CROW PLANET: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Little, Brown, $23.99.
“How, exactly, are we connected to the earth, the more-than-human world, in our lives and in our actions? And in light of this connection, how are we to carry out our lives on a changing earth?” These are the hard questions that Lyanda Lynn Haupt sets out to explore in the memoir Crow Planet. Crows, for Haupt, represent both the continued presence of the wild in places dominated by humans, and the narrowing down of ecological diversity as those changes to the landscape make it harder for some species to exist.
One crow she watches collects shells, dried berries and shiny bits of trash; in a similar fashion, Haupt gathers the work of many fine writers around her. There are references to David Budbill’s poetry and Jennifer Price’s environmental history along with plenty of corvid science, as well as the requisite (and still relevant) quotes from Rachel Carson. All this is woven in with Haupt’s own musings as she hangs clothes on the line, talks with her young daughter, fights depression, and works to learn more about crows and urban ecosystems. For the most part she succeeds in pulling together the narrative threads of her personal life, specific ecological communities and humans’ impact on ecosystems as a whole. Some sections fly by; others, such as her hours-long observation of a dead crow in the tradition of Louis Agassiz, allow the reader to luxuriate in the writer’s deep contemplation of the natural world. Throughout, her descriptions of how crows communicate, nest, mate and live are fascinating.
Haupt’s approach is that of the flaneur, so it’s fitting that the answers she comes to, if not always conclusive, feel useful and encouraging of more exploration.—Anna Lena Phillips