I’ve just spent a chunk of the afternoon reading this frightening and somewhat perlexing piece and this (less scary) piece that linked to it, and now I want to freak out.
Which isn’t actually helpful or useful.
There are things I can do, sure. Stop buying plastic is a big, but more than slightly difficult, one. Switching to LED lights and eating more and more locally (both in the sense of organic-cotton-clad-hippies-at-farmers’-markets and in the sense of knowing which plants in my neighbourhood are the ones I can eat on the regular) are big ones, too. But, while these actions have a huge impact on my life, they feel like they would accomplish absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
So much of what I could do – solar panels, larger windows, better insulation, geothermal heating, wood stoves – if I had the option, which I don’t living in a low rent apartment building with electric heat, limited natural light, no balcony, and enough of a building-wide bug (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, mould) problem that growing food indoors just seems like an entirely bad idea… seems like it would do little beyond giving me and mine (and “mine” are a very small number, if I get right down to it) a chance at pretending that things are “okay” for longer.
The questions I ask myself are things like:
We could (just about) afford to move to The Country – two hours away from the nearest suburb of the city we live in – but could we manage that, if we did it? Could we deal with having to drive Everywhere? Could I deal with seeing 99% of the people I care about no more than a couple of times per year? Would my own loneliness drive me crazy, drive my wife to leave me? Would the isolation mean nobody would visit? Would my nearest neighbours be anything like me, want to know me as I am? Would whatever I learn or do, create or cultivate or produce, be of any use to anyone if I’m so far away from everyone?
Gordon quotes the following in this post:
“[…] Community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth.”
I’m not a hedge witch. I’m a hearth witch. I want to know what grows here – native and naturalized and cultivated, all of the above – so that I can encourage it to grown in a patch of land that I can steward for a long time. The “English Country” flower garden that I dream of is mostly multipurpose flowering plants that work as edibles, medicinals, magicals, and that encourage pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. I want to be growing enough food, and out in my (currently mythical) yard often enough, that I can hand off stuff to my neighbours, have enough to give away. I want to welcome people in, build community, strengthen ties. Going Away… doesn’t do that, even though being hermits might, in the long run, keep us safe.
The Medicine Woman offers the following:
“We don’t have to live in a virgin wilderness or lush forest to connect to place, the plants of our regions pop up in ghettos and suburbs, in barrios and busy downtown districts. And cities have their own internal ecosystems of street tough weeds and wildflowers.”
I am a city witch., and so “going to the wild”, re-wilding myself, needs to happen in a forest of sky-scrapers where wild means feral cats, squirrels, and racoons, means toadstool mushrooms and fallow scrub lots. It means following the curve of the river (full of bass, carp, zebra-muscles, catfish, crayfish, cattails, river grass, brown trout, muskies, an Old Lady sturgeon on the bottom, below the rapids, who’s been there for longer than I’ve been alive). It means hive-hotels for solitary bees, and Making Arrangements with the blue-black hornets who go wonky in the hot days of mid-September, after the frost-warnings of early Apple Moon (or labour day weekend, as you will). It means listening to the crows who fly (in a river of thousands), south to north across the city, every evening at sunset. It means seeing the harrons on the Redeau, or tracking their flight along the length of Bronson from Carleton U to the Ottawa River. It means catching the tok-tok-tok of the big raven whose territory covers most of Hintonburg and part of China Town, and recognizing that the pigeon carcass (all wings, and not much else) had a fatal run-in with the falcon who lives on top of the tallest apartment tower on the block. It means having a good idea of where the lead isn’t when you harvest those dandelions, those wild grape leaves, that garlic mustard. It means skipping the roots of Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace, and opting for windfall apples, choke cherries, black walnuts (that are a mess to crack, but that taste like blue cheese, if you like blue cheese). It means knowing that “we are nature, working” (Starhawk, The Earth Path) and, as such, trying not to behave like an autoimmune disorder.
So what do I do?
I say “excuse me” when I pass pigeons (or human neighbours) on the sidewalk, and wave to the crows.
I pay attention when I’m walking, looking at who’s around, plant-wise, getting to know the neighbours, looking what says “Notice me!” (for example, I’ve only just started noticing a member of the mint family with fluffy white flowers, growing all over my neighbourhood).
I greet the river, the sun, the moon, and the plants (cherry and serviceberry, apple and crab apple trees, grape vines, raspberry and currant bushes, plots of dandelions, milkweed, feral spearmint, wood sorrel, purselane…) that I eat from. I acknowledge the crossroads, the soil under the concrete and asphalt. Cheer for the rain and the thunder storms.
When I make offerings, I try to make sure that they’re… the work of my own hands. I’ve heard it said that offering a bouquet of wild flowers to Nature is a bit like yanking off someone’s finger and then presenting it to them like a gift. But clean water and hot-cooking compost heaps, the work it takes to build up a water-lens (using swales and the like) or clean up other people’s garbage in a public space (whether that’s a wild public space or a more cultivated one, either way), art, or raw materials transformed into something that the rest of nature can’t make on its own (fresh-baked bread, maple syrup, yoghurt or butter, country wine…) are often cited as good bets.
I try to do my animal bit to distribute the seeds of fruiting plants, tossing apple cores, red currants, raspberries, cherry pits into neglected, sunny spots where, hopefully, they’ll find ways to take root and grow.
Meliad the Birch Maiden
 Ignoring for the moment both the question of my learning how to drive (again), and the other question of what about when there’s no more gasoline? …Could I use a bicycle to get around? How many bicycle-hours away from the nearest transit way station am I willing to live in the mean time? (Would something like this work?
 Queen Anne’s Lace, motherwort, chickory, purple cone flower, bone set (queen of the meadow), catnip, tansy, foxglove, mallow, hollyhocks, spiderwort, marigold, juniper, cedar, sunflowers, black cohosh, bee balm, bergamot, sweet william, centaury, Joe Pye Weed, blue cohosh, bouncing bet, mugwort, skullcap, mullein, slippery elm, wood sorrel, scilla, sweetgrass, giant (purple) vetch, borage, yellow evening primrose…
 Turns out it’s (probably) catnip, which can be used to make a lemony, minty tea that will (in theory) help you sleep, and which can be chucked into spells to draw good luck, particularly good luck in romantic/sexual endeavors, your way. Apparently the oil also works as a mosquito and tick repellant. Yes/No?
 I know. I know. It all has to go somewhere, and amalgamating a bunch of it into a (most likely plastic) bag that is then sent to a landfill doesn’t actually fix the problem of we use too much disposable, non-biodegradable, crap… but it does keep things contained a little better, and makes it marginally less likely that other people in a lot of different areas are going to swallow, or get tangled in, our Tim Horton’s cups and six-pack rings.
Songs, stories, poetry, dances, sure. But clay sculpture and temporary visuals – a picture rendered in wet sand (or plain chalk?) that will disappear with time, rain, and spring floods or tides, wherein the work of creating it is the offering.
I am v. much sitting here with all of this information as well and trying to figure out how to process it. So far it’s being processed by my body attacking itself in a swath of hives and eczema. Sexxxy!
OMG, I know. O.O (About the processing of the information, I mean – I don’t so much have eczema, but my shoulders sure are hanging around my ears a lot these days).
I like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in part because it moves from the absolutely-gawd-awful to a position of “here’s something manageable that you, reader, can do”. And, yeah, buying food from local farms is something you can do.
I kind of read Sarah Lawless’s words about the local food movement in the pacific northwest as it relates to Pagan Types… more or less like I read your essay about how Cooking Dinner Does Not Make You A Kitchen Witch: They’re good things to do, but doing them without all the Other Stuff going on “behind the scenes” so to speak… isn’t enough to qualify as magico-religious activity. Eating local for vague reasons of “Environmnetalism” + “Chinese Slave Labour” + “Hipster Cred” (I know, low blow)… doesn’t make you Pagan, doesn’t make *this* a Pagan act. But doing it because you’re an animist who wants to treat with dignity the (other) animals for-whose deaths you are, directly or indirectly, responsible; or doing it because eating the body of The Land that you actually live on helps you to (re-)become The Land, “put down roots” in a long-lasting way, to (re-)integrate with the rest of the bioregion of-which you are a part; those are Pagan acts.