Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Little, Brown and Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-316-01910-1.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 03/22/2010

Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Memoir

"Crows are not my favorite bird," writes Lyanda Lynn Haupt at the beginning of the first chapter of this elegant and frank call to pay attention to what nature in our own backyards has to say to our everyday lives. "I am not one of those people who particularly identifies with crows, or has dreamed of them since birth, or believes that crows are my special totem. I've paid perhaps more attention than is usual to crows because they are birds, and I am a lifelong student of things ornithological. But I really started to study them because the editor of my first book told me to."

I love it when an author lays her cards on the table, showing who she is without pretensions. It's especially appropriate in books like Crow Planet, a personal look at one of the most common birds of human habitation and what Haupt has learned from these avian neighbors about her life, the life our our species—and our future on this planet. I don't know about you, but I'm more likely to trust a narrator who starts off honestly than one who simply writes beautifully.

Not that Haupt doesn't write beautifully. Listen to this passage:

"...Everything we do matters, and matters wondrously. More than we thought, more than we can even know. Yes, of course we must do all of the things we now know by rote: we must replace our incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, and recycle, and compost, and ride our bikes, and buy organic, local, biointensive, fair-trade. All of it. And if we can manage these things with a joyful heart, then all the better. But this is not about checklists, is it? ... It is about a habit of being, a way of knowing, a way of dwelling. It is about attentive recognition of our constant, inevitable continuity with life on earth, and the gorgeous knowledge this entails. There is a crow's nest in the neighbor's yard, and there are feathers at our feet. We walk around like poems—our lives infused with meaning beyond themselves."

In ten chapters, beginning with "Getting Up" and ending with "Flying," plus an introduction that lives up to its title as an invocation, Haupt introduces Charlotte, the fledgling crow with the broken wing that she rescues and then returns to the wild. Charlotte is followed by the philosopher Aristotle, Victorian naturalist Louis Agassiz of Harvard University, Saint Benedict, Haupt's daughter Claire, and a host of other characters. Through their stories and her own unquenchable curiosity about life around her, Haupt engages us in the lives of crows, teaches us how to observe and study nature in our backyards, and shows what contemplating crows and other urban-but-still-wild neighbors reveals about our own species and the way we live, about our essential connection to all the other lives on Earth. And she does it all with a practical lyricism that manages to be down-to-earth and inspiring—no small feat.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt created and directed educational programs for Seattle Audubon, worked in raptor rehabilitation in Vermont, and was a seabird researcher for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the remote tropical Pacific. Her first book, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, was a winner of the 2002 Washington State Book Award. Her second book, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks, got great national reviews. Her writing has appeared in Image, Open Spaces, Wild Earth, Conservation Biology Journal, Birdwatcher's Digest, and The Prairie Naturalist. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband, daughter, one cat and all the other species of a flourishing urban neighborhood. Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of Crow Planet.

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