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for people who care about the West

As the crow flies

 

Crow Planet -- Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
230 pages, hardcover: $23.99.
Little, Brown and Company. 2009.

Even though crows are unusually smart, make attentive parents, use tools, can learn to speak and are notoriously playful, they can't seem to shake their bad reputation. They're far more "loud, large, and conspicuous" than most birds. In her third book, Seattle naturalist and crow devotee Lyanda Lynn Haupt explains that populations of humans and crows have never been larger, nor has our proximity to each other ever been closer. Unlike most wild birds, crows thrive in our midst because we provide so much food.

But the fact that there are now so many crows -- more than 31 million in the United States -- is also a clear indicator of rampant habitat destruction. Sprawling urban landscapes and huge developments can support only the most resilient creatures. And crows and other members of the corvid family -- jays, magpies and ravens -- are among the survivors, while other species dwindle or die out.

Crows demonstrate that we share a relentlessly expanding zoöpolis, a "highly disturbed" place where "human and wild geographies mingle." The term, coined by geographer Jennifer Wolch, refers to areas where humans now build that were previously populated only by nonhumans. This "degraded, chopped-up habitat," Haupt writes, is "the single greatest threat to species diversity in the current millennium."

She recommends that we humans re-evaluate our choices, noting that "everything we do matters." To that end, she takes up sketchbook and binoculars, doing every errand she can on foot while "bringing naturalist practices into my daily urban life." In soggy Seattle, she hangs laundry out to dry and refuses to buy chemically laden anti-static dryer sheets. She compiles a list of essential wisdom to encourage new behaviors: study, learn the names of things, cultivate patience, bypass buying gadgets and make time for solitude. Above all, she recommends maintaining a field-trip mentality: Whenever you step outside, pay attention.

"I want to cocreate and inhabit a nation of watchers," Haupt writes, "of naturalists-in-progress, none of us perfect, all sharing in the effort of watching, knowing, understanding, protecting, and living well alongside the wild life with whom we share ... our earth."