Five Witch Comrades on The Mountainside

“How are everyone’s shoes?” I wonder, looking at my four witch comrades.

We all take a moment to stare at our shoes. Most of us are wearing shoes with proper rubber soles or otherwise sturdy footwear and so I suggest: “Let’s follow that path.”

It’s a small path that snakes uphill into the forest, still grey and pale from lack of foliage. But as we climb the path, occasionally stopping to catch our breaths and look around, we see that there are beautifully green and delicate ferns and plants sprouting through the blanket of dead leaves between the trees.

We eventually reach a crossroads of small winding paths. As my four comrades take a moment to rest, I forge on ahead to quickly scout out which direction would be suitable for us. Careful to step around any new growth as the awakening forest is still a little fragile, I see what could be a secluded clearing just a few metres to the northeast of us. As I turn around a rather large tree, a bird, clearly startled, almost flies straight into my face. I feel rushing air against my cheeks caused by the frantic beating of its wings. I let out a bit of shocked scream—bird in my face! bird in my face!!!—as I stagger backwards. As my eyes focus on the feathery blur in front of me, I watch as the woodpecker, wearing its dark blue and white feathers, perches on the nearest tree trunk, and eyes me. Alert, but weary.

We are both waiting in the slanted light of an early spring dusk. The sun feels warm against my bare shoulders. I don’t move, afraid to scare the bird further.

Eventually the woodpecker moves first, hopping up the tree with a flutter of its wings, and it doesn’t take long before I hear that unique drumming as it goes back to work.

Satisfied, I retrace my steps back to the crossroads, and tell the gathered witches that I have found the perfect place for our spell.

I fill a plastic 2-L water bottle with water, rose petals, jasmine flowers and blue lavender. I also put a few drops of Florida water into it. I let the water sit for a moment as we inspect the clearing and get comfortable. The small clearing we’ve found has been used before, as I find a beer cap in the ground, and put it away in my bag. We sit on dead logs and tree trunks which line the ground in a vaguely square shape. We pass around pens and paper and we write letters to the fire. We write letters to our bullshit. We write letters to the earth.

I’ve brought a metal bucket up the mountain—the bus driver as I left my neighbourhood carrying the bucket curiously asked me: “Y a quoi là dedans?” “Oh, rien pour l’instant.”—and we place it in the center, between the five of us. We fill it with braided sweetgrass and dead leaves, a handful of balsam fir needles, cedar bark, a few small dry twigs. I throw in a handful of dried sage I’ve been keeping preciously for years, that I’d received as a gift.

“Should we start? We should start.”

The woodpecker has moved on to a different tree further away from us, but we hear it still.

I reach for my matches, but then my comrade reminds me that we actually planned a specific order to how this would work. I put the matches away.

We are supposed to ground ourselves first. “Ground” ourselves, as in: remind ourselves of our place and our belonging to the ground. Belonging to our fleshy bodies. Belonging to this dirt and this earth. I take off my shoes. And I offer up a song. The others tell me it’s okay to sing. I sing “A Walking Song” or at least what I remember of it. I’m not good with lyrics. But then a plane roars somewhere above us as it crosses the heavens, and I snort: “Fuck planes.” And then my witch comrade sings out a long, melancholic version of “Fuck planes.” And then another one of my witch comrades sings out “Fuck cops.” And then: “Fuck the army surplus store.” And then, and then it becomes a cannon, a back and forth of song and giggling and delighted derision.

And so I reach for the bottle of water mixed with roses, jasmine and lavender, and I offer it up to my witchy comrades. I don’t recommend drinking the water, but hopefully if we douse ourselves or sprinkle some of this water on us, we won’t offend the spirits or the ancestors too badly today. I pass the water to my left, and it goes around the circle. We put it in our hands or in our hair. One of my comrades pours the water above her head. When it comes my way I shake my mane of hair out and cover my hair and my face and my neck with as much of the flowery water as I can. Refreshed from the humid, sticky hot air, I am suddenly brave enough to nearly yell out to the mountain, to the river, to the sky, to the ancestors to witness us. My comrades and I state loudly that we are standing upon unceded Mohawk territory and that this territory does not belong to us. My comrade calls to the moon, lesbian mother. It was the new moon not even a few days ago. A new moon in Taurus.

I notice a tremor in my right leg and in my left hand.

I pull my matches out.

The bucket becomes a fire pit.

We each take a moment to breathe and watch the smoke. The wind is blowing from the east, and pulls the smoke with it. It smells of summer to me because of the braided sweetgrass. Sweetgrass always reminds me of summer and heat, of driving along highways and the possibility of adventures. The possibilities of home.

We each take out the papers where we wrote our letters. Some of the comrades have wrapped and tied off the letters with strands of their hair. Some have wrapped them in leaves or around twigs. We each take a moment to ask the fire to burn up this shit we have been carrying around inside us for years, for decades.

Forgive or not forgive. It’s time to burn. Let go.

We chant “Burn, Burn, Burn” as we watch the fire engulf our letters. Our hurt. Our trauma.

Calcifer eats it all up. Greedily.

The tremor in my leg worsens.

Smoke and ashes.

The inside of the bucket is stained with it.

As we let the fire die down my comrade points out the woodpecker is still nearby, on a different tree this time, woodpeckering away. I grin.

We have all sat down now around the bucket-fire. The sun is nearing the mountain top closest to the west, but it warms us still. We thank the fire as the smoke starts to lessen drastically. This is one way of casting off baggage, of banishing our own miseries away.

We take turns with the bottle of flowered water again. We clean our hands and our foreheads, our heads and our hair. The water smells sweet—lavender and rose petals and jasmine together makes a really nice perfume, mixed with the smell of sweet grass and the smell of the woods in early spring. We take a moment to think about what we want to ask the fire, what we want to ask the mountain, and all the ancestors and spirits here. Some of us need more resilience, some of us need peace of mind. Some of us just need to feel safe again.

Despite the heavy topics at hand and the trauma shared, we laugh during this part too. Bad jokes and innuendo. My comrade needs to pee but doesn’t feel like peeing in the woods.

I look into the fire, and think of the things I want or need. I think of boundaries I need respected or of forgiveness I don’t know how to summon. Then, on the spot, it comes to me that I just need to write again. Write like I used too. Write regardless of motivation and inspiration. Writing poetry, writing fiction, writing a journal, anything! I used to write because I needed to work things out in my mind, and then one day I wasn’t doing that anymore and I don’t know how to stop being so frozen. It’s like stage fright, insidious and pervasive. I am so tired of writer’s block, of this existential or imaginative paralysis. I am so tired of judging myself all the time and coming up short: I’m not a good enough writer. I’m not a good writer. I’m not good enough to write in French. I’ve been indoctrinated into English. I am not good at Spanish. I’m not good at languages. I’m not good at writing. Not good enough. Not good. Not good enough. Not—

We watch the fire burn down, taking away with it all this shit that’s burning us up inside. Let it burn out something else. I breathe in the wind.

The woodpecker is silent. I look for it, but believe it has gone.

We listen carefully to rustling just a little uphill from us. As the sun is properly setting now, I wonder if it isn’t a raccoon poking its nose out. It might even have baby raccoons. But the forest looks still, despite what our ears tell us.

We pour the rest of the flower water into the bucket, and watch as it mixes with the cooled ashes. The bucket is a cauldron now, a weird soup of endings and possibilities that smells of burnt lavender.

We tear up the earth with our hands, gently moving away larvae and worms, wet and squiggling and fresh. We don’t want to remove any roots from the forest floor, so we can’t dig too deeply, but eventually we bury the contents of the bucket away: ashes of plant matter and water. Buried just deep enough to decompose very quickly.

I get up, my hands covered in dirt, and raise my arms, stretching. The tremor in my leg is gone. My hand no longer shakes. We decide to bid our goodbyes and gratitude to the land and the mountain, the ancestors and any spirits who might be hanging nearby.

I particularly thank this earth we keep dumping our shit into, this earth that loves us anyway and keeps us alive despite our lack of compassion and care. The earth that keeps transforming and reinventing. Decomposition. Renewal. Sprouting.

Spring.

The earth swallows the fire.

We are this earth too. I’m tired of the scorched earth and desiccation in my heart. In my mind. Hopefully we can bury what this fire has consumed within us, pour cool and cleansing water over it, and something renewed might grow. Something a little sturdier. A little more loving. Something that can help chip away at this cycle of trauma and insecurity that has dug its claws into us.

The spell is done.

The bucket, empty now but fire-stained, henceforth carries the name: Comrade Bucket.

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