknight and blessed the surrounding soil. Their practice had made them practical. Earthy. Grounded. Their careful sampling, regularly recorded between the stone-encrusted covers of their Book of Shadows, showed that within a week of their paying attention rites, beneficial mycellium at each site increased, as did nitrogen-fixing weeds.

Gemmy had only just begun to notice The People Who Keep Showing Up. And several of them had begun to notice Gemmy.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Five


“I wanted to wait until after my meetings with the County Commissioners,” Gemmy laughed, “so I could tell you how they went. But, wait, how’d you know about Susan’s dinner?”

“She dropped by to pick up some mulch on her way to her mom’s over in Cherrydale,” Paris said. “Gemmy, I hate to be a wet blanket, but I don’t work a nine-to-five job. I can’t close the store early this time of year; everyone’s just beginning to buy garden stuff. Ricky has to study for exams and prep for his SAT and can only work weekends until school’s out. There’s no way I can do a weeknight dinner in the city.”

“No worries,” Gemmy said, although she had been feeling kind of hopeful. “I’m going to at least put in an appearance. I’d like to get to know Capitol Hill better, anyway.”

“We’re still on for Saturday, though, right?” Paris asked. “I’ve got Ricky coming in to cover the store.”

“Are you kidding?” Gemmy laughed. “You promised me the best chicken and dumplings I’ll ever eat and I intend to hold you to your bargain. Besides, it’s Beltane and I’m looking forward to getting out into the country.”

“So how’d your meetings go?” Paris asked. “Think you and your charged water changed any minds?”

“I think so,” Gemmy said, opening a can of catfood for Peschecat, thawing a bowl of vegetable soup for herself, and beginning to make a peanut butter sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch while she told Paris about each Commissioner.

That night, Gemmy fell into bed exhausted and dreamed that she saw Dale and her friends walking next to the metro car Gemmy was riding. They carried cloth shoulder bags full of compost and were sprinkling the compost alongside the metro tracks, singing a song that Gemmy couldn’t quite hear from inside the train.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Four

That evening, on the subway, Gemmy pulled the stoppered bottle of water out of her backpack. She stared at it as the train rocked and screeched from Farragut to Courthouse. She remembered all that she’d felt and learned sitting on the banks of the Potomac at Imbolc, her intent when she had scooped water from the tidal basin, everything that the water nymph had taught her at the Zodiac Fountain and at Donaldson Run. Gemmy watched the waters of the Potomac and the Anacostia mix in her tiny bottle and she focused on seeing all of that water clean, clear, free from developmental waste.

When the conductor said, “Courthouse Station. We are arriving at Courthouse Station. Please watch the gap between the train and the platform. Courthouse Station, Arlington,” Gemmy placed the bottle in the pocket of her navy blue blazer and stepped off the train.

An escalator ride brought Gemmy to ground level, and it didn’t take her long to see the building that housed Arlington County’s governmental center. Gemmy stopped for a moment, grounded again, charged her bottle of water with the energy flowing through her hands, and walked into the office building. A glance at the board mounted on the wall and a quick chat with the guard standing at the entrance sent Gemmy to the third floor. She had an appointment with each of the county commissioners, but she wasn’t sure where to start.

Something made Gemmy (was that a blue pigeon she saw out of the corner of her eye? Of course not, not inside a building!) turn left as she got off the elevator, and she found herself standing outside the office of the county chairman. Gemmy was a woman at ease in botany classrooms and planting trees in parks; she wasn’t a woman used to talking to government officials. She swallowed, tucked her “Dept. of Interior” badge inside her blouse, lest she be viewed as mixing her roles as an agent of the federal government and a citizen of the county, walked through the door, and said to the receptionist, “Hello, I made an appointment to meet the chairman. I’m here to talk to him about a proposed law to release developmental waste into the Potomac and the Anacostia.” The receptionist checked her computer screen. “Of course, Ms. Marron,” she said. “The Chairman is waiting for you.’

Gemmy swallowed, wondered how she’s allowed a punk water nymph with iPhone earpads and too many earrings to trick her into doing this, and straightened her “business suit,” skirt. She walked into the chairman’s office, remembering Dad’s old saying: “Just look at him and imagine him in his underwear.”

“Good evening,” she said, grounding again, casting a quick circle, imagining silly paisley silk boxers, and holding out her hand. “I’m Gemmy, short for Germaine. Gemmy Marron. I’ve only recently moved to Arlington, but I’ve come to love the local rivers: the Anacostia and, especially, the Potomac. You’ve lived here all your life; you must really love the local rivers.”

“Sure, yes, absolutely,” the county commissioner said. “Welcome, welcome to Arlington. We work very hard here to find a balance between development and preservation. I’m glad you like our rivers. Have we added you to our newsletter, yet?”

Gemmy reached into the pocket of her blazer and pulled out her charged bottle of water. She set it on the chairman’s desk. “This is water from the Potomac and the Anacostia Rivers. I pulled it from the point where they mix, right in the heart of our nation’s capital. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Tidal Basin,” Gemmy said. “It’s where the Potomac and the Anacostia meet. If we allow developmental waste, it will be the place where pollution from both sets of builders will meet.”

“Well,” the chairman said, staring into the tiny bottle,”Well, yes, of course. When I was a boy,” he said, almost lost in his memory, “we caught tadpoles in Spout Run, which, well, you’re new, you may not know, but it runs into the Potomac. Arlington is completely pro-business, but, um, well, of course, the Potomac. No one can say we want to send waste into the heart of D.C.’s historic district. Can you leave your information with my receptionist, Ms., em, Gemmy, em, Marron?” the chairman said, standing and handing Gemmy her bottle. He held it for a long moment, almost reluctant to let it go.

“Certainly,” said Gemmy, almost forcefully taking back her bottle of river water. “Thank you for meeting with me. I’ll follow your vote on this issue and will be in touch with you about it in the future. I’ve registered to vote here and I care deeply about this issue.”

“Yes, sure, of course,” the politician said, still staring at Gemmy’s charged bottle of river water. “Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and fundraising benefit.”

Gemmy left her information with the receptionist and headed down the hall to meet with the other commissioners.

Between each official door, Gemmy clutched her bottle and charged it with the importance of clean water. Inside each office, Gemmy held up her bottle of water, placed it on each commissioner’s desk, and did the magic necessary to send the water’s energy throughout each office. By the time that Gemmy was finished with the last commissioner, she was almost bathed in sweat, exhausted and shaky from sending energy into her bottle of water and, from there, out into the office of each commissioner who would vote on the bill. Her throat hurt from explaining how the law would conflict with federal laws and cost the county money and her back ached with the effort of being persistently proper and polite.

As Gemmy left the county building and slipped onto a seat on the metro train headed back to East Falls Church, she closed her eyes and thought of Paris. “I need to text him,” Gemmy reminded herself. “I need to text him and ask about dinner on Thursday.”

The subway train lurched to a stop. “East Falls Church Station,” the conductor announced. “Please watch your step.”

One bus ride and one short walk later, Gemmy unlocked the door to her tiny townhome. “Peschecat? Want some tuna?” Gemmy asked. Her cell phone rang, Ella singing I love Paris. Gemmy pulled her phone from her backpack and said, “Hey, I was just about to text you.” Paris answered, “Really? You’ve been waiting all day to tell me about Susan’s dinner? Somehow, Gemmy, I doubt it took you all day.”

/To be continued

Piture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Four


“Well, I’d ask you to bring that handsome ex-lover of mine, but I know he’ll never close the shop early on a weeknight,” Susan laughed.

Gemmy plopped down into a nearby chair, almost spilling her tea.

“Paris? You and . . . Paris? I mean, how do you know about me and . . . . It’s just, I didn’t know . . . . You and Paris?” Gemmy stammered, feeling somehow oddly exposed.

“Oh, don’t sound so surprised,” Susan said. “It was a long time ago — just after we got out of Wakefield High. And we’ve both obviously moved on since then. I ran into him on metro the other day and we chatted about old times and then caught up. I told him about Dan and the twins and he told me about the girl he likes who recently came to work work at Interior. He’s a nice guy, Gemmy. If you CAN talk him into closing early, bring him for burgers,” Susan said, resting her hand on Gemmy’s shoulder and heading for the door.

“I guess I just never thought . . . . A big city like this,” Gemmy stammered.

Susan paused. “You know, Gemmy, there’s ‘Washington,’ and then there’s ‘D.C.,’ — ‘the District,’ –. Washington’s a big city, full of transients who come here for a few years, work for ‘the company,’ make important connections, and then head back home. Or they stay here and lobby, but they move to Potomac or Leesburg. But D.C. is a small town. People live in the District, raise families, start or inherit businesses, shop at Eastern Market, connect, make art, play softball, do yoga, plant gardens, grow old, gossip, and die. Paris and I are from D.C., although you may — or may not — only be from Washington. Time will tell.” Susan took her coffee and went back to IACB, where, for the rest of the afternoon, she leaned on her master’s thesis on Native American Chesapeake beadwork to uncover another half dozen fakes.

Gemmy went back to her cubicle and stared at her desk. Of course Paris had grown up around here and would know others who’d done the same. It would be the easiest thing in the world to text him and say, “Hey! Susan asked us to come to her place for burgers on Thursday. You free?”

“Later tonight,” Gemmy told herself. “After I get back from meeting the county council members. I’ll text or call him then.”

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Three


The metro train pulled into East Falls Church, already full. Gemmy knew there was no use waiting for another one; it was eight A.M. and, by now, they would all be full. She stepped into the car just as — what luck! — a large man got up from his seat to exit the train. Gemmy gladly plopped down and pulled out her book. Getting to sit for the trip to Farragut West was a rare treat.

The train jerked to a stop at Ballston and Gemmy looked up from her book. A group of people filed into the car. Gemmy thought that maybe she’d seen this same group of seven or eight people on metro before. They wore matching loose shirts (Gemmy thought of them as peasant shirts), khaki shorts, and sensible shoes. Gemmy didn’t think that they were tourists; she was used to groups of those, stumbling onto metro during rush hour, wearing matching t-shirts, talking loudly, and more-often-than-not missing their stop. Gemmy was tempted, for some reason, to conclude they were members of a church group, but the scattered tattoos made that unlikely. She was about to shrug and return to her book when, as the train jerked forward, one of the members of the group, an older woman, stumbled and grabbed the handrail on Gemmy’s seat. Gemmy hadn’t seen her before, but stood now and said, “Here’s a seat.”

“Oh, thank you, dear,” the woman replied. “Just getting over my hip replacement, you see,” she said by way of explanation.

Gemmy nodded and opened her book; she’d long since mastered the art of holding the handrail with one hand and the book with another, reading in spite of the train’s jerks and stops.

“Thanks so much for giving Dale your seat,” said a man about Gemmy’s age. “Metro seems to get more crowded every year. And I’ve seen old people and pregnant women stand while young people sat, oblivious.”

“No worries,” Gemmy smiled. “I sit all day at a desk, anyway.”

Just then, the train pulled out of Virginia Square and the people who’d gotten on edged their way into the aisles. Gemmy was pushed a bit further back in the car, away from Dale’s group. She returned to her book and, when she looked up the next time, as the conductor said, “We’re approaching the Farragut West Station. Please watch your step as you exit the train,” the group was gone.

At work that day, Gemmy kept thinking about them; she couldn’t figure out why, but at odd moments she’d remember Dale’s expression, or the way that the group seemed to talk quietly with each other, or the man who’d been worried about old people and pregnant women having to stand. Gemmy’d shake her head and go back to work. “You’re ‘gathering wool,’ Girl,” she told herself, using one of Dad’s old expressions.

About three o’clock, Gemmy got up and walked to the lunchroom to refill her mug of tea. “Hey, Gemmy!” Susan said, adding cream to her cup of coffee and plopping down at the lunch table. “Are you busy Thursday night? We just got a new grill that Dan wants to try out and several folks are going to come over for burgers. We’re just a few blocks from Union Station. Why don’t you come? It’ll be fun.”

“OK, thanks,” Gemmy answered, figuring it would be a good chance to get to know folks outside the office and, besides, it wasn’t as if her social life in this new town was exactly a whirlwind. “Can I bring anything?”

Susan’s answer gave Gemmy a bit of a start.

/To be continued.

Picture found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Twenty-Two


Monday dawned rainy and cool.

“Weird; it’s almost Beltane,” Gemmy remarked to Peschecat, curled up in the exact center of Gemmy’s freshly-made bed. “I don’t suppose you’d like to go write pamphlets at Interior to earn money for catfood while I stay home and nap?”

Already sure of the answer, Gemmy donned her rain boots and raincoat and began her daily walk past her block of townhomes, planted primarily with hostas near their foundations and with trees directly under power lines, to the bus.

At work, Gemmy sat in on a last-minute inter-agency meeting for her boss and outlined a web page for school children and their parents about getting exercise in national parks, being careful to mention — as Secretary Jewell had instructed — the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, or, as it poetically called itself, AAHPERD, as well as nature author, Richard Louv. “You get health insurance,” Gemmy reminded herself.

By lunch, the rain had turned to drizzle. Gemmy walked towards 17th Street, past the Reflecting Pool and the World War II Memorial. A turn onto Maine Avenue brought her to the banks of the Tidal Basin. “The waters of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers are linked by the Washington Channel, which mingles in the Tidal Basin with the waters of the Potomac at its Northern end and then flows into the Anacostia at its Southern end,” Gemmy’d read in “A Native’s Guide to Washington, D.C.”

That fact was central to her current magical working.

Like any Witch moving to a new town, Gemmy had set about acquiring the resources she needed to become more intimate with her adopted landbase. Her copy of “A Native’s Guide to Washington, D.C.” sat next to “A Geological History of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington,” “Masonic Influences on the Landscape of Washington, D.C.,” and “A Foraging Guide to Washington, D.C. and Vicinity.” True, Gemmy’s copies were a few years old, bought second-hand off the outside tables at Second Story Books, almost — and this was important for a Witch without a car — squarely atop a metro station, but their addition to her esoteric library of arcane magical books had already shaped her “wandering around the city” Saturdays and given her some magical grounding in her new urban Witchplace.

For a few minutes, Gemmy just stood, watching raindrops plop into the water, merge, and become — as Gemmy said to herself, employing one of the puns she and Dad used to love — “wholly river.” Once she felt grounded, Gemmy reached into the pocket of her raincoat and pulled out a small bottle. Removing the cork stopper, she bent down and filled the bottle with water from the Tidal Basin. “I’ll bring you back home, shortly,” Gemmy told the Water.

That evening, Gemmy prepared a ritual bath. Skyclad, she lit three red candles and poured a scant handful of peanut oil into her tub. She set along the side of the tub three pebbles that she’d gathered at Imbolc and floated three leaves that she’d picked from the mint plant growing in a pot outside her kitchen door. Her iPhone played a soft recording of river sounds as Gemmy grounded and, increasingly a priestess of her watershed, slipped into her scented tub.

Gemmy relaxed into the warm water, which felt especially good at the end of a chilly, wet day. She focused her attention on her pores opening and on the blood flowing just beneath her skin. “Like the waters, that are Her sacred blood,” Gemmy chanted for a few minutes, opening herself to an even deeper understanding of how she and the local rivers were connected.

Finally, Gemmy called to the Potomac and the Anacostia and said, “Cleanse me and leave me clean, you Waters. Allow me to speak truth to power when I go to see the members of the County Board. Cleanse me of my insecurities and my fears. Let me find the right words to save the rivers.”

She reached for the stoppered bottle of water and began to charge it with her magical intent.

Later that evening, wrapped in a warm bathrobe and sipping from a dream-inducing cup of mugwort tea, Gemmy went online and scheduled an appointment with each member of the Arlington County board. Her research showed that all of them were Democrats, but none were serious environmentalists; all were advocates of “sustainable development” and “walkable communities.” Most had accepted donations from local developers.

“I live in Arlington County and would like to meet with you to discuss a pending ordinance that will allow developers to dump waste into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Are you aware of how many Virginia and federal statutes this ordinance will violate?” Gemmy wrote, having used again the research skills that had gotten her through a double major at college. “Are you willing to spend millions of county tax dollars defending this ordinance, only to lose in court due to the Supremacy Clause which will prevent this ordinance from overriding federal law? And, even more important, are you really willing to sacrifice the health of Arlington’s rivers to developers’ profits? I’m looking forward to meeting with you on Wednesday evening, when you have office hours to talk with your constituents. Please let me know if there’s any additional information that I should bring.”

Gemmy shut down her laptop and walked calmly to bed. Peschecat curled up on top of the warm computer, purring as if she were adding her own intent to Gemmy’s practical magic. But then, that would be silly, wouldn’t it? Cats don’t get involved in Witch magic.

Do they?

/To be continued.

Picture found here.