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Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (thoughts)

April 22, 2013

Crow Planet
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.
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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2013 6:35 pm

    I’m intrigued and, since I do love “Victorian amateur naturalists” (so very, very much), will have to check this out. I grew up in the city but was very conscious of the animals and plants around me and it always comes as a surprise when I realise friends don’t know anything about the animals and vegetation they see every day. Also, living in Vancouver, we have a lot of crows around, all the time, and I would gladly send all of the ones from my neighbourhood down to you in Texas!

  2. April 22, 2013 8:32 pm

    I think crows are very interesting birds, though my dad didn’t care much for them because they’d go after the apples on our apple trees. Of your suggested companion reads, I’m happy to see that I’ve read two of them. I looked up the Maitland book and it sounds quite intriguing. I’d like to visit the Black Forest someday.

  3. April 22, 2013 8:36 pm

    Oh, this one sounds really good! I’ve been trying to integrate nature in with my daily life, but I could certainly use some suggestions.

    It’s funny to think about the different birds we see daily in different parts of the country. I love the pelicans that I see every time I go over the bridge near me. Then just yesterday, the hubby and I were driving through home from Orlando when we saw two bald eagles just hanging out in a field. I can’t remember ever seeing them on the ground like that. I was glad that we took the time to pull over and watch them until they flew away. It was such a cool moment, and really didn’t make us get home any later than we would have.

  4. April 23, 2013 12:04 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful book for this nature-loving city-dwelling girl. Isn’t it funny how sometimes we can write more about the flaws of the book than what we loved even though the flaws are so small in the overall scheme of things?

  5. dastevensish permalink
    April 23, 2013 4:54 pm

    Glad Rich has this book, or I’d have to go get it. :P Crows are fairly common here, but certainly not the bird we see most often either. And we definitely see deer as often, or probably more so, than crows.

  6. April 23, 2013 7:15 pm

    My mom read this book back in 2010 and emailed me a quote from it. I’ve held on to the email because I adore the quote so much. Still need to pick up the book but thus the nature of a book blogger with a long TBR list…

    Quote from the book:

    “Nearly all of our urban planning frames the city as a home for humans and fails to account for the presence and needs of nonhuman animals Even “sustainable city” efforts pay little attention to the needs of animals per se, focusing instead on issues of water purity clean air, parks, and green space for the health recreational, and aesthetic benefits they confer upon humans. As ill-conceived housing developments sprawl into areas that were very recently forested, the human/wild clashes become more complicated, sometimes involving displaced elk, black bears, or cougars that unwittingly wander back in to their previous home range, where they are no long welcome; such situations too often culminate in the death of the dislocated animal.”

  7. April 23, 2013 7:56 pm

    I do love nature writing, and books about Seattle are rather nostalgic for me- I grew up near there, though not quite in the city. I think I might like this one, even if it wouldn’t relate to me exactly in every way.

  8. April 28, 2013 4:16 am

    I’ve never read a book that revolves around nature elements, but this one doesn’t sound too bad.

  9. April 28, 2013 2:34 pm

    I find crows (and ravens) quite fascinating. I’m reading Ruth Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being, in which crows play a part, and just finished a small press Canadian book, Grave Concern, which featured a semi-tame talking raven. And then I see this review…it’s a concatenation of corvids!

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