Saturday, November 30, 2013

What i'm Reading: My Backyard Jungle

For my birthday this year, a friend gave me the book "My Backyard Jungle" by James Barilla.  My husband and I bought a home about a year ago with a large backyard.  We are in the process of making it a bird paradise, a garden and making it ours.  This book and the description seem to be about this very thing, making your backyard co-habitable with wildlife.  However, this book was not at all what I expected.  And probably not what my friend expected when she bought this for me.  You can see more about our adventure in taming a yard for ourselves and the birds (but not the squirrels) here.  To be honest, I was disappointed with the way this book was marketed.  I  really was looking forward to a book that was going to give me tips and side notes and a to do and don't list for my own little "jungle".  The fact that Barilla currently resides in my current city was perfect, we'd have the same wildlife to work with!

However, the disappointment comes because this book doesn't  even go into specifics of turning your backyard into a jungle.  Besides a funny tale about his battle with squirrels and rats, there's really nothing that connects his story with my wishes for our backyard.    I was expecting something like Barbara Kingslover's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"--a diary of this man and his family's adventures turning the backyard into a wildlife area.  I was hoping to be inspired!!

Instead you get Barilla's adventures discovering how the urban and the wild collide, how the domestic and untame intersect, and how we as people are connected and disconnected from the animal kingdom.  He explores how humanity simultaneously longs for closeness to our animal friends but also fearfully disrupts the natural order of things in our quest be near (or far) from nature.

So during the second chapter when this guy goes on an adventure to Florida to look at monkeys (who knew, right?!), I wondered where this was going.  But the Barilla's writing style, subtle humor, gritty but not overly "TMI" descriptions, kept me interested. The stories of Brazil, India, and elsewhere were fascinating.  And by the end of the book I was only a little bit disappointed I didn't learn something about how to make my backyard more habitable with animals.  In the end,  Barilla was getting at something bigger than wanting birds on your backyard.  He embarks on a quest to find out how we impact wildlife for the better and worse, but does so without ever being preachy.

There's also a real "human" aspect to this "nature book" in the relationships he forms with people along the way--the guides, the "natives", the scientists, and the everyday Joes.  Not only are we connected to the wildlife we encounter everyday big and small, but we are also connected with our fellow man all across the world.

It also reads very quickly, so I would recommend it to anyone who'd like to spend a weekend reading a jonfiction book about urbanization and wildlife.

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