Monday, July 21, 2008

Suburban wildlife (an addendum)

I wish to add to my previous post, and to my post on urban nature study, a concession: suburbia has a lot more wildlife. A couple months before we moved away from Washington, we bought a bird book, so that we could identify what was around us. To our chagrin, we found that once we knew what we were looking at, there wasn't much. Lots of pigeons, of course, as well as starlings (a kind of blackbird), an occasional crow, a few robins, and lots of mockingbirds. There was one other gray bird I saw from time to time, but not frequently enough to find it in the bird book. And if you went to the right place, our beautiful ducks and those dirty seagulls. But that's it.

Here in the Twin Cities . . . well, maybe once I learn the names it won't seem like so many, but there are a lot of birds we never saw in Washington, including hawks and blue herons, not to mention blue jays, cardinals, yellow finches, and chickadees.

There are also lots of rabbits, an occasional fox, who knows what else? And my commute takes me past farms where I see goats, cows, and a couple horses.

This is More. And, frankly, more is better. It is good to have contact with these animals. It is unfortunate that we did not in our more urban Washington. And a solid apologia for the city needs to recognize that there are also prices for not having yards.

That said, once again, the point is to weigh the costs and benefits. Now I see herons, it is true, and that is a Very Good Thing. But I almost always see them zipping down the freeway at 55 mph. That does not negate the goodness, but it greatly diminishes it. I think I, and my children, got a lot more out of sitting next to those ducks in front of the concert hall then we get from seeing something for a brief flash out of a car window. And frankly, even with the horrible sprawl of Washington (which my arguments are trying to limit), my family often drove out of the city: we saw more wildlife on a real rural adventure than we see from our pseudo-suburban backyard and our commuter lifestyle. There are benefits to suburbia -- but I think there would be more benefits if it were gone.