Zooburbia: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us

Zooburbia: Meditations on the Wild Animals Among Us


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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: Meditations On The Wild Animals Among Us. Urban and suburban residents share their environment 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 and separate, and that our teachers are right in front of us. We need only go outdoors with our eyes and ears open to find a rapport with the animal kingdom. Zooburbia is a magnifying lens turned to our everyday environment, reminding us that we, as individuals and as a species, are not alone.

Illustrated by Dave Buchen with original black and white wildlife linocuts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937006679
Publisher: Parallax Press
Publication date: 05/20/2014
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 761,426
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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.

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue: At Home in Zooburbia 11

1 My Green Mansions 15

2 Conditions for Happiness 21

3 Making Salad for Deer 29

4 Rat Race 37

5 How to Make a Forest 43

6 The Mindfulness Bull 51

7 Becoming Unafraid 57

8 A Small Wild Place 65

9 The Octopus 73

10 Golden Season 79

11 The Outsiders 87

12 The Patch Table 95

13 Only a Goldfish 101

14 Wild Gardeners 109

15 Gravity 115

16 Peaceable Kingdom 121

17 Hold Fast 131

18 The Wild, Wild Turkey 137

19 Kittens to Feed 145

20 Up At Night 151

21 Pigeon Toes 157

22 Unchained Hearts 163

23 Underground 171

24 Rabbit People 179

25 Forgiveness 185

26 Happiness 191

27 Take Heart 197

28 Interpretations 203

29 Accepting the Unacceptable 209

30 Trick Riding 217

31 Roadkill 221

32 Lost Causes and Lonely Birds 229

33 An Entire Earth 237

34 Compassionate Warriors 245

35 The Most Important Thing 253

Epilogue: A Blessed Day 259

Appendix: Starting a Wildlife Garden 266

Acknowledgments 269

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