Probably Not Peaches
by Nance Klehm
I wrote the following last October—I’m sharing it now because in this new year, I feel there is an urgent call for us to get grounded in our actions and intentions…
My egg economy fell out on Monday. All of my quail and all but one of my chickens were killed by a predator with dexterous digits—one that can turn a latch and pry chicken wire away from an armature. (Probably a raccoon, not as rare as you might think in urban Chicago.) Their headless, half-eaten bodies were strewn about the garden. Prolly, aka P-N-P, aka Probably Not Peaches, my one remaining hen, is in a liminal state of health. She is hovering. I am sitting in my bathroom with her. She is breathing deeply, sitting on a bed of straw in a small cage with a dish of her favorite foods nearby: scrambled eggs with crushed egg shell, raisins and chickweed. This food has remained untouched.
I live with animals and plants. It is my practice and lifestyle to grow, forage preserve food, make medicine and build soil. This practice of mine is an economy in and of itself. It sustains me and I am also able to use it to create other economies that create other relationships with people and sometimes ones that pay the bills. I use aesthetic strategies to illuminate and frame this lifestyle. Curiously, the art world casts lines to my practice and I am offered exhibits and asked to perform. I engage this economy skeptically and try to identify the cracks that allow me to expand beyond it.
From the back of her comb to her shoulder blades, Prolly has been scalped. I am surprised she is alive and holding onto this compromised state of being, but animals are like that: they continue to persist even when they’ve been knocked down a notch or four. I rub honey with finely chopped yarrow into her rawness. I hold her in my lap and loop energy through my heart, into my left arm, through her, into my other arm and then into my heart again. And I keep looping this circuit. It occurs to me that I am allowing myself to be increasingly late to my own art opening.
If Prolly could think abstractly, and who’s to say chickens don’t, what would she say about ‘economy’? The word ‘economic’ directly follows ‘ecology’ in many dictionaries. In mine, the Oxford Pocket American Dictionary of Current English reads:
ecology / economic / economical / economics / economist / economize, economy / ecosphere / ecosystem
All these ‘eco-‘ words framed between the unlikely bookends of the bacteria ‘e.coli’ and the color ‘ecru’ come from the Greek oikos meaning “home.”
“Ecology” is about the quality of relationship of a community of organisms and economy is about the wealth and management of resources of a community. Ecology is a self-perpetuating economy. There is a cyclical give and take and give once again. I am a homesteader. I follow these cycles.
Prolly breathes long and heavy. I take advantage of this and drip watery eye droppers full of blended chicken soup, molasses and bee pollen into her beak. She drinks each dose and then suddenly flails herself from my lap.
So I go to my art opening late. I mill about distractedly. I am taken to a boozy dinner with the curator. I do my best not to growl. I get home at midnight and sit in the straw and drip feed my chicken until we both nod off.
After five days, Probably Not Peaches let go. When I returned home, I paused at the door and asked her if she was there. And she said “no.” And she wasn’t. That night I gently planted her to feed the witch hazel.
Prolly was in pain, but I didn’t kill her. I wanted to care for her after the trauma and in caring for her, I entered her time completely and our communication was clear.
I am feeling immensely hopeful that some of us are already engaged at that clear, belly-churning level, and others are reaching for it. The Earth has shifted on its axis and the light is coming back to the northern hemisphere. It’s time to drop deeper into our particular places and get busy. So I leave you with this distillation:
Situate yourself sensually.
Contribute to your inhabitation.
Embody your economies.
Can you feel it?
Nance, I was so glad to see you in LA last month. Its inspiring to know strong women making it on the economies offered. Even more inspiring to know the ecological impact you have and will make.
Will try to live up to your distillations
wow, this is what i have been looking for,,like the here and now. im going to spred this to all my friends.
just choping wood, and fetching water.
i’m actually gettin’ the sense that the next decade won’t just be another dress rehearsal for the apocalypse like the last one was. actually doing the work here and now instead o’ endlessly “setting examples” is sounding pretty good right now.
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Nancy – you bring out the beauty of dirt and animal friendship. I loved this piece.
With Nance’s permission, I’d like to let you know that a version of this essay was previously published in the free newspaper project “Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics”. All of the articles in this newspaper are readable (and the paper itself can be downloaded in several different ways, for free) at http://www.artandwork.us. Yay Spontaneous Vegetation!
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I’m so sad about the predator/prey dynamic that took such goodness. Seriously needing tissues.
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This piece spoke to me…I recently had to deal with a half-dead young bunny my dog had mauled and left proudly at my doorstep. My wife in tears, I took the bunny to the edge of the woods behind my house and gently suffocated it before burying it in the ground. I struggled for days with my predicament, which holds a second, complicated layer of animal-human interactions, with my beloved dog being the attacker of this helpless creature. I couldn’t look at my dog for hours but slowly came to terms with her “dogness.” The memory of the bunny’s kicking legs haunted with me for days. Hope I did the right thing.
ahhhhh. this is quite sad and beautiful. you did the right thing.