Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is an exploration of wildlife in the urban setting. What happens when wildlife and humans mix in the suburbs, in the city?
Crow Planet is the 2009 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award winner. Their website calls Crow Planet, “A book that is a call to experience the wildlife in our midst, reminding us that we don’t have to head to faraway places to encounter ‘nature.’ Even in the cities and suburbs where we live we are surrounded by wildlife such as crows. Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.”
Maybe crows weren’t what Emily Dickinson was thinking about when she penned the now-famous “hope is the thing with feathers”, but it is what I thought towards the end of Crow Planet (and quite possibly Haupt did, too, since she references Emily later on).
I read Crow Planet as a story of hope, almost reconciliatory. In animal observation, cohabitating, and husbandry, we find countless opportunities to at once take care of nature and let it run its course.
Where my family is from, some critters are considered a nuisance (red squirrels), some are fun to watch (deer, turkeys), and others remind us of our mortality (wolves, bears).
When I returned to my hometown last year, I was surprised by the large amount of crows. Where did they all come from? I do not remember seeing crows in our rural, lake-adjacent community as a kid, but now they are prevalent. Their caws and cries even now in the dead of winter remind me that despite the 20-below-zero wind chill, their life persists. They seem to be thriving much better in winter than I do, that’s for sure.
Three crows fly over, land on their leafless branch, and ignore me. Portents of death? I try to see them as they are, as portents of nothing but themselves, swirling like all of us in our beautiful, tangled, transitory lives.”crow planet
When people asked what Crow Planet was about before I read it, I told them that it’s a story of crows and what humans can learn from them. Now that I’ve read the book, I know that answer is true but simpler than the whole truth.
Crow Planet is not just an essay of collections put together in a format that makes sense; it is a call to action and reflection. What can we do in our every-day-lives that doesn’t just ensure our survival but also allows us to take care of the planet that takes care of us? Haupt’s work reminds us to slow down and take it all in.
It is also a reminder to notice nature, wherever you are, and redefine it. Trees in the park in the city may not be “wilderness” in the traditional sense, but their existence invites us to sit with nature – to read and walk our dogs and fly kites with our kids in it. Urban wilderness reminds us that we coexist with other creatures.
If I watch a red squirrel for long enough, what will I see? Skittering, nut gathering, etc. I usually don’t see a red squirrel unless it’s running up a tree or, alas, being eaten by my parents’ outdoor cat. (He likes to start with the heads. Ah, nature).
Last summer, a grouse became quite friendly with us down in the vegetable garden. I had never seen a grouse come around and warm up to humans the way this one did. It was a beautiful specimen, a rough necked grouse. I was told it got a little peckish, but we seemed to have an agreement. It’s not a secret. The agreement was space. I respect that you are a wild animal, and you do not peck me when I don’t feed you out of my hand.
And truthfully, despite their reputation, crows are not worse than humans. Their ability to adapt and survive is quite admirable. We go where we are not wanted and not invited but invite ourselves anyway simply by the virtue of a place existing and we want to go there. We multiply and consume and invade and agitate.
The persistence of the crow is evidence that we don’t have the kind of control we think we do. Haupt shares that the crow is one of the few birds that don’t have bag limits; a decade later, this is still true. Other limitations vary state to state.
I’ve never seen a city plagued by pollution so thick you couldn’t breathe, but I have seen a lot of crows. I know that both of these things exist simultaneously. When Haupt writes that crows will fare well upon human’s ecological demise, I agree with her.
The difference between us and crows is that they “return in whatever number the ecosystem – even if it is an urban ecosystem – can support.” Crows cannot make food or grow food, but humans can. It is much easier for human capacity to exceed the limit because know how to make and build and grow and consume – all the while knowing the damage it is doing to ourselves and the planet. In this way, are we not worse than the crow?
If the crow has managed to always find a way, perhaps we will too.
Beyond being enjoyable to read, Crow Planet shares cultural references, history, birding as leisure and recreation, Haupt’s personal anecdotes, and a suggested reading list. This book would be a beautiful edition to the book collection of any naturalist, bird lover, urban dweller, or anyone who just loves crows – and as you’ll see by reading the book, there are a lot of people who love crows.
Haupt’s latest book, Rooted, further explores the interconnectedness of life forms on earth.
Learn more about Lynda Lynn Haupt and her other works on her website.