My Backyard Jungle by James Barilla

Find in catalogHaving fought off nutria that devoured my lovely garden lettuces, I particularly appreciate a book that helps me understand the wild beasts that share our urban environment. Humans and wildlife in our cities have a fraught relationship: we may love deer and value honeybees, but even they present problems. The author ventures out – and often in and down – with pest control experts who remove raccoons, squirrels, and rats, all creatures searching for our leftovers.

Barilla’s book is a fine example of creative nonfiction, as he manages to make an entertaining personal story out of material that can be distressing, scary, and often creepy. He starts out planning to create a wildlife habitat in his yard, a “quiet and harmonious refuge from the fretful roar of urban existence.” But “what I am coming to see as typical urban wildlife habitat,” he writes,”is what I might call the landscape of neglect, an unclaimed and untidy swath of urban decay.” That may be charming when it’s a patch of wildflowers serving as bee forage, but alarming when bears discover the opportunities of swampland near an industrial park. My take: whatever we build, they will come.


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