Preservation contributing editor Matthews (Where the Buffalo Roam, 1992, etc.) takes a look at the return of wild flora and fauna to New York City and New Jersey.
Our environment now faces “the largest dieback of plants and animals in sixty-five million years,” Matthews says. How then can one explain the reappearance of deer, bear, raccoons, exotic turtles, falcons, coyotes, and dozens of other species in New York City’s in-between spaces, its marshes, mudflats, parks, and forest preserves? Well, explains the author, greater New York has so expanded that wildlife must adapt or die. Many species have died, but the tough ones thrive in the city. Matthews, apparently with her tongue in her cheek, tells stories of raccoons that teach their young to look both ways before crossing traffic and of rats that wait for a bus, scurry beneath a seat, and get out at their desired stop. She juxtaposes such stretchers with a fascinating account of falcons who nest on Wall Street skyscrapers or high bridges and carve out precise territories in the air. Sometimes, as if afraid her emphasis on New York will seem parochial, Matthews drops in information about the return of wildlife in other cities: mountain lions in Denver, javelinas in Tucson. She leaps 3,000 miles west to begin the tale of Santa Cruz, which in its isolation is turning into another Galápagos, but in mid-careen zips back East for more meditations on the ecological history of New York. She ends with a sobering reflection on global warming. Though her details are brilliant, Matthews never stays with one subject long enough to do it justice.
A mishmash of the flip and the deeply troubling that leaves the reader wondering what exactly the author’s point is.