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My Backyard Jungle: The Adventures of an Urban Wildlife Lover Who Turned His Yard Into Habitat and Learned to Live with Itby James Barilla
Synopses & Reviews
In his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreaus writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlier, and in 2012, following a winter and spring of record-breaking warmth, blueberries began flowering on April 1—six weeks earlier than in Thoreaus time. The climate around Thoreaus beloved Walden Pond is changing, with visible ecological consequences.
In Walden Warming, Richard B. Primack uses Thoreau and Walden, icons of the conservation movement, to track the effects of a warming climate on Concords plants and animals. Under the attentive eyes of Primack, the notes that Thoreau made years ago are transformed from charming observations into scientific data sets. Primack finds that many wildflower species that Thoreau observed—including familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilies—have declined in abundance or have disappeared from Concord. Primack also describes how warming temperatures have altered other aspects of Thoreaus Concord, from the dates when ice departs from Walden Pond in late winter, to the arrival of birds in the spring, to the populations of fish, salamanders, and butterflies that live in the woodlands, river meadows, and ponds.
Primack demonstrates that climate change is already here, and it is affecting not just Walden Pond but many other places in Concord and the surrounding region. Although we need to continue pressuring our political leaders to take action, Primack urges us each to heed the advice Thoreau offers in Walden: to live simply and wisely.” In the process, we can each minimize our own contributions to our warming climate.
"At the beginning of this book, Barilla, who teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing at the University of South Carolina and formerly worked in wildlife research and management, describes the process by which his yard received certification from the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife-friendly habitat. Fortunately, relatively little of this book deals with local phenomena. Barilla goes very far afield to look at such fauna issues as the 'monkey menace' in New Delhi, India, the attempt to contain the growing bear population in and around Northampton, Mass., the work of urban beekeepers in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the struggle for survival of marmosets in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In a chapter on a possible infestation of his home by rats or squirrels, Barilla relates his very human desire to contain such 'night visitors' and describes the traps used to eliminate rodents. More often, though, his focus is on the 'zooopolis': the intersection of, and uneasy accommodation between, the human and animal realms. Barilla is a fine stylist — his writing is thoughtful, colorful, and sometimes wittily self-deprecating — who helps us to better understand the unfamiliar natural world near our homes and to realize how many habitats coexist on Earth. Agent: Wendy Strothman, the Strothman Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The captivating story of an urban family who welcomes wildlife into their backyard and discovers the ups and downs of sharing habitat
Building on the experience of creating a wildlife habitat in his urban backyard, James Barilla visits various cities where bears, monkeys,and#160;and other creatures reside and along the way discovers how people and animals might coexist in our increasingly urban world. Not since Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals have readers encountered a naturalist with such a gift for story-telling and such an open heart toward all things wild.
Thoreau’s incredible eye and appreciation for the natural world have rightly led to his reputation as one of the first American ecologists. Before he could turn his botanical records into a book, Thoreau succumbed to tuberculosis, and his copious, arguably obsessive writings on the natural world languished for some time, Emerson noting that “Thoreau had squandered his talents on the woods” and had become “the captain of a huckleberry party.” But his writings have since been revered by many, and are now part of the canon of conservation biology and climate change. The meticulous notes Thoreau kept on flowers in Concord have in the hands of Richard Primack and his students evolved from charming and detailed records to actual data sets.
Thoreau would no doubt be saddened to learn that 27 percent of the plant species he documented have disappeared, and another 36 percent are in such low numbers that their disappearance is imminent. Concord's mean annual temperature though has climbed by 4 degrees, and the flowers and trees each spring awaken far earlier than they did 150 years ago. Climate change is wreaking havoc on Walden, as it is the world over, and in this wonderful tour of Thoreau’s data points Primack shows us how history informs the past, and how backyard natural history is one of the most important areas of scientific contribution, as it has been for centuries.
For James Barilla and his family, the dream of transforming their Columbia, South Carolina, backyard into a haven for wildlife evoked images of kids catching grasshoppers by day and fireflies at night, of digging up potatoes and picking strawberries. When they signed up with the National Wildlife Federation to certify their yard as a wildlife habitat, it felt like pushing back, in however small a way, against the tide of bad news about vanishing species, changing climate, dying coral reefs. Then the animals started to arrive, and Barilla soon discovered the complexities (and possible mayhem) of merging human with animal habitats. What are the limits of coexistence, he wondered?
To find out, Barilla set out across continents to explore cities where populations of bears, monkeys, marmosets, and honeybees live alongside human residents. My Backyard Jungle brings these unique stories together, making Barillaand#8217;s yard the centerpiece of a meditation on possibilities for coexistence with animals in an increasingly urban world. Not since Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals have readers encountered a naturalist with such a gift for storytelling and such an open heart toward all things wild.
About the Author
James Barilla is assistant professor in the MFA program of the University of South Carolina, where he teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing. He has held a variety of posts in wildlife research and management, both in the United States and in England. He lives in Columbia, SC.
Table of Contents
1. Borneo to Boston
2. A Hard Rain
3. Thoreau, Scientist
4. Phantom Plants
5. Wild Apples and Other Missing Flowers
6. The Strife in Loosestrife
7. The Message of the Birds
8. Birds in the Mist (Net)
9. Bees and Butterflies
10. From Insects to Fish to People
11. Clouds of Mosquitoes
12. The Frog Chorus
13. Running in the Sun and Rain
14. A New Earth
Afterword: Citizen Science
Append: Species Mentioned
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