Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (thoughts)
There are so many things I adored about Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. It’s not really about crows, although her observations of neighbourhood crows and various crow facts are sprinkled through the book. Instead, it’s about Haupt’s attempts to reconcile her life in a city with her love for animals and nature. I loved her honest exploration of our concept of ‘nature’ being something out there, untouched, other than ourselves. And I really, really loved her solution of becoming an amateur urban naturalist. She looks at historic naturalists, includes plenty of tips for becoming a naturalist yourself (and helping the children in your life to do so), and shares her own observations. It was terribly inspiring. I also connected with her tensions about the environment and ecological issues, feeling a bit hopeless and useless but at the same time doing all the little things you can.
Strangely enough, although I was completely in love with Crow Planet at first, though, by the end I found myself the tiniest bit disenchanted. Not hugely, just enough to make it four stars instead of five. I can’t put my finger on precisely why. I think a bit of it was privilege: Haupt is an upper middle class white woman who chose to become a stay-at-home-mom after her daughter was born, who lives in a lovely part of Seattle, and can afford luxuries such as trips abroad, twice annual visits to a Benedictine monastery retreat, and organic groceries. None of that is to pass judgement on her, or blame her for those circumstances, or imply that her life is somehow perfect. But in her stories and advice to people living in urban environments who want to connect more closely with nature, it would have been nice to see anything addressed to people who work full time (and sometimes multiple jobs) or are from different classes or really anyone who was in different life circumstances than her. I also found her assumption that all her readers would be surrounded by crows a bit odd. I have no idea if crows live in south Texas, but they are definitely not the wild animal I see most frequently (in fact, despite her mention of deer as rare sightings, I see far more of them than crows!) or even on a daily basis. They’re not even the bird I see most frequently; that would be the sparrow. I love crows, so I would be terribly excited if only I did see them every day!
Anyway, those quibbles were small, and it seems a shame I wrote a longer paragraph about them than about all of the things I loved! I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression: I really, really enjoyed Crow Planet, intend to read Haupt’s other books, and happily recommend it to anyone who loves nature or animals or Victorian amateur naturalists. :) I think my deep, crazy love for the first few chapters of the book (I kept thinking of it as a ‘soul book’) ended up setting my expectations too high for the rest of it. I connected so instantly with Haupt’s personal stories in the beginning, it surprised me all the more to learn we actually have different lives. ;) Anyway, I marked tons of passages in Crow Planet that I loved, which is always a sign of excellent nonfiction. I’m just excited that she’s written two other books. If Crow Planet wasn’t quite perfect, it was still excellent, and I imagine I’ll be rereading it in the future. In the meantime, it’s inspired me to pay even more attention when I go on my walks, and to get a field book or two from the library. Time to start learning the species around me!
P.S.: Yes, I chose to publish this on Earth Day on purpose! ;) This would be an excellent part of an Earth Day book display in a library or bookstore. Which could then be kept up year round. If I’d been thinking, I would have created an Earth Day reading list. Will try to remember next year!
Suggested Companion Reads
- Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes : another kind of personal naturalist book that focuses on everyday nature.
- From the Forest by Sara Maitland : haven’t blogged this yet, but it’s a beautiful look at the way our native environments and cultural stories intertwine.
- The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben : another one I haven’t blogged about yet (I have yet to finish publishing posts on all the books I read in January!), but it was written in the early 90s and McKibben contrasts all of the information we get from mass media with the kind of information we know longer have about the natural world all around us.