Today’s poem is dedicated to a special demographic. For those unaware, Accomack County is one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Virginia. Tangier Island, one of our treasured communities, is safe, but if the pandemic reaches its shores the results could be devastating. I’ve been a Bull Islander and a Shoreman, and by that, I am blessed.
Ode To The Chesapeake Bay Watermen
We go out in boats Catch the sun’s morning rays In nets and crab pots Tossed over the sides Into brackish green depths These channels – our roadways Through marshes and creeks The bay feeds our veins Where we have sewn seeds Young oysters – new reefs Repairing pollution To save our way of life Our houses on stilts (As sea levels rise) Overlook a world over water And ospreys laugh songs We bring in our bushels To markets by shores Sell seafood by dozens No quotas or weights And pray to a God For mercy and hope In the next hurricane There never been Noahs In the many Great Floods But still, we are People of faith
Thank you so much for reading my poem today! If you found its words meaningful, please consider liking, commenting, and/or sharing it with others. Truly, I am grateful for the time you spent reading my work.
Well, that’s a loaded title! In this post I will be answering some questions that have come up during discussions on writing techniques I use and my own personal practices. I promise this is less scary than it sounds to those that are already nervous. With each question I am going to discuss how the topic influences my writing and how it is all part of the tools that are useful in writing, meditation, and introspection.
What Is A Hedge Witch?
A hedge witch is a solitary individual practicing Hedge Witchcraft. If you want to be silly about it, think of someone that really likes playing with rocks, trees, sticks, and plants while practicing mindfulness in everything they do. Let’s emphasize the intense, solitary study of plants and their unique properties. The image conjured is meant to pay tribute to the wise woman that lived as a hermit on the edge of a village or “beyond the hedge”. The idea being that they found “magical intent” in everyday routine and the natural world. Like a fine wine, they age uniquely into the perfect storybook character: my life goal.
That said, I’ve always been someone that has trouble with anything that could possibly be defined as “magical thinking”. I have concepts of what is and is not ethical, and prefer to break something down into its smallest part – understanding the systems that govern it from the inside out, or bottom up depending on who you’re talking to. I want everything to be evidence based and peer reviewed and it turns out that a lot of what I consider to be magic has very little to do with what many would consider religion. Nothing in this practice has anything to do with worship, rather it is devoted to the study and understanding of a natural world.
Is It Like A Hedgehog?
But I have heard of hedgehogs being tamed and kept as pets and the name comes from a similar etymology relating to “hedge”. Also, Jacob really likes hedgehogs.
Do You Make Magic Potions? How About Herbs, Plants, & Tea?
When I lived in the Castro of San Francisco, I worked as a clinical herbalist. This meant that I worked with a lot of terminally and chronically ill patients looking to regain their autonomy wherever they could by replacing supportive medications with herbal equivalents supported by peer reviewed research. I worked with pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to ensure everything these patients used was safe for them and no critical/essential medications were ever replaced. This was not *that* kind of place and we were absolutely not a dispensary. For clarification, at the time in the state of California clinical herbalists could not practice with medical cannabis products due to separate regulations, nor did I want to deal with the liability and legal grey area. This never stopped random people from stopping in and asking if we sold anything that could get them high, at which point I had to direct them to a sign that specifically said if they asked that question they were required to leave the store. If the individual had a medical card in the state of California, did not ask that question, and was simply confused, I could direct them to other businesses within the same neighborhood.
The active compounds in plants are sold in 3 primary ways: dried matter, distillation, and infusion. Dried matter is ground and prepared based on how the active compounds in the plants are best extracted: fat soluble vs. water soluble. This has to do with chemistry I don’t need to get into here. What it comes down to is that many patients elect to consume their medicine by drinking custom compounded tea.
Having worked in agricultural research and alongside herbal medicine practices culturally practiced throughout my life, I loved this job and was sad when the location I worked went out of business due to high rent prices in San Francisco and the low profit margins associated with these types of products. Where I worked was replaced with a high end shoe store that I doubt helped any AIDS or cancer patients.
I recently assisted a friend with an herbal combination and it reminded me how much I love this practice. People often forget how much control they have over their own symptom management when it comes to chronic conditions and it brings me joy when people take that back with something like using chamomile for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder under the supervision of a trained medical professional (see peer-reviewed double-blind placebo controlled studies 1, 2, 3).
Plants are a major focus for pharmaceutical discovery. Some people forget that the majority of medications on the market are derived from natural products like plants, their endophytes (such as Taxol from yew trees and salicylic acid from willow bark) and molds. Through ethnobotanical studies, the study of how cultures around the world use plants, we gain insight into medicinal compounds derived from plants. The synthetic products we see on shelves are often based on these natural products that may even have been viewed previously as poisons. The dose makes the poison, after all.
While reading “The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle, I immediately understood the significance of a character consuming copious amounts of parsley. For the same reason, I found a friend of mine’s lifelong infatuation with parsley mildly humorous. Let’s be honest – who doesn’t like parsley?
Though I no longer professionally work in this field, I enjoy plants as symbols in writing and I pay attention to how authors choose for plants to be used in their stories. I sometimes talk at great lengths about this to others if they make the mistake of asking. At least now you can make an informed risk!
Tarot Cards, Oracle Cards, And Rune Stones
I have always been fascinated with divination, but not for reasons beyond self reflection, meditation, and helping me see the world in a new way. I don’t believe that any of these tools can predict the future. Instead, I think they can help the viewer gain personal insight into potential outcomes of their own actions as well as new understanding of the past. There’s no “magic” to this beyond what someone creates within their own mind. Think of it like creating a structure or system your brain can map information onto.
I guess there is something magical about personal insight. That feeling of epiphany when you make a connection that you didn’t previously understand. I admit I may be addicted to that feeling to the point I constantly seek out new information and incorporate it into my world views so I can change and adapt. The personal insight gained from any 5 card spread or runic cross is not dependent on the actual cards or runes drawn though. It’s entirely dependent on the willingness to see the interpretation and how it is relevant to you. What pieces of your life in that position (distant past, near past, present, near future, distant future – or however you lay the cards) match this symbol? The beauty of this is that there are no situations where someone could fail to gain personal insight unless they choose not to.
I like to combine three methods because I think this provides the most input to think about and it’s the most helpful when it comes to helping me write. I’ll explain that more in a bit.
Crystals? Scientific Magic?
I love rocks. It’s a family trait. My sister has this amazing gigantic geode slab in my nephew’s bedroom and while I’m not a believer in crystal healing, I do love that before the age of one he’s already the fourth generation to love rocks. Our grandfather was a geophysicist and taught us geology. One of my favorite subjects tended to be how heat and pressure could cause crystalline structures to form. I’ve always been really into molecular structures and how these invisible forces govern the universe. When I look at shiny objects, that’s what my brain is reminded of: invisible forces governing the universe. That glitter.
I love the sciences and am a supporter of science education. I believe the sciences are forms of magic we can often see with our eyes. We can use the sciences to predict the weather, understand the universe around us, and transform matter from one state to another in the same sense that the original chemists called themselves alchemists. If ever there was a way to believe in magic it would be through the study of the scientific fields. Many forget that this is the origin of magic – a pure wonder and pursuit of understanding of the mystery that is our existence.
How Does This Help Break Writer’s Block?
I mentioned that I like to use tarot cards, oracle cards, and rune stones in writing. I find that it’s particularly helpful in cases of writer’s block and will use the results to outline a story. I’ve considered writing on this topic in depth with more examples, but I’m not sure how it will be interpreted by communities that take these practices as communication with a spirit realm, or a number of other more religious focused forms of these practices. I have no intention of conveying disrespect.
I spend a significant amount of time building the settings in which my stories will take place, so any “divination” for the multiple characters within those places helps to decide which of these characters are going to be involved. Sometimes this is more interesting and provides better direction for writing than pulling character names out of a hat.
One of the unique aspects of this practice is that the meditation and personal insight do not go away when I’m using a tarot spread. Instead, I am projecting the epiphanies I have into whatever I’m outlining and creating.
It’s important to note that this is all in the pre-writing, outlining, and drafting stages. I doubt anyone can actually tell I’ve done this when they read my writing because all references are removed and replaced with the insights that they provided – that’s the point.
Is This Appropriative?
This is a loaded question. I’ve read numerous arguments about the use of tarot cards, oracle cards, and rune stones by themselves as cultural appropriation or not being cultural appropriation. I have seen those that argue it is only appropriative if you wear the costume of another culture that is not your own, while others argue anything purchased from a new age store is appropriation and that all new age stores should be burned to the ground. That article was a bit on the scary extreme side and I’d rather not provide traffic to any blog actively calling for violence and/or arson.
Others argue that imitation is the grandest form of flattery and we should embrace multiculturalism, or else those of European descent are left with practices that are historically governed almost exclusively by that which survived the cultural slash and burn of European history written by the “winners” (aka Christians). These practices themselves are problematic in their own ways and are the same ones that were forced on many indigenous populations. While there are some out there working to revive and focus on the mysticism of early Europeans that generations of conquerers attempted to erase (Hi Sean!), be gentle – they’re working with limited historical information and nothing is that simple.
In regards to my spirituality, that is a very complex topic for me. Philosophically, I have been a practicing Buddhist for 15 years. I do not believe in reincarnation. I do not hang Tibetan prayer flags, nor do I plan to take any pilgrimages that end in a hammered Sanskrit tattoo. I do celebrate some of the holidays privately, though I do not apply for religious exemption from an employer for them. These are my personal decisions.
Keep in mind that there are entire religions founded on multiculturalism, such as Unitarian Universalism. You can see their official statement on appropriation here.
Does This Include Things Like The Age Of Aquarius And Wicca?
History time! The Age Of Aquarius refers to “the current or forthcoming astrological era” that follows The Age Of Pisces. According to some, The Age Of Aquarius started in 1844 with the founding or the religion of Babaism. I don’t put any stock in astrology. I know many have fun with it. I’m not judging those who do. I’m not someone who picks out the astrological signs for each of my characters. That said, this is an absolutely valid technique for character building.
In regards to Wicca, the phrasing is a little inside out. The set of practices used by a hedge witch, and the use of divination tools are included by some in their practices, but I am not Wiccan by many definitions. I am not a member of any organized group, nor do I seek out others. I am also not a writer on these topics. That said, if you are interested in reading about Wicca and spiritual awakening, I recommend checking out Jessica Baumgartner’s books, articles and essays!
Does This Have A Greater Meaning To Me Beyond Writing And Meditation Techniques?
I love plants, rocks, and the natural world. I love the magic that science reveals. My undergraduate major, after a few changes, settled on plant biology. I love ethnobotanical studies. And I love writing.
Beyond bringing together things in my life that bring me joy, no, it doesn’t have any greater meaning to me, but it’s all relative. Where and how do you rank introspection and meditation that reveals new connections and information?
But You Have A Black Cat?
I have a black cat because I like black cats. It’s that simple. No deeper meaning. Nyxie is my precious, talkative little house panther. That’s it.
This year I had planned to be in Savannah, Georgia at Bonaventure Cemetery spending today with you and Grandpa, preferably with my parents or one of my siblings.
You convinced me to keep writing when I wanted to give up.
You told me I could succeed.
You would have been 95 today. We celebrated our birthdays together: yours today and mine tomorrow.
At the time I thought it was weird that I didn’t have normal birthday parties. Instead, we had a big family dinner together on July 9th and then we’d do something together on July 10th. Sometimes whatever we did involved whatever children my family could scrounge together.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized this was a birthday party, just not the kind of birthday party most American kids have.
What I hadn’t realized was that every year you celebrated me being your birthday gift.
I was your surprise baby. Your impossible baby.
The story goes Mama was sick Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu A five month flu Impossible flu
Two kids to chase Two kids to follow
Too Sick, Too Tired Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu
Doctor came in the room Test Results Read “Impossible” She said
Ultrasound Boy’s Name Father and Grandfather Dreams Come True Finally The fourth with their name
Grandmother’s Birthday Too Early Don’t Be Born Baby — But Mama can’t stop me Born Just After Midnight July Tenth Belated Birthday Gift
But That’s Not A Boy
No One Agrees: Laraleigh – Laura No, Lo
Being born premature in 1989, my mother did not want to take baby pictures of me in an incubator where she could not hold me. She did not want to have pictures reminding her of what I looked like hooked up to a heart monitor and a ventilator with various IV bags flowing into me. She did not want to remember the hours and hours where she wandered around a hospital screaming because the nurses lost track of where they put me and forgot to tell her anything about my condition.
Seriously, you kids born premature after 1990 had way higher survival rates. One of the reasons my mom didn’t take baby pictures was because she was advised not to in case I didn’t live. That’s the sort of stuff women were told would be psychologically better for them in the 1980s. I swear my mother is one of the strongest women on this planet.
Because of this, I didn’t see a baby picture of me until I was 30 years old – this past February/March while visiting my parents. In the picture, I am almost 6 months old and my grandparents are holding me after my christening service at St. Matthews Church.
I didn’t see the photograph Until age 30 Grandmother and Grandfather hold me [The red brick of St. Matthew’s Church] Smiling- Laughing so hard Their faces blur
The only baby picture
Mama didn’t want to remember: Wires, tubes, monitors, screens
I don’t remember them either.
In my early twenties, I asked my grandmother for a picture of her and my grandfather for my birthday. I’m terrible at asking for anything, especially if it is something the logical part of my brain has deemed superfluous. What I didn’t expect was this.
It’s a picture of my grandmother and grandfather at Armstrong College in Savannah, Georgia. At the time, my grandfather, having just returned from World War II, was finishing up a Bachelors of Science in Meteorology. My grandmother taught chemistry. They fell in love with teaching, scientific progress, and each other.
They were the types of people that had trouble sitting still.
My grandmother was academically fascinated by her heritage. She honored her connection to the Douglas clan, but I would not call her proud. Often, she focused more on the deep connection it provided her to faith. Her expressions of spirituality changed so much even over the 27 and half years I knew her that it’s hard to say what she believed. What I can say is that she believed in showing endless love, patience, and understanding. We selected her favorite prayers and passages to include on the prayer cards.
What I want every person reading this to know is that though I have only spoken of a few moments, 91.5 years is a long time on this planet. Lillian danced through those years with a love of music, chemistry, objectivity, compassion, education, and love.
The last two gifts she gave me were her engagement ring and her last words.
My grandmother wanted to experience everything there was to experience on this planet. She liked to say, “Heaven Is Here On Earth.” She did not live an easy life – in fact, quite the opposite. Her life was by far full of emotional hardship.
The Last Memory
Restless loblolly pines We sit Dry docked green aluminum jon boat He laughs with goofy faces Old spice arms envelope me Binocular eyes
“That’s the Hale Bopp Comet” His voice is shimmering moonlight on bay water His presence is my father’s smile
He still wears that 1970s brown and tan puffer jacket A flare orange dog whistle on a braided leather cord I taste fried fish tails Bay water drains off the hull
My fathers hold me together The child meant to be the fourth with their names For that moment I belong
Together they point to stardust Teach me constellations How to find my way home If I am ever lost at sea
My grandfather died in 1997 in the doctor’s office while getting dressed after a physical. He wasn’t feeling well and in between classes he managed to get seen. He didn’t make it to his afternoon lecture. In October, he would have been 100 years old.
She never remarried, but she was not broken. She mourned the loss of her best friend and celebrated his memory every chance she got. My grandfather loved fill-in-the-blank style Hallmark cards and writing her love poems. What I didn’t realize until I was a teenager was that she kept all of them and read his words every time she missed him.
Now, I find myself doing the same thing, even with her final words. My birthday buddy can never be replaced. I will celebrate her 150th birthday in 2075 just as I celebrate her 95th.
They said she’d never play piano again Hematoma Right side CAT scan looks bad
We came to visit at the wrong moment Right moment The nurses couldn’t find the cell phone number They wouldn’t let us in the room
We’d spoken to her that morning We said we’d see her soon
You were out on the boat Knee high in male bonding Falling in love the only way Our family knows how
We finally got you on the phone But you never hung up
At 91 and a half You and I argued You insisted she was clear
We moved her to hospice We prayed she’d tell us that we were wrong
Later that night I sat alone with my other mother She squeezed my hand “I’m not ready”
She never spoke again.
As I conclude this memorial, I thank you for taking the time to be here with me. I recognize that it is not easy to be with someone in mourning. I recognize that it is increasingly unusual in America for people to grow up in a multi-generational child rearing situations where they and their siblings form these close bonds. Because of this, real family, the family that sticks by you and unconditionally loves you, will be my first priority in life for as long as I live. That’s what we were taught by our grandparents and our parents. I hope that this is a legacy my siblings and I can carry on.
With that, I close this with love to all members of my family.
“A good name is to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” – Family Motto / Proverbs 22:1