Words

The Nature of Writing

Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s urban bestiary

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I live in a home on the outskirts of Bellingham, nestled between Galbraith Mountain to one side and the Whatcom Creek corridor on the other. It takes me less than 10 minutes to reach the heart of downtown, and yet my neighborhood feels removed, bucolic and even a little bit wild.

My yard is full of squirrels by day and raccoons at night. Deer wander the neighborhood, feasting on the shrubbery without fear. At night I can hear owls and frogs calling, and daytime brings a parade of flickers, chickadees, varied thrush, juncos and towhees to my feeder. Though I haven’t seen or heard them yet, I would be surprised if coyotes and bobcats weren’t patrolling just beyond the edge of pavement.

This wildness continues into downtown: salmon pulsing up Whatcom Creek every fall, peregrine falcons hunting pigeons on Cornwall, seals hauled out on the edges of the shuttered mill.

One of the goals of Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s new book, The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild is to explore the overlappings between our settlements and the wildlife we share these places with. More than a field guide, the literary form Haupt has chosen takes the full measure of an animal: “Entering a bestiary,” she explains, “we cross the threshold into a world in which our imaginations, our art, our bodies, our science, our mythology, all have an exuberant place.”

Through extensive research and personable prose, Haupt uncovers both the natural and cultural history of several species we tend to take for granted because of their oftentimes pesky proximity to our civilization: moles, crows, opossum, pigeons, starlings, rats and even backyard chickens.

“It’s my passionate belief that daily connection with the natural world makes us healthier, more vibrant, more intelligent and even happier,” the Seattle-based scribe explained when I asked what inspired her new book.

“Urban/suburban dwellers, including myself, often seek this connection in remote wilderness, and such journeys are essential,” she says. “But it is just as essential to realize that we are intimately connected with nature through the wild creatures in our midst every day, no matter where we live.“

As a modern-day nature writer, Haupt has found her beat in taking a deeper look at creatures most of us tend to overlook, and reminding us of their inherent wonderfulness. Her first book’s title—Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds—serves as a mission statement for much of her work that has followed, including 2009’s lauded Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. The author is gifted in helping us see our wild neighbors in a new light, a renewed relationship that benefits both parties.

“The more we know about the animals that co-inhabit our urban neighborhoods, the more we can act in their presence with common sense,” she elucidated. “Instead of emphasizing potential conflicts, we are drawn into a sense of lively participation with the natural world, a recognition that we are part of a great conversation, an unfolding story in which humans and urban wildlife can flourish in conviviality and delight.”

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