The Hopes of Snakes and Other Tales from the Urban Landscape

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Overview

In The Hopes of Snakes, Lisa Couturier celebrates the stories of forgotten, overlooked animals who have adapted nobly to city and suburban life in the Northeast. With sharp perception and deep humanity, she has found what is so remarkable in the nature we see most often and illuminated it like no one before her. The Hopes of Snakes is an eloquent and powerful debut by one of the best new writers exploring nature in the humanized landscape.
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The Hopes of Snakes and Other Tales from the Urban Landscape

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Overview

In The Hopes of Snakes, Lisa Couturier celebrates the stories of forgotten, overlooked animals who have adapted nobly to city and suburban life in the Northeast. With sharp perception and deep humanity, she has found what is so remarkable in the nature we see most often and illuminated it like no one before her. The Hopes of Snakes is an eloquent and powerful debut by one of the best new writers exploring nature in the humanized landscape.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Couturier's essays shine with her candor, her perception, and her affection for the creatures of our world. Whether the subject is a snake or a falcon or a crow named Edgar, these essays will both enlighten and give much reading pleasure.--Mary Oliver

"Couturier enters the terrain staked out by Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Terry Tempest Williams in Refuge. In these moving essays, Couturier does not so much domesticate the wilderness as reveal the wildness within the domestic."--Publishers Weekly

"The essays combine nature writing, philosophy, theology and feminism . . . the writing is lyrical, even when Couturier explores the ecology of New York's subways."--USA Today

"Beautiful, intelligent, and literary . . . this book is a wondrous pleasure, yet it has the ability to shift the way you look at the natural world. The Hopes of Snakes belongs on the bookshelf next to Edward Abbey's The Serpents of Paradise and Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and, like those, is a book to savor, to know, to love and to share."--The Oregonian

Publishers Weekly
Well traveled and well versed in science, first-timer Couturier is most passionate about the vital emotional connection one feels with the small wildlands of home. In these moving essays on the wild creatures of New York City and Washington, D.C., she offers sharply observed encounters with suburban foxes and urban herons (the former patrol a D.C. golf course, keeping the population of Canada geese in check and "playfully pouncing on golf balls as they roll by"), and she's equally enthusiastic about animals as mundane as crows and pigeons. She also addresses the ways in which our relationships with wildlife go astray, whether it's a plague of roaches in her apartment building or the ubiquitous human impulse to torture snakes. Particularly moving is an essay on women, wilderness and fear, in which she writes about learning to track the bullies who preyed on her brother by the sounds of the birds fleeing them. At her best, Couturier enters the terrain staked out by Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Terry Tempest Williams in Refuge. She makes a convincing case that a suburban woman with a toddler can have as viable a relationship with the wild as an intrepid backpacker; she does not so much domesticate the wilderness as reveal the wildness within the domestic. Agent, Stephanie von Hirschberg. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What do coyotes, peregrine falcons, and snakes have in common? They are all wild animals that have adapted to urban life. In her debut collection, nature essayist Couturier finds she doesn't have to travel far from New York City to observe the fascinating behavior of wild animals that have carved out a niche in an unnatural setting. Mice carelessly nibble at tidbits on subway tracks; peregrine falcons swoop down from skyscrapers on unsuspecting pigeons. Often, the most ubiquitous urbanized animals have been misrepresented, feared, and detested and, as such, considered expendable. In this collection of essays about urban wildlife, Couturier relates stories of incredible cruelty to perceived pests but also introduces the reader to warmhearted citizens like Mattie Libre, who has given her life to animal rehabilitation. Although the flow of the collection sometimes suffers from abrupt transitions between past and present, the book provides valuable instruction on the necessity of wildlife in peoples' lives and is well worth reading. Recommended for nature collections.-Maureen J. Delaney-Lehman, Lake Superior State Univ., Sault Ste. Marie, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This is not a saccharine, anthropomorphic view of nature, but it is a very personal one. When she was a small child, the author's father encouraged her to use her eyes and ears in exploring the wonders of the outdoors. In her teens and 20s, the natural world captured her mind and heart as well. She is both a journalist and a trained observer who has assisted biologists in work as varied as banding peregrine falcons in Manhattan and tracking black racers (snakes) relocated in an old airfield in Brooklyn. Much like Annie Dillard's in Teaching a Stone to Talk (HarperCollins, 1992), Couturier's prose seamlessly weaves together her passion for the environment, her relationships with professionals, and her life experience. These lyrical and engaging essays, ranging in time from her childhood to that of her young daughter's, are based on a multitude of experiences with wildlife, chiefly in the New York City metropolitan area and in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. Teens will be encouraged by these stand-alone essays to study the world around them.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nature writer and first-book author Couturier makes Megalopolis her wild place, observing the natural world and delineating its effects upon her personality. "For someone like me who has desired little except a closeness to animals, and who craved this so strongly that without them I often felt fractured and lost," Couturier writes, "the creatures of New York City, once discovered, became healers in a way." They restored her equilibrium, shaky in so man-made an environment, and brought back to her a measure of sacredness. The writer does not exclusively inhabit the realm of the mystical and sacred, but she understands the powerful impact of associations with animals that transcend a look: blood rushes through her body, her senses are heightened, she's grateful for the close communion. In one piece, she wonders about the return after a year's absence of a vulture, the bird of death, on Easter, day of the Resurrection. Not every urban creature garners her appreciation. Cockroaches may be enduring, but they are also repulsive when their mass goes critical. Yet pigeons catch her fancy, as do the city folk who feed them, and she manages to overcome her fear of the aggressive black racer snake enough to allow "the flaring forth of its tongue," the creature's way of getting to know her. The author marvels at a peregrine falcon nesting on a skyscraper and at a family of foxes that have been allowed to police an urban golf course, ridding it of rats and Canadian geese. Of these she writes with a serene pleasure, as if witness to a blessing. She also conveys, with a gentleness unusual to journalism, her affection for the damaged East River: "I love it for the same reason I love the Arthur Kill: forits magic. In all their woundedness, these resilient waterways are managing to give life."Couturier lyrically renders that life in each finely tuned essay. Agent: Stephanie von Hirschberg/Stephanie von Hirschberg Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807085653
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Couturier's essays have appeared in literary anthologies, including the well-regarded American Nature Writing series and National Geographic's Heart of a Nation. She has worked as an environmental journalist and a magazine editor. She writes and teaches in the Washington, DC, area, where she lives with her family along the Potomac River.
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Table of Contents

Reversing the tides 1
Off being God 9
The city's laughter 20
Snow day 34
Heirloom 36
For all the girls who couldn't walk into the woods 46
Rediscovering the Potomac 58
A banishment of crows 72
The hopes of snakes 87
Take the long way home 101
In the slipstream 110
One nation under coyote, divisible 122
Talks with vultures 144
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