Tuesday, May 14, 2013
My Backyard Jungle - Review
Author: James Barilla
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 Barilla’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.
I absolutely positively loved this book! When I requested it from NetGalley, I was worried that it could potentially be a little bit boring. Well, let me tell you, I actually couldn't put it down! Barilla's writing style is so engaging and interesting, you get sucked right in to his subject matter.
This book made me think twice about all the little critters that are living around my home. Possums, raccoons, mice, rats - in some cases (not near me!) monkeys and bears!! I can't even imagine having a bear den under my deck and not know about it. But it happens all the time in areas where there are bears.
Barilla talks about the relationship between animals and the ever shrinking areas they live in. They are forced to adapt or die out. And most of the time, like they say in Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way". Life changes, but it still goes on. Sometimes. Obviously, not all the time, and animals still struggle everyday to survive in our new world. My Backyard Jungle focuses however on more successful cases than not so successful. Barilla travels the world, investigating and seeing just how animals live around some of the most populated areas of the world. He relates this back to his own life, and to the lives of people like me and parts of America, the suburban world. Probably the chapter that I liked least was the chapter where Barilla followed an animal removal agent around. I felt sad for the animals that find there ways into homes - I know that I am not a fan myself, for however much I love animals. I still don't want a dead possum in my walls or rats in the attic.
The chapter I enjoyed the most was about bees, in particular the growing apiarist community in Brooklyn. One hive of bees produced red honey one year, and it was discovered they were getting their sugar from a maraschino cherry factory! I knew that the honey from bees would match what is in their environment, like lavender etc. but learning about the maraschino cherry honey was crazy! And to make it worse, it was terrible tasting as well as bad for you, due to all the Karo syrup.
One thing Barilla did in an effort to share urban space with nature was have his backyard certified through the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat. I was inspired to the do the same, and my husband has agreed to help me, and even is excited as well. He agreed to build me a few bird houses, and even volunteered to add a small pond to our yard. It doesn't seem too terribly hard, and I am already halfway there. I am trying to focus more on fauna that begins with the letter b, such as birds and butterflies, bees and bats- I don't think my neighbors would like it if I enticed vermin to the area.
I really loved this book, and after I read that Barilla teaches creative nonfiction at the University of South Carolina, it made sense as to why this book was so readable. I think it is an interesting and informative read, and should be given a try.
And did you know that monkeys live in a small area of Florida? I didn't, but now I do.