The best city parks are in-between places, where moss and mud meet asphalt and architecture. My favorite city park is actually more forest than city: at over 5,000 acres, Portland’s aptly named Forest Park is one of the countries largest urban forest reserves. And yet the modern, human world is present all over the park.
The park is only partially wild. On my favorite trail, the sounds of birdsong and rustling ferns compete with the sound of cars on Germantown Road and the voices of people who come to the woods in pairs for exercise, chattering ceaselessly as they walk.
And, sadly, the overlap between humanity and the forest is almost always marked by litter, and the introduction of invasive, non-native plant species like ivy and English holly. Sometimes the in-between places are just as uncomfortable as they are beautiful.
It’s a feeling I’m familiar with. We witches are often inhabitants of the interstices between wild and domestic, between light and dark. Unlike witches in the old tales, we rarely live in cottages at the edge of the wild, or in carved-out cultivated spaces in the midst of untamed forests. More often we reside alongside everyone else, apparently immersed in culture and society. Our existence at the periphery tends to be more energetic and psychological than geographical. But for me, at least, it is still keenly felt. I find myself, more often than not, a little bit out of step with the world around me.
It’s the price of moving back and forth from one world to another. Spending time in multiple realities changes us. At times I feel like I don’t fully belong anywhere.
But familiarity with the neither-nor is part of the work of the witch. Because the unknown, the other, inevitably bleeds through into the carefully structured lives of those who aren’t equipped–and usually aren’t inclined–to interact with it. And when that happens, people need a go-between. Many will go to priests and pastors. But a few will come to us witches, psychics, or shamans for help. Some of them won’t understand the etiquette of the in-between. They will stomp around and leave litter behind. But they need our help, and they need our kindness.
How often I wish I could throw all the city dwellers out of the park. But that isn’t how it works. Trees and magic aren’t only for the deserving. Try to control who has access to them, and you step into dangerous, potentially unethical territory. (Not to mention the question of what makes someone “deserving” in the first place.)
Perhaps city parks are perfect training grounds for modern day witches. We can’t control the parks completely, and we don’t get to say who is in and who is out. What we can do is embrace the work of the overlap. Learn compassion, learn flexibility. Pick up the litter others leave behind without cursing them for their carelessness. Resolve to be the best friends and champions of these places as we can be. Embrace the challenges of being intermediaries between worlds, and most of all remember we do it for a reason. Remember to enjoy the beauty and blessings of the between.