This Dusty Earth: Witchcraft in the City

A blog about mental health, magic, and the cycles of nature in parched Los Angeles.

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Radical Hope

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Last night I read the news about Cape Town, and then dreamed that my garden died.

I live in a condo in Los Angeles, so my garden is small and fragile and mostly in containers: calendula and tulsi and borage and lemon balm in pots and window boxes, selfheal that's dying no matter what I do, jasmine and passionvine that twine around each other in bombastic friendship, nasturtiums that cascade in a curtain of friendly little circles. Baby blue eyes and violet seedlings growing in a flat. Cleveland sage in a pot, since the soil is mostly clay, and sagebrush and California fuschia in the ground, since they can tolerate that clay. I had to fight with my building manager to put plants in the bare dirt behind the building, even though I'm on the HOA board; status quo bias is so strong that people trust ugly cracked ground more than they trust small, quiet plants. (I won the rest of the board over partly by telling them my unit's property values are suffering because of the eyesore that is the dirt. In reality I don't care much about the property values, but a witch uses the tools in her toolbox; she shapeshifts when she needs to.)

The borage I'm particularly proud of; no nursery around here sells it, so I planted seeds and protected them from squirrels and caterpillars and other pests until they grew into thick, robust plants now brimming with flower buds. In the dream, the borage was gone. There was one leaf left, I think, wilted and lying in the dirt. I felt so sad and defeated as I dribbled some water into the bare pot. I was angry that I'd put in so much work and love only to see it all destroyed.

The dream was multilayered, but it was partly an expression of my deep self's fear for my home. California is heading back into a drought, and the LA basin is one of the most parched areas of all. If Cape Town is running out of water, will Los Angeles follow? Will I have to watch my beloved plants--plants that are medicine, beauty, companionship, habitat, food--die while my family portions out our water rations? Will we be climate refugees? This morning my husband and I had a serious talk about getting out of LA while we can. We talked about climate change. We talked about the murder-suicide our government is committing against the world. We cried.

This morning I came back to a line that Junot Diaz wrote a year ago: "Radical hope is not so much something you have as something you practice." I've taken solace in that line many times over the past year. Despite my fears about water, I'll be buying more seedlings this month to put in the ground: more sagebrush and fuschia, since the ones I got seem to be doing okay, some penstamons if the nursery has them in stock, and my most exciting new companion, an elder tree. It feels dangerous, putting down money on more mouths to feed when I'm not sure I'll be able to keep caring for the ones I have. But these plants are threatened species that need homes, and sometimes our bodies urge us to keep trying, keep fighting, even when our minds tell us it’s hopeless. Listening to that urge is radical love. Acting on that urge is radical hope.

I honestly don't know what will happen to Cape Town, or Los Angeles, or Syria, or all of the other lands threatened by climate change. I don't know what the world will look like on the other side of this catastrophe. I keep stubbornly, perhaps foolishly growing plants not just for the present, but for the far-off future--a future in which maybe, incredibly, I'll have played a microscopic role in keeping a species of butterfly alive, or remediating the land just enough to carry it through to the next epoch. This line of thinking feels fantastically naive, but my body urges me forward. As Rebecca Solnit has said more than once, the darkness and inscrutability of the future isn't always a bad thing. Not knowing what's coming can ward off despair.

May all the beings in Cape Town survive and thrive and be well. May the future bring an earth renewed, healed, and whole.


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Asa is a sliding-scale tarot reader, intuitive, and witch blending pellar craft with animism and earth-based Judaism. Instagram: @theRedTailWitch


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