Walking a Spell in the Wild

Notes on A Spell in the Wild:

First of all, I love this book. The writing style is beautiful and thoughtful, while still being completely relatable. She shares her insights through reflection and storytelling, mixing memorable scenes from her own life with practical advice, and a bit of history (with footnotes!). I feel like Alice and I are friends already, although we have never met. It’s been so reassuring to see certain things, from cultural touchstones to urban life experiences, being shared by someone who lives an ocean away.

This idea of interconnectedness runs throughout September’s chapter, but is possibly most succinctly stated on p34, during a discussion of the accessibility of foraging: “Every living thing is part of the same network: there is no opting out, but there are so very many ways to opt in.” I think that’s really what I’m trying to do with this new lesson plan. I’m finding ways to opt in. How can I create a sense of connection between myself and others, myself and the natural world around me, when I’ve spent so much time withdrawing? Moving, going through quarantine, and leaving my career have all enhanced my introverted instinct to stay inside and stay away, and those instincts have probably helped in some ways: keeping my family safe, allowing me space for reflection and creativity. But there’s no growth without challenge, and no challenge without risk. And there’s something missing if all of the work is internal.

Tarbuck also says, “Being out in the world connects us, bodily and truly, with the more-than-human world, and lets us regard ourselves as part of it, rather than estranged from it… It brings us into contact with unexpected things” (39-40). It was a wonderful experience this morning, for me to walk through my neighborhood (which does have some wooded paths, though the road is always in view) and just take the time to see things. September came in ten degrees cooler than August, and last night’s rain cleared a lot of the humidity out of the air. If I’d tried to start this appreciation a few days ago, it would have been a much shorter walk. As it was, I took my time, allowing my dog to investigate anything she found interesting, and I did the same. I didn’t gather anything, since I don’t yet have the knowledge to recognize what might be useful beyond its place in the ecosystem. But “there is magic in discovering,” and one of the most engaging passages in this chapter is about a nature walk that comes after a disappointing apple harvest (30). So, I found un-photograph-able spiderwebs that sparkled in patterns that reminded me of my son’s picture books, and tiny mushrooms that might secretly house Smurfs. I felt the air on my skin, and shared smiles with neighbors I have never met before, who all came to the path for their own reasons.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can find and learn through “careful study, knowledgeable friends, and a small degree of risk” (24).

Other quotes I found meaningful:

“Witchcraft is a way of looking at the planet” (8).

“Successful magical practice depends on understanding, inventing and marshalling a vocabulary of symbols that is personal to you, which can be set into configurations, whether in speech or ritual, to help direct your will” (13).

“We make magic the best we can, with what we have, acknowledging that everything in the world, from the most beautiful thing to the least, exists in relation to us” (17).

“For me, one of the most important things here is learning to recognise and value that which is usually overlooked by other people” (31).

“Witches do not overlook even what is ugly, even what seems useless” (44).

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