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Think Out Loud

The Wildlife In The Backyard

As Lyanda Lynn Haupt explains in her new book, The Urban Bestiary, the wild animals that live among us in cities inspire ambivalent feelings. We love the fleeting glimpse of a bushy tail vanishing into a hedge, but then we worry where that tail leads and, my, what big and sharp teeth are at the other end. We find the smaller animals cute but will kill them if they mess up the bulbs in the garden or the wires in the attic.

Meg Puente/Creative Commons

Raccoons, Haupt writes, inspire the widest ranging attitudes.

Radically opposed to the raccoons-are-cute folk — so radically opposed that sometimes it is difficult to believe that we humans are all one species with the same basic neural pathways at work — are those who hate raccoons with a passion that I can barely fathom.

Haupt wants us to find a middle ground where we don’t consider raccoons — and even opossums, crows and coyotes — either cuddly fur-balls or varmints but wild animals who deserve the respect and even awe we normally reserve for animals like pandas and wolves. To help foster that wonder, Haupt writes essays on a variety of urban wildlife, including biology, tracking tips, natural history, personal experiences and — inspired by medieval bestiaries even myths. With good humor, she airs and examines the negative feelings toward many of these animals.

“I’m not saying squirrels aren’t a nuisance and nine kinds of trouble,” she writes. “I’m saying that no matter what else they are, it is possible to step back from our shared squirrel prejudice — whether it reduces them to fluffy cuteness or mere annoyance — and see them from the outside, as wild, graceful and lovely.”


  • Lyanda Lynn Haupt: Author of Crow Planet and other books. She will be speaking at Powell’s on Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

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