Witchy Woman

Crafting a future of homemade mushroom tea and monarch butterflies

By Christine Grillo

My 15-year-old daughter implores me to brush my hair.

“I just brushed it,” I say.

“Are you sure, though?” she asks. 

I’m pretty sure. I mean, sure enough. The truth is that my hair never really looks brushed, and while she had moderate success getting me to experiment with anti-frizz products, she could never get me to commit to using one.

She takes a brush out of her bag, smooths my hair and takes a picture for posterity. 

My daughter recently suggested the possibility that I’m on my way to becoming a witch. She might be right. It wasn’t intentional, this transformation. Well, maybe a little intentional. She presents the facts. Exhibit A: I knit, crochet and fold origami cranes. Exhibit B: I am trying to build a frog pond in my back yard. 

The list goes on and includes such items as the fact that I make kombucha, and that I talk not entirely in jest about the feminine energy of oceans and the masculine energy of rivers, and how sometimes I need my energies balanced. I can usually tell you without looking up at the sky which phase of the moon we’re in, and I can always tell you how long it will be until a solstice or equinox. Also, I throw a winter solstice party where we burn pine tree branches to send sparks of light into the total darkness, which I refer to as the void. 

And of course there’s my hair; weekend garden chores often leave me with twigs and dead leaves tangled up in it.  

I’m tempted to tell my daughter that all of this is mild compared to what I have planned for my true dotage. The kombucha and the knitting? It’s Witch Lite. I hope to spend many hours during my golden years squatting by the outdoor fire to relieve the back pain brought on by a lifetime of sitting in chairs. I’ll be surrounded by beautiful hens, which I’ll raise in part for their eggs, but if we’re being honest, because they’re such beautiful and weird creatures. There will be goats, and I’ll develop a pretty good goat cheese game. I’ll grow mushrooms on lengths of tree logs, blue oyster and shiitake, and I’ll make delicious stir-fry and mushroom tea. The lawn will be long gone, replaced over the years with amazing mosses collected lovingly—but not in a damaging way—from various hikes.

In the spring evenings I’ll sit by the fire and listen to the frogs. On summer days I’ll listen to the cicadas and in the evenings I’ll listen to the crickets and katydids. In the fall I’ll collect monarch butterfly larvae by the dozens from my plots of milkweed and release them when they’ve emerged from their chrysalids so they can fly away to Michoacan, Mexico—assuming their habitat still exists. And, naturally, in winter I’ll burn pine needles to make the air smell good and send light into the void. 

I should probably learn some spells and figure out how to make witch’s brew. Then again, I might be able to accomplish this by humming a mantra as I meditate and learning to make homemade wine. The broomstick will be a challenge; I don’t have a whole lot to do with brooms. But I think I can follow through on the funny hat. As for wearing black, screw that. I’ve spent 30 years wearing black (and gray and beige and brown), and I intend to go down wearing colors like goldenrod and scarlet. 

My daughter dyed her brown hair black, and I was surprised by what a difference it made. She looks older and exotic, like a young Frida Kahlo. Someone at her high school told her she looks like a witch. I wanted to know more. How do young women think about witches these days? Are they warty, lonely hunchbacks living on weeds and bark, or are they counter-culture, independent beings living outside the patriarchy?

“Was that a compliment?” I asked.

She doesn’t know, and she doesn’t care. Apparently, the statement—be it praise or insult—washed over her like so much useless fluff.

“Maybe we can be witches together some day,” I say.

Already she’s forgotten that we’ve ever had a conversation about Witch Life. She gives me a look that says she finds me a little pathetic but also vaguely amusing. Usually in these moments she wants to film me and post the footage to social media, like those videos of kids still under sedation after getting their wisdom teeth removed. 

“You think you’re a witch?” she asks.

I hedge.

“Well, sort of,” I say. “You said I was.”

“Did I, though?” she asks.

“The kombucha, the frogs….” I say.

Now that she’s two inches taller than me, she likes to stand really close and look down at my head. 

“That’s so cute,” she says. “Look how short you are. You’re going to be a cute, short witch.”

And that, it seems, is that.

Christine Grillo writes about health, parenting, people and human rights for a range of publications. Her fiction has appeared in The Southern Review, StoryQuarterly and other journals. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars she is a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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