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:

β€œβ€˜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.

β€œHe said, β€˜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 β€” the heritage oak, and two smaller β€œspecial 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?

β€œIf 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.

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.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Spruce Folklore and Magical Properties

I’m finally moved, and luckily settled in to a place that my partner and I absolutely love. Seriously — we decided against buying a house right now (it’s very much a seller’s market), and it’s going to take a very special house to get me out of here once we are ready to buy. There are lots of very lovely trees around, from neighborhoods full of crape myrtle and magnolias, to a Kousa dogwood whose fruits tempt me every time I walk past it. (I always have to tell myself no, it’s part of the landscaping, not really owned by anyone in particular, and there’s no way to tell what it’s been treated with.)

My favorite, however, is a big blue spruce.

It has a weeping growth habit, so its massive branches of smoky blue needles hang dramatically. It has a really cool energy, too — not necessarily the “loving, supportive, enlightened” feeling a lot of herbal energy guides point to, more like a very old and wise thing who is also very curious about the tiny things around it. I get a gentle amusement from it. It even has a natural face in the bark. I love it.

How to Tell a Spruce vs. Pine vs. Fir

First, the big question: What kind of tree are you looking at? All of these species fall under the general category of conifers, meaning that they are cone-bearing seed plants. Spruce, pine, and fir all produce needles, too, which can make identification tricky from afar. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to tell.

Pine

Are the needles long, thin, and sprout from a single spot in groups? You’re looking at a pine.

Fir

Are the needles short and flat? Pick one up (there’ll probably be plenty shed on the ground) and pinch it between your index finger and thumb. Does it roll easily? If the answer’s no, then you’ve got yourself a fir.

Spruce

Are the needles similar to fir needles, but have a square cross-section instead of a flat one? Try rolling them between your index finger and thumb. If they roll, that’s a spruce.

Spruce Magical Uses and Folklore

In western Sweden, researchers have found a spruce that may be the world’s oldest living tree. It’s nearly ten thousand years old, and has survived by cloning itself via layering.

According to the Hopi people, the spruce was once a medicine man who turned himself into a tree. It’s a sacred plant.

To the A’Γ’’tam, the father and mother of humanity escaped a flood by floating in a ball of spruce pitch.

Northern Algonquian people used it to prevent illness.

One source indicates that blue spruce is a symbol of pure intentions, while, in a more general sense, spruces represent generosity, enlightenment, protection, healing, and intuition.

Using Spruce

Just befriend one. It’s both easier and more difficult than it sounds.

Trees are individuals, so the easiest way to tell if you’re barking up the wrong tree (ha ha) is by sitting near one. They have natural ways to mount a defense against creatures they don’t want around them, so see if you end up covered in ants, breaking out in a rash, or otherwise having a bad time. That’s a sign that this tree doesn’t want to be friends — at least not yet.

On the other hand, if you’re sitting by a tree and smell a sweet fragrance, maybe feel a gentle breeze and the sun on your face, hear the birds singing, get a sense of comfort and acceptance, and otherwise generally feel good, this tree might want to get to know you.

Once you’ve found a tree to be friends with, look at it. Look at it from afar, and examine the bark close up. Let your pareidolia take over, and see what features you can see in the bark. The tree might choose to show you its face to make it easier for the two of you to connect. After all, it’s easier to converse when you can see the other party’s face, right?

Talk to the tree. It doesn’t have to be out loud. Hang out. Make it little offerings, like fresh water or an interesting (and plant-safe) rock. Remember, this is a friendship — do small things to show you’re thinking of it, and don’t forget that, sometimes, the best gift you can give is your time.

The relationships you forge in the natural world are part of the foundation of magic. You’ve gotta learn to speak the language if you’re going to try to ask for help.

You can also consume spruce buds, as long as you’re sure the tree hasn’t been exposed to a systemic pesticide, industrial runoff, or car exhaust. Spruce buds are high in vitamin C, and have been used for tea, in syrup, and even to make a beer to sustain sailors over long voyages. You can also eat the young buds directly, if you’re into that.

Spruce trees are beautiful things native to the northern regions of the world. I can’t speak for all of them, but the ones I’ve known have been very nice to work with, even if that “work” is just sitting and exchanging energy for a time. If you don’t live in an area with native spruce trees, and you’d like to work with them, consider using spruce bud tea or syrup to experience some of their power.

life

Isolation Vacation

As it turns out, there’s a buttload more to working from home than setting up a desk.

I think neither my partner nor I would’ve been able to predict the effects it had: worse sleep hygiene, confused cats, a general air of unease, a much harder time separating work and life, working an extra three hours or so a day. The trouble is, if you have to work from home, you don’t get much choice in the matter — you either have a separate space for an office and the kind of mental walls that help you keep your work life and home life separate, or you’re kind of boned.

So we engineered a way to take a vacation in the most low-risk, isolated way possible.

Getaway offers tiny cabins a little less than two hours outside of D.C. It worked out perfect for us — we booked and paid for the cabin online a few months in advance (they fill up quick), picked up some extra provisions during our last grocery trip, filled up on gas when we normally would anyhow, and made the trip without having to stop. Checking in was completely contactless, too. We received a text with the lock code, keyed it in to the number pad on the door, and stepped into a very comfy, charming one-room cabin.

It was pretty much perfect. There was a spacious bathroom at one end, with a large shower and accessibility bars. At the other, there was a big, marshmallowy queen sized bed under an enormous window that looked out onto the woods. The cabin also had a pretty well-equipped kitchen, with a two burner stove, sink, pots, pans, silverware, and dishes. (There was even a bowl for traveling dogs.)

It snowed pretty heavily, which kept us from really taking advantage of the trails or the fire pit. Even so, it was really wonderful being able to snuggle up in bed with a cup of tea and some pancakes, under that huge window, and watch the snow through the trees. The night sky was gorgeous, too — I stayed up late both nights to stargaze.

It was just cozy, you know? Peaceful. Idyllic. No work emails, no calls, no wifi to answer them even if we wanted to. Just the creaking of the trees in the wind, snow, and the stars at night.

It turned out to be a great atmosphere for brainstorming, too. My S.O. and I did some storyboarding, and he wrote a really awesome short story (that will hopefully go up somewhere in the future). I had about a thousand ideas, but didn’t really get into writing or making art while I was there — I took a few notes and made some sketches, but I didn’t want to lose too much time trancing out in a creativity fugue like usual.

Even the way home was pretty. It rained after it snowed, and the nighttime temperature drop made the water freeze around all of the bare trees until it looked like they were covered in diamonds. The sky was blue, and the sun glittered through the trees’ ice-covered claws until even an ordinary road next to a set of power lines looked like something out of Narnia.

Everything was so bright and pretty, in fact, and we felt so refreshed, that we didn’t really want to go home right away. Stopping somewhere populated wasn’t really an option, but that’s okay.

There’re always roadside attractions.

We’re both kind of suckers for them (by which I mean that, if there’s a World’s Largest Something between here and California, we’ve probably stopped by). The biggest windchime? Been there, rang it, had a slice of pie. My S.O. had barely opened his mouth to say he wished there was something cool on the way home before I had a list of things that were a) large, b) unpopulated, and c) at least slightly ridiculous.

And that’s how we found a giant nutcracker. (Well, mostly the head.)

He used to be a paving company’s tar silo. When a paint company bought the property, they painted it and converted it to this fellow. Honestly, the setting had a pretty unique sense of melancholy — there he was, with the approaching clouds just beginning to gray the sky, strewn with unlit Christmas lights, staring unblinkingly out at a McDonald’s across the street.
It felt very Lynchian, though I’ll be damned if I can explain how.

Our appetites whetted by the urge to see more huge things, we next drove back to D.C. to find an actual giant.

Fortunately, it being the middle of the week, during a pandemic, and also December, the place was pretty much deserted. Several areas were closed off, so I wasn’t able to get closer to the sculptures themselves, but the image was still very striking. There he was, this metal titan struggling up from the beach sand, face twisted in anguished effort.
Then, in the background, a lazily turning Ferris wheel.

I don’t know if any of you have played Kenshi, but there’s one particular area that gives me a similar feeling. There’s just something about massive metal hands clawing vainly at the sky that’s so damn eerie. When it’s juxtaposed against a beach and a carnival ride, it’s surreal as hell. I love it.

Now we’re home, snuggled up with two cats who had Many Things to Say about our absence. If you’re reading this the day it was posted, it’s the winter solstice. Keep your eyes peeled tonight for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and have a happy Yule.

Blog, life, Plants and Herbs

In the conifers.

As much as I love cypress trees literally any time of year, November to early December is my favorite time for them.

Why?

Because they make everything smell fantastic.

Bald cypress trees turn orange and shed their needles in autumn to early winter — as I write this, most of the ones here are, indeed, impressively bald. The result is a carpet of needles mingled with sticky, resinous cones.

The cones are particularly interesting to me. They start out as small, hard green buds. Sometimes you can find them on the ground as early as October, but they don’t really ripen for another month after that. Then, they expand and become almost crumbly, their scaly surfaces separating and falling apart to reveal the fragrant seeds inside. That’s when it’s really nice to find a stand of them and pick up a few from the ground. I live for the smell of the rich, autumn soil, the earthy-spicy-sweet smell of decaying leaves, and the fresh, piney, almost citrusy scent of cypress resin. If I can meet some mushrooms or a neat patch of lichen on the same trip, I’m ecstatic.

(I’m a pretty easy organism to please, all told. I’m pretty much a beetle with different ideas.)

We went and gathered a few cones not long ago. I keep a small jar of them on my altar, right next to a bald cypress knee. The seeds, I sneak into various concoctions — nothing ingestible, though. While cypress trees are generally not considered poisonous, they’re not edible, either. It’s a bit of a bummer, if you ask me. I’d love to be able to have it as a twist on pine tip tea.

After that, we took a trip to the arboretum. Naturally, there’s not much to see this time of year — the flowering dogwoods are not, the lilac is long since asleep, and the oaks and maples are skeletal — but there’s a kind of architectural beauty to a lot of the bare trees. Now is when they get to show off colors and patterns in their bark, the strange, Escher-like twists of their branches, and all of the other things leaves hide in spring and summer.

Most of the conifers, of course, are still going strong. I met a Norway spruce that I found especially pretty — I hadn’t realized that their immature buds look like flowers before, their papery brown petals unfolding like tiny roses.

It wasn’t late when we arrived, but this time of year, the early sunset and angle of the planet slants the sunlight in a way that makes everything look almost surreal. It’s a cold beauty, but I love it.

life

Dirt, Moss, and Cypress Knees

One of the really hecking sweet parts of having more physical endurance now is that places I already loved to go have opened up a lot more to me. Take Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, for one.

It’s a very quietly beautiful place most of the year, other than summer when the lotuses bloom in a sea of brilliant pink. It’s never very crowded, there are always plenty of places to sit, and you rarely hear people over the orchestra of insect calls and birdsong. Even the city traffic dulls to a low, forgettable roar in the background.

Even though the gardens are arguably at their best in summer, I like them the most in autumn. My favorite part of them isn’t the lotuses, really (though I have a certain appreciation for their alien-looking pods), it’s the bald cypress trees.

I love bald cypress trees. They’re my favorite tree. I love their scent (I once knelt down to take a picture of one, and ended up ruining a good pair of jeans by permanently staining the knees green. I felt embarrassed afterward, like a child ruining a set of school clothes on the playground, but sweet, fresh smell of crushed cypress needles was almost worth it). I love the way their needles turn brilliant orange in autumn. I love that they’re one of the few weirdo conifers that actually loses their needles in winter. I love the way they grow, in the liminal space between land and water. I love their alien-looking knees — mistaken for people, animals, and even monsters once they get large enough.

A bald cypress tree with a set of knee-like protuberances on its roots.
Knees!

Anyway, before I launch into another paean to bald cypress trees, all of this is to say that we took a long walk in the park and it was pretty nice. The boardwalk is especially pretty this time of year, with the leaves falling on it like confetti in shades of burgundy, vermillion, violet, and saffron.

There weren’t as many flowers, of course. I found some kind of yellow asteraceae, and these very pretty silver cock’s combs, but that was about it. I did also spot some aggressively purple berries on (what I think is) a viburnum, though. Judging by the number of bare twigs, the birds have been hitting them up for snacks pretty hardcore. I know cardinals will happily eat them — I used to have a bright red buddy who hung out outside of the window of my old apartment.

My partner and I sat on a bench for a bit, enjoying the sound of the insects chirping, birds warbling, and wind soughing through the trees.

“What… What are you doing?” He asked.

“Taking off my shoes,” I replied.

“Why?”

I shrugged. “Something about ions. Mostly because it feels good. Dirt. Moss. You know.”

“Fair enough.”

(He eventually followed suit and realized I was right — the cool ground felt wonderful, and the moss was very soft.)

As I write this, it’s Saturday night, I’m snuggled up and waiting to watch a livestream by Gareth Reynolds. I’ve got my partner, my cats, and a fantastic slice of pie. All told, not a bad end to the day!

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 cafΓ©s — 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.

divination, life, Plants and Herbs

The Rowan and the Heather

This week, I wanted to dive back into Ogham divination. I’ve been practicing working with a pendulum made of a fallen cypress root, and the set I have is probably the most conducive to using it.

When I first learned pendulum divination as a preteen, I did it a simple way: hanging a ring or pendant from a piece of string into an empty glass, and asking it to show me “yes” and “no.” Usually, an even number of taps on the glass was a “yes,” while an odd one was a “no.” I’ve always enjoyed using pendulums, and I’ve been having a really interesting time devising ways to mix different types of divination together. Driftwood Ogham fews and a wood pendulum seemed a natural match!

I didn’t ask a specific question this time. So far, this set seems pretty good at telling me what I need to know. It isn’t much like tarot or Lenormand, in this respect. It’s less about answering questions than providing a different, more nebulous kind of insight. If Lenormand describes actions and situations, and tarot describes the energies and emotions surrounding those situations, Ogham is another layer entirely.

The pendulum was still over every oval of driftwood, except for two that made it swing in swift, ever-widening circles: Rowan and Heather.

Heather came up for me last week, when I asked specifically about working through some old patterns. These are things that are going to take more than a week to get past, so I’m not surprised to see this friend appear again.

Rowan is Luis. In Ogham divination, it represents protection from every kind of danger — physical, emotional, and spiritual. It’s defense, precaution, and care. Bind two rowan twigs into an equal-armed cross with red thread, and you have a protective charm. This points to either having protection, or needing it. In either case, it’s time to look to the things that make us feel safe.

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Honestly, it reassures me. If Heather points to needing to metaphorically “burn down” old protective patterns so new growth can emerge, Rowan tells me that they aren’t necessary. I am protected, I am safe. I don’t need them. There are healthy behaviors and mechanisms there, better ways to protect myself that don’t involve self-sabotage.

I can keep doing the work without fear, and I’ll be better for it.

 

 

divination, life

The Alder and the Heather

For this week’s divination, I went back to my driftwood Ogham set. I asked the question that, probably unsurprisingly, has been plaguing my mind lately:

How do I heal my self-confidence and get used to self-promotion?

I drew Alder and Heather.

Alder is Fearn, the fourth consonant of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, alder is a battle-tree. Magically, it’s said to help us face the things we fear. Alder likes to grow in areas that give it “wet feet” — this creates an association with the liminal space between earth and water, between the logical and the emotional, between the body and the heart. It’s wood is also naturally water-resistant, a useful characteristic for creating structures designed to last underwater! It’s a supportive, protective tree spirit, with strong connotations of defense in battle, whether that’s against others or oneself.

Alder tells us to create strong boundaries and defenses, so we don’t undermine ourselves with negative emotions and self-doubt. Any decisions made right now should be carefully considered, so your emotions don’t lead us to burn the bridges we should be building instead. Seeking guidance from the spiritual realm will be helpful here — the roots of the alder help us resist being eroded by our negative emotions, the way they help the earth resist erosion by the water, but, despite this assurance, it’s a mysterious tree that isn’t always forthcoming with how it’s going to do this.

Nice. I can see it. It matches the tarot reading I received the other night, when I was told that not only am I not self-promoting, I don’t always necessarily make the right decisions when it comes to things of that nature. So… Way to call me out, alder tree!

Next is Heather, Ur, the third vowel of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, it’s a plant of contrasts — it’s passion and enthusiasm, and the consequences of both. Magically, it’s said to open portal to the realm of the fae. (And fairies associated with heather are said to be particularly attracted to shy people, to boot.) Burning it brings rain, sleeping on it brings prophetic dreams of good luck, and carrying it is protective. Heather tops can be brewed into alcohol, and heather honey is particularly dark and thick. It’s a flowery, sensual, intoxicating plant.

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Unfortunately, heather also doesn’t produce terribly well. At least, not if it isn’t periodically burned to the ground! The word-Ogham kennings refer to cycles of growth, or the earth. It’s said to be connected to death and fate through its connection to the soil (a connection which is somewhat reinforced by its magical use for prophetic dreams).

Drawing Heather is often interpreted as enjoying a sweetness and time of repose, but the lesson here is clear: There’s time for drinking heather beer and eating heather honey, and a time for burning the heather to the ground. There’s a time for sweetness, and a time for death. Don’t worry, though, because the burning of the heather brings it back with renewed vigor.

Taken together, I can see a path emerge. I have behaviors in place that are protective for me, but paralyzing. (If you can’t handle positive attention, hiding most of yourself away is a great way to avoid it!) Alder’s protection can help me weather my own negative emotions. Heather shows me that, while destroying my deep-seated protective mechanisms won’t be pleasant, I’ll grow stronger and better than before if I do it. Doing what feels good, avoiding my fears, needs to be balanced out by burning the whole damn thing to the ground if I want to enjoy the sweetness of new growth.

It’s going to suck, but it’ll be okay.

Now I’ve just gotta make that list my therapist told me to. Sigh.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Dogwood Folklore and Magical Uses

I love dogwood blossoms, I think they’re my favorite non-flower flower. Even the wood and foliage of some species is absolutely breathtaking to look at — there’s nothing quite like a bloody dogwood in the snow.

Depending on where you are, dogwoods are either blooming, starting to bloom, or have been blooming for a few weeks. Since I’m missing the dogwoods at the National Arboretum so much, I figured this would be a good week to look at the folk and magical applications of Cornus wood, leaves, berries, and flowers.

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Dogwood Magical Uses and Folklore

As a native American tree (eastern U.S. and Mexico), there’s not a lot of writing on flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) as it pertains to European-based witchcraft. Southern Europe does have a plant called the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), which is in the dogwood family, and most of Europe and western Asia has the common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). C. mas and C. sanguinea both flower, but neither of these are quite as showy as the big white or pink blooms of C. florida. Since all of these plants are related, it’s possible, even preferable, to make substitutions depending on what species are locally available to you.

Dogwood is associated with loyalty, secrets, wishes, protection, fertility, desire, and illusion. (The illusion part, in particular, makes a lot of sense — the flowers of the flowering dogwood aren’t actually flowers at all, they’re modified leaves.)

The dogwood is strongly tied with Christian mythology, since the flowers form a cross shape. It was believed that the wood was used to form crosses for crucifixion, so Jesus prevented the dogwood from ever growing large enough to be used for this purpose again.

An old folk remedy for treating mange in dogs involved making a decoction of dogwood bark, and washing the affected areas with it.

Leaves, bark, or flowers can be used as a protective charm.

As an herb of secrecy, it’s a good idea to include some dogwood leaves in a diary, grimoire, or Book of Shadows. An oil made from the flowers can be used to dress a letter and keep prying eyes off of it.

Make a wish come true by catching a drop of dogwood sap on a cloth on the evening of Midsummer, and wishing on it. Carry it until you get your desire, then bury the cloth.

It’s bad luck to bring dogwood flowers into your home, or to burn the wood in your hearth.

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Using Dogwood

One theory for the etymology of “dogwood” is that the name stems from “dag,” from which we also get “dagger.” This is related to the straightness and density of the wood — the sticks are pretty much ideal for crafting shafts for tools or weapons (Γ–tzi was found with dogwood arrows), and the wood is dense enough to sink in water. In a practical sense, this makes dogwood an excellent material for crafting wands or other magical tools.

A lot of dogwood’s associations fit neatly into one another. Illusion, protection, and secrecy all blend well. I probably wouldn’t use dogwood in place of, for example, cayenne pepper as a protective herb because the energy is so different. Dogwood is subtler — it protects by concealment. It’s a smokescreen, not a fiery wall. Even its use as arrow shafts points to a plant that’s best used to take advantage of the shadows!

American flowering dogwood has four bracts. From a numerological standpoint, four is strength, stability, and pragmatism. This blends nicely with its use as an herb for protection and loyalty.

Dogwood is useful in color magic, since the blooms can range from white, to yellow, to pink, to red. Even the leaves can turn from gold or green to pink, yellow, orange, or red.