life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Increasing Landscape Resilience with Native-ish Plants

Hello! It’s April, it’s going to be almost 90Β° F this weekend, and winter skipped us.

Well, we had like one cold week, but that was it.

Honestly, it’s had me worried. A number of plant species that are native to this area require cold stratification — in other words, they need a period of cold and some pretty big temperature swings in order to trigger them to germinate at the correct time. This includes a tree that’s very important to me, the bald cypress. They’ve evolved to need cold stratification because without it, their seeds could germinate far too early and die off in the middle of winter.

I have packets of seeds that I want to plant, too, that need to be sown within a narrow window of time. I’m talking when temperatures are cool (but not too cool), usually right around the last frost date. The trouble is… like I said, it’s going to be in the high 80s this weekend. Our official last frost date was a few days ago.

Now that I’ve gotten my complaining out of the way, there’s an idea I’ve been exploring.

I first ran into it when I was researching native hydrangeas. I love hydrangeas in general (my grandfather had a big hydrangea next to the house I grew up in, alongside a strangely persistent and hardy opuntia cactus), but they’re not really known for their heat tolerance. They are, by far, not the only plants that are going to suffer as temperatures increase either.

A hand touches a cluster of purple Hydrangea macrophylla flowers.

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is native to this area. They also prefer daytime temperatures in the 70s and require supplemental irrigation when it gets too hot and dry.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are native to the Southeastern United States. In other words, they’re from the US, just a bit lower than where I live. Changes in average temperatures are expanding the range of some southern plants and animals, while driving others further north.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that a single person can do to keep their cool temperature-loving plants from suffering from this effect. It’s also debatable whether we should — landscapes are ever-changing and evolving, and state borders are artificial constructs that plants and animals don’t recognize. It may increase the resilience of the landscape to work with this shift, rather than against it.

For this reason, I’m experimenting with oakleaf and smooth hydrangeas. Experts point out that this area’s climate is slowly aligning with species that used to be relegated to more southern states. Blending some Southern species with Midatlantic species could help create a plant, animal, and fungal community that’s more resilient to climate change, and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation or treatment for diseases related to heat stress.

Saving seeds from the individual native plants that seem to struggle less with the heat can help their species adapt over time, which will feed and protect the native animal species that depend on them. Adding in native-ish species from a bit further south can help the land adapt. It also ensures sources of food and nesting sites for the animals that are also being driven north as temperatures rise.

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Environment, Plants and Herbs

Dead Nettle Folklore and Magical Properties

’tis the season for deadnettles!

If you have any semi-neglected patches of ground in your life, you may have seen them — short plants with heart-shaped leaves, arranged like low towers accented by tiny flowers. Though they’re not native to this area, they’re pretty abundant. If you’re into controlling invasive plants, you’ll probably be happy to know that they’re also delicious edibles!

Don’t let the name fool you. Dead nettles aren’t poisonous, and they’re not nettles. They’re called “dead nettle” because they look an awful lot like stinging nettle, but their leaves are stingless. In reality, they’re part of the mint family (which probably explains their prolific growth and ability to thrive pretty much anywhere).

A bee enjoying some soft pink dead nettle flowers.

One of the best things about these nutritious plants? They’re easy to identify and don’t have any poisonous lookalikes. They’re also useful in all kinds of other ways.

Dead Nettle Folklore

Medically, purple dead nettle is used for allergies. It’s rich in quercetin, and has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for people with spring hay fever.

Some areas call it purple archangel, because it appears there around the Feast of the Apparition (May 8th). This was when the archangel Michael was said to have appeared on Mount Gargano, Italy, in the sixth century.

White dead nettle is sometimes called bee nettle. This is because it provides an early source of pollen and nectar, so it’s very popular with bees (and children! Kids sometimes suck the nectar from white dead nettle flowers, kind of like how kids used to suck the honeysuckle flowers that grew on the elementary school’s fence when I was little).

Some white dead nettle flowers. A small ant is crawling inside of one of them.

In Lancashire, it was said that white dead nettle flowers always come in twos, because they’re actually pixie shoes that have been left outside. These flowers also have two black spots inside, which are sometimes called “Cinderella’s slippers.”

White, spotted, and purple dead nettles are all used to treat stings from actual nettles. Mash the plant, squeeze out the juice, and apply it to the stung area. You can also chew some of the leaves and apply the resulting paste.

Magical Properties of Dead Nettle

Dead nettle is associated with determination, due to its ability to grow pretty much anywhere. (I’ve been harvesting it from cracks in the concrete, here.) It’s also connected to happiness, optimism, and relief.

Bright pink dead nettle flowers.

Like other members of the mint family, it dries well. Harvest some, hang it upside-down, and put a paper bag around it to keep off dust and catch any dropped leaves or flowers. Once you have some dried dead nettle, you can use it in teas, incense blends, sachets, poppets, jar spells, or pretty much anything else. This small, unassuming herb is fantastic any time you need a hit of joy and motivation.

Dead nettle is also useful in kitchen witchery. Add it to soups, salads, or even pesto to benefit from its magical and anti-inflammatory properties.

This plant also works wonderfully in tinctures, salves, and oils. This is a great way to preserve it well beyond its season.

For now, I’m pulling it out of my raised beds to prepare them for other things. Some will be left for the birds (chickens, especially, seem to love the stuff), and the rest will be brewed into tea, blended into smoothies, eaten fresh, dried, and pureed and frozen in ice cube trays to add to soup or fill out pesto!

Blog, crystals, life

“Fine, but I’m not getting any more rocks.”

I knew it was probably a lie the moment the words left his lips.
Still, I didn’t really intend to buy anything, I just wanted to go to the local mineralogical society’s mineral and gem show for kicks. We didn’t have any other plans, it was close by, and tickets were like six bucks. Why not?

I’ve also wanted to learn more about our local geology. Maryland has an interesting state mineral called Patuxent River stone, which is a form of agate that I think is a lovely, almost luminous color. I really want to find some in the wild, but the minerals I’m most likely to encounter where I am are white quartz, mica, beryl, and serpentine.

With all of this in mind, spending an hour or so at a local rock show seemed like a nice way to pass some of the afternoon. Also, sometimes there are interesting bony boys to look at.

This was before my partner saw the big geode cracking machine. I also think they’re very cool — I was used to getting tiny geodes as a kid and cracking them open with hammers like a tiny caveman, but all I’d get from that is a lot of small, shattered pieces. These machines use a large metal chain, shaped like a bike chain, that applies even pressure to a small area around the geode. They’re similar to soil pipe cutters but have a wheel that allows you to tighten the chain a bit more easily. The end result is a geode that cracks much more cleanly, usually in two halves that follow the natural features of the stone, so you preserve a lot more of that beautiful internal structure.

We talked to the owners of the machine for a bit, asking about the origins of their geodes (remember, always know where your crystals come from) and their mineral composition. That’s the nice thing about shows like this: The people there are super stoked to talk about crystals.

In the end, we decided on two geodes — one large one that was filled with tiny, sparkly, sugary-looking white quartz crystals (and a few double-terminated ones, too!) and a smaller one that seemed to be smoky quartz and blades of either calcite or selenite. They’re gorgeous!

A geode made of layers of opaque brown and transparent black crystal. In the very center, there are flat blades of clear, sparkling crystal.

The show also had some fascinating displays of fluorescent minerals, insects, fossils, and really nice specimens of minerals that had been collected locally (or semi-locally, within a few states or so). Upstairs, where the dealer’s tables were, there were beads, handmade jewelry, carvings, and several gorgeous and very high-end specimens for sale.

A wooden case of preserved moths. They're shades of brown, cream, and orange, and many of them have large spots on their wings that look eerily like eyes.

In addition to the two geodes, we came away with a trilobite from Ohio. I have named him Tobie.

If you’re into geology, like fossils or minerals, or are even into crystal healing, I can’t recommend local gem shows enough. In Michael Gienger’s book Crystal Power, Crystal Healing, he talks about the role that your local geology can play. For example, the effect that living in areas with specific minerals can have. If you’re not learning about what’s around you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

It’s also just really nice to talk rocks with people who are super into it. Even if you’re not necessarily so, it’s just cool to listen to someone who’s both knowledgeable and passionate about something.

If you’re a collector or crystal enthusiast who’s concerned about the environmental and ethical considerations of your hobby, then local shows are also a huge help. Most of the specimens we saw were clearly labeled with their place of origin. A lot of them were domestically collected, usually by the people selling them. There was a transparency that’s hard to get in a lot of (though certainly not all) conventional crystal shops. Some of the people there have brick-and-mortar stores, too.

These events also often support local hobbyist groups, and are a great way to meet other people in your community. Now that we’re actually setting down some roots here, it just feels good to be involved in stuff like this, even if it’s just as a spectator.

So yes. Support your local mineral people. They rock.

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

A Little Late Wassail.

This weekend, my partner and I had the pleasure of wassailing some baby trees.

Traditionally, this was something that was done December-ish, but this particular wassail was for some very young trees that’ll be going in the ground soon. Consider it a kind of baby tree blessing.

Wassailing is a ritual to bless fruit trees, drive away unwelcome spirits, and ensure a bountiful harvest. It involved drinking cider, singing, making noise, and giving offerings of drinks and cider-soaked toast to the trees.

This wassail was hosted by someone in a Druidry group to which I belong. Another member put together songs and blessings, and all of the attendees gave their own blessings to a little sour cherry, a baby fig, and a small (somewhat struggling) dogwood.

A red squirrel in the branches of a fruit-laden cherry tree.

(I wished that the fruit trees would produce lots of flowers and nectar for the insect community, and tons of fruit for the birds, squirrels, and human community. To the dogwood, I just said, “Good luck, buddy.”)

The food was incredible. There was wassail cake flavored with lots of bright orange zest, homemade root beer, chocolate-Guinness cake, meat and vegetarian hand pies, tiny apple hand pies, fresh vegetables, ginger snaps, cheese, fruit, and so much more. We’re still without a decent oven, so we brought some extra sparkling water, graham crackers, fancy chocolate, and vegan marshmallows for fire pit s’mores. In lieu of hanging cider-soaked toast on the trees, there were bits of cider-splashed graham cracker.

The singing was fun, the yelling and cheering was fun, and the blessings were heartwarming. There was an adorable dog who did happy zoomies all around the yard, with deep, happy “doggy laughs.” I can’t tell you the last time I went to any kind of house party, so the feeling of gathering with a bunch of kind, warm, intelligent, funny people was almost indescribable. (It also set off my brain’s own personal social anxiety afterparty, during which I questioned every interaction I had all afternoon for several hours.)

It was also really nice to see someone else working on turning their yard into a source of food for their family and the local fauna. It gave me some inspiration for things that might work well in this yard. The warming weather has me absolutely raring to go out and do more to keep my promise to the spirits of this spot, and now I’ve got images of redbuds and sour cherries dancing in my head.

Be in good health!

Blog, life

“I mean, I’m neutered. I don’t understand how this happened.”

It’s often said that orange cats all share custody of a single braincell. This isn’t meant disparagingly; they just have a certain dopey je ne sais quoi.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Pye’s reaction to JJ.

Sure, he started out with the standard territorial huffiness when she first got here. Once she’d gotten her first round of baby shots, some antibiotics, dewormer, flea drops, and ear drops (she really had basically every parasite and minor problem a stray kitten could have), we decided it was time to test the waters of actual introduction.

Kiko wants nothing to do with her, but she doesn’t seem to want anything to do with anyone who isn’t my partner or me. So, no surprise there.

Pye seemed… baffled? Like here is this tiny creature, who appeared out of the ether, and holy crap is this where kittens come from? I can see the wheel wobble-spinning in his head. He’s neutered. How did this happen? How did he accidentally a baby??? help

Well, no matter. What’s done is done. If there’s one thing this magnificent himbo fool apparently doesn’t want to be, it’s a deadbeat dad.

A small gray cat and much larger orange cat look out of a window together.
He teaches her the ways.

I’ve read that it takes on average eight months to a year for cats to become friends. I think he managed it in three days. They play together, and it’s genuine play. If there’s ever a growl, a whine, or a hiss, it’s quickly sorted out and they go back to playing. My partner was nervous about this — the first time one of them hissed, he wanted to separate them again. I stopped him with the reassurance that this was not only okay, it was a positive development. They’re new playmates, and they need to discover each other’s boundaries and learn how to navigate them. The only way for them to do that is to communicate between themselves and interfering would only hamper the process. JJ needs to learn to play nicely, and Pye needs to learn how to play with someone so much tinier than he is. Sure enough, half a second later they were back to chasing each other.

He’s also tried to groom her, though he seemed to very quickly discover that ear drops taste awful. Nonetheless, he is a dutiful boy and persisted in cleaning this small, weird, somewhat gross child.

The cutest part is when he gets tired. He’ll lope away, go lay down somewhere, and trill at her to follow him. JJ, being a font of infinite chaos energy, does not do this. Instead, she watches him and decides that what she should actually be doing is chewing on his face.
He puts up with a lot.

A close-up of a pair of cats. A small gray kitten lays on her back, paws pushing on the fluffy cheeks of a much larger orange cat.
Like, a lot-lot.

It’s also really cute to see the ways that he accommodates her. He lays down to be at her level, rolls on his back, and bats at her slowly. He chases her into the closet, and, as soon as she emerges, he trills and goofily bounds away so she’ll chase him. Seeing the give and take between this 20 pound orange dumbass and this cheeseburger-sized stripΓ©d hellion is honestly really heartwarming.

Now, we just have to work on Kiko.

Uncategorized

Time to prune the @#$% out of this apple tree.

I am not many things. An arborist is among them.

Unfortunately(?), with this house, I have become responsible for a smallish apple tree. I was excited to discover that it was a fruit tree when we first toured the place — there were a few sour greenish apples clinging to the scraggly branches. I didn’t know anything about apple trees, but this still seemed like a positive development.

I have since learned that apple trees are basically livestock.

I bought it a friend, a little Chehalis apple tree, so it could produce more fruit. I watered and fed it.

Like sheep, apple trees also need to be trimmed. Branches cross, or grow from weird, narrow angles, or jut straight up in the air. They weaken the tree, which sends its energy reserves to put leaves and buds on these branches that will inevitably snap in the wind and never bear fruit. They’re a source of illness, insects, and injury. In the event of some kind of apocalypse, it won’t take very long before it’s no longer fruitful — fruit trees as we know them have developed alongside humans, and we rely on each other for survival.

So that’s how I ended up on the internet looking up how to beneficially injure a small tree.

Narrow branch angles. Crossed branches. Watersprouts. I memorized what each one looked like, and how to best cut them. (At an angle, as close to the branch collars as possible.) Then, armed with a set of hedge clippers and a pair of saws, I trudged out to go sort shit out.

A dwarf apple tree that hasn't been pruned in years. It's winter, so the branches are bare.
Depicted: Fruit chaos.

I should note that I was not prepared for how much work it’d be. I figured it was cold out, so I dressed warmly — winter boots, my wedding sweatpants, a flannel, et cetera. Within minutes, I was stripping down.

The actual pruning process wasn’t too intimidating. The tree’s a dwarf, so it was easy enough to navigate the branches. I left some that I know I shouldn’t’ve, just because they were providing support for a wild grape vine that I’m hoping will return next year. Others, I either snipped with the clippers, or carefully sawed through while muttering apologies through clenched teeth.

If anything, the toughest part of the process was the anxiety. What if I cut something wrong, or that’d make it grow all weird? What if my tools weren’t clean enough, and I introduced some kind of disease into the soft, green wood? What if I was doing more harm than good?

When you’re climbing around under a tree and trying not to get cracked in the skull or speared through the eye with falling branches, it’s not the best time to start losing your nerve. I was projecting a lot of my own anxiety on the tree — I’ve been in a position where someone held me down and injured me, insisting it was for my own good, I know exactly how that feels — but maybe this wasn’t it. So, I did the tree-hugger thing.

I put my non-dominant hand on a robust branch and let myself fall into the xylem and phloem, breathing with the slow, wintry pace of the circulating sap. What I felt surprised me. There wasn’t really fear, though there was some pain. If I really had to describe it, it felt like what I imagine the cows in those hoof-trimming videos feel like. (If you haven’t fallen down that rabbit hole yet, you’re welcome.) Tension and relief. The acknowledgement that something is wrong, and fixing it won’t be fun, but the result will be worth it.

I’ll probably have to go back and do some more pruning, but I’ve got the bulk of it done. The problematic parts have been removed, so now everything else is just shaping and ensuring that the branches have enough space around them.

The end result remains to be seen. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of apples next year!

life, Uncategorized

Sharpies, Spicy Crab Crepes, and Gratitude.

It is Thanksgiving.

I am on the landing of my stairs, stomach full of spicy crab crepes, mind whirling from xylene fumes, drawing esoteric symbols on the walls and wondering if I am half an orphan or just going to be expected to front bail money in the near future.

I’ve never really been big on Thanksgiving. Aside from its history as a holiday, I mostly associate it with being screamed at, having my hair yanked into shapes it was never meant to have, and dressed in stiff, uncomfortable clothing so I could go all of twenty feet downstairs to eat green bean casserole in my grandparents’ living room. The food was good, don’t get me wrong, and I love my grandparents, but I could’ve done without the rest of it.

As a result, my partner and I don’t really sweat it much. We have no big plans — if I’m feeling ambitious, I might make a turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, baked potatoes, and the like. This year, we figured it made more sense to just make a bunch of whatever we had in the freezer.
Mashed potatoes? Sure!
Peas? Okay!
Chocolate chip cookies? You bet!
Taco pizza, a thing I suggested when I realized I didn’t have mozzarella and only had shredded “Mexican blend” and figured I could also top a hot pizza with fresh tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and salsa? Absolutely!

In the end, we said, “screw it” and had crepes delivered. They were open, it was early in the day, and neither of us were feeling hungry or energetic enough to go through the motions of putting together a Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t have a turkey anyway, so nothing about dinner was going to be traditional.
Besides, crepes filled with spinach, avocado, and spicy shredded crab sounded incredible.

I did do my other annual traditions: I made a donation to the Mashpee Wampanoag people, and I called my grandpa.

“You talk to your mom lately?” He asked.

“No. I don’t. I haven’t in ten years or so,” I replied. It’s a conversation we have every time we speak. I don’t think it’s that he forgets — he just hopes the answer will be different each time. It isn’t. It won’t be.

That’s when he told me something strange. Every year, he’d sent her a check. Even though she doesn’t ever talk to him, she always cashed them. Except for the last two.

That tugged on my memory. A few months ago, I’d gotten a message from a distant relation. They’d talked to her for a while, then she’d just dropped off the map. Did I happen to know if she was okay? I didn’t.

Still on the phone, I messaged my ex-boyfriend. He was still friends with her on social media, chiefly due to a combination of morbid curiosity and a love of cringe comedy. No, he explained, she went from regularly posting her usual weird shit to dead silence since last February.

“Maybe she died,” my grandpa replied.

“I don’t know. Jail’s probably more likely,” I figured. She had a well-earned reputation for getting loud and shove-y when she drank, including punching her adult son in the face one evening after a funeral and slapping both of us around when we were small. After decades of not being either arrested or punched back, I wouldn’t be surprised if the world had finally gotten around to making her experience some consequences.

I’d like to say that I was concerned. That it gave me something to think about. Really, my mind could only go one of three ways: 1) She’d passed away or ended up jailed somewhere, and it was sad that she’d ostracized so many people and wasn’t able to pull her head out of her ass before that. 2) She’d gone silent in the hope that the people still in her orbit would feed her ego by vocally and publicly worrying about her. Or 3), she just didn’t give enough of a damn about anyone asking after her to bother to tell them that she was still alive.

It did put me back in the Thanksgiving spirit, though. I’m thankful that I’m not there. I’m thankful that I don’t have to deal with this in any but the most indirect of fashions. I’m thankful that my partner and I, despite not coming from the healthiest dynamics, have chosen and worked on having a loving, supportive, functional relationship. I’m thankful that JJ has finished her round of antibiotics and is experiencing a little stray kitten glow-up. I’m thankful that there will be taco pizza tomorrow.

And then I climbed to the top of my stairs, busted out a magnum Sharpie, and drew on my wall.

Just for fun, life

“Get in, loser. We’re going shopping… For DEATH.”

The Dadlands.

A barren, scorched landscape populated solely by… dads. There are different tribes of dads, from the grill dads and their seared meats to the travel dads and their ability to leave early and make good time.

Sunday night, we heard their story.

The Dadlands is a one-page tabletop RPG, something like Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, you don’t really have to have a character sheet, dice, or desire to be a part time volunteer accountant. No. Instead, you make your own dad and strap on a fanny pack with red and green tokens. Red ones represent chaos, like the chaos of setting off illegal fireworks or jury-rigging something with electrical tape. Green ones are order, like going the speed limit or setting an early bedtime.

Every action is decided by pulling a token at random, without looking. If you pull the correct corresponding token(s), the action is success-

Honestly, you can probably just read the rules right here.

Anyhow, we went to go see The Dadlands live one-off at the DAR Constitution Hall in DC. (It’s a lovely venue but get a ride there — trying to park would be a nightmare.) Brennan Lee Mulligan was the DM, while the McElroy brothers and dad were the Dads. I won’t give away the story here, but I will say that they introduced a mechanic that required the players to play cornhole, and it was the most suspense I think I’ve ever felt in my life.

(There was also a rousing chant of “CORNHOLE FOR YOUR SOUL” at one point.)

It got me thinking, too. I have access to a yard now. I have power tools. I could make a cornhole board.

I could print the Dadlands rules.

I could rustle up a handful of fanny packs and some tokens.

… I’m going to have a Dadlands party.

Cosplay would be optional, of course, but recommended.
It’s also pretty easy to Get the Look:

A pair of white New Balance sneakers, white athletic socks, a pink floral Hawaiian button-down shirt, a white tank top, a pair of khaki shorts, and a black fanny pack.

Refreshments would be barbecue and a variety of canned beverages. Crispy Stellas, Buds, Coke Classic, Liquid Death, the works.

Now I just need to figure out who in my social circle has a secret Dadliness in their heart. Gender doesn’t matter — it isn’t the Dad on the outside, it’s the Dad on the inside that counts. As Rory Powers once said,

You don’t need kids

To be a Dad

You don’t have to have a penis,

Or even be a man,

You just need Levi jeans

And to be a little drunk, yeah!

It’s a Dad Squad, it’s a Dad Squad!”

This Paranormal Life, episode #271: The Legend of Momo – The Monster that Terrorised Missouri

I’m gonna find a Dad Squad and make them play cornhole to survive a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and it’s going to be amazing.

life

JJ’s Bizarre Adventure.

My partner and I have been looking at getting a third cat.

This is partially due to the very particular ways in which Kiko and Pye can’t stand each other — he’s a gigantic, friendly doofus who is simultaneously desperate for Kiko’s approval, and incapable of understanding that she does not want to play with him. Kiko is intimidated by Pye’s size, and also obsessed with baby cats of any description. So, we figured a young cat would help by either being a buddy to Pye (or at least redirect some of his misplaced desperation for buddyship) or be a companion for Kiko. We figured a young cat would be best, because then they’d have an easier time fitting into Kiko and Pye’s profoundly weird dynamic.

I’d even done a few tarot readings on the subject. Everything seemed to look good from that end, though the cards warned me that it’d involve a flurry of activity and very rapidly-changing situations before a happy ending.

Our search started with DC’s humane association. They had (and still have!) a good selection of kittens right now, even though summer is generally considered the “height” of kitten season. We picked out one boy, a little orange and white tabby, and put in an application. Everything sounded good — he’s friendly, affectionate, playful, and unlikely to bogart Pye and Kiko’s shared braincell. Perfect!

His fosterer emailed us back promptly. She was happy to schedule an online meeting to talk about him, but, she warned us, he has a 50/50 chance of having megacolon. While not fatal, megacolon can be a somewhat difficult condition to manage. It often requires expensive prescription diets, or even surgery to remove the affected portions of the colon. No problem, we figured.

The meeting had to be rescheduled when the fosterer got sick. Communication fell by the wayside for a little bit. We thought he might be a “foster fail” — he sounded like such a sweet little guy, and his fosterer obviously wrote about him with great affection. We figured we’d wait a little longer before emailing again.

That’s when I got a message from my ex. We’re still on very good terms; we split up because he wanted to settle down and have kids, and I didn’t. He’s married a great lady and had two adorable children, and I’m living the lifestyle and pursuing the goals that I want, too. Most of our messages consist of shitposts, which is why I was kind of surprised when he said he’d found a kitten.

A tiny kitten. A sick, skinny kitten. Wandering the street.

“Are you going to keep it?” I asked.

“I can’t!” He replied. He’d adopted a second cat not long before — adding a third, sick cat would be too much. They were going to take her to their local human association.

“dogg i will legit drive up there and adopt this tiny cat,” I immediately typed back.

And that’s how my partner and I found ourselves driving for three hours round-trip to go pick up a tiny, sneezy laploaf.

A small gray tabby kitten sits on the lap of a person in gray jeans and a green hoodie. They are in the back seat of a car.

She’d wandered up to the family while they were outside, cold, wet, and meowing for food. Her eyes and nose ran with discharge, and her belly was round and swollen. Once they got her indoors, she was ravenous and exhausted.

Taking her home was an adventure. She sat on my lap, teething on my ring in between curious looks at my partner and me. It was a long trip for such a little nugget, but she handled it well. She watched the wet trees go by through the window, gazed wide-eyed at the taillights of cars disappearing down the highway, and kneaded my knees with her paws.

My ex’s son called her JJ, and they initially thought she was a he. We still call her JJ, though that’s been the jumping off point for a constellation of ludicrous nicknames. She has what are probably worms and an upper respiratory infection (and what will probably be an expensive vet visit this afternoon), but she’s friendly, playful, and very curious. She hates when you go in the bath without her, hurls herself into laps with wild abandon, snoozes happily in my arms, and is enraptured by YouTube cooking videos. I call her “JJ Jetplane,” because she purrs like the engine of a 747. We haven’t introduced her to the other cats yet, though they’ve had a few sniffs and glimpses of each other. We’ll see what the vet says about her (specifically, how contagious she is) and go from there.

She’s a sweet, precious baby, and she has already learned how to have me wrapped around her tiny black beans. She taps my leg to be picked up and cuddled and argues with me with the smallest meows — more like a nearly soundless “keh” than an actual meow. I’ve lit candles, petitioned gods, and crossed my fingers that everything goes well on Monday, but we’re going to do the absolute best we can for her no matter what.

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

So I says to the maple tree, I says…

A big part of permaculture is observation.

You don’t just test your soil, see where the sun hits, then plant a bunch of things. It’s a slow progression during which you watch the land to see what grows where, how it thrives, and who visits it. You let the dirt tell you what it wants and meet it in the middle, so everyone gets to eat and thrive.

I figured one way to help this process would be to just… well, ask. I took myself, an offering, and some incense, and climbed up the hill to the big red maple in the back yard. There’s a perfectly butt-shaped arrangement of some of its roots near its base, so I settled myself in, rested my back against the trunk, and let myself kind of fall into it.

It’s a process that’s hard to describe — if pressed, I’d say I “breathe” along with the tree. This is probably a bit hard to conceptualize since trees don’t breathe the way we do, but gentle breathing and just feeling things out for a while seems to put me into a very comfortable looping sensation. I feel the water moving up the xylem, sap flowing through the phloem, waste moving back down to excrete into the soil through the roots. I feel a sympathetic flow from my feet to my head, then back down and into the soil. Sometimes, this is just a way to relax and get out of my own head (and into a consciousness that’s very alien to my own). Sometimes, it’s a helpful way to get information.

In this case, I got a lot of messages about water.

I wasn’t really surprised — red maples have shallow, spreading root systems and produce “dry shade” under their canopies. The soil here is heavy clay, and there’s a fairly steep hill. There’s also a ton of non-native grass and not much biodiversity. The angle, hard, slick soil, a tree that blocks rainfall to the ground, and thirsty, high-maintenance grass made the water messages make sense. It doesn’t look like a desert, but it’s a place that just feels subtly thirsty.

I left the experience resolved to put in more ways to catch rainwater — barrels, a stock tank, something. I wasn’t sure what else to do. What else could this water-hunger mean?

Flash forward to Pagan Pride Day. At one point, I sat for a tarot reading. It was full of “wild hares” — cards that seem to leap from the deck unbidden, as if demanding to be part of the reading, without anyone having to draw them. The resulting message was one of herbs, plants, and a figure that would help me realize my vision.

“Neato,” I figured, and didn’t think much of it.

Flash forward a bit further. My partner and I are at a hardware store to return a defective trowel and buy more mulch with which to murder the front yard. While he gets it, I browse the shrubs outside. There’s a triangular gap between the house, porch, potted rose bush, and rue plant that I’d like to fill with something tall and fairly thin. A voice asks me how I’m doing, and if I need help with anything. I look up to see an older man in a purple shirt. He’s the plant supplier for the stores in this area, he says. We end up having a long conversation about plants, soil, pH, sunlight, tattoos, and taxes. He tells me that the heavy clay is trouble. Without organic matter, it’s too compact for roots to penetrate and doesn’t absorb water well.

What I need, he says, is leaf compost.

And there it was again. The way to get more water isn’t just to trap it, it’s to undo years of raked leaves and monoculture. Layers of compost (good thing I have a big tumbler), paper, yard waste, and shredded wood. Part of the reason the red maple’s roots jut up through the grass is because the clay makes it difficult to exist otherwise. There’s no softness, no air space, no absorbency, no acid.

We’re layering rotted leaves and shredded wood over the clay now. Sprinkling it with mushroom spores and seeds that will sleep in the cold until spring. Eventually, we’ll get there.