Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
By Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown and Company
New York, 2009
I read Crow Planet in December, 2010, during my first quarter break at Antioch. It resonated deeply with me, articulating ideas I had only half-thought out: about the city, nature, the interconnections between them, and our connectedness to them. It opened a doorway to other authors and influenced the direction of my studies.
Rereading it now, two years later and at the end of my BA, a circle has been completed. I’ve taken in some ideas of this book so deeply they feel natural, as if I’ve always had them. I remember individual turns of phrases, eloquent aphorisms. But I’ve also forgotten important lessons it offers about observing nature in the city, which in many cases is the study of the very obvious – crows, moss, weeds.
Crows’ intelligence and omnivorous diet has allowed them to prosper from human disruption of the environment. Their problem solving ability has been well documented, and so has their ability to recognize individual humans. It’s also likely that you’ve seen them play in high winds, swooping and diving. They’ve been observed sitting with a dying crow in a crow hospice and mourning the dead. They eat French fries as avidly as they eat roadkill. It’s pretty likely that crows will adapt to whatever humans do to the planet.
Which brings us to one of the main points of Crow Planet: their wildness and proximity can allow us to draw a connection between our cities and nature, a connection that for whatever reason we ignore. As Haupt points out, global warming means there is no place on the world unaffected by humanity. Conversely, there is no place where nature does not intrude; there is no crack in the asphalt that doesn’t have a weed growing through it.
This is a very important time to reacquaint ourselves with the connection between us and the world. Haupt explains that there are two Greek words for time: chronos, which means the regular succession of time (as in “chronology). There is also kairos, “‘the appointed time,’ an opportune moment, even a time of crisis, that creates an opportunity for, and in fact demands, a human response. … We live in such a time now, when our collective actions over the next several years will decide whether earthly life will continue its descent into ecological ruin and death or flourish in beauty and diversity.” (7)
Crows provide the opportunity to see the wildness and wild life that abounds in the city – that the city, in fact, is a zoöpolis, a meeting of zoo and polis, and is far from tame. This wild life might be thinner than in old growth forests, but it is inescapable. And it’s not only that nature and the built environment are entwined, but that the borders are permeable – from mud tracked into the house or a fly that came in through a window, to a hurricane flooding a city. “We are incapable of isolation. Every time we sip wine, feed the cat, order pizza, watch Survivor, every time we do anything, anything at all, we are brushing, however surreptitiously, however beneath our awareness –however, even, against our will – a wilder, natural world. Such awareness is simultaneously daunting and beautiful. It means that everything we do matters, and matters wondrously. More than we thought, more than we can even know.” (122-123)
It’s impossible to be isolated from nature, even in the densest urban environment: On a recent tour of the NuCor steel plant (West Seattle) I saw a scraggly bodleia bush, dusty blooms hanging heavily (I thought it was beautiful). It’s also impossible to be isolated from people, even in the most remote environment. Who made the 3 ounce tent you sleep in? Who made the freeze dried food you eat? Who made the water purifiers?
Haupt says this connectedness can be a mystical experience, and I agree with her. It can truly take you out of your skin and into something bigger, something wholly other, uncaring but containing everything. Being aware of this connectedness, and how much damage we’ve done to it, can bring one to a sense of deep despair. But this isn’t just a time of doom and gloom, this is also a time of kairos.
This opportune moment can lead to great despair – I’ve felt it. It carries an awful weight, as the doom’n’gloom scenarios become increasingly relentless. But Haupt chooses to dwell in possibility, to make room for it, to see her contributions as valuable. And that’s the path Crow Planet has inspired me to walk as well, however well or poorly I might.
Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.