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The Adventures of an Urban Wildlife Lover Who Turned His Yard into Habitat and Learned to Live With It

by James Barilla

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-300-18401-3
Publisher: Yale Univ.

A naturalist's account of how turning his backyard into a certified wildlife habitat inspired him to explore "the limits of coexistence" more globally.

After he and his family bought their first house, Barilla (Creative Nonfiction and Environmental Writing/Univ. of South Carolina) wanted a way to proclaim that he “had become a stakeholder” in ongoing efforts to maintain animal habitat integrity. So he certified his yard as “wildlife-friendly” with the National Wildlife Federation. In a gesture that declared his new rootedness to place, Barilla planted apple, pear and peach trees in his yard; soon, bees and fruit-raiding birds and squirrels began to converge. He learned that being part of an ecosystem—rather than its overseer—meant finding oneself “jostled and threatened” and one’s “belongings usurped.” At the same time, Barilla also began wondering about urban environments elsewhere in the world and how people could maximize the potential of these environments in a future where “over 70% of the human population [would] live in cities.” To answer this question, he visited urban areas in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, as well as in Brazil and India, where he observed the relationships between humans and other species. Whether as objects of scorn or intense devotion, animals were universally as fascinating to humans as they could be uncomfortable (or even dangerous) to live with. The challenge was to not only learn to respect them and their right to exist alongside humans, but also to help preserve their integrity as “wild animals [and] not household pets.” Barilla’s ultimate message is both simple and powerful: To work toward coexistence means setting aside all notions of species-ism and cultivating an open, ecologically aware mind.

Intelligent and quietly provocative.