In the early months of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic emptied our streets, forced us into our homes, and turned down the volume of our noisy outdoor lives, species that typically existed on the outskirts of our consciousness emerged. Reports have spread across the internet that mountain goats frolic in a town in Wales, jackals invade a park in Tel Aviv, and pumas venture into residential neighborhoods in Santiago, Chile.
Evidence for these and other sightings may be long gone from social media, but this year has seen a significant number of books whose authors emphasize the need to pay close attention to other species and never look away again. the look. How little we actually know about animals – domesticated as well as wild – is a central concern of these books. “You don’t need a lot of the imagination to see that society has carved a throat between humans and wild animals, without a box,” writes Catherine Raven in her bestseller. Fox and me.
What we want from animals (companionship, senses, meat) and what we owe them (care, respect, autonomy) have probably been debated since the days of the woolly mammoth. This year’s best of animals and nature books provides neither easy answers to age-old questions nor clear solutions to terrifying problems resulting from the climate crisis and other side effects of human existence. With varying degrees of urgency, each of these books demands a reassessment of our relationship with animals, natural environments, and with each other.
“While we may think of the animal world as something separate from us, like a moon orbiting the earth, it is more of a weaving, with some animals further removed from the crossed threads of the human world and of ‘others closer,’ Susan Orlean writes in About animals, a collection of essays spanning the entire career of the author of The orchid thief, Rin Tin Tin, and other bestsellers.
In these plays, most of which first appeared in The New Yorker and date back to 1995, the interest of Orleans rests heavily on domestic animals. She writes with humor and generosity about the value of the ark of birds and mammals she has brought into her life, from apartment dogs to disparate livestock (Angus cattle, turkeys and so many chickens) that she has. gathered at his farm in upstate New York. .
About animals is especially good when Orléans investigates the consequences of humans taking from other species what they are not prepared to give. The Fate of the Killer Whale Keiko, star of the 1993 family film Save Willy which languished in amusement park aquariums for nearly 20 years, remains as tragic and infuriating as when Orléans first documented it in a magazine article in 2002. Ditto two plays that explore “the economy” of the zoo ”and the practice of getting rid of tigers, lions and other animals that are beyond their youthful adoration and attraction to paying customers.
“Why do we have such different rules for how we treat wild animals compared to how we treat our pets and livestock? »Asks journalist Emma Marris in Wild souls: freedom and fulfillment in the non-human world, a book that has no shortage of difficult questions. Marris calls for a redefinition of terms such as “wild” and “nature”, arguing – as Orlean is about to do in his book – that such concepts have been made “incoherent” in a world so drastically altered by the humankind.
(Michelle Nijhuis makes a similar point in her vibrant 2021 landmark survey Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in the Age of Extinction, noting how discussions about conservation “are almost always complicated by the use of terms that have come to mean very different things to different people.”)
Since no species on the planet can escape our influence, Marris argues that we have an “increased responsibility” to animals, whether they live in our homes or in remote ecosystems. “What this duty entails continues to torment me,” Marris admits, but her search for answers makes it a necessary read.
Cal flyn Islands of Abandonment is just as vital. Subtitle Nature bounces in the post-human landscape, the Scottish journalist’s book examines how wildlife adapts when people withdraw from an environment. She doesn’t romanticize those 2020 wildlife sightings. “These weren’t so much examples of nature’s healing,” Flyn writes, “as nature finding the confidence to be seen.”
Flyn’s investigation takes him to contaminated sites like Chernobyl in Ukraine, where wildlife is abundant decades after a nuclear accident; war-torn places such as the buffer zone in Cyprus and the red zone in France; and an abandoned botanical garden in Tanzania, “where non-native and native species are left on their own, without brutal but well-intentioned intervention.”
With the threat of mass extinction increasing with Earth’s temperature, Flyn offers cautious optimism about the fate of the planet’s species. She resists the paralysis of fear and encourages people to “have enough faith to fight” against climate change while “holding back some of our most invasive and interventionist methods of conservation.”
Back on the domestic front, 2021 brought two exceptional additions to the human-canine relationship literature. Like countless previous books in this genre, Chloe Shaw’s What is a dog? and that of Rick Bragg Spotted Beauty: A Dog and His People try to understand the spirit of the often impenetrable, tail-wagging furballs that so many people spend their lives with. And while only the most hardened readers will remain dry-eyed reading these books, Shaw and Bragg resist cheap sentimentality and instead provide even more arguments for appreciating and truly recognizing lives other than our own.
“A dog is not an answer,” Shaw writes in one of the many beautiful sentences in his book, “but something bewitched and endless and something else that holds you so willingly while you wonder, while you watch. “
In Speckled beauty, the brash Australian Shepherd Bragg rescued near his rural home in 2017, the Alabama writer goes without talking about magic and sees the animal for what it is. In this case, that is enough. ??