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Beatrice Scescke Created A Nature Healing Haven In Chicago

Written by on June 23, 2022

“There’s a moment when people see the animals in a context that they don’t expect, and it is like this whole strange surrealist scene emerges.”

– Beatrice Scescke

Beatrice Scescke is the founder of Chicago Rewilding Society, a neighborhood dreamscape nature sanctuary stationed in Garfield Park.

Founder of Chicago Rewilding Society, Beatrice Scescke believes a nature oasis in the middle of the city amplifies joy and sparks a sense of reconnection with nature. The rescued animals include horses, goats and chickens and are meant to provide a feeling of connectivity with the humans they encounter. The animal-assisted therapy offers a symbiotic relationship — humans will produce oxytocin in themselves when they pet the animals, animals will produce oxytocin as they are being pet.

Located in Garfield Park, the Rewilding Society is a small haven of farm animals run by Beatrice Scescke.

Scescke has called various Chicago neighborhoods home throughout her life, including Ukrainian Village, Logan Square, the North Side and now, Garfield Park.

“Even though I’ve been here most of my life… I’m still discovering Chicago,” Sceske explained.

Scescke appreciates the many hidden secrets and unlimited adventures Chicago has to offer.

Inspired by her childhood trips to Kentucky, competing on the equestrian team in college, her agricultural major and touring internationally working with horses and goats in the circus, Beatrice soon moved back to Chicago because she found a vacant lot in Garfield park big enough for a couple horses to roam happily.

For this installment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Beatrice spoke about the origins of Chicago Rewilding Society, her love for the city, the importance of human connection to nature and more.

“I like that I will never, ever know all of the faces of Chicago and we can just, like, treasure hunt and adventure-seek and there will always be more.”

– Beatrice Scescke

Where are you from? Where do you live now?

When I was very young, we lived in Ukrainian Village and then my family moved to Logan Square. We were in Palmer Square. And then, when I was like 8, we moved to the North Side, around Devon and Western. I live in Garfield Park. I am just east and north of the park itself. 

What are the challenges and the triumphs you associate with Chicago? 

I feel like Chicago has so many different pockets that are, like, distinct and discreet from one another. And I like that about Chicago, too, where it just feels like secret after secret. And even after being here, you know, most my life — I’ve been gone in little spurts — I still keep discovering Chicago. And she’s so big that there’s always parts of her I will never know, and that opportunity for discovery and fascination and surprise over and over and over… I like that I will never, ever know all of the faces of Chicago and we can just, like, treasure hunt and adventure-seek and there will always be more. So that’s my favorite part of Chicago. 

I think the main challenge in Chicago is, like, a lot of the bureaucratic systems. That can feel like you’re up against more than you can even process, because it doesn’t feel sane or fair. Me, personally, I guess dealing with bureaucracy is the most frustrating part. The way that wealth is being concentrated. And that’s just, like, getting exponentially worse all the time. So many people and animals and everything just suffer as a consequence. So that’s really heartbreaking. ‘Cause I’m like, Chicago, you’re so beautiful

Along with a horse, mini horse and eight goats, Chicago Rewilding Society is also home to three dogs, a cat and a huge garden growing wild berries.

What was the path to founding the Chicago Rewilding Society?

My eldest dream was to have a horse in Chicago, and I think part of that is when my family lived in Palmer Square we had an apartment across from the square and I thought, “Ooh, we could have a horse here!” My mom’s from Kentucky, so sometimes we would go to visit her family and that was so unlike my Chicago family, because, you know, there were animals, there were woods. It was just a totally different flavor, a totally different place. People spoke differently. It was just magic. And I loved going down to Kentucky, and I was like, “We could have a horse in Chicago!” You know, as a little girl.  

When I was 18, I went to university there, and I competed on the equestrian team and I took riding lessons as part of my class curriculum. I was an agricultural major. I had a work study at the horse barn and I lived on the university farm. I’ve also toured internationally working with horses and goats in the circus, mostly as a lovely assistant. So there was some performance, but most of it was just like me shoveling, me maintaining animals on very small acreage, me touring with animals, making sure that they stay safe and healthy and exercised. 

And then I moved to Garfield Park because there were five vacant lots next to this house, and it was not inhabitable, but I was like, I don’t mind, I’ll live in a trailer in the yard. I want this because I want to get the five lots next to it to have a horse. And then I was here five years before I got the miniature horse. And I thought, let me start small and see how people feel about this. And the response was overwhelmingly positive! And then when I brought my full size horse here, again, I was scared. I don’t know, what people are going to think? And it was like magic.  It’s overwhelmingly positive. So that’s how it started, and that’s how I became emboldened to be like, “Let’s try with the bigger horse, and let’s try with the goats.”

Scescke leads the animals through the alley to the empty lot-turned-grazing-field down the street from their Garfield Park home as they excitedly parade out the back gate.

What does the work of the Chicago Rewilding Society look like?

There’s a series of [Light in the Night] events put on by the Garfield Park Community Council and the woman that runs those is a long-time neighborhood resident. She’d asked if I could come with the pony and do pony rides. And there’d be, like, bounce houses and dunk tanks and live music and bicycles and tons of kids. And it was just a blast. And the kids had a lot of fun, too. It was, like, really, it felt really special for me to get to witness a lot of people, not just children, but a lot of people interacting with a horse for the first time in this sort of like fear/attraction, sort of surreal moment that happens. And that felt really intimate and special.  

I liked that so much that we thought, “Okay, let’s start a nonprofit,” because at a certain point this becomes… maintaining these animals and doing volunteer work becomes something that’s a little bit outside of my personal ability, and my hope had been, “Oh no, I can just subsidize everything, I can just do it.” And then the reality is I can’t. We started Rewilding Society because I’m looking for support to be able to do more with them. Like, go into Chicago Public Schools, bring the animals and have like, are we talking now about waste management? Are we talking about life cycles? Are we connecting it with existing curriculum that the teachers are doing and, like, starting to weave them together, but in a way that’s really fun. 

“I think part of it is the strangeness that then drops us down into where we are now, and it starts to make everything strange…”

Beatrice Scescke

Why do you feel passionately about humans interacting with animals in this way?

As mammals, right, we thrive on touch. We’ve realized being in a pandemic and being in a quarantine how much we thrive on touch. There’s so many different theories, right? But, like, one is that when we touch each other, we produce oxytocin. They’ve done studies of animals that do animal-assisted therapy and they produce it, too. So in this way, it’s a symbiotic relationship where both are feeling better through the interaction. So on a really, like, base level, I think interacting with animals is therapeutic because of the touch component.  

Egypt the horse can be seen roaming the neighborhood basketball court with people on his back in many photos from the Rewilding Society’s animal-assisted therapy sessions. Mini horse Clover doesn’t typically give rides, but she does tarot readings on occasion.

We’re socialized to interact with one another physically in a certain way. We’re able to have a different type of embodiment, have a different type of socialization than what we’re normally conditioned to do. And I think that’s really exciting to be like, “Brush this pony, braid his hair, try it out. He’ll let you know right away if he doesn’t like it. He will react and there will be a physical reaction.” Now we’re learning about how to respond to non-verbal cues and to watch and to listen in that way. 

I also think interacting with animals is really therapeutic especially in a city environment, because they appear so strange. So there’s something that happens that I can’t explain, but there’s a moment when people see the animals in a context that they don’t expect, and it is like this whole strange surrealist scene emerges. And people often ask if they’re dreaming, people sometimes start crying. They say they can’t believe what they’re seeing. And then there’s this, like, tenderness that emerges where people want to touch them or just breathe their breath or smell how they smell and press their faces to their fur and say, “Wow, she smells so good,” you know? And it’s fascinating! 

Carmelo the goat was ready for his close-up! Carmelo is one of eight goats at the Rewilding Society — but by far the most social.

And I think part of it is the strangeness that then drops us down into where we are now, and it starts to make everything strange, where you’re like, “Whoa, I have a body too!” You know, once you start thinking about it, you’re like, “Aren’t goats so crazy? Look at their pupils!” Then you’re like, “Oh my God, I have pupils! That’s right! I’ve been walking around forgetting about this body, forgetting about your body, forgetting that we exist as animals!” And then suddenly, seeing the animal, that gets pulled up into the picture. And so I don’t know what that magic is, but there’s something. 

“On a really, like, base level, I think interacting with animals is therapeutic because of the touch component,” Scescke explained.  

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago — enriching us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Follow Chicago Rewilding Society on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more about the non-profit on their website.

Interview, transcription and audio production by Ari Mejia

Transcript editing and photography by Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Milo Keranen

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