By Lyanda Lynn Haupt
I admit right up front that I’m biased. I took a writing workshop from the author, and my copy of this book is signed by her.
With those disclaimers out of the way, I can tell you that it’s a good read. Each chapter is a complete essay with the bonus of a black and white illustration on the title page (art is always a plus, as far as I’m concerned). Haupt explains how she got started watching crows in her West Seattle neighborhood and how that led to her embracing the idea of being an urban naturalist. If you can’t spend all your time in the Wilderness, find the wild where you are. The connection with nature is in our daily lives. She succeeds, but it’s not a straight path. We meander along the natural history and biology of songbirds, walk with H.D. Thoreau, study a dead crow while waiting for Louis Agassiz to pop back into the room. We poke our noses into mythology and language and the nature of concrete. We consider crow nature and human nature. We do not avoid looking at death, or the reality of seven billion human beings on this planet right now and what that may mean for the future. For the present moment even. Being cognizant of this reality, what is the best way to live? Haupt has some thoughts on that.
Besides the writing, which is a lot like listening to Lyanda talk and teach, what reverberates in me is how she demonstrates being awake to the world. Curiosity and reflection are woven through all the essays, with unexpected threads pulled from many realms of knowledge. I never knew where she was going to lead me next, but I trusted her enough to follow wherever she wanted to take me. That demonstrates a well-crafted essay, made by one who has lovingly practiced. Sometimes I had to stop and digest before entering the next chapter. The end of the book left me craving more.
Here’s a little passage from the “Preparing” chapter. It’s a brief manifesto that stirs me to keep doing what I do:
“I want to cocreate and inhabit a nation of watchers, 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 cities, our neighborhoods, our households, our yards, our ecosystems, our earth. All of us in cafes, pulling out our laptops and beside them our binoculars, just in case we want to see how that crow outside the window is doing with his bit of garbage, how his feet work to hold down the paper bag while his nimble bill extracts the French fries. Just in case we want to see above the crows, the swooping swallows that only days ago arrived all the way from Mexico, violet feathers shimmering. From the swallows we can turn to the person at the table across the way and say, ‘Did you ever see a more beautiful color of blue?’ ”