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, each chapter shares the happy fact that none of us is alone—our teachers are right in front of us.
To be alienated from animals is to live a life that is not quite whole, contends nature writer Tai Moses. 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 ways animals enrich our lives, yet don’t notice the animals already around us.
A light, pleasing meditation on the joy of mindfully observing nature.—Kirkus Reviews
Dog and horse, deer and mole: these are the flesh-and-blood spirits who attend Moses’ writing, metamorphosing her first-person essays into a radiant collective consciousness. We live in a zoo without cages. Moses’ book is a keeper.—BookPage
Moses captures “the human desire to form an emotional bond with other creatures” and its nuanced shades of both glory and misery.” —Publishers Weekly
Throughout this collection of essays, 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. —Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Magazine
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
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
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
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
My Green Mansions
We plan our lives according to a dream that comes to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans.—Ben Okri
My chief preoccupation when I was a girl growing up in the heart of Los Angeles was to find a way to get out of the city and go live alone in the wilderness with wild animals and maybe a loyal dog. The air in LA was so polluted that we had smog-alert days when kids weren’t allowed to play outside. When I took a deep breath my eyes stung and my chest burned. During recess and lunchtime we had to stay in the classroom and put our heads down on our desks to rest. I still remember how soothing that laminated surface felt against my cheek, so cool when everything else was so hot.
I knew things weren’t supposed to be this way. Air was supposed to be pure and breathable. Skies should be clear and blue, not hazy and orange. Rivers weren’t supposed to be sheathed in concrete, their bends straightened and rapids muzzled. With a freeway on one side and railroad tracks on the other, the Los Angeles River was as eager to escape its concrete prison as I was to escape the city. Cattails, rushes, and reeds took root in the riverbed; tiny green frogs hopped up and down the algaed banks. In the rainy season, torrents of muddy water thundered down the channel, sweeping along shopping carts, tree trunks, tires, and sometimes even an unfortunate person.
I dreamed of woods, creeks, and mountains. I dreamed of wild animals and of wildness—wildness in the true sense of the word, untamed and free. At the public library, I haunted the nature section, checking out books that taught me the names of birds and mammals, flowers and trees. I memorized animal tracks and cloud formations. Certain words ignited fiery particles in my imagination: Prairie. Forest. Grizzly. Waterfall. Mustang. Eagle. Arroyo. I loved the very sound and shape of these words. I pored over my dog-eared copy of How To Stay Alive in the Woods. I even assembled my own moccasins with a kit I got from the Tandy leather factory.
Author Events: Zooburbia
Author Q&A: Tai Moses
Q. The title of your book is Zooburbia: Meditations On The Wild Animals Among Us. What exactly is zooburbia, and what are meditations?
Tai Moses: Increasingly, as our cities sprawl into the countryside, the boundaries between human settlements and animal territories become more and more blurred. That blurred terrain is where we find zooburbia; literally, where the animals meet the city (zoo is Greek for animal and urban comes from the Latin for city). With more than 80 percent of the U.S. population now residing in cities or suburbs, we all live in zooburbia today. Even the densest urban settlements boast a variety of wildlife: there are flocks of wild turkeys in the East Bay; coyotes have been seen in Central Park and Golden Gate Park; raccoons, skunks, and squirrels can be found in nearly every city in the country. Along with these native species, we humans have always shared our lives with a variety of tame animals—cats and dogs, fish and birds, horses—and these animals are also a part of zooburbia.
I also think of zooburbia as a state of mind, an internal awareness that we are not the only species in the neighborhood, that we share our environment with many other animals and we must respect and have compassion for them and recognize their unique traits.
The “meditations” are the chapters in the book: each is short and succinct, covering an episode with an animal. Sometimes a chapter is just an image or a memory, a reflection or a brief encounter. I call them meditations because they are short and meditative. Also, you don’t have to read the book from start to finish; it’s not chronological. You can open it anywhere and start reading.
Q. What inspired you to write this book?
TM: I have always been interested in the intersection of human and animal: in art and literature, in science, in life. As a journalist I was often drawn to animal topics: I wrote about San Jose’s Mounted Police Unit; about how fishermen and pelicans are colliding on the Santa Cruz wharf; I profiled an alpaca breeder in Bonny Doon. I’ve written a blog for several years that is largely about the natural history of my backyard and its wild inhabitants. Living at the foot of the Oakland hills, all I have to do is look out my window and watch and wait, and sooner or later an animal comes along.
But like most people, what I’m most interested in is a good story and captivating characters. Once I started thinking about all the animals in my life, I realized I had some pretty good stories to tell—and all of them are true. I’ve been knocked over by an irritated bull, fallen down a flight of stairs and landed on a raccoon, stopped a runaway horse, made friends with rats, and had my heart broken by an octopus. Those are a few of the meditations in the book.
Q. What is one of the primary messages of your book?
TM: By telling stories about animals that are familiar to most people, I hope readers will begin to recognize that animals are individuals, just like human beings. As author Jonathan Balcombe has said, animals are not merely alive—they have lives, and their lives matter. Animals are conscious beings, with emotions and minds.
Mindfulness is another strong thread that runs throughout the book. Animals live in the present and they respond to the world authentically. When we are in their presence, we become exquisitely awake to the present moment and all its wonders. When we take the dog for a walk, watch horses in a pasture, feed birds in the backyard, or observe fish in an aquarium, we slow down, we start to see life from the perspective of another species; our sense become more attuned and we become calmly attentive.
One of the central themes of my book is that the presence of animals—whether wild or not so wild; whether we interact or merely observe them—enriches and enlivens our lives, and makes us more mindful, more joyful, more compassionate, and more connected with nature.
Q. Besides living in the moment, what other aspects of mindfulness can animals teach us?
I discuss a concept Thich Nhat Hanh writes about called co-responsibility. Being co-responsible means we cannot look away from suffering, if it is done in our name. Just as engaged Buddhism combines mindfulness with action to reduce suffering in the world, Zooburbia argues that we should act whenever possible to protect and defend animals, and we should live our lives so as to lessen any harm we may unintentionally be causing them. In part, that means being mindful and compassionate stewards of the wildlife we coexist with. It also means speaking up for animal that is being abused or neglected.
I tell a story in the book about finding a dilapidated chickenwire fence on the hillside behind my home. It had fallen down and become, essentially, a wildlife snare. I didn’t build that fence, I don’t know who did, but the responsibility had now passed on to me to make sure it didn’t harm any animals, so I had the fence taken out. I tell another story about a friend who rescued a dying dog in her neighborhood. The dog was neglected and being allowed to die slowly. My friend simply carried the dog out of the yard and nursed her back to health. Today she is a loving and healthy dog, and she and my friend are very bonded. Both of these are examples of the Buddhist principle of ahimsa, meaning do no harm. The comprehensive meaning of ahimsa is kindness and nonviolence toward all living things.
Animals are also great teachers of the concepts of interdependence and interconnectedness. To be human is often to feel exiled from the natural world. But the more mindful attention we pay to animals and nature the more we feel we are part of this earth and all its wonders, part of its incomparable beauty and diversity. When we stop to look deeply at the lives of animals, we realize that they are interconnected with us in many ways.
Q. What is the best way to become more connected with animals, if you live in the city?
TM: There are so many things you can do! Just go outside and take a walk and open your senses to the world around you, and you may have an amazing experience. Watch birds from the rooftop of your apartment, watch squirrels in the park, even observing dogs at a dog park can be fascinating.
Also, adopting a pet—a dog or cat, or a couple of rabbits or guinea pigs—from an animal shelter or rescue organization can enlarge the boundaries of your life in ways you never thought possible. We often go through life technologically connected through our electronic devices, but emotionally disconnected from meaningful relationships. Animals can bridge that gap. They are easy to love, and they give love readily.
Wildlife gardening is another way to connect with animals, and you can do that anywhere—in your backyard, or if you only have a balcony or porch, you can plant some containers or hang a birdfeeder. People who live in cities and suburbs can do so much to help birds and wildlife. Intentionally and mindfully creating habitat—shelter, food, nesting areas, a water source for birds, bees, butterflies or wildlife—is incredibly rewarding. And it doesn’t take much. An old pie tin filled daily with fresh water makes a birdbath. Some flowering native shrubs in a pot provide nectar for bees and butterflies. A few stones in a pile is a hiding place for lizards. We take so much away from nature. Wildlife gardening is one way to give back.
For too long, urban wildlife has been looked at only from the perspective of being pests, but there is a whole other perspective that finds these animals a source of joy and beauty and wonder. We do not live in an exclusively human world: we are just one of many life forms here on this planet. We can coexist peacefully and creatively with other animals.
Q. What other animals appear in Zooburbia, besides urban wildlife like deer and raccoons?
TM: There are many cats and dogs and horses featured in the book. I write about my own pets as well as some of the dogs I met when I volunteered at the Oakland Animal Shelter. I relate some scenes from modern life that almost any urban dweller will find familiar: the dog who lives next door and barks for hours on end; the feral cats who eke out an existence on the fringes of our neighborhoods; the friend’s parrot who sits neglected in a cage; and even the goldfish who lives out her life in a tiny bowl. Every one of these animals has a story. All of them are individuals, and all are worthy of our attention, our compassion and our respect.