“Trash Animals: How We Life with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species.” That’s the title of a new book soon to be on the shelves of the Hennepin County library. The library’s summary of the book tells us that the various authors, each examining one species, will contrast the reality of the animal with “assumptions widely held about them.” We will be challenged to “look closely at these animals, to re-imagine our ethics of engagement” with them.
A good premise, a useful book I’ll bet, but what an awful title. If the essays are to polish the reputations of these critters, it’s misleading. Either they are trash – and no animals are – or they aren’t. Nor are they filthy, or necessarily unwanted.
The book tells us we regard pigeons, carp, wolves, coyotes, gulls, magpies, prairie dogs, other animals, and, in my case, squirrels, with less than an admiring eye. I suppose someone ill-informed and unfamiliar with wildlife could so consider. Speaking for birds, pigeons, the entire broad family of gulls, and the clever and well-dressed magpie -- all are beautiful animals, each with its own place in our birding history, on our lists, in our guidebooks, and sometimes in our aspirations.
All God’s children have a place in the choir, as the song goes. In most cases, we have created invasive and unwanted species and whatever negative images exist by introducing animals to places they don’t belong. We alter habitat to give competing animals lesser chance at prosperity. If there is a trash issue here, we should examine our careless behavior with non-native species and our disregard for the needs of native species. That’s the trashy part.
The book is being published by the University of Minnesota Press.
A Rock Pigeon, below, our garden-variety pigeon, a beautiful iridescent bird that is not trash in any way. Watch a flock of pigeons wheel through the air. Consider the wonderfully odd way they walk, head bobbing with each step. Why, and how do their eyes adjust to the constant focal change? Or, enjoy their company by tossing them bread crumbs or popcorn on your next visit to a city park. Few bird species are as accepting of us.