December 16th, 2013

me meh

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild

By Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Illustrations by Tracy Noles-Ross
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

Crow Planet introduced me to the idea that nature and the city or built environment are intertwined in a way that we don’t usually acknowledge. Her idea is that we have to acknowledge this twining because the decisions we make here affect the entire world.

She returns to that idea in The Urban Bestiary with a different tack: writing a contemporary bestiary of the common urban creatures, many of them considered pests, which we might see on a daily basis but dismiss due to their familiarity.

The medieval bestiaries included the myth, folklore, and what passed for scientific knowledge of the day. The Urban Bestiary incorporates all those elements in three main sections: The furred, the feathered, and the branching and rooted.

The chapters of the three sections each consider one (sometimes two) subjects, looking at their ancient folklore, current scientific knowledge, and perhaps most important (and no more accurate than medieval science) contemporary folklore. Moles, because the mounds they create are unsightly to gardeners, are considered pests. But they aerate the soil, eat grubs and insects that would eat the plants, and generally improve. A mole in a garden is a sign of a healthy garden, but gardeners will go to great, expensive, and futile lengths to try to eradicate them.

Every chapter has several examples of the facts challenging contemporary folklore about an urban animal, and Haupt frequently has her own preconceptions challenged. The idea is to learn about the lives of the wild life that surrounds us, how we interact with it and how it has adapted to us. But more than just the bare facts, to share their lives – there are sidebars in every chapter on identification of tracks and scat, how to look for an animal and what to do if you find one. As we learn more, we bring these creatures closer to us.

And as we bring these creatures – the neglected, the uncharismatic, the pesty, the unseen – closer to us, we bring ourselves closer to the web that weaves among us all.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.