Thursday, August 6, 2015

Witchduck. Chanterelles.

I had an incredibly full month, July, and I take a camera with me almost everywhere I go, so I'm swimming in photos and stories. It's a good problem to have. I'll never get caught up; I know that, now. It's okay. What a blessing to live so hard that there's no time to blog about it.

At the very beginning of July, my high-school friend Carlena and her family came to visit. They were in and out for a week, having devised a most brilliant plan to not only visit with us but also use our home as a jumping-off point for family exploration. We didn't follow them to Washington, D.C. for the weekend of July 4th, but the following week, Jim took a couple days off work, and we followed them to Virginia Beach.

I loved this beach trip for many reasons that boiled down to our families' working really well together. The first day, we were all together on the beach, but the second, Cade and his friend Andrew opted to return to the beach with Carlena's family while Jim and I took the little kids elsewhere in the area. (Jim and I are in perfect agreement that one day on the beach, especially in the hot center of day, is plenty enough for each trip with little kids.)

I wanted to visit Old Donation Episcopal Church, Virginia Beach's first church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. In putting its address into our GPS, I wondered at the road name: Witchduck. There has to be a story, I thought to myself. And sure enough.

As it turns out, the road is so named because it leads to the river in which, on July 10, 1706, a woman named Grace Sherwood was tried as a witch via "ducking." Sherwood, an attractive, land-owning widow and midwife, used herbs to heal both people and animals. (Virginia Beach legend suggests that all of the rosemary in the area comes from a single plant that Sherwood carried over from England in an eggshell.) The accusations against Sherwood likely stemmed from jealousy, greed, and/or the human tendency to reject someone different or not easily understood.

Despite Sherwood's insistence that she was a healer, not a witch, her thumbs were tied to her big toes, and she was ducked into the river. After Sherwood floated to the surface (indicating "guilt"), the sheriff tied a heavy Bible around her neck. This caused her to sink, but only until she untied herself and floated again to the surface. She was declared a witch and jailed for years.

In 2006, 300 years after the ducking, Governor Tim Kaine restored Sherwood's good name, making Sherwood the only deceased Virginian ever exonerated of a crime. We visited her statue, which had been sculpted by Robert Cunningham and erected across Witchduck Road from Old Donation, Sherwood's parish church, in 2007.

Chip's red, plastic sword--a 25-cent, thrift-store find--is by far his most prized possession.

Old Donation Episcopal Church

This whole learning experience reminded me: it pays to be curious. Sometimes, it really pays. I was likely thinking this--also of Grace Sherwood's foraging--when Boone Week took me down a mushroom-laden trail. Which of these mushrooms, I wondered, are edible? I had no idea, so the children and I touched nothing. But after a couple days of researching, I felt confident that I could safely identify yellow chanterelles, so I went alone into the woods and gathered a mess of them. I cleaned them, sliced them, convinced Jim to sautée them in butter, and ate them every one. (Jim wouldn't eat any.) They were delicious. I did not die or even get sick, and I have since made a plan to learn and forage more. What an amazing summer this has turned out to be.


  1. Interesting post, Brandee!

    I'm too chicken to forage/eat wild mushrooms...berries and ramps are the only wild edibles I'm comfortable with.

    Did y'all go to Tennessee and eat ramps this past spring?



    1. We didn't. We haven't been to Tennessee since the holidays. I'm hoping to be able to make a trip down, next month. We'll see.

  2. Hello, friend. Very interesting post. I've heard of the Salem witch trials, of course, but not "ducking" or Sherwood. Lovely sculpture, especially with the three added adornments. ;) Look at Chip's red hair!

    Mushrooms have never appealed to me, but even if they did, you are braver than I would be to eat wild ones. Glad they were tasty and you didn't die!

    I'm thrilled to hear you've had an amazing summer. May your August be just as fine.