Today I read a Seattle Times article bragging “If you weren’t born here, you’ll never be one of us.” I read one just like it a couple years ago, and another one a couple years from THAT. It makes me sigh because if the author was really exercising the nature-loving, homebody Pacific Northwest traits, the article would have started and ended at, “I was born here.” “Good, now keep that to yourself.”
The comments following the article became a who-was-born-here-first tennis match. Everyone agreed the native Northwest tribes like the Duwamish were here first…and then they get back to arguing.
Still, the article got me to thinking about my own little slice of earth here in Washington. I live in one of those old rambler homes that sacrificed house size for lot size, so my backyard is part lawn, part jungle, and very green.
There’s an enormous evergreen tree straddling the line between my yard and the neighbor’s yard, which is a sudden 8 feet lower than my lot. It’s held up by stubborn tree will and prayers, since if it crashes down me and/or my neighbor are screwed. I consider this tree the representative of the land. This may sound odd, but I feel more wariness toward the smaller spirits of the lot than this massive one. At least this one I always know where it is, right?
This place is my home base. Despite how long I’ve lived here, I am still learning about the spirits of place here. Some things I have learned about the relationship between me and the land:
-I’m attracted to the concept of growing my own food. Not because I’m a hedgewitch (I have no strong inclination toward it), but for basic survival. The ground is wonderfully fertile here. I managed to grow four tiny onions last year. More like onion bombs; I had to flee the room after cutting one of them and rinse my eyes out.
-My closest animal allies appear to be insects and some birds. When I have addressed the spirits of the land, I found a few more bees around me afterwards, including one quite large that I hadn’t seen before or since. Birds like chickadees and robins hang around my lot more often too. I’m pretty chill with honey bees, and will plant more bee-favorite flowers/crops this spring. I even had a wasp neighbor that used my yard as a watering hole. Really!
-Though I live on this land and get to reap the fruits (literally) of its abundance, the relationship between me and the other spirits is one of caution and wariness. Blackberry bushes have owned much of the yard before it was cleared out, day by day, by me and my brother. They’re still around, and sometimes I really do feel Their eyes on me, especially if I’m in the yard as it’s getting dark. They spread their runners everywhere, their stems grow at near 90 degree angles for maximum entanglement. Their thorns will snatch at you when you cut them down. I fight fair; when I do clear them out, it’s with a blade and not chemicals.
-I’m still juggling the sense of land spirits with the Canaanite gods. The land spirits were here first, so it seems that when I have given thanks to Ba’lu Hadad for his rains, or Athtar for helping maintain the cultivated side of the land, there’s an affronted ‘what about Us?’ Well, I think I could thank Them more properly as well if I didn’t feel so scattered and ignored addressing Them!
-Since I started disposing of my olive oil offerings in the yard, I’ve included the land in gratitude. Standing on the hill edge, smelling the wet leaves, I get the sense of timelessness, of standing on ground on borrowed time. Other things crawling just beneath my feet, me scurrying from work to home on the skin of the Earth. I think that the land is getting more familiar with me, not just as an intruder in spring and summer. I still have to cut those blackberry bushes again…
So, that author might have been onto something with the Pacific Northwest character. The land spirits ARE there, but keeping to themselves. Well, even if I’m not always welcome (especially when I bring my shears out), I can be a little more neighborly.