Utne Blogs > Literature

To Spot Urban Wildlife, Follow the Crow

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Great Writing, nature, wilderness and wildlife, birds, crows, Crow Planet, Lyanda Lynn Haupt,

Crow PlanetEver feel like you’re trapped in the city, exiled from your natural home in the wilds, longing for some deeper connection with nature? Yeah, me too. That’s why I’ve been enjoying Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s new book, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness (Little, Brown), which encourages us to attune ourselves to the wildlife that exists even in our paved and mowed urban landscapes. Haupt uses crows as a spirit-guide into the natural world, which goes against her instincts because a) she has a clear aversion to too much “woo-woo” talk and a hesitance to anthropomorphize, b) she sees the abundance of crows as an indicator of ecological imbalance, and c) as she states flat-out in the opening line, “Crows are not my favorite bird.”

Nonetheless, Haupt is irresistibly drawn to crows as she shakes off something that sounds like not just urban ennui but clinical depression. Getting herself out of her funk, she begins to explore her nearby Seattle environs with the expertise of an experienced birder, the sharp eye of an all-around naturalist, and the literary mind of a probing essayist:

When we allow ourselves to think of nature as something out there, we become prey to complacency. If nature is somewhere else, then what we do here doesn’t really matter. Jennifer Price writes in Flight Maps, her eloquent critique of romanticized nature, that modern Americans use an idea of Nature Out There to ignore our ravenous uses of natural resources. “If I don’t think of a Volvo as nature, then can’t I buy and drive it to Nature without thinking very hard about how I use, alter, destroy, and consume nature?” In my urban ecosystem, I drive around a corner and a crow leaps into flight from the grassy parking strip. We startle each other. If nature is Out There, she asks, then what am I?

Source: Little, Brown