In Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s book The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, she describes experiences with everyday wildlife in her Seattle neighborhood. Haupt documents her observations of and/or interactions with a variety of wildlife including coyotes (or their tracks or scat), raccoons, opossums, moles, pigeons, crows, chickens, owls, songbirds, trees, and other humans. Reading the book I became engaged with the questions she asks us to consider, “Whose “home” is this? Where does the wild end and the city begin? And what difference does it make to us as humans living our everyday lives?” (p. 4).
Haupt argues that urban wildlife have lessons to teach us. For example, pigeons challenge us to hold two conflicting mindsets—how to honor and appreciate their flight and ingenuity and how to mindfully decrease their populations in urban centers. Moles challenge us to rethink our garden aesthetics, shifting our focus from creating beautiful planting beds to creating homes and refuge for moles and their molehills. Trees challenge us to consider relationships—relationships lasting throughout vast amounts of time, across cultures, and between trees in one forest or neighborhood. Trees support us to consider how we can build relationships of care and compassion with the plants in our midst.
What struck me the most about Haupt’s reflections is her keen focus on creating moments of “natural attunement, a time in which we allow nonhuman life among us to show itself, to have presence, to speak for itself” (p. 19). She notes that, “Attending to the world more closely, we are inspired to act instead from a sense of love, interconnection, and a recognition of mutual strength and fragility” (p. 305). This inspired me to I share reflections about some of the everyday wildlife that I encounter on my walks along the Ruston Way waterfront.
My encounters are documented below.
This spring I observed young geese grow and transform. Their presence reminds me that the migration patterns of wildlife connect vast and distant spaces, thus causing me to reconsider the boundaries between urban/wild and America/Canada. I marvel at the ways they swim and fly in lines or V-formations and communicate using honking sounds.
Great Blue Heron
I often observe herons standing on pilings, cement foundations, or rocks. They are masterful hunters—I watched one stand completely still gazing down at the water and then, at quick speed, lunge her neck down and up, retrieving a fish in her beak. When I see a heron flying I think of the many paintings I’ve seen of cranes in flight during my travels in Japan—a reminder that many cultures honor and value the presence of birds.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
I noticed this bird because it was unusual; I rarely see greater white-fronted geese on Ruston Way. I reached out to an experienced birder (my father) for an ID. This lone white-fronted goose was always in the company of Canada geese so it sponsored a kind of comparative observation where I was able to more closely observe distinctive features, similarities and differences.
I often hear eagles’ high pitched squeals when I am on the Ruston Way waterfront, but I rarely see them there. However, about a year ago I was having lunch at Harbor Lights restaurant and a bald eagle, with a salmon in its talons, flew by the window and landed on a piling outside the restaurant. The wait staff rushed to the window, with phones out, to document the eagle’s presence as she proceeded to tear and eat the salmon for a noontime feast. From my table I watched the eagle eat the salmon for over 15 minutes. The eagle and the salmon’s presence was a powerful reminder that all animals need a food source and eat other living beings, whether animals, plants or fungi, to survive.
I have been trying to learn more birds’ names. Haupt suggests that it is important to attend to the specific birds in our surroundings. She advocates that urban dwellers work to learn the names, plumage, and habits of 5-20 birds around their homes and neighborhoods as an intentional act—“a kind of gracious hosting” (p. 171).
Barnacles remind me of living things’ dependence on water for survival. I often stop to look at barnacle colonies affixed to bricks, rocks, and pilings. I view them as communities—a community or neighborhood within the larger community. The white calcium cones that surround the barnacle are a testimony to barnacles’ capacity to select a location and set up a permanent home. Their presence is a reminder about living in community and living through the changing tides.
When I walk along Ruston Way I make a habit of walking along the beach at Dickman Mill Park. The contrast of the yellow flowers of gumweed and the pilings remind me of our dependence on plants for food, shelter, and the oxygen we breathe. I’ve observed bees flying from flower to flower and I appreciate the beauty of the yellow in the landscape. The wood pilings submerged in the water stand like trees, extending their presence in the environment even beyond their long life span.
A colleague at Metro Parks Tacoma reports that the trees along Ruston Way are 29% Norway Maple, 30% Red Maple, 35% London Plane, and 6% other species. The trees provide shade in the spring and summer, are a buffer between pedestrians and the traffic on Ruston Way, and are a reminder of the changing seasons as their leaves open in the spring and turn colors in the fall.
Haupt writes, “We are all called to imagine and cultivate our own practices, daily habits that bring us to life, bring us to intimate presence with the wild among us” (p. 318). My walks along the Ruston Way waterfront are a practice where I make intentional efforts to be mindful of the living, the non-living, and human impacts on nearby nature. Haupt also notes that by being with everyday wildlife, “We move forward with a mature optimism, one that recognizes fully the daunting ecological outlook for the earth, while maintaining our human obligation to live with awareness, and respect, and joy” (p. 319). Walking on Ruston Way supports me to engage the tensions of abuse/restoration and preservation/conservation and to be fully present with the wildlife that shares this home.
Haupt, L. L. (2013). The urban bestiary: Encountering the everyday wild. New York: Little,
Brown and Company.