Lyanda Lynn Haupt, The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild (New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2013), 352 pp.
Getting to know the neighbors
When you live in an urban environment, there are many things to deal with: pollution, traffic, noise, and other people going about their business. Another public nuisance is the ever-growing presence of urban wildlife. Whether birds or mammals, they encroach on our yards, our gardens, in our homes, and threaten our pets. Humans have devised many ways to control these critters, most to no avail. In her latest book, Lyanda Lynn Haupt seeks to turn around our usually negative impressions of urban animals and see them as neighbors and visitors worthy of our attention. The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild is a defense of animals that essentially share our homes with us: from coyotes and moles and raccoons to pigeons and crows and owls (as Haupt describes them, The Furred and The Feathered). Each chapter shares general natural history, worldly mythology, and encourages us to be kind to our “gracious co-inhabitants.” She also includes chapters on trees and humans; unfortunately, perhaps due to space, The Scaled and The Segmented are not included. Haupt drives home that urban animals are simply doing what is natural: being animals. And like us, they are only seeking food and shelter and protecting their young. Considering that it is human activity that pushes us into closer proximity with wild animals and that our sacrifices are small, are our wild neighbors really asking for too much? [This review was originally written for the Portland Book Review.]
On September 26, I was lucky to see Haupt read from The Urban Bestiary at Powell’s City of Books here in Portland, and have her sign my copy. In the summer, she had requested submissions of urban wildlife photos through her blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages to use in a slideshow for her book talks (here’s the set). I sent in this shot of Patrick and a squirrel making eye contact in our front yard (from August 2011):
That same day, she was on OPB’s Think Out Loud discussing the book in “The Wildlife In The Backyard,” and Earthfix’s Waypoints blog discussed the book in “Our Messy Relationship With Urban Wildlife.” Haupt also wrote a blog post for the Powell’s website, “Celebrate Fiercely: Creative Life in Wild Cities.”