Invite the Wild Neighbors to Dinner
by Nance Klehm
from her Weedeater column, originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)
Charismatic mega-fauna are really taking it on the chin these days. They look great on posters and t-shirts, but don’t let them walk untethered through town!
I was quite upset when, in April, a mountain lion showed up in Chicago, and was shot seven times by the police. I too have always felt a bit conspicuous and unwieldy in the city.
This cougar traveled hundreds of miles to get to Chicago. Perhaps it knocked out a few slow squirrels or stray cats when it touched on the interminable sprawl of Chicago, or Milwaukee, or even Rockford, Illinois, but there were no human attacks. Of course, there could have been—but there wasn’t.
Last year, also in Chicago, a coyote showed up in the refrigerated beverage section of a downtown sandwich shop. After 45 minutes, and after several people-customers took pictures of it with their cell phones, animal control showed up. The coyote was given an overnight stay at a suburban wildlife rehabilitation center and released—probably back into the suburbs.
Most people around here are asking why these animals show up in huge metropolises. I think a better question to ask is this: Don’t you ever feel like one of these animals?
Mountain lions are both protectors and nurturers. They are loners and independent types. They stand for something quite formidable. Heck, they’re lions! It doesn’t seem like city folk are ready to live with such animals. Most have fear rather than respect for them. Lots of fear. Some reasonable. Some not so much.
So, if you feel like you’re a big cat in the big city, how do you protect yourself from being shot?
Perhaps it would be better to adapt the strategy of a weed.
Weeds are plants that were once valued and cultivated but now have escaped cultivation. Some have been further domesticated into a more mild form now recognized as food. For instance, our lettuces are domesticated variations of wild lettuce.
Weeds are really good at hiding in the open. Their secrets are kept close in their invisibility. Their numbers are always spreading.
Be a weed:
thrive no matter where you are
make your own food and oxygen
make soils better for the next inhabitants
send out a gazillion seeds
reincarnate frequently in unexpected places
I want to introduce you to mugwort—Ms. Artemesia vulgaris. She is widespread in the United States. Mugwort pops up in both our urban and rural settings. She is downright plentiful and ready for you to use. (Note: if pregnant, please do not use this herb. Read more about it first.)
Artemis, the Queen of the Beasts, was a wild one. She was an extreme hunter and friend of forest beasts. Artemis found mugwort and delivered it to the centaur. Forever after, it has carried her name.
I recommend you look for Artemesia vulgaris. And when you find her, gently trim a piece and dry it, then simply burn it in a saucer and inhale the smoke. This plant is a protector from evil as well as an aide to communication with the plant world.
Native Americans, Asians, and Europeans have used this plant medicinally and as a healthful culinary herb for hundreds of years. In Europe it was used as the main bittering flavor for ales until cultivated hops took over. My friend, Tree, just shared some of his herby mugwort ale with me while we munched on some homemade cheese. Sweet. Mugwort is used in moxibustion. In acupuncture, this is the smoking punk they hover over your acupuncture points. It draws blood to the skin’s surface and unblocks your body’s meridian points of stuck energies.
Fresh or dried mugwort also repels insects, cleanses your blood of toxins, promotes sweating, and reduces tension. Lastly, you should know it has some of the same properties of its mysterious cousin of a different species (any guesses?).
Mugwort is also used for lucid dreaming. Cut a spring and put it under your pillow or tuck a sprig into your pocket for protection. Burn some before you settle into an evening outside. Smoke some before you go foraging or before you lie down in a meadow for a nap.
Maybe it is time we invite these charismatic mega-fauna and not-so-charismatic weeds to the table. Set a place for them. I am not talking about putting them on the menu at some upscale restaurant so we can create a demand. I am simply proposing we let them walk through town. They can take up shelter under our porches or feed off the extra bunnies.
Speaking of weeds, please do serve them up, drink them, smoke them, learn about them and love them. Find an overarching but examined respect for them. You should, because the mega-fauna and weeds are already here or on their way.
While riding my bicycle by the train line recently, I saw the ghost image of the big cat out of the corner of my eye. It emerged from the alley and then ducked back in. In other words, the cat’s spirit hasn’t left.
Nance Klehm is a radical ecologist, system designer, urban forager, teacher, artist and mad scientist of the living. She has worked in Australia, England, Scandinavia, the Caribbean and various places in the United States and Mexico. She is a promoter of direct participatory experiences.