“City Creatures, ” edited by Gavin Van Horn and David Aftandilian, is an outstanding compilation of essays, poetry, photographs and art that describes the Chicago area’s ecosystem, encouraging us to take a closer look at our environment. After finishing this book, among the questions one asks is how can we take better, more proactive care of the natural world that’s intertwined throughout our urban infrastructure and how can we enjoy that world more fully?
Divided into six sections, “Backyard Diversity,” “Neighborhood Associations,” “Animals on Display,” “Connecting Threads,” “Water Worlds,” and “Coming Home to the City,” the essays written by scientists, liberal arts professors, teachers and fiction writers have in common an ethical core, and a passion for Chicago’s environment. Reflections on the morality of zoos, the way in which a possum becomes a spiritual teacher in a Hyde Park backyard, a taxidermist’s public demonstration of her craft at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, descriptions of bird migrations and the painstaking cultivation of the rare Prairie white-fringed orchid, are a sample of the range of subject matter in this excellent book.
Through Van Horn, “City Creatures” is linked with Centers for Humans and Nature, “a nonprofit organization that focuses on and promotes conservation ethics.” Their website includes a blog, a journal titled Minding Nature, and information on environmental projects. It also lists “City Creatures” related happenings.
Finally, “City Creatures” provides excellent resources that are listed after each essay, and in an extensive index at the end of the book. Along with being an eye-opening read, “City Creatures” is a practical and spiritual guide to Chicago’s occasionally overlooked natural world, and a timely reminder of our good fortune to live in such a diverse, vibrant ecosystem that needs just a little help from its friends. (Natalie Black)
“City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness”
Edited by Gavin Van Horn and David Aftandilian
University of Chicago Press, 264 pages, $30