CUTTING TALL GRASS

It was the summer I couldn’t pay rent and went hiking instead. I wasn’t homeless. I had an address. I had a passport. I wasn’t living on the streets. Not a social case. Not looking for pity here. I just didn’t have enough money. That’s all. 

At first it was a joke. I didn’t mean it when we were sitting in the pub, pints in front of us. It was funny. It was meant to underline the fact that I had hit a wall. That I should be looking for a job. A paid job. Money. Anything. Really. And then it became true, I think as I’m standing in front of the white sign with black letters written on it spelling: Coastal Path. 

The rain is dripping on my neck, my dog Filou looking at me, the same way I feel: Miserable. It hasn’t stopped raining in days. I take a picture of him and the sign for later, when I’m home again and able to pretend that somehow this moment was worth taking. That I am fine. That it was in fact fun, something you can post on instagram #nature #breath #exploringthewild. But for now I am not sure. 

My shoes make squirting noises due to the fact that they are soaked with water. I guess trainers are not really appropriate footwear for hiking. I guess hiking boots would have been appropriate but also too expensive at the moment. This is going to be a cost-cutting action I had to remind myself browsing through the shop earlier this week looking for a raincoat. If we could afford fancy hiking gear this would be a nice holiday trip. If we would have made better decisions in the past we would be in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe Festival. But we are not. We are here. Just you and me Filou. He snorts in agreement. 

Nature is free. At least in Scotland. Wild-Camping is allowed when followed by certain rules. A thing that shouldn’t be a privilege but definitely is one. Coming from a country where nature is very restricted by paragraphs and council laws it feels like freedom setting up my tent almost anywhere I want. 

The first night I sleep on a cliff. I wonder if it’s dangerous, if I should know these things instinctively, if my body should tell me automatically in which direction to pitch a tent, like how it knows how to breathe: It doesn’t. Not really.  All I sense is: Maybe not so close to the edge or I might fall off. 

As I lie there listening to the rain, making note of any unusual sound, Filou close by my side I try to avoid thinking about men. Because somehow I’m really not afraid of any women entering my tent. I pet him always repeating in my mind that he would tell me if someone was coming. I think of the knife I brought with me. I put it beside my head. Just in case. I remember I have some wire with me too and start to tie the zippers together so the tent can’t be opened from the outside. I watch the zippers for a long time as they rattle along in the wind and I start to worry about what might happen if I need to get out really quickly. If there’s a fire for instance or murderers, rapists, thunder storms, being struck by lightning, murderers, murderers, murderers till finally my brain shuts down.

When I wake up I find myself calm. Nothing has happened. I know the night has ended. And for that all my fear is somehow gone. As if nothing bad could ever happen in broad daylight. I untie the zippers and look at the sky. It’s still quite dark but there’s a glimmer of sunlight at the bottom of the horizontal line. I sit cross-legged in my sleeping bag enjoying the change of light from orange to pink to violet and blue. I realise it has stopped raining. The most beautiful goji berry sunrise in front of me. 

– It is worth the fear at night I think as I pack up. Following the coastline looking at the sea carrying wave after wave. One of them brought me here a month ago. 

 –

I’m writing in english now. Already assimilating myself to the new situation. I wonder who is really speaking? Whose language I am using? 

We are at sea. In front of me a calm ocean blue. The sun rising some feet above. It’s beautiful as it’s banal: The sun also rises again and again. The sound of waves and the engines merging into a symphony. Breathing in deep deep with a pinch of salt. I’m in transit. Somewhere between Amsterdam and Newcastle. Alone on deck. My thoughts stretching wide. Maybe I will find a home in Edinburgh? Maybe I will stay forever? Later that morning we’ll sit here again and have scones with clotted cream, lemon curd and J. smiling at me, smiling at the sea. Talking about how the best way to travel to Scotland really is by ship. And I think that is all the more true an hour later when we sail into the bay. Two lighthouses guarding it on each site. „Mouth of the Tyne“ it’s called. Swallowing us, our hopes, our tired excited bodies. I cry a little behind my sunglasses. How does it feel to write in english? – Strange. New. Poetic. 

 –

There’s a sign saying that I should be looking out for badgers. They are nocturnal so I’m not worried. Maybe a little, as I’m walking through the wet grass cutting my legs, drenching my cord trousers. Badgers I vaguely remember are these animals that you think are nice and harmless but probably aren’t. Like sheep. 

Sheep are not nice folk! And there are a lot on the costal path. Hardly surprising as this is Scotland but as I am not from here this is news. The dimension of how many sheep are a lot of sheep is news. 

Now someone might think that sheep are nice if you leave them alone, don’t get too close and behave normal. Which essentially means they are alright with you, if you pretend not to exist. Now I don’t know what your definition of the word „nice“ is but for me this behaviour is better described as „hostile“. My dog Filou is nice. He might not like you, he might be afraid of you but you can still touch him. Now that is nice. 

The problem is just that the sheep seem to think otherwise. And I’m not sure how to convince them that they’re wrong as we approach them slowly at the highest point of our journey so far. There on the narrow path up the peak of a hill they are standing, waiting, not knowing that they block the gate. The gate I have to walk through to continue. To my left there are rocks and to my right is a long way down the cliff.

This could possibly be dangerous I sense as I pull Filou closer to me. I am kind of hoping he turns out to be not very nice if this will get gritty. I was always very proud that he almost never barks but now I’m kind of wishing he would make a sound so this so-called flight instinct of the sheep could finally kick in. As for now they form a phalanx coming towards us. These sheep had some military training I think. They mean business. They’re not backing down. Everything is literally slow motion now. I make a step. They make a step. We stare into each others eyes. I think of ‚Babe‘. A children’s movie from the 90ies about a piglet called „Babe“ that is raised as a sheepdog, actually thinking it’s a dog. Very cute movie. The sheep hiss at me. Or at Filou. It’s hard to tell who they dislike. And also it doesn’t matter.

There’s this very important turning point in the movie „Babe“ where the piglet has to perform his skills at a sheepdog-show trying to convince the sheep to move into a fenced area. Babe almost fails but then somehow his friend – a dog or some other animal – tells him the secret way of talking to sheep. It’s like a prayer. I vaguely remember the beginning something like „Oh you great sheep“. I’m very close to performing that prayer now. 

I hold Filou even tighter and make another step, when finally the sheep start running away from the gate, running down the hill some feet next to me. I run as fast I can. I only look back after I make it through and onto the other side. The sheep aren’t even looking anymore. They already started grazing again. That’s how they fool you. Grazing and being all fluffy. Pretending nothing ever happened. 

A sheep’s mind is probably a nice thing to have. They don’t seem to over-think. They’re present. I am also very present now as I look at the black screen of my phone. Later I will caption a photo of Filou with majestic cliffs in the background with the words: Last photo before my phone died.

I’m standing on the highest point of my journey. I can see the hills from a far where I had walked three to four hours ago. They seem so distant now. I wish I could leave my past just as easily behind as this landscape.

Wandering gets you questioning. Blisters on both feet keep you grounded. Every now and then I’m wondering about my flat, which technically isn’t my flat, as I’m just renting it, which technically makes me renting it out to other people a thing that some people might call „forbidden“ or “illegal” but I try to avoid that thought. Especially now that it’s already done, I try to have more constructive thoughts. Like: Why am I here? or What is the point?

Excerpt from “CUTTING TALL GRASS”

Doing witchcraft at your parents home – A report.

Frank Cadogan Cowper: Vanity, 1907.

I knew I had to do it. It felt a little ridiculous, a little bit like I was fourteen again, hiding in my  childhood bedroom, afraid of getting caught. But after all that’s where I actually was: In my old bedroom at my parents house, on my knees, my hands clenching a piece of ginger. 

A large piece I had cut from the root downstairs in the kitchen that my Mom specifically had bought to make „fresh“ lemon and ginger tea because that was what her „cool“ mid-twenties daughter drank now all the time. It was the Christmas holidays and I had come to visit for a week. 

If my Mom would have walked in on me that instant she’d probably would have questioned my sanity like I was in that moment (only a little bit though) because after all what was the problem anyway with a little witchcraft? 

I had unsuccessfully been in love for six months now: I had cried (a lot), deleted their number (five or six times), blocked and unblocked them from seeing my Instagram stories (every other day depending on the content). I had tried and failed and texted again. Still there I was longing and thinking and hoping (I’m apparently quite an optimistic person I found out during the whole process), hoping  so much that eventually they would fall in love with me, too. 

– They did not. In fact I had to admit to myself that they were just polite and friendly because that’s what we were: friends. Which made it hard to be distant and rejecting because they did care. Just not in that way.  

I do know that now, I said to myself over and over again, telling it to the ginger root so it would understand and suck this stupid love out of me. Take it, I said. Take it away from me. 

The website where I found the ritual said I’d have to visualise all the pain, love, thoughts, memories I had with that person and imagine it to flow into the root. I had found the ritual by googling and picking the first promising headline „How to get over someone and invite new love into your life“. That sounded great. All it required was a piece of ginger, a spell, a black thread and black cloth (the cloth I ignored, because I guess it’s the thought that counts right?). 

I’m doing witchcraft how I’m doing everything in my life: I’m winging it. I don’t think magic cares about the right colour of candles that’s just consumerism! 

I also had written a letter meant to be spoken out loud and later to be burned. So the ashes and the ginger could quite poetically be layed into the ground afterwards and like my feelings be put to rest.

As I looked into the flames, cautious not to start a fire on the new carpet my parents had put  down several years ago after I had moved out (!) I wondered if they could smell the smoke downstairs. 

Vivid memories of my Mother appearing out of nowhere asking me if I had, sniff, sniff, burned some candles in my room came to mind. Somehow she always knew when something was going on. 

„Do you really believe in that?“ She would ask occasionally when I showed an interest in tarot cards or other esoteric shenanigans, always recalling her own teenager-years when she was also interested in witchcraft, but making sure to stress the point that it was something to grow out of. Anyone beyond sixteen still believing or practicing any spells were to be eventually go insane and/or loose all their money by buying crystals. 

Now that I’m older and not impressed by other peoples opinion as much as back then I wonder if she realises that she’s been paying tax for about 40 years now, she and my dad, both of them paying tax towards an institution they actually do not even believe in and if that’s not really concerning? 

Whatever. I think, as I sit there. If it helps good. If it doesn’t, didn’t hurt. Did not burn the carpet in the end. So. 

I guess in that sense me and my parents are still very much alike. We’re very practical about things. My Mom likes to go to church on Christmas Eve because she likes to meet the people, sing out of tune to the way too high-pitched Christmas songs and bring home a candle lit by the light from Bethlehem. It’s tradition. It’s something to do between sitting in front of the TV all day and getting up to the dinner table. It separates the before and after. Without it there’s no coming home to my dad who always stays having prepared the food, the table, the lights on the Christmas tree. 

But I do wonder as I walk away from the family the next day on our traditional Christmas walk in the forest: Why do I need to hide the fact that I – in some way – have my own kind of religion? A religion that I would not even call that. More like: Things I like to do, that seem a bit more interesting and beautiful to me than listening to an old dude in a funky toga reciting passages from a book that is not that interesting and also mostly misogynist to begin with. Things like burying a ginger root in the forest. 

Or holding a funeral ceremony for the relationship after I broke up with my boyfriend some years ago. Me and a friend dressed up all in black, I bought red grave lights, black veil: The whole thing was very goth. 

I loved it. We drank vodka cranberry for looks and taste. I read a letter, that I burned and after that we roasted marshmallows. I need rituals to deal with life. We all do. We all have them. We might not necessarily call them so. 

There is a distinction between the morning coffee (good) and drawing a tarot card to predict the day (bad). And there’s especially a distinction between people creating their own belief and patriarchal christianity. I know this. It’s not news. I’m not the first to realise how a practice founded by women has been frowned upon or worse in the witch trials even been a death sentence. 

It’s not news at all. But somehow I never connected this with my own life with my own mother. It didn’t occur to me that by forbidding certain beliefs or practices she actually was just an instrument of the patriarchy. After all what was so wrong about spending money on nice and shiny things like crystals and believing that it will help finding love or inner strength or happiness? If she thought they wouldn’t work anyway why did it matter? What was she so afraid of? 

„I actually had to swear off the devil“ my old friend from school tells me as we walk down the main street in our small town one night after Christmas. Catholics. They were at least quite imaginitive. „Can you believe that?“ and we’re both laughing at the sheer paradox of our upbringing. „ I mean THE DEVIL!“

In the end it’s not about certainty it’s not about knowing, I think as I’m sitting on the train returning home for Hogmanay. What you believe in and who is right. It’s about having the choice to believe without my mother rolling her eyes at me. It’s about being open to the possibility that there might be something out there helping you. I’m not sure what that exactly might be.  But it’s more fun for me to sit on a train looking out the window, thinking of that ginger root withering away deep down in the soil of the forest, dissolving. 

So that soon one morning I’ll wake up and like magic my love will be gone.

Excerpt from: “CUTTING TALL GRASS”