The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, by Lyanda Haupt

Books: Urban Bestiary and A Bushel’s Worth

The nights are growing longer, the days colder, and in Salida, a three-day snowstorm dropped almost a foot of snow over the weekend. Time to curl up on the couch in front of the fire and read a book! (And to buy books as holiday presents.) Here are two favorites from the to-review stack on my desk:

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, Lyanda Haupt (Little, Brown)

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, by Lyanda Haupt The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, by Lyanda Haupt

“It is time for a new bestiary,” writes Lyanda Haupt in the opening chapter of this beautifully engaging and reflective book on coming to know the lives that make up everyday nature, “one that engages our desire to understand the creatures surrounding our urban homes, helps us locate ourselves in nature, and suggests a response to this knowledge that will benefit both ourselves and the more-than-human world.”

Why in this digital age where we presume every bit of information is but a click or two away on the internet would any respectable naturalist write a bestiary, a medieval-style compendium that includes all knowledge without discriminating observation and fact from speculation and myth?

Precisely because that compendium sans judgment has much to teach us, says Haupt. “…Myths have always given our meaning-seeking species a way to find the thread of pattern, significance, and timelessness underlying our chaotic and unpredictable daily lives. … In this bestiary, as in its medieval precursors, mythology is among the many lovely paths toward human knowing: science, natural history, personal observation, everyday storytelling.”

Lovely paths, indeed. Listen to this passage from the entry, “Bird”: “There is much to be said for knowing a bird, its name, something of its life, at a glance. … I like to think that such knowing is a kind of gracious hosting, one that enriches not only our own lives, but also the lives of birds. What is it that we know? The mingled spiral of our lives, human and non-human, flesh and feather.”

The mingled spiral of our lives. Right there Haupt reveals the essence of writing, whether about humans or nature: We are twined with all the other lives on this earth. We and those others have much to teach each other. Haupt’s Bestiary is a wonderful way to begin the exploration and learning.

(Read the full review on Story Circle Book Reviews.)

A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, by Kayann Short (Torry House Press)

A Bushel's Worth: A Ecobiography, by Kayann Short A Bushel’s Worth: A Ecobiography, by Kayann Short

A Bushel’s Worth roughly chronicles the seasons at Stonebridge Farm, the organic, community supported farm that college professor, activist and feminist scholar Kayann Short and her partner John own and run in rural Boulder County, Colorado. Chapters alternate between Short’s memories and roots in her grandparents’ farms, and stories of life at Stonebridge, a true community farm where members are deeply involved in farm operations and the land from planting through harvest.

Short chronicles the weather and other farm events: snowstorms so heavy they blanket the farm and delay planting, harvest days full of laughter and old-time music (and food), human kids learning that the goat emphatically does not want to play with them, the pair of Great Horned Owls who raise twin owlets in the cottonwoods along one of the irrigation ditches, the crashing fall of one of those grand old cottonwoods one windy night, crushing the flower garden under its welter of branches.

“But the Y of the trunk’s main branches fell perfectly around the metal arbor under which we had stood when we committed our lives to each other. The arbor remained intact, the birdhouse at its apex hanging as before, the nest inside undisturbed.”

The haunting sense of longing that permeates the early part of the book gradually yields to a deeper ease in the life Short has grown at Stonebridge, as revealed by this closing passage: “We work. We wait. And the earth gives again. … We have learned from the earth that when we practice gratitude, not greed, we will have plenty and plenty more to come.”

That, perhaps is the heart of the lessons Short explores in A Bushel’s Worth: life lived with generosity and graciousness gives us enough to belong–and enough to share.

(Read the full review on Story Circle Book Reviews.)