Sep 29, 2021

One Witch's Year

Howling winds and bitter-cold nights softened into marshmallow snowfalls, which then faded into verdant greens emerging from earth and bud. The scent of smoke drifted on the breeze, but not the thick fragrance of a woodsy winter fire. Instead, it was the sweeter perfume of orchard prunings burning. Applewood and grapevine, censing the valley with hope for the new season.

Spring arrived in a bluster of tempests that showed promise, but never delivered any moisture. It was already dry by April, and some part of me could feel what was coming, but I laboured over preparing the herb, flower, and vegetable gardens because I didn't know what else to do. When the ravenous birds ate the pea and beet greens, I replanted because there seemed to be plenty of time for new growth. We waited on the rains. They didn't come.

The scent of freshly cut grass is in the air for a moment. It fades underneath the odors of a semi-rural street. A smoky barbeque, grilling someone's dinner. The fake, flowery perfume emanating from the neighbour's dryer vent. There's a strange sort of energy circling tonight, and nothing feels settled. Not the newly-hatched chicks wedged into a nest in the corner of the wall just beyond my fence. And not the dark clouds skirting the hills surrounding my small town.

A storm system moved into the valley today, bringing icy breezes and the fragrance of ozone, but it was only a cruel taunt. No rain has fallen. The land is too dry. The wind that accompanied the deceitful clouds stirred up dust into cyclones and then deposited it all over the homes and vehicles in my village, a fresh layer over the film of pollen that had already painted everything yellow. The temperature is dropping swiftly now, and I've just come in from wrapping up the newly planted tomato seedlings so they survive tonight's freeze. I have never had to do that in May. These are strange days.

Late June

Solstice. Spring's Leaving. Midsummer. St. John’s Eve. Lushsummer. Feast of Bonfires. Summer’s Flush. Seven Herbs Night. 

The pansies are dying. They splay over the edge of their rustic clay pot, barely holding on to life. I cannot water them enough now. No amount of dead-heading and relocating to shadier spots will combat the intensity of the fever that wilts them. The temperate spring days that they thrive in have been chased off by an early heatwave the likes of which we rarely see until mid to late July, and even then...this is something different.

I am wilting too.

Summer arrived in the high valley desert with a staggering hot spell. "It's a dry heat," we say, which means nothing unless you know the feeling of your cells parching, the astonishingly quick roasting of your skin if you stay exposed to the sun for mere minutes, and the heaviness of limb and lungs (which is odd, considering that every part of you seems dehydrated - including your bones). Even the wind feels brusque and insistent, no longer the cool and flirty breeze of the fairer season. It presses against you, and grazes over your skin like an unwanted advance. Despite the sweltering days and nights, it is the height of lushness for land and garden. The hillsides have a brief flush of green again, after a dry spring. My herbs and flowers are prolific and I've got bundles of assorted plants hanging from the ceiling or drying on racks. There is more ready and available for harvesting, both in my gardens and along my favourite mountain paths, than I can possibly bring in on my own. Each year I assess what balms and magics I'm feeling called to create, what medicines need restocking, and what I can manage to parcel out my hours and energy to. Last year I didn't get the chamomile picked and instead simply enjoyed their happy little flowers hosting bee parties. This year I won't get nearly as many wild roses as I'd like because they bloomed early and I simply don't have the time to get into the hills to a favoured spot where they are abundant.

It's a give and take kind of season. The wind paused for a few hours on Saint John's Eve and I was able to get out to my fire bowl to honour the incoming tide of fiery, slow-moving days. Last year's corn dolly was the sacrifice, along with handfuls of herbs and woods. I whirled in the heady smoke, sang thanks to the land, the water, the stars, and scryed in the embers. There were cleansing and protection rituals to attend to, and the yearly Saint John's water formulation to oversee. I also make a ward for my door, incorporating the season's herbs and flowers into a wreath or swag with a certain number of plants (7 or 9, usually) which then become offerings and ingredients in my floral water. For a moment, during the last breaths of June, everything feels like magic.

Wildfire Summer

It started on July 11th while I was reading in the shade of my yard. I heard our village fire department go roaring out with their trucks. About fifteen minutes later I saw a spotter plane fly over and my heart sank. Another several minutes passed before the smoke began twisting up over the cliff. It was too close, so I packed to run, but the wind favoured the town and pushed the fire toward the hills, and it didn't stop. It burned for nearly two months, destroying the areas I hike and wander, where I spent my childhood sledding, fishing, and having picnics around campfires. The St. John's wort that grew at the edge of the meadow, the juniper that dotted the rocky ledges, vast stands of wild roses, swaths of bearberry, an entire hillside of Saskatoon berry bushes and wax currants - all gone. I still don't have it in me to think long about the loss of animal life. The devastation takes my breath away.

Another fire, south of us. Lost homes and ravaged land. Another fire. Another. Most of them, human caused. An accident. And then an arsonist or two. This was the driest and hottest summer on record. But it won't be the last. Or the worst. There were long weeks of smoke so thick and low, you couldn't be outside without damaging your lungs. We lived in pea-soup for most of a month, and even when the wind finally shifted it rained ash for weeks afterward. My friend lost the corn crop on her farm. My peas finally produced pods and then shriveled up and died within a few days. But other life persevered. We find ways to carry on, even when the world around us is burning. 

There were crab cakes and coleslaws, hot dog stands by the lake and wine tasting in the shade amongst old vines. On the rare nights when the smoke cleared and the stars were out there were hours of constellation and meteor spotting. Each evening the sun set in a cloak of brightest scarlet and the moon burned a fiery orange. The full moon of late July became the Wildfire Moon, Ash Moon, Moon of Many Blazes. But even for the dog days, skies of smoke and soot, and blood red sunrises, there was magic to be made, food to grow, and reverie to find or create.

By August we were all so drought-stricken and weary you could have blown my entire village away with a swift puff of air - the sort of breath you reserve for birthday candles or dandelion seeds. As the month faded, rain finally found us. In the tiniest increments at first, but then more insistent as September dawned. I barely remember August at all, except for the taste of tomato and basil, warm from the garden, and a snapshot of an afternoon hovering over canning jars making pickles. 

Magical work waxed and waned, depending on exhaustion levels. Some weeks were all about altar service and offerings, and some days I only managed to light a candle or chat with an ancestor. Actual spellwork became something smaller and closer. Exercises in mind and body control. Hand movements and mantras. Breath and sound. There was no energy for grand rituals or vast amounts of ingredients and steps. In times of challenge my practice shifts to what I can reasonably manage, but that doesn't mean I don't get results. I found immense satisfaction with how smaller, more purposeful movements or sound could still bring about excellent outcomes.

September found me celebratory (another spin around the sun for this Virgo) and breathing more easily in the cooling atmosphere. The parched landscape had changed, however, and even rain couldn't refresh what had been depleted. The trees aren't blushing this year the way they usually do. Many of them had begun to curl up their leaves in the drought and they never really recovered. But there is a flush of true autumn across the land now, even if it is hardly as grand as it used to be. The season of long nights is upon us, and I am so thankful to have made it here.

This morning I could see my breath dancing in the brisk air. The scent of woodsmoke was over the village again, but this time it was not the acrid smog of forests burning. Someone had bowed to the cold morning and kindled a fire - the first of this new season. And I find myself hopeful again. 

Post Scripts and October Parties:

- If my writing here sounds like a mishmash of thoughts and tenses, it is because I have included a handful of snippets from started-but-never finished blog posts. I've had difficulty writing this year. Finding the time for it, as well as the mental bandwidth. It was more important to me to finally get something down than to make it perfect. I'm hoping you'll forgive any sub-par grammar this time around.

- A hearty thank you to all those who reached out to check on me or inquire about the blog. While this space has grown quieter over the past few years, it has not given up the ghost (there are so many more spirits to come). I am genuinely surprised and delighted when people take the time to read my words. Time is in short supply, and gods, it travels fast. I’m honoured when you spend even a few moments with me. 

- I am most found blundering about on Twitter or Instagram these days (and usually posting to those ephemeral Stories in the latter place). I’m afraid Facebook became too much for me this year, but I’ll be popping in more during this coming month of festivities.

- And on that note…The Great October Book Giveaway has returned! Bumped back a month last year to give me some extra breathing room, we are now on track to bring you some wonderful treats during one of the most deliciously spooky months of the year. Fly by on October 1st to join in on the fun!


Jennifer said...

I was just wondering about you the other day, and here you are! It's good to see you posting again. What a nice surprise this morning!

Erin Gergen Halls said...

I am so happy to hear from you, of you and your world, though it also pains me to know how so much has suffered and struggled around your neck of the woods. Sending you love across the miles.

Jennifer said...

Great blog post, Jen! Your writing is so beautiful and inspiring. I hope you write a book someday. :) Happy October!

Rue said...

Thank YOU, for coming back around! It’s nice to see you too, Jennifer.

Rue said...

Hi old friend. It’s an interesting new world here in the valley, for sure. It’s hard to keep us down for long though (mostly because there is too much beauty and good wine in these parts). Thank you for stopping by. I’ve missed you.

Rue said...

Ah, that’s so kind! (Especially coming from someone whose books are on my own shelves.) Happy autumn to you!

(And to anyone else who reads this comment - check out the series by Jennifer David Hesse or Jess Dylan - so fun!)

Ellie-TheForgottenMuse said...

I has been quite the year.
I've found it hard to write as well.
There just aren't enough words it seems sometimes.

My little garden struggled too with the heat.
A couple of things did well enough. Others didn't
survive, the ones that did barely produced. My
snow peas produced a few pods that quickly dried up.
The heat was just awful this year. All those days of
triple digits and no relief.

I'm so glad you were safe from the fires, especially one
so close.

Rue said...

Nice to see you, Ellie. I wish the year had been kinder to you. Hoping for brighter days ahead!

Sharon said...

Hi Hon,
Do you mind if I share your image of the Great October Book Giveaway and a link to your blog on my site 'October Tea Society"? Your giveaways are always so much fun! And I have tried making some of the recipes (with a bit of modification) in "Blotto Botany". The plum cordial is pretty good.

Rue said...

Hi! I don’t mind at all. Thank you! And there’s a package sailing it’s way to you right now! You should receive it any day.

Sharon said...

Thank you for the very lovely package! I received the precious gifts last evening! Maybe it's my imagination but I swear this doesn't feel as if we're in my favorite season of autumn -- this feels like summer minus the endless variety of fruit!

Rue said...

So happy it got there! We are having some lingering warmth here too, but oooh there’s some frost on the pumpkin this morning!

Debra Nehring said...

It was quite a year, wasn’t it? I’m so glad you’re ok and that you’ve survived the summer of 21. My garden managed to survive in spite of the heat, although the pansies couldn’t make it. And my peas were so sad. As a Virgo I’m so happy to see the fall colours and to feel the earth has shifted. Happy October, Jen!

Birgit said...

"Mental bandwidth" -- I have to remember this!

Happy October, Jen!


Rue said...

I’m happy to hear your garden did pretty well, Deb! I hope your birthday was wonderful, fellow Virgo!

Rue said...

Happiest October, Birgit!

Laura Morrigan said...

Your writing is so lyrical and beautiful, even when talking about dark things! Thank you for sharing!

Soli said...

I enjoy your posts no matter how frequent or seldom. So glad you are surviving through both the p a n d e m i c and the fires.

MrsDuncanMahogany said...

Ah this resonates with me oh so deeply. This year has been tough and strange and terrible and fraught with anxiety and worry. Hoping 2022 brings something better. For us all.

nese said...

Your writing is beautiful. I hope you continue to write and nurture this lovely space you have created here. Blessings to you.