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Zooburbia: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us

Zooburbia: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us

by Tai Moses, Dave Buchen (Illustrator)

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To be alienated from animals is to live a life that is not quite whole, contends nature writer Tai Moses in Zooburbia. Urban and suburban residents share our environments with many types of wildlife: squirrels, birds, spiders, and increasingly lizards, deer, and coyote. Many of us crave more contact with wild creatures, and recognize the small and large


To be alienated from animals is to live a life that is not quite whole, contends nature writer Tai Moses in Zooburbia. Urban and suburban residents share our environments with many types of wildlife: squirrels, birds, spiders, and increasingly lizards, deer, and coyote. Many of us crave more contact with wild creatures, and recognize the small and large ways animals enrich our lives, yet don’t notice the animals already around us.

Zooburbia reveals the reverence that can be felt in the presence of animals and shows how that reverence connects us to a deeper, better part of ourselves. A lively blend of memoir, natural history, and mindfulness practices, Zooburbia makes the case for being mindful and compassionate stewards — and students — of the wildlife with whom we coexist. With lessons on industriousness, perseverance, presence, exuberance, gratitude, aging, how to let go, and much more, Tai's vignettes share the happy fact that none of us is alone — our teachers are right in front of us. We need only go outdoors to find a rapport with the animal kingdom. Zooburbia is a magnifying lens turned to our everyday environment.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this series of ruminative essays, Moses introduces readers to the concept of "zooburbia," the name she ascribes to the "extraordinary, unruly, half-wild realm where human and animal lives overlap." The setting is frequently the author's home, a "woodsy ravine" in Oakland she sought out after a smog-drenched childhood in Los Angeles. Moses comments on the fragility of ecosystems and notes that she swapped her vegetable garden for native plants that attract more wildlife, suggesting that readers do the same. She discusses the usefulness of all creatures, from common pests to simple goldfish to meddlesome moles. Nature's "pitiless indifference to suffering," causes occasional heartache—including a baby raccoon too ill to be saved and a doomed flightless jay—and a common theme throughout is what Moses considers our responsibility toward the animals around us as well as the helplessness that often accompanies intervention. There are also more affirming essays that concern lessons on mindfulness, such as her story of a reflective ride on an Icelandic horse. Moses captures "the human desire to form an emotional bond with other creatures" and its nuanced shades of both glory and misery. (May)
From the Publisher
One of O the Oprah Magazine's “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now” for May 2014

"Warm, charming and thoughtful, Tai Moses’ Zooburbia: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us draws the reader into the wider world, channeling the author’s own experiences to encourage both compassion and attention to the animals who share our spaces."—Animal Sheltering, The magazine of the Humane Association of the United States

“Something inside Tai Moses burns a little brighter when animals are around…. She shows how when we pay more attention to the furry and feathered beasts around us, we’re better off.”—Mindful

"Journalist Moses shares her joy in coexisting with the wild creatures around her… A light, pleasing meditation on the joy of mindfully observing nature.”—Kirkus Reviews

"...Affirming essays that concern lessons on mindfulness, such as her story of a reflective ride on an Icelandic horse. Moses captures 'the human desire to form an emotional bond with other creatures' and its nuanced shades of both glory and misery."—Publishers Weekly

"Moses writes in an engaging style of prose, applying self-deprecating humor, righteous anger, or even Zen philosophy as the material requires. She describes nature and animals beautifully and simply. This is the memoir of a writer who has put real thought into how she relates to the natural world, and readers will find those thoughts worth considering."—Foreword

"Meet your neighbors! Zooburbia serves as a fine introduction to some of the most interesting creatures you're likely to encounter."—Bill McKibben, Eaarth and The End of Nature

“I would buy this lovely book for the sentiments, for the illustrations, and for this sentence alone: ‘The mole is the most misunderstood of animals. Living alone in the gloom of darkness, unsociable and virtually sightless, the mole never gets a chance to set the record straight.’”—Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love

"In Zooburbia, Tai Moses writes with great power and imagination about an urban wildlife corridor where humans and animals overlap. This is a poetics of suburbia—of animals flying above us, sharing our houses, gardens and streets. Zooburbia will delight readers who love language and stay with them long after they’ve finished reading. There is something contagious about Moses’s joy and the mindful attention she brings to her encounters with animals. Zooburbia shows us that what we consider ordinary is actually an enchanted kingdom." —Thaisa Frank, Enchantment and Heidegger’s Glasses

"While Zooburbia shares an extraordinary glimpse into the natural world, it even more brilliantly gives you insight into the human condition, and through the eyes, mind, and heart of one of the most thoughtful, passionate, and perceptive humans you will ever encounter."—Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

"With moving anecdotes and incisive knowledge Tai Moses uncovers the natural world within our urban landscape. What a relief for us city dwellers, to know that wilderness is all around, resilient and beautiful, if only we would peer a little closer. While these plants and animals cannot offer flour or hold the extra house key, Moses shows us with humor and pathos that they are among the best of our neighbors. After reading Zooburbia I see my back garden anew, as not just a place for me, but a haven and a home to insects, birds, raccoons and possums. This book is a delight."—Caroline Paul, Lost Cat

"Wise, witty, compelling, and true, each of these closely-observed essays is a perfect gem! Thank you, Tai Moses, for showing us the blessings our animal teachers give us in wild abundance, right in our own backyards."—Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig and Journey of the Pink Dolphins

"Zooburbia has the power to quietly change the way you see the world. On every page, Tai Moses offers readers a way to reinterpret the ordinary, revealing that the world we humans have built is an even stranger place than we imagined, yet she reminds us of the beauty that lies beneath our human bumbling. This is a strange and beautiful book—a book about animals that is really a book about being a person."—Robert Jensen, Arguing for Our Lives

"Zooburbia is a loving encounter between an animal adventure story, a Buddhist scripture, and Winnie the Pooh that serves to remind us we are among sentient beings here on Earth."—Chellis Glendinning, My Name Is Chellis and I´m in Recovery from Western Civilization

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Moses shares her joy in coexisting with the wild creatures around her.After moving to suburban Oakland with her husband and cultivating a wildflower garden in her backyard that attracted birds and other wildlife, she began to appreciate the importance of urban stewardship. Drawn to the wilderness from an early age, the author explains how, where she once believed that "wild animals could be found only in a wilderness, now [she] finds wildlife everywhere: in the trees lining the sidewalks, in city parks and vacant lots…a shimmering living world of animals flourishing alongside humans." Despite the incursions on wildlife as urban development expands, by turning small patches of ground on yards, decks, terraces and rooftops into habitats, "collectively, all of these spaces add up to tremendous amounts of land." A key to this is the substitution of ornamental shrubs, flowers and manicured lawns with native plants that sustain an ecology of insects, worms, caterpillars, birds and small animals. Moses relates the couple's many adventures and mishaps with refreshing verve, beginning with a doomed plan to raise their own chickens (they provided dinner for raccoons that shared their space) and a vegetable garden that the deer munched on. They were reconciled to give up farming and happily coexist with the animals already in residence. Yet when Moses witnessed a hawk with a jay in its jaws, she confronted her own ambivalence about this threat to the harmony of her little universe; and she vigilantly restrained her her cat and dog. "When the conditions in my backyard can support the presence of the monarch butterfly, that is happiness," she writes, but there is also the pain of accepting the reality of predator and prey, life and death.A light, pleasing meditation on the joy of mindfully observing nature.
Library Journal
Moses (former AlterNet.org editor; journalist) intersperses Buddhist wisdom with her nature lover's observant perspective in this essay collection that maintains that as humans increasingly invade natural areas, we need to be more cognizant of the animals we are displacing and those with which we may find ourselves cohabitating. These animal encounters take many shapes, according to Moses—the sparrows that have managed to find their way into home-improvement stores, the exotic animals for sale at pet stores, the feral-cat communities that are increasingly on the rise in urban areas, and the goldfish serving as advertising totems. Any opportunity to interact with another species is sacred, says the author, and offers the occasion for reflection and mindfulness. These interactions serve to highlight our interconnectedness in a world in which people seem to feel more and more isolated. Buddhist quotes throughout the essays punctuate Moses's thesis. While at times humorous and occasionally sad, the pieces are always engaging and are complemented by black-and-white linocuts. VERDICT Highly recommended for those who search out solace and inspiration in the natural world or wish to do so.—Diana Hartle, Univ. of Georgia Science Lib., Athens

Product Details

Parallax Press
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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Mindfulness Bull

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.—Mary Oliver

I've always been a great daydreamer. I woolgather, I mind-wander, I don't pay attention to what's going on around me. Once I was making tea, leaning against the stove and waiting for the kettle to boil. It took me a few moments to notice the flames licking at my shirttail. My thoughts were in one world, while my body, even ablaze, was in another.

Minor mishaps like that were not infrequent in my life. I burned toast and overflowed the bathtub; I missed my train stop or freeway exit. Yet I couldn’t give up daydreaming: there was so much to think about and imagine in the playground of my mind.

Then, one day in early spring, I went for a ramble in a regional park up in the foothills. I was wandering through a grassy valley, adrift in a pleasant reverie, when I came upon a herd of cows grazing along the path. A large glossy black cow raised its head and looked at me, but I continued to stroll absentmindedly down the path. When I was a few cow's nose-lengths from the black cow, it dawned on me that this was not a cow at all, but a bull.

The bull, now undeniably a bull, lowered his head, pawed the ground, and two cartoon puffs of steam issued from his nostrils. His breath smelled herbaceous and slightly malty, as if he had been drinking beer along with his grass. I froze. I racked my brain trying to remember what to do when faced with an irate bull. Was I supposed to make myself appear larger by shouting and waving my arms around? Or should I try to seem smaller, perhaps even play dead? Should I climb a tree, dive into a river, run like hell? Then I thought, I'll just sidle by, he won't even notice me. I took one cautious step forward. The bull sashayed over—I was amazed at how quickly this massive animal could move—and butted me in the side, and I bounced across the path as effortlessly as a pebble.

Heart hammering, I scrambled to my feet and scurried away down the path. I looked over my shoulder to see if the bull was in pursuit, but he was ignoring me, enthusiastically cropping the grass where I had been standing. A thought went through my mind as clearly as if a voice had spoken in my ear: Wake up! And at that moment, I did feel remarkably, spectacularly awake. Adrenaline can have that effect on a person. The grass looked greener, the sky more cerulean. Had birdsong always sounded this melodious? Had acorns always had this marvelous conical shape, this satiny shell? Fully awake and engaged in the present moment, I felt like a new kind of animal: a mindful one. The bull had shaken and awakened me into a heightened state of awareness and it felt…wonderful.

I looked back at the herd. Some of the cows were settled down on the grass chewing their cud and gazing off into the middle distance, though I knew they were also alert and watchful, aware of any danger that might come their way. They were ruminating—consciously. I thought of the way my dog sometimes lays on the couch in a sphinx-like posture, her paws crossed in front of her, eyes half-closed, ears pricked. She appears to be dozing, yet her senses are fully engaged. Cats spend hours in the same intermediate state, projecting a sense of absolute calm while remaining intently aware of their environment. Maybe this wasn't so different from the mindfulness that humans practice. Perhaps human mindfulness was an attempt to model the observant yet meditative states so many animals slip into naturally when they are at rest.

In meditation classes they ring a bell to signal the beginning and ending of a meditation session. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says the sound of the bell is the Buddha's way of reminding us to come home to ourselves—in other words, to bring our attention into the present moment. "You have an appointment with life—you should not miss it," he says. "The time and the space of your appointment is the here and the now. If you are not available to life, then life will not be available to you." He says anything can be a mindfulness bell: the ringing of a phone, the barking of a dog, a traffic light—even, I suppose, a two-ton bull.

I felt grateful to the bull who had knocked me over and brought me home to myself. The bull had actually shown great restraint, using no more force than necessary to remove me from his salad bar. Every day I try to practice conscious rumination—my beastly form of mindfulness. Someday, I hope to be as skilled as the bull, standing calmly in the shade, swishing his tail at the flies, chewing his cud and ruminating on his inner world, aware of all that is within and all that is without.

Meet the Author

Tai Moses has been a journalist and editor for many years. She has also worked as a veterinary assistant, a barista, a hotel maid, and a wildlands firefighter. Formerly a senior editor at AlterNet.org, her writing has been widely published in the independent press. Tai lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband, her dog Arrow, and a number of cats.

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