Environment, life, Plants and Herbs

Foraging for Flowers and Ramps

The more I think about it, the less sure I am that alien invaders would be able to set up shop here for an appreciable amount of time. They’d probably get eaten. (Even the really weird-looking ones. Especially the weird-looking ones. Maybe in an etouffee, like crawfish.)

A garlic mustard plant.

I like to consider myself an invasivore. If it’s here, causing harm, and tasty, I will find a way to eat it. This is why I was very happy to learn how to identify garlic mustard on a recent foraging walk with some friends. (A lot of invasives are valuable as medicine or food — they wouldn’t’ve been brought here if someone didn’t think they were useful for something.)

Of course, not all tasty things are invasive, which is why it’s important to be conscientious. In general, it’s best to take as little of a plant as you can, and avoid taking the roots unless absolutely necessary. One of the nice things about eating invasive plants is that you don’t need to be particularly careful about damaging their population, but this isn’t true for native species. Like ramps, for example.

A cluster of wild leeks at the base of a tree.

Ramps are wild leeks, and sadly trendy in the culinary world. In some areas, they’re delicacies that have been harvested to endangerment. They’re a spring vegetable very similar to a leek you’d get from the grocery store, which means they’ve got an onion-like bulb topped by flat leaves. The whole plant is edible, but it’s not uncommon for a nice patch of ramps (which can take years just for the seeds to germinate, then another seven years for the plants to mature) to get harvested to oblivion for the bulbs.

Fortunately, since the leaves are also delicious, this isn’t necessary. You can enjoy ramps and still leave the live plants behind. All it takes is harvesting one leaf and moving on, rather than digging up the entire plant. (I’m planning to chiffonade the leaves for potato soup. I’ve got some new potatoes from the farmers’ market, creamline milk, and a whole bunch of home made vegetable broth!)

A cone-shaped inflorescence of bear corn.

One of the neatest things I saw recently wasn’t something I was looking for — in fact, I’d never encountered it in my life, and had no idea it existed. Conopholis americana, also called cancer root, bear corn, or bumeh, is a profoundly odd-looking parasitic plant that lives near oak and beech trees. At first resembling an upright corn cob or the cap of a fungus, closer inspection revealed cream-colored flowers.

Despite the name cancer root, it doesn’t appear to actually fight cancer. However, it does have some pretty powerful astringents that help with wound clotting. This plant was also used to help induce and progress labor (which gave rise to another, more offensive name that has largely fallen into disuse). It’s also a diuretic and laxative, which is what gave it the name “bear corn.” After months of hibernation, bears need to “unplug,” as it were. They’re attracted to the springtime blooms of bear corn, and eating it seems to help get things moving.
This idea is plausible enough, though I have chosen not to test it myself.

We also spotted a black squirrel, though nearly missed it. He skittered quickly along a fallen tree, and was far out of sight by the time I managed to try to get a picture. Still, even without photo evidence, it was pretty neat to spot two very rare things. (Melanistic squirrels only occur in about 1 out of every 10,000 eastern gray squirrels!)

Here ’til the day breaks and night falls,
J.

Environment, life

Fines don’t matter when you’re rich.

Monetary punishments only work as a deterrent for poor people. For the wealthy, fines are just the cost of doing business.

This happens across the entire legal system, too. To someone living at or below poverty level, parking fines actually work — you think twice about parking illegally if it’s going to get you hit with a $200 fine. For someone who can afford to lose that money, the world looks different. There are no illegal spots, just spots that cost more to park in than others.

If that sounds outlandish, look at this bullshit here:

Developer In Takoma Cuts Protected Heritage Tree, Over Protests From Neighbors

The title buries the lede a bit. This wasn’t a bunch of nosy neighbors protesting the felling of a tree. This was a developer outright breaking the law in a way that impacts an entire community, and that community attempting to stop them.

A pair of very old trees, with their trunks and roots covered in moss.

Looking deeper, you can see where the parking space analogy comes into play:

“‘Get off my property, I’m going to cut this tree down,’’ Giancola recalls him saying. Neighbors told the owner that cutting the tree was illegal, Giancola says.

“He said, ‘I don’t care. Everybody does it, all developers do it. We pay the fines, nobody cares,’” Giancola says.

[…]

Eutsler says the property owner is facing as much as $72,000 in fines for cutting down three protected trees — the heritage oak, and two smaller “special trees.”

It’s the same thing. Only, instead of talking about a $200 parking space, we’re talking about a fine potentially over $72,000.

And it doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter?

“If by removing a protected heritage tree, you can add substantial square footage to a building, you’re probably able to simply recover the cost that the fine imposes,” says Eutsler.

So, in short, wealthy developers are incentivized to break the law, because doing so lets them squeeze another couple hundred square feet out of a property. That allows them to absorb the cost of the fine, and then some.

A gnarled old olive tree.

What’s even more laughable is that this is, at the moment, completely unpreventable. The channels that handle this aren’t empowered to actually stop it from happening. Forestry has to wait for the trees to be felled, and then the fines (the completely pointless fines that developers don’t care about) are levied.

The thing is, bigger fines wouldn’t even necessarily help. Making them proportional to the perpetrator’s income would, as well as keep poor families from being bankrupt by a minor infraction. The angry treehugger in me, however, wishes it was a jailable offense. If Forestry can’t order them to stop work, then they need to be stopped somehow. (I should note that I’m not in favor of the carceral state. However, in the absence of a law that would allow the forestry department to stuff perpetrators into burlap sacks, I figure you need to work with what’s available.)

This isn’t even necessarily about the trees themselves, as much as I hate seeing a 100-year-old oak fall. It could’ve been a street sign instead. It could’ve been a tree that was getting ready to fall over. It could be anything, and the fact that money allows people to break the law with impunity would still be abhorrent. Fines don’t work to deter crime except for at the poorest levels of society, but poor people aren’t the ones going around dumping hazardous materials, lying about safety, or chopping down heritage trees.

An old oak tree with twisted, spreading branches.

I could get into the urban heat island effect, the importance of old trees as micro-ecosystems unto themselves, the deleterious impact of urban deforestation, or that people of color (especially women) bear the brunt of the impact of poor conservation and climate change, but I don’t think anyone has that much time.

Just remember. Environmental destruction isn’t a faceless, unstoppable phenomenon. It’s perpetrated by people, and they have names.

Environment, life, Neodruidry

Silvering the Well

One practice that’s part of my tradition involves “silvering the well.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — making an offering of silver to the well.

The well, in this case, is a vessel of water (taken from three different natural sources). Outside of a ritual, it’s just a bowl. During a ritual, it becomes something more. It’s a representation of the primordial waters. It’s the healing cauldron, the sacred spring, and the sea of Manannán mac Lir. It’s representative of Water as an element, and the past from which we all spring.

The thing is, silvering the well is more complex than it seems. To people who’re used to ceremonial magic, it probably looks pretty simple. You have a vessel to serve as your well, and you make an offering to it. Silver goes in, boom.

There are also multiple different approaches to making this offering. One involves purchasing (or upcycling) small silver or silver-plated beads, which are then offered to the Earth once the ritual is concluded. Another uses a dedicated silver object which is designated as the offering anew each time, then taken out, dried off, and saved for the next ritual.

I spent a lot of time teasing out what this part of the process means for me. I’ve always understood the word “offering” to be a kind of euphemism for “sacrifice.” When you offer something, you no longer have it. Even if you don’t necessarily get rid of it (like dedicating an altar sculpture to a deity), it isn’t for you to use anymore. In this context, it makes sense to use small offerings of pieces of silver, requiring you to sacrifice the time, money, and energy it takes for you to get more when you run out.

On the other hand, international supply chains make the ethics of buying literally anything incredibly dubious. (I mean, a hobby store got caught trafficking antiquities, for crying out loud.) Even if it wasn’t, making an offering of small pieces of new silver involves mining silver (and possibly other base metals, for silver-plated objects) and then offering them to a place they didn’t come from. In less confusing words, you’re taking valuable material from one part of the Earth, and putting it somewhere else. Sure, silver isn’t exactly blood diamonds, but it’s still something that stuck in my mind like a fishhook. How do I know that the material for these “disposable” pieces of silver didn’t come from child labor, or a mine that dumps poison into the waters of the very people who have to work there? Could I justify offering something to the primordial waters, knowing that it might be poisoning the water?

(The environmental chemistry nerd in me isn’t even going to get into rainwater, leachates, and their effect on the soil, or I will be here all night.)

Eventually, I managed a compromise. I found a coin collector who had a stash of silver Mercury dimes. They weren’t suitable for collecting, since they’d been heavily circulated and were worn nearly smooth by time. I bought one, and this is my offering. I give it to the well, and the letter of the ritual has been fulfilled. The well is silvered.

Fulfilling the spirit of offering comes afterward. The coin itself is almost collateral — it’s a token of a promise, the symbol of an offering rather than the offering itself. Once the coin has been removed from the well and dried off, I make the sacrifice. Each ritual costs a monetary donation to a water charity — from the Water Protector Legal Collective, to Ocean Conservancy, to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, to one of the many other organizations working to protect people’s access to clean drinking water, remediate water pollution, or preserve vital wetlands. Failing that, it costs an afternoon of cleaning a beach or the banks of one of the smaller local waterways.

What does this mean for other people? Probably nothing. It’s just something that sat in my mind for a while, and a practice that I put in place years ago. Maybe it’ll have value for others, maybe not. Either way, I thought it might be worth writing down.

Blog, divination, Environment, life, Neodruidry

Friday: Black. Hike: Taken. Hams: Strung.

I don’t like Black Friday. Part of it comes from several years of retail work, part of it comes from reading way too many stories of people getting shanked over Elmo dolls and discount TVs. It sucks for workers, it sucks for shoppers, it just sucks all around.

So, when a Meetup group I’m in posted a late afternoon hike this past Friday, I was more than happy to do that. The weather didn’t look promising, but there’s no such thing as bad weather — just the wrong clothes. As long as it kept me from being bombarded with reminders of Black Friday, I would’ve hiked in a storm.

This came right after a Zoom session about the role of walking as a spiritual practice. It was a really enjoyable discussion, and I was intrigued by the number of different roles it seems to occupy for people. I never really gave walking much thought — it’s part of my spiritual practice, but not one I really had to devote brainspace to, if that makes sense. Some talked about entering a kind of flow state, where the walk itself was a way to disconnect from the body. For others, walking was the opposite — a chance to focus on mindful movement, and quiet the mind. It all depends on what you need from it. Will walking be an external practice, or an internal one?

For me, it’s always been a weird form of augury. I don’t want to use the phrase “connect with nature,” because I feel like the wellness movement has worn it pretty thin. Really, it’s a way to make friends, as long as your definition of “friends” is flexible enough to include fungi and holes in the ground. If I meet a lot of new friends, it’s a pleasant walk and a good omen. If I don’t, it isn’t.

It can be a more specific divinatory practice, too. I know it’s not uncommon for people experiencing a lot of synchronicities (angel numbers, and the like) to ask for a sign or some kind of answer. Asking for one, then going out for a walk to see what you get is a useful form of divination. It’s definitely easier than trying to find a haruspex in this day and age.

It’s also a gratitude practice for me. I’m not about to get all gratitude journal on you, but, after spending several years too sick and deconditioned to do much of anything, I feel like the best way to express thanks for still having a mostly-functioning body is to use it for stuff.

We started out by meeting up in a parking area near one of the picnic groves. (There are trails all over this area, so you can pretty much start walking in any direction and end up on one.) It was really good to finally meet some of the people I’d only be able to speak to on Zoom calls, and the hike itself wasn’t too tough — three miles start to finish, through trees that helped cut some of the blustery wind and whose leaves lit up like lanterns once the sun sank below the lead-colored clouds. The air was scented with the vaguely spicy smell of gently decaying leaves, and so cold that I could feel it like a razor every time I reached the top of a hill.

Which is exactly how I ended up having to stop and catch my breath a bunch of times, wrestling with my jacket to pull out the carton of warmish coconut water I’d kept snuggled against my chest like a newborn. Fortunately, I brought a bandana-style mask with me. It helped warm the air before I breathed it in, which made things a bit easier, and also allowed me to pretend to be normal while actually gasping like a malfunctioning Billy Bass.

The entire forest is slowed down for the cold seasons, so it wasn’t like hiking earlier in the year. While the moss was still green, it was confined to neat, short little mats without their long, almost eerie-looking spore capsules. There were no eyelash cups or jack-o-lantern mushrooms. I did spot some neat-looking shelf fungi, and scrambled down into a space under a fallen tree for a picture. Another branch held some tiny specimens that were so fine and woody, they almost looked like ruffled feathers.

We all made it to the end, just before sunset. The light had that “golden hour” magic going on, which turned the treetops and patches of sky into a stained-glass canopy and the fallen leaves into a blanket of gold and copper. There was a peaceful moment where we paused before leaving, to make offerings of water and close out the experience. My partner and I picked up tea and dinner, then headed home.

It was the longest uninterrupted hike I’d been able to do in years. It gave me a chance to push my limits a bit more, and feel the edge of where my endurance is now. I get winded and dizzy easier than I did before IH, but I did it, and I’m intensely happy and grateful.

A good walk, and a good sign.

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Aloeswood Folklore and Magical Properties

I always have a tough time writing this time of year — there’s just not much going on. This is especially true this year, for reasons I probably don’t have to elaborate on.

So, I did what I often do. Before I went to sleep, I asked for inspiration. Something to write about. Anything.

I had a dream of holding a piece of wood that wept golden tears. I held a flame to the raw, jagged edge of the wood, and it released a fragrance that I have trouble describing — woody, of course, but indescribably sweet, floral, and fruity. A mélange of beautiful scents that seemed to come together and complement each other in a way that even the most expert perfumer couldn’t hope to achieve. The dream was so vivid, I could almost feel the textures and scents still lingering in my senses when I woke up.

So today I’m gonna write a thing about aloeswood.

First, Aloeswood vs. Aloe

Aloeswood, also called agarwood, wood aloes, gharuwood, oud, or any number of other names, is not related to aloe vera. Aloe vera is a succulent in the Aloe genus. Aloeswood comes from trees of the Aquilaria genus. It also doesn’t have anything to do with agar, despite the name agarwood. Agar is the jelly stuff used in petri dishes, and is extracted from algae. (It might have sheep or horse’s blood added depending on what microorganisms are being cultured, but no Aquilaria.) Their similar names are just one of those quirks of etymology.

Aquilaria wood does not automatically equate to aloeswood. For the wood of an Aquilaria tree to become aloeswood, it needs to be injured somehow — usually by a boring beetle that digs into its roots or trunk. This injury allows the tree to become infected by Phialophora parasitica, a parasitic fungus. In response, the tree produces a fragrant resin and darker, denser wood. This dark, dense, resin-saturated wood is aloeswood.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of dominoes that have to fall perfectly in place for wood to become aloeswood. First, you need the right kind of tree. Then it needs to get all bit up by a beetle. Then it has to get infected. Then the infection has to be serious enough to warrant a large-scale immune response by the tree. Trees can’t produce aloeswood on a continuous basis, either — it comes from plants that are infected and dying.

It’s probably not hugely surprising that aloeswood is extremely rare. It’s also incredibly expensive. Part of this rarity is due to overharvesting (which is also not surprising), but habitat loss is also a contributing factor. Some varieties of aloeswood are illegal to sell because they come from endangered trees, which has increased the rarity — and therefore desirability — of the stuff that does make it to market.

Sometimes, you can find less expensive aloeswood. This is usually a product of deliberately injuring and infecting trees with fungus. It is also generally not as fragrant or desirable as the naturally-formed variety, and is given a different grade. Natural aloeswood is designated with a #1. Cultures aloeswood is designated with a #2.

Aloeswood Magical Uses and Folklore

Aloeswood is so precious, particular specimens have actually achieved fame. The Ranjatai is the most notable. Its full history is a bit long to get into here, but this particular piece of aloeswood has even shown up in popular culture. Two episodes of the anime series Mononoke (which is visually gorgeous and definitely worth watching) focus on it.

This incense is referred to in ancient Vedic texts for its physical and mental healing properties. Some Ayurvedic medicine for cough and difficulty breathing calls for blending agar powder with honey. When the wood is distilled into oil, the resulting hydrosol is an antacid. A tea made from the leaves — not the wood itself — is said to be very nutritious, relaxing, and helpful for managing blood sugar.

Aloeswood’s scent is said to be an aphrodisiac, and it is included in traditional sexual tonics. Burning a tiny bit on charcoal during sex is believed to improve performance for everyone involved.

In Islam, oud is traditional. It has also been used in Buddhist practices, Christian meditation, and Zoroastrian rituals. It is a spiritually uplifting aroma that releases negativity, soothes stress, raises vibrations, and brings healing.

In ancient Egyptian and Semitic practices, it was used to prepare bodies for burial.

Aloeswood is considered to be ruled by Mars or Jupiter, depending on whom you ask. In western magic practice, it’s generally held to be akin to a “power herb” (like many herbs of Jupiter) and used for boosting the power of any working in which it is used. In the Key of Solomon, is it used to summon good spirits.

Using Aloeswood

Considering its history and primary virtues, using aloeswood in any way that doesn’t allow the practitioner to experience its scent would be a waste. High-grade aloeswood can even release its fragrance through indirect heating, and doesn’t need to be burned completely.

If I were in possession of aloeswood, I wouldn’t add it to anything. As part of an incense burning ritual, I would place a small amount on charcoal, by itself, prior to burning any other incense. Only when the scent has dissipated would I burn anything else. This allows the aloeswood’s full potential to be released, and lets you take advantage of its space-clearing and energy-enhancing powers.

Some modern perfumes contain aloeswood, like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood. These could make a suitable scent for anointing during ritual or meditation.

Aloeswood is a rare, treasured thing, more valuable than gold. It has been regarded as sacred by virtually every civilization that experienced its fragrance — out of a sick, dying tree comes a precious, fragrant wood.

Like sandalwood, this sacred wood is in danger. Ethically-harvested, regulated sources of aloeswood command high prices, but they’re worth it. It would be wrong to obtain a sacred scent through environmentally harmful means. Just like crystals, bones, sandalwood, or any other magical ingredient, make sure your aloeswood comes from ethical sources.

Environment, life, Plants and Herbs

Sharks’ Eyes and Poison Orange

Some parts of DC are weird.

I mean, some parts of everywhere are weird, don’t get me wrong. Where I grew up, our favorite activity was spelunking in the sewers (I found a stray femur and was almost eaten by geese). When I lived in Delaware, it took me a bit to get used to the way the landscape was broken up — apartment complex, forest, strip mall, pasture, wetlands, wetlands, wetlands, city. In California, the neighborhood was a very tiny island in the middle of fields and pastures. Sometimes, you’d wake up and see all of the puddles shimmering strangely with whatever the crop dusters were spraying the day before. At night, even without seeing any cows for miles, you’d hear their eldritch moos as if they were right in the yard. The songs of coyotes carried for untold distances. Uncanny-valley strangers would come and knock on your door, ask to borrow things, and disappear. It had a very Southern Gothic atmosphere, especially for a place that was emphatically neither.

DC is weird in its own way. I love it here, and there are some extremely cool places and people. The architecture is gorgeous, and you can find some very lovely Victorian-style houses and unexpected details. Still, there are plenty of other areas here that I try to avoid if there’s any way to help it.

This was one of those.

My partner and I were picking up food at this place we found at the beginning of COVID — a little pricey, but they’ve got the best damned catfish po’boy and blackberry shortcake I’ve ever had. (I’d drop the name, but the location is called four different things depending on whether you go there on foot, find it via Google Maps, read their bags, or try to order through a delivery app. Like I said, weird.)

It’s situated in an area that, not unlike the rest of the city, combines historical architecture with modern touches. The thing is, where other areas of DC seem to give the impression that this is done out of necessity, or to fulfill actual human needs, this seems almost malicious. Concrete angel faces stare mutely out over doorways to imposing office and municipal buildings, expressions framed in equally-stony olive branches. At street level, there are stores — jewelers, Nordstrom Rack, a seemingly impossible number of Starbucks cafés — with large, thoroughly modern plate glass windows with the dead, flat gleam of sharks’ eyes.

There’s something about it that strikes me as very calculated. There’s a cultivated air of diversity here, but the kind of diversity that wouldn’t welcome anything that wasn’t a high-end department store, a Starbucks, or an eatery capable of suiting a very narrowly defined sensibility. Some of it is very pretty, but stifling, almost.

On the sidewalks, people sit too close together at outdoor tables. A maskless couple walk by, pushing a leather-clad baby carriage that mommyblogs say could pay a month of my neighbors’ rent.

People live here, too, but everything feels aggressively tailored to those who work here instead. I don’t think they’re the same population. Thinking about it too much makes my teeth itch.

I need to get the fuck out of here,” I whisper-hiss to my partner, “Because I’ve got maybe ten minutes before this place turns me into an anprim.”

I wonder if this is how fireflies feel when you put them in a mason jar with a stick and a leaf.

Fortunately, getting elsewhere only takes about ten minutes. It might be a strange byproduct of this one self-hypnosis program I sort-of-kind-of-maybe did wrong a few years ago, but the sight of the color green makes my nerves finally start to unknot themselves.

We park and walk a ways. I know my food’s getting cold, but I don’t really care. I take big breaths — there’s smoke coming from somewhere, and it tinges the smell of soil, gently decaying leaves, and damp wood with an earthy sweetness.

We find a picnic table. I always eat fast, but today I manage to finish before my partner’s done unpacking.

“Okay! Gonna go climb on that tree and look for friends!”

He’s grown used to this. I think you kind of have to, after awhile — it’s something that seems pretty firmly baked-in to me. I’m told that when I was very little, maybe four, we had some kind of family function at a beach. My dad says he heard me walking around making tiny proclamations: “Anyone who wants to go find bentures, follow me!” (Then I disappeared into some trees for awhile and he had to peel me off of a sheer clay cliff face, but that’s another story.)

When I was dating one ex-partner, it was a near-constant bone of contention that he never wanted to go exploring with me. I ended up having a lot of adventures with my dog, including finding a broken wooden footbridge that led to nowhere, covered in graffiti that dated back to the ’40s. (I’m almost positive it was Extremely Haunted.)

After that, another ex-partner used to give me survival equipment for every holiday. They figured the odds were pretty good that I’d end up disappearing into the woods some day, and they wanted to hedge their bets on me coming back alive eventually.

In short, I think most of my loved ones throughout history have adapted to the idea of probably seeing me show up on the internet after being mistaken for some kind of pygmy sasquatch.

There’s so much moss. Damp and feathery, sporophytes reaching up on stalks like delicate red threads. I could probably photograph it all day, to be honest — the structures are so beautifully complex when you get close enough.

My partner comes to join me, so we can look for mushy boys.

Some type of Mycena builds a tiny cathedral in a fallen tree. I find another type growing from a separate tree, its cap an almost ghostly translucent white. It’s the only one there, and I don’t have the heart to touch it, see what color it bruises, or try to take a specimen for a spore print.

“Oh, hey,” my partner points to a dead stump. I make a kind of excited pterodactyl noise and get on my stomach for pictures. I haven’t seen jack-o-lantern mushrooms before, but their intense “fuck off” orange and fine, deeply-ridged gills are weirdly, poisonously beautiful.

I can see why they’re often mistaken for chanterelles, though it makes me wonder what came first. Did the chanterelle grow to resemble the false chanterelle and jack-o-lantern mushrooms because it kept it from being eaten, or was it a case of convergent evolution?

It strikes me with some irony that I feel better about poisonous mushrooms than I do about the “Welcome” sign in a shop. Warning orange is easier to look at than shark-eyed windows, I guess.

Environment, life

Farmer’s market, murder shack. Tomato, tomahto.

My eyes were still closed when she started cleaning my face. If I weren’t at home, this would’ve been embarrassing, at best — I tried to turn my head away, but she held it firmly in place. There’s something about being a parent that makes using spit as a cleaning solution seem perfectly reasonable. According to some people, having kids endows mothers with super-powered saliva that can clean the most stubborn grime.

This appears to hold true if those kids are kittens, too.

“Ça suffit, Kiko.”

I opened my eyes to daylight, a pink nose, and a face full of whiskers. She started to purr.

It was early Sunday morning, and Kiko objects to my nighttime moisturizer. I spend perfectly good dollars to slather myself in serums and creams, and Kiko, one paw planted firmly on my cheek to hold my face in place, wakes me up by scrubbing them off again. She is a very gentle, caring, and perceptive cat, who routinely perches on the side of the bathtub to pat my cheeks and make worried faces when I’m not feeling well. She also has very definite opinions on skincare. (Gods help you if you try to wear lipstick around her.)

My partner and I didn’t really have plans for Sunday. It’s a day for catching up on housework and running errands — I mop, sweep, water plants, and putter around with other chores, he does laundry and washes whatever dishes there might be. With beautiful weather and an empty schedule, I figured we’d go to the farmer’s market and poke around.

And then we saw the line to get into the farmer’s market stretching around the block. Aw, butts.

“Let’s… Uh. Let’s get breakfast and go to a park, maybe,” I offered. This seemed reasonable.

Of course, “park” could also mean “abandoned ghost town,” in a certain light. So, armed with a smoothie and a largish quantity of chicken and waffles, we headed out to track down the remains of Daniels, Maryland. Neither of us had been there before, and it’s not like we had anything better to do… Why not go for a long drive and possibly accidentally stumble onto a secret forest murder shack?

Daniels isn’t haunted (as far as I know). It isn’t as eerie as Centralia, there are no horror movies inspired by it. A church was struck by lightning and burned down, but, from what I’ve read, the only loss was an expensive ring. There’s no real mystery behind it, either — the population dwindled, and the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down.
(Really, the creepiest part is the idea that a company can own an entire town, and then decide to close your damn house.)

There’s still a very unique energy in places where people no longer live. I feel like that goes double in places like Daniels. Nature driving people out and retaking a space in one blow is sudden, violent, and has a sense of finality. The haunting feelings in those places make sense.

But what did people think as they packed up to leave Daniels? How long did it take for nature to start taking space back, and what came first? Was it the spiders, raccoons, or birds infiltrating old houses? Or did vines climb the walls first, sending in tendrils to pull the bricks and stones apart one piece at a time?

“Viva” “Cloud Nine” “Love You!” “Don’t just exist! LIVE”

In 1972, four years after the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down, tropical storm Agnes rolled through an demolished most of the remaining buildings.

We weren’t prepared for how crowded things were, or the lack of a bridge. Instead of trying to find the remains of the town, this became a scouting mission. We’d need to find the best place to cross, not too near the dam. Somewhere where the bank wasn’t too steep, where there was already a trail worn through the thick, fluffy greenery. We’d have to come back early, when the weather was a bit cooler and there wouldn’t be as many people around.

Frustrated for the second time that day, we hiked along the water. I found a lovely patch of jewelweed, and something unidentifiable scented the breeze with a lemony citronella fragrance. The air was fresh, the mosquitoes were somewhere else, and things were good on this fine day. We paused for a bit so I could bathe some pieces of Arkansas quartz and Herkimer diamonds in the clear water, and I lit a tiny stick of incense as an offering.

When another group needed the spot to launch a kayak, I doused the incense, and we packed up to go home.

We’re going back, though.

We have a plan.

Environment, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Daily Earth-Healing Meditation

Since today is Earth Day, I figured it’d be a good time to post about a small, simple daily meditation that I use to start my day.

It’s a combination of a grounding exercise and a planet-healing. You don’t need anything to do it, other than a comfortable, quiet place to sit (or even lie down) and five or ten minutes to spare. It’s based around the incredibly important role that fungi play in every ecosystem.

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Tiny eyelash fungi on mossy wood.

The Fungi

Though we often picture mushrooms when we imagine fungi, fungal fruiting bodies make up a tiny portion of the whole organism. Beneath them, spread out in a web, is a vast network of mycelium. The hyphae spread out like thin threads, transporting nutrients, secreting enzymes to break down organic matter, and supplying nutrients to the plants that depend on them. Everything in the world relies on fungi for survival, in one form or another. They secrete carbon dioxide as part of the carbon cycle, and can break down almost anything that isn’t actively toxic to them — even plastic, petroleum, or pesticides. Some fungi turn carbon into melanin, a very stable carbon-containing compound, while others help soil retain moisture. Certain fungi increase soil aggregation, potentially increasing soil carbon storage.

Still, fungi respond to a very careful natural balance. While the soil is a carbon sink, soil fungi also return carbon dioxide to the air — especially in situations where elevated levels of carbon dioxide encourage plant growth, increasing nitrogen demand and upsetting the delicate balance of carbon and nitrogen. Fungi can be vital environmental allies, but the balance needs to be preserved.

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A pair of boletes.

Soil fungi don’t just comprise one or two species, either. Every patch of soil could be a host to a thousand distinct species. Just like the natural microflora of the body shift and change in response to illness, stress, diet, and medication, different stressors affect how these fungi grow, compete with each other, and evolve.

It’s never been more clear that protecting the planet means preserving all of the microscopic activity below the soil, not just the plants and animals above.

The Meditation

To begin, position yourself comfortably. Let your shoulders drop. Relax your jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Unclench your hands, and let them rest softly in your lap.

Inhale deeply, using your diaphragm and pushing out your belly to take in as much air as you can. Breathe in for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale for a count of seven. Repeat this three to five times.

Visualize your energy reaching from the base of your spine, through your seat, the floor, and into the soil. You don’t have to go far below the grass here — once your energy reaches the ground, let it spread out like the roots of a tree. Picture the filaments of your energy reaching through the soil, touching the filaments of mycelium that connect everything. Let your roots engage with the hyphae, gently befriending. When you have spread your energy as far as you can, begin sending a stream of loving light down through your roots.

Don’t worry if you don’t know all of the ins and outs of your local soil’s chemistry. Visualize your energy stimulating where it is needed, calming where it is needed, and balancing where it is needed. Visualize the soil fungi doing their microscopic jobs to break down what is no longer needed, and return it to the earth in a usable, nourishing form. Let your contact with the living soil recalibrate your energy, grounding you.

Continue this visualization for as long as is comfortable for you. When you are ready, gently withdraw your energetic roots from the soil. Open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and go about your day with a renewed awareness of how our actions affect everyone — and everything — around us.

 

Environment, life

I think we accidentally walked through about six maternity shoots.

Sunday, I stayed home and cleaned my bathroom.

… Is what I would be saying, if I were a responsible adult. Instead, with a forecast of 62° and plenty of sun, my partner and I decided to go out and take advantage of it. I packed us a salad, sandwiches, crackers, and fruit, and we drove out to the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. Neither of us had ever been before, but it’s been an item on our potential date list for awhile.

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Most of the trees were bare, but the holly was so pretty in the sunlight.

(Find you someone who considers walking through a marsh and taking pictures of moss and mushrooms a date activity. For real.)

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There’s a pretty steep drop from the trail immediately around the visitor’s center, but we were still able to get some walking in before I had to call it quits. What trails we were able to get to were flat enough that I didn’t have too many problems. (I only almost fell over once when I got distracted by some interesting lichen.)

It’s still too early for the deciduous trees to be in leaf, but it gave the woods a really beautiful stillness. Without the rustle in the breeze, it was easier to hear the sound of the birds calling over the water — ducks, crows, gulls, songbirds. We even saw a Cooper’s hawk circling above the trail.

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The trail down to the waterside.

Admission to Jug Bay is inexpensive — $6 a car — and there’s a lot to see. We didn’t get to do as much as I’d like yet, but we left the sanctuary abuzz with ideas. (He even offered to get me a new pair of hiking shoes, so I might have an easier time next time around.)  I’d love to get a pair of binoculars for birding, a small pad of watercolor paper, some new brushes…

Cranial sutures in a deer skull.
Beautifully complex cranial sutures in a deer skull, in the Jug Bay visitor’s center.

Not ready to go home yet, we drove a little ways out to the beach. It was still a bit cold and windy, and the tide had shrunk the sand down to a sliver, but the sun and salty air felt wonderful. I did have a visceral pang of pity for all of the ladies doing maternity shoots out there today — I wouldn’t want to be trying to wrangle a gauzy dress and a flower crown in that wind as it is, I definitely wouldn’t do it while seven months pregnant. Not even if you gave me a lifetime supply of pie and a free pony.

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We couldn’t stay for very long, but it was a lovely walk. It reminded me of how much I miss being closer to the ocean (and how strange it felt to have an ocean on the opposite side when I lived on the west coast).

As I write this, I’m bundled into my robe with a mug of tea and a pleasant ache in my limbs. I’m not at the point where I can do everything I used to be able to do yet, but I’m getting closer. 💚

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Squill Folklore and Magical Uses

Every time I find a new plant buddy, I end up spending a few hours reading up on what they’re used for — even things like mushrooms, lichen, and moss. When I spotted these pretty little blue flowers, I was immediately curious. I’d never seen them before, and their color was so vibrant against the brown dirt and handful green leaves poking out of the chilly ground. They were so small, I almost missed them.

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Scilla siberica, wood squill.

I wasn’t able to find much about wood squill specifically, other than that it’s native to Southwestern Russia (despite its other name, Siberian squill).

When most herb lore and magical texts talk about squill, they’re really talking about red (Drimia maritima) or white squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana). All of these are in the same subfamily, Scilloideae, but aren’t otherwise really synonymous.

The word “scilla” comes from the ancient Greek “skilla,” which is of unknown meaning. (A Modern Herbal claims that it means “to excite or disturb,” the way that an emetic disturbs the stomach, but I haven’t been able to verify this.)

For some people, only the actual plant that a spell calls for will do. For others, it’s okay to use a relative, if they’re close enough. This can be especially useful if the plant you want to work with is poisonous, endangered, not native to your area, or otherwise not a super great idea.

Squill Magical Properties and Folklore

Squill root is a money herb.

In hoodoo, placing squill in a container with one coin of each denomination, is used to draw in cash. (Some practitioners say it’s particularly effective if you can get a hold of old silver currency for this spell, like Mercury dimes. Others say that silver objects, like chains or beads, are even more effective than non-silver money.)

Holding squill root in your hands, focusing your intention to be unhexed, charging it, and carrying it with you is said to break all hexes and curses.

Using Squill

Red squill is used as a rodenticide, owing to a toxin called scilliroside. In creatures without a vomiting reflex, scilliroside is deadly.

White squill, on the other hand, has historically been used as a diuretic and expectorant. Compounds called glucosamides, found in the bulbs, are sometimes used in traditional medicine to treat irregular heartbeats. Wood squill also contains cardiac glycosides. This is not intended as medical advice, just an indicator of what kind of practical, medicinal applications it’s used for. As with any herb, medicinal properties can quickly become poisonous properties, so keep them away from children and pets.

 

Considering its medicinal properties and its appearance, it’s kind of easy to understand why it’s a money herb. It’s got that lovely plump bulb full of stored energy — fat like an onion, or the way you’d want your bank account to be. Its use as an emetic and diuretic make sense here, too. Squill has the power to eject all kinds of substances from the body. You put it in a stomach, the stomach’s contents are coming out in abundance.  Metaphysically, it stands to reason that it would be placed in a container with money in the hopes that it’d spew more money into your life.

The emetic and diuretic virtues also go hand-in-hand with hex breaking. If your body needs to purge a physical ill, squill helps. If you need to purge a magical ill, squill helps that, too.

White squill seems to be abundant and easy to find on the market, but there are areas where other varieties of squill (like the wood squill pictured above, or alpine squill) have become invasive. If you’re looking to use squill in your work, I’d suggest picking up a good plant identification guide, and seeing if your area has any invasive varieties lurking around. (Various species of squill are used as ornamental plants. If you decide you want to grow some, be sure to do it in a way that will keep it from escaping into its environment.) You can get the magical ingredients you need, develop a deeper relationship with the plants themselves, and remove damaging invasive species from your environment at the same time.