Tag Archives: Landbase

Eating and Cooking Like the Witch of this Place

For me, part of being “the Witch of this place,” is growing, cooking, and eating the foods of my landbase, watershed, food shed. Like every place, the South has foods that are traditional to each holiday. G/Son comes to my house at Yule and grabs several ham biscuits. “Oh, I like these little sandwiches,” he says. A friend comes back from a Richmond funeral and tells me about fried chicken, bourbon, peanut soup, and spoonbread. On the Fourth of July, we eat watermelon. In months with an R, we warm ourselves with oyster stew. In late Summer/early Fall, my extended family goes to Annapolis and picks crabs on picnic tables covered with brown paper.

And, on New Years’s Day in the South, you eat hoppin john. I make mine the way that my momma, raised in Florida, made it. Peppers, onions, ham, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and greens. I add garlic, although I don’t think my momma did, and heat, this year from fish peppers. In good years, you add ham and in leaner years, you add a ham hock, or a ham bone, or maybe only the thought of ham. You eat it to have good luck all through the new year. (I think that, for a lot of my ancestors, just being able to scratch together a filling meal months after the last harvest was an indication of good luck. And I eat hoppin john to, in part, honor their survival and their struggle, to take into the cells of my own body the foods that my ancestors ate.)

Click on the Afroculinaria link in my blog roll and read Michael Twitty’s fascinating discussion of the (largely African) history of hoppin john (and the magical symbolism of each ingredient).

May 2015 bring you health, growth, magic, poetry, prosperity, a sense of place, and true friends. This is my will; so mote it be.

The Brits have a wonderful saying about starting as you “mean to go on.” What’s the first thing that you’ll eat in 2015?

I Want a Great Rucksack Revolution Like a Lover

“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution, thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures.”

~ Gary Snyder

Highway 15, Central Virginia


Highway 15, Central Virginia

~ Hecate Demetersdatter

And Autumn after Autumn,
Virginia’s seeds keep falling
On this red clay.
On this clay made red by iron,
On this iron that ruddies my blood,
On this clay that pentacles the hematite moving through my veins.

First Peoples track turkeys
and sedum falls on clay.
Englishmen rave in Jamestown,
and jimson weed falls on clay.
Settlers light out for the Blue Ridge,
and ragweed falls on clay.
Slaves follow Miss Harriet through bogswamps,
and toadflax falls on clay.

Vultures eat dead deer.
Chipmunks fill their cheeks with seeds.
Raccoons wash paw paws in sleepy creeks.
Mushrooms decay into duff.

As blue and grey collide, brother spilling brother’s blood,
asters, white and blue, fall on clay.
(Iron red blood drips onto iron red clay. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. Perhaps when a thousand Autumns pass, we’ll know what this became. It’s clear we’re still processing this, still working out the story.)
As sharecroppers trade scrip for flour and coffee,
scarlet magnolia seeds fall on clay.
As cotton is king and ragtime plays,
horsenettle falls on clay.

Women make sausage gravy, die in bloody births, wring chickens’ necks, make quilts, and ostracize each other, as colonized people do.
Children skip stones.
Old people eat grits inside log cabins made close with smoke.
Knights of the KKK burn crosses.

As boys go off to die for Duke Ferdinand,
Autumn camellia seeds fall on clay.
As radios play jazz,
withered poke berries fall on clay.
As we all get rich on stocks,
broomsedge seeds fall on clay.
Miz Holiday’s strange fruit drops to the ground and is buried under clay.

The WPA builds damns, cuts roads, seeds fish.
The black diaspora swells. New York. Baltimore. Chicago. Detroit.
Bottle trees sprout outside respectable homes.
Tobacco money grows colleges and gardens.
Segregated drinking fountains stain the land.
Separate is proposed as a synonym for equal.

No one believes it.

Seeds fall.

Weeds grow along the liminal space between pavement and pine forest.
Old women gather cool plantain leaves, ripe blackberries, and the birth control of Queen Anne’s seeds.
Chicory flowers escape from Monticello and bloom blue across the state.
Foxtail and goosegrass feed the birds.

And Virginia’s clay absorbs them all.

Each Autumn, there is a new harvest.

We drive past, drunk on dappled sunlight and shadow, in love with every weed we see. We, too, are made of this harvest. We, too, will fall on clay.

Picture found here.



Everyone has their place — the place that if they suddenly disappeared, you’d know you could surely find them there. For an Audubon member, you would find them, binoculars and field guide in had, in a Glacier Park meadow that resembles a Claude Monet painting with bursts of yellow, green, and white, and is filled with the rushing sound of spring run-off.

* * *

[O]f all the places that are mine, if I could choose just one, my choice would be the cabin. No, not “a” cabin or “my” cabin. “The one and only cabin.

* * *

My cabin is a real cabin, with old, rough logs coated with fading mustard yellow paint. An aged, slightly squeaky water pump stands on the porch, and a tire swing hangs like an old rubber noose from one of the nearby trees. I have been swinging on that old tire ever since I could walk. The cabin has been a permanent fixture in my life.

* * *

When I’m at the cabin, I can enjoy the pure sweet sound of nothing but the rush of the creek and the constant twangy thwack of the antiquated screen door soaring back into its frame, despite the hollers of “Don’t slam the screen door!” The cabin is a place where, no matter what is happening at that time, you can be freed from it. At the cabin, I can detach myself from whatever is weighing me down. At the cabin, peace can become a blissful reality.

~ Meredith Stolte, in whitefish review, vol. 5, issue 2, Winter 2011/2012

There’s a lovely Irish word — tenelach — that means the relationship that you can have a with land, air, and water. A deep connection that allows you to listen to the song of the Earth. Ms. Stolte’s essay hints at a tenelach.

To develop a tenelach, you have to be open to having that kind of relationship, even when you know that, like any relationship, you’ll have to take the bitter with the sweet. Sometimes, the song that the Earth is singing is a dirge.

At Bravely Be, Tracy writes:

In an unpublished manuscript, Aldo Leopold, credited as forbearer of the modern environmental movement, simply, but eloquently states, “There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other and the relation of people to land.”

Standing on his shoulders and those of many others, I can say that there are three things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, the relation of people to land, and the relation of people to themselves.

I do not know what the future holds, except that either we will co-create a sustainable human culture or we will not. I also know that what we do now influences what happens next and that the past and future are only concepts. Therefore, this moment is what matters most to me. I take care of the future by taking care of here and now. This is simple, but not easy. The mysterious animated spark of life is always whole and here and now. So while I care deeply about the future, it is only the present that I have access to and must consistently tend.

What do you do to consistently tend your relationship with place here, now, in the present? What songs are you hearing?

Picture found here.

They Say a Witch Lives Here

Gwyndolyn cottage storybook Homes

I wish that I’d read this article about making a house a home before I bought my little cottage. Please read the whole thing, whether you’re still dreaming of your own home or whether you’ve lived for years in the place you were born to inhabit.

I especially like points 7 and 8:

7. When you hear the great-horned owl calling, take your daughter out into the night. Listen with her, and let the certainty of a second child bloom in the whos.

8. When your daughters run to you, calling excitedly about a frog or praying mantis, push aside whatever work lies before you, and show them by your keen interest that what they have discovered is the real work. Let them take down your field guide and flip the pages. Let their wonder feed your own.

I knew that I really lived here the first time that G/Son, then only two, and I lived through a thunderstorm here and then went outside barefoot, walked in the stream in front of the house, and sent prayers to the Potomac River. I knew that I would stay when I tucked him into bed, full of roast chicken, and apples, and cheese, and sang him to sleep under heavy covers.

I am the Witch of this place.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

How to Rewild for Urban Witches


I wrote recently about rewilding, as advocated by Peter Grey, the urban Witch. I firmly believe that we have to make what we say relevant to Witches who live in urban places (cities and close-in suburbs) because that is where most of today’s Witches likely live (simply because that is where most of today’s people live). How does an urban Witch connect with hir landbase? One way is to get to know the features and geography of the place.

Here’s an excellent article entitled How To Know Where the River Is. The entire thing is worth a read. The author describes a typical urban bus stop, trash and all, located near a wounded tree. Yet the tree, the author says, isn’t the main attraction.

That would be the surprising variety of large birds in the air on any given morning, especially in spring. There might be noisy Canada geese, several crows, or a couple of gulls. On a sunny, blustery morning, wind from the south, the sandhill cranes will be heading north in what seems to be their favorite flying weather. Another day a red-tailed hawk will be circling. One April day, sky full of clouds, strong wind from the northeast, I saw a great blue heron heading north, angular, tacking the gusts, looking like the Platonic form from which people first developed the idea of “kite.”

From these sights, anyone should know that the Des Plaines River is about a mile or so due west.


On a humid summer day, if you cycle west towards the Des Plaines, at some point you’ll notice that the smells of exhaust and mown grass and the warm, dusty feel of the air change to a cooler, heavier scent—the green feel of the woods, with deeper, damper notes of more heavily oxygenated air and the slowly moving river.

A relationship with the river is important for urban people because:

Adorned with its archaic green ruff, the Des Plaines winds through the street grid like a twisting vein of biological complexity interrupting the product of human logic. Those who visit often, who quiet down, and listen, observe, and learn, will understand what it might mean to live as “naturalized citizens,” Robin Wall Kimmerer’s term for those whom the land has influenced until they become part of that place and its natural community.

And then

A thriving tree at a bleak bus stop, with its understory of bittersweet nightshade, lady’s thumb, dandelion, and sow thistle; the sight of a great blue heron angling north-northwest-northeast against the strict north-south grain of the streets—such things as these could remind you of where you really live, which might not be where you think you are.

Where do you really live? Is it where you think you are?

Picture found here.

Rewilding the Urban Witch

Playing in the Rain

If you haven’t read Peter Grey’s essay on Rewilding Witchcraft, you really should.

Mr. Grey asserts that, “Ours is a practice grounded in the land, in the web of spirit relationships, in plant and insect and animal and bird. This is where we must orientate our actions, this is where our loyalty lies.”

He also writes that:

So we come to the heart of the issue, there is no wilderness left. No landscape that has not been despoiled by man. No living system that can escape the fate which our actions have bound it to. We are living in the age of absolute ecological collapse. Habitat loss is occurring at a staggering rate, driven by what industrial civilisation has in common with the religions of the Book: the view that nature, like woman, is ours to dominate. Witchcraft has a more nuanced understanding of our place in the holarchy.

And, he urges that:

With climate collapse and infrastructure failure in what now seems not a slow but a jagged descent, a shift to the local and a disengagement from power structures are necessary steps. Find the others has become an imperative. Our personal eschatology, the inevitability of our physical deaths, is now being played out on a planetary scale. Form your covens, your working groups, for there is no time to lose. Make your ritual actions count. Be present in every action and exchange. Love one another.

Witchcraft has never been passive in the face of power. Our witchcraft will not be silenced at a time such as this, it will not be polite. Witchcraft cannot retreat to the wilderness, because there is no exterior wilderness left; instead we need to exteriorise our inner wild. We need to wake up the animal in our bodies. This is witchcraft as contagion, as living flame. We witches must however reluctantly return the curse that has been laid upon us all.

Sarah Ann Lawless has written a very compelling follow-on piece. In it, she says that, more than a locavore approach to consumption:

What we need instead is local knowledge, local medicine, and local witchcraft. What do your local spirits care about you and your family’s survival? You who have never spoken to them or left them an offering? You who doesn’t know their names, powers, or dwelling places. They have no vested interest in you. They will dwell in the trees growing over our mass grave one day and not weep for us… after all, wasn’t it our ancestors who clear cut the forests that were their homes when we came to this land? Wasn’t it our ancestors who polluted their rivers and oceans and fished all their food until it couldn’t be renewed? Why would these spirits teach us their magic and medicine? One would have to put in a lot of hard work to simply get their attention, and years of it for them to start trusting and helping one local spirit worker, let alone all of us.

What did the ancient  magicians, shamans, sorcerers, and witches do to gain the favour of the spirits? The literally went wild. Off they would go into the uncivilized world of nature without any comforts, without any companions.

And, so, on the one hand Mr. Grey tells us that there is no wilderness left and Ms. Lawless tells us that we must go wild, go to the uncivilized world of nature. I don’t think those two statements are necessarily as contradictory as they may, initially, seem. Here’s why.

Ms. Lawless describes what it would be like to journey into the wild in the Pacific Northwest — in its forests, in its mountains, on its beaches. And these relatively wild places — and their counterparts in every area of the country — do still exist and communion with would be wonderful practice for any Witch. But most modern Witches live in cities. And we city Witches need to commune with the spirits of our places, with the “uncivilized world of nature” in our cities if we hope to know the names, powers, and dwelling spaces of our local spirits. City Witches, no less than those who practice in rainforests as Ms. Lawless says:

Wherever you live, you must allow yourself to be absorbed into the very land itself, immersed in the genius loci until their secrets and wisdom pour into you. We must become village witches, regional witches, shamans who speak for the spirits where we live.

Mr. Grey urges us to, “Confront death, not by practicing the magic of ploughmen and wortcunners in your urban apartment believing that it makes you more authentic than any given Wiccan. . . . The witch has been created by the land to speak and act for it.”

What are the names, and powers, and dwelling places of the urban spirits of the land in your city? What do they want to tell you? What do they want you to speak and to act for them?

Picture found here.

“We have lost the South for a generation.” ~ Lyndon Johnson, Fifty Years Ago Today, Upon Signing the Civil Rights Act


President Johnson was sadly prophetic; the Democratic Party did lose at least a generation of white Southern voters and, sadly, African American votes have often not been enough to make up the difference.

But in a real and more important way, he saved the South.

A Virginian through and through, I love so many things about my landbase. I love Southern manners, Southern men with accents, Southern blues, my friends’ real mint juleps in frosty silver cups. I love Southern lawyers in seersucker suits, bow ties, and braces — men and women. I love hot Summer nights. I love magnolia trees, Spanish moss, gardenias, camellias, mimosa trees, and the Southern habit of sharing plants from our gardens with each other. I love ham biscuits, iced tea with mint, blue crabs with Old Bay, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, fried chicken . . . . I could go on.

But the horrible contagion of segregation was going to destroy the South, one way or another (and maybe take the rest of America with it). Abraham Lincoln saw it and Lyndon Johnson saw it. With the stroke of his pen, Johnson lost the South and saved it from itself, even if that salvation is still working its way slowly through some parts of our infected body politic.

My generation will never forgive President Johnson for his foreign policy (and I say this as I watch President Obama — whose presidency is a direct result of President Johnson’s brave act 50 years ago — send “advisors” to Middle Eastern countries just as President Johnson sent “advisors” to Viet Nam) crimes, nor should we. But he was a brave Democrat from the deep South when he signed the Civil Rights Act, knowing all the while what a political cost it would exact. Sometimes, people do things because they are right.

An important part of my practice of Witchcraft is being in touch with my own, specific landbase. Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, I was grateful to our county library system for republishing this leaflet entitled “The Negro Citizen in Arlington,” and published in 1960, a few years before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. (The sexism inherent in the entire leaflet was endemic at the time.) Here’s just one small example of what segregation was like in my hometown while I was a little girl:

3.  Highly qualified personnel direct the Arlington recreation program for Negroes but whereas the playgrounds and summer recreation programs for white children are located in the neighborhoods where white children live, only two small playgrounds are available for Negroes. Both of them are inadequate and the largest one, where full-scale ball games might be played, is in the southern tip of Arlington, inaccessible to the large number of Negro youth in North Arlington. Negro children live very near some of the large playing fields designated for white children. They can only watch from the sidelines. If friendly youngsters call out to them to join the games, they must ignore the invitation or accept it with the risk that they might be sent away, or, failing to leave, might be taken to the police station.

Sometimes, the best way to save something is to lose it for a generation.

Thank you, Mr. Johnson. The South has never been nor ever can be truly lost; we just take a long time to get to where we’re going, sometimes. It’s the heat, I think.

Tower Times


There are a few places in DC where the fey are so populous and so strong that I have trouble staying on the road, staying above ground, not heading directly off to join the dance that you think lasts a night but that sends you back home in the morning to your grandchildren’s grandchildren.

I drove into one today, unmeaning and unawares, and circled, as my suddenly-enchatned GPS played loop the loop and took me several times around my destination, to see leaves falling, less than 48 hours before Litha, as if it were mid-September. And I could hear war, and the sounds of war. I could hear the trumpets in the sky and the thunder of hooves on the ground. I could feel the Wild Hunt riding at Litha, when it never should ride.

And all I could do was be amazed at the beauty as I remembered Byron‘s repeated warnings: Tower Time.

These, as Jean Houston sometimes says, are the times for which we were born. (Well, Jean doesn’t say that. She says that these are the times we were born for, but Gotterdamerung or not, I’m not going to end a sentence with a preposition.)

Somehow, I was reminded of Robby Burns’ line: “Then let us pray that come it may, (As come it will for a’ that,).”

I love the fey and I am grateful for their messages. But I’m going to take a salt bath tonight and sleep with a nail under my pillow. Not to protect, because nothing can, against what’s coming, but to save myself for another day when my choice to dance beneath the hill will be a conscious one.

Picture found here.

Peak Cherry Blossom PotPourri


* Columbia’s District houses many treasures: the original Constitution, Matisse’s cut outs, precious Native American art, the huge collection of books, records, and film in the Library of Congress, masses of ancient azaleas at the National Arboretum, the Statue of Columbia (Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace) atop the Capitol, the only painting by da Vinci in the Americas, and Calder’s largest mobile. But one of the of the loveliest treasures in D.C. is the collection of cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. Many of them were gifts from Japan to America, given over a hundred years ago. When they all blossom, at least half of D.C. and tourists from everywhere come to be amazed. Peak bloom is often a different date from the “official” Cherry Blossom Festival and this year’s peak was delayed quite a bit by our long, cold Winter.

But today was the day. Finally, we had sunny weather and temperatures in the seventies. Finally, after several weeks of “will they or won’t they?” the cherry trees burst into bloom, all at once, perfect, ethereal, magic. For my landbase, for my shining city on a swamp, today was one of the most extraordinary days of the year.

I slipped out of my heels and into my walking shoes at 11:30, hailed a cab, and got as close as we could get to the Tidal Basin. The traffic is always impossible on peak day, so you have to be prepared to get out and walk. I hiked from the Freer Gallery to the blossoms and then all around the Tidal Basin. I paid tearful respects to Mr. Jefferson, sent blessings to all the young lovers having picnics under the trees, and to my former and future selves, walking with joy among the blossoms, under the blue sky, next to the tidal Potomac waters.

Is there an event that is particularly special to your landbase? How do you celebrate it? Have you ever seen the cherry blossoms?

* I lost a lot of herbs this long, cold Winter. It’s not surprising. Rosemary, sage, lavender, etc. come originally from the warm Mediterranean and our climate was distinctly NOT Mediterranean this Winter. I’m going to use the loss as an opportunity to redo the herb bed. I had far more rosemary, sage, and lavender than any one woman could use or give away.

I’m planning to put in more vegetables: cardoons, lettuce, squash, radishes, peppers. Coffee for Roses has a good list of suggestions for those of us who plan to grow more vegetables.

* I recently had a question on Twitter from someone who wondered why I post so many things that are about Arlington, VA and D.C. Were most of my followers, ze wondered, from Arlington? And, of course, the answer is “No. I’m not sure where they’re from but, obviously, many of my Twitter friends come from far away.” But, as I explained, I post a lot about my landbase because that’s what important to me and because I want to model what it can look like to be in relationship with your landbase. The Natural Capital has a great post up about plants that are in bloom in one of our local parks: bloodroot, cut leaf toothwort, fiddleheads, trout lily, and more. I would share this, not because that’s what’s blooming everywhere, but in the hopes that people will search out similar blogs for their lanbases, will go out and see what’s blooming in their cities. What’s your favorite site for information on your landbase?

* Many of you have been kind enough to inquire about Gemmy and the Place Without a Witch stories. Please know that Gemmy is coming back, and hopefully soon. I need to do a bit of research for her next adventure and now that the weather has turned wonderful, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do it soon. It’s nice to know that she’s been missed!!

Picture found here.