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Book Club Tue Nov 10 2015

Review: City Creatures, Collected by Gavin Van Horn & David Aftandilian

City Creatures cover.jpgThis month, University of Chicago Press published City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness, a book of essays, poetry and art collected by Gavin Van Horn and David Aftandilian springing from the Center for Humans and Nature's City Creatures Blog. Book and blog work in tandem to advocate for the appreciation of nature within the city, conservation of threatened habitats and species, and ecology education for all. In his essay "A Tale of Two Squirrels and One City," Joel S. Brown writes that his students "...could see the concepts of ecology in action; they could see the relevance of the formerly abstract discussion of adaptations in the very characteristics and behaviors of the squirrels around them." City Creatures calls attention to the animals we share Chicago with and solidifies abstract concepts surrounding ecology and conservation.

In a book of this nature (pun very much intended), it's usually a mixed bag with the quality of the essays. That is not the case with City Creatures. Topics range from finding the sacred in an opossum encounter, to reflecting on "Bubbly Creek," the south fork of the Chicago River's South Branch, each offering thoughtful reflection and care. As a reader, I can tell that the writer cares deeply about their topic and has put a lot of love into their work, and when an essay communicates that love, I find the work particularly engaging.

Though I loved many of the essays, I recommend these as "must reads":
• "A Tale of Two Squirrels and One City" by: Joel S. Brown
• "Nature on Pause" by: Peggy Macnamara
• "A Living Taxidermy" by: Rebecca Beachy

Following each essay, recommended resource lists offer information on books and websites a reader might visit to learn more about the essay's topic. These resources encourage continued exploration and further conversation.

Janice F. Meister, Up Not Out

The poetry offered a welcome break from longer pieces, though many featured abstract imagery or poetic sketches of an animal which weren't to my taste. In a book that packs so much into a neat package, I still managed to find some favorites among the poems.

Poetry "must reads":
• "Burnham Centennial Prairie, Lake Shore Drive" by: Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody
• "A Museum of Change in Illinois" by: James Ballowe
• "Pigeons" by: David Hernandez
• "Raccoon" by: Amy Newman

The art and photographs are lovely, adding valuable visual integration of nature and the city. Though the images in the book are presented in black and white, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is hosting an exhibit to give readers the opportunity to see the work in their intended formats.

Dill and Flanigan.jpg
Cannon Dill & Brett Flanigan, Fox

For nature lovers, outdoor scholars, or Chicagoans, this is a perfect book (and winter gift-giving holidays are right around the corner!) as a casual read. Though the essays are set in Chicago and the surrounding areas, city dwellers across the nation can relate to skunks wandering around the neighborhood or watching for birds migrating overhead.

Thanks to City Creatures, I learned a great deal more about our furred, feathered, and finned neighbors than I expected. As Stanley D. Gehrt writes in his essay, "Coyotes," "I think the coyote is moving us toward a more holistic society, where we consider the many parts of the urban ecosystem, not just the parts that directly affect us, and see ourselves as participants in the environment rather than merely observers." This book gives me hope and provides inspiration for those who would get involved. This is how we start to make the world a better place.

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