UP IN SMOKE: Weedeater column by Nance Klehm (Arthur, 2012)

Up in Smoke

by Nance Klehm

Illustration by Kira Mardikes

Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (January 2013), art direction by Yasmin Khan

Reginah Waterspirit, aka Brown Dove of Albuquerque, told me this story. 

Her husband Bearheart had been reading from his book at a major bookstore in town. Afterwards he was approached by a woman who he’d noticed had arrived at the reading late. She didn’t ask any questions, just looked into his eyes and gave him a paper, folded up. He put it into his pocket without looking. Later in the evening, Regina asked him what the woman had given him. He had forgotten about it entirely. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper holding a yet-to-be-used teabag. So they put the kettle on.

* * *

We are in an age of contraction that has the potential to unlock hidden economies. We all carry the scars and burdens and gifts of our ways of being. Tension exists between our desire to connect and our need to protect ourselves. There is a disconnect caused by doing this. As my friend Bill Wheelock told me: ‘I am a post-worker in a post-work economy.’ And he is right on. We’re dang uncomfortable about this structural unemployment. We have been made more vulnerable now with loads of sticky edges and on top of that we feel constricted by our own eggs.

Since so much of what we exchange, or have within us, is difficult to value in market terms, how do we even begin to form new economies?

In the economic monoculture of money, money is traded for money and devalues large classes of goods and services. Goods and services have concrete value. Money is only worth what it can buy; and indeed, money is an efficient shorthand for distributing goods and services. In the ecological, non-monied world, economic transactions happen across kingdoms—Bacterial with Animal (lacto-bacillus and animal gut) and Fungal with Plant (yeast and sugar) are recognizable economies.

If someone comes to your door, you help them out. If someone helps you out, you show your gratitude for what they have shared with you. This is part of the hobo ethical code. This is also an economy. And maybe, this give-and-take rocks back and forth, creating a rhythm of more mini-economic transactions and a relationship is nourished into being. And, maybe, in this flurry of synergistic exchange, the original impetus to engage is lost. It’s from here that our new economies emerge.

Most economies now relate to information. Getting it from somewhere quickly and at no cost so we can pack our heads with it. Hit the internet and books all you want, but when you ask someone to share something garnered from what they have lived, whether they have lived it easily or with difficulty, following a path chosen or given, and from whom you have no prior relationship, no prior economy, you should come without empty pockets.

Even better, before you ask them, slow down and ask yourself if your question is really that important. The answer is frankly, most likely, NO.

But if the answer is YES, here is an urban-foraged weedy smoking mixture that you can easily find, gather, dry and mix yourself to later put in your pocket and pull out for payment or sharing when needed. 

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Arthur presents Sunday Oct. 18, 3pm in Philly: How to make herbal tinctures—a workshop with AEMEN BELL


(click flyer to enlarge)

Arthur presents

Wildcrafting Magical Elixirs
a workshop with Aemen Bell

Sunday, October 18

Just in time for Halloween…

Learn how to create and use your very own simple and edible potions! Using beautiful crystals, moon cycles and magical plants from your own backyard, herbalist Aemen Bell will show you how to play with the friendly energies of Mother Nature, and you will leave with your own Magical Elixir! We will explore and explain recipes to enhance Love, Dreaming, and more. Don’t worry: you don’t need to have any witchy experience—just come with an open mind, a little common sense, and a willingness to use your own very powerful imagination.

Space is limited to 24 attendees. Workshop tickets are available for $10 in advance, $12 day-of-workshop, as space permits. Reserve space in advance by

* sending $10 per guest via PayPal to editor@arthurmag.com, or
* handing cold hard cash to Jay or Brooke at 2037 Frankford; arrange ahead of time via email to editor@arthurmag.com

This workshop will be held indoors at 2037 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown (Philadelphia, PA 19125).

Aemen Bell is a Brooklyn-based herbalist, artist, writer, and unlicensed pet detective. She has been making potions since she first took an empty shampoo bottle out of the bathroom trash at age 4 and filled it with mud, rocks, and cat hair. She apprenticed under the lovely, patient and eternally knowledgeable Lata Kennedy of Flower Power Herbs and Roots in New York City’s East Village.

Aemen’s own line of Magical Elixirs, Praecantrix, is currently sold throughout the New York and Pennsylvania areas, and online at AemenBell.com.

She has been showing her art publicly in New York City since 2000, and her photographs were recently featured in the art book They Be We.

NANCE KLEHM on cougars, weeds and mugwort…

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 sprig 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.