My last year of college at Berkeley, I took an environmental science class with a well known naturalist and professor there named Arnold Schultz. By the time that I met him, Arnold had been teaching at Berkeley for nearly fifty years and the walk to and from campus every day had become too difficult. So, his students met in his living room for twice weekly classes (and often at other times too for Scrabble games, potlucks and ice cream). Late in the semester, he took us on a field trip to stay in cabins in the Mendocino forest and hike around in the redwoods all day. It was an incredible class, and Arnold was a phenomenal teacher. Much of what he taught us was probably well summarized by the bumper sticker on his seldom driven car. It read "Nature bats last." Arnold believed in the resiliency of nature, but he also believed in the need for people to engage in thoughtful stewardship of the natural environment in the modern world.
I think of Arnold often, especially as I teach my young daughter about the importance of connecting with the natural world, and I was reminded of him and his bumper sticker earlier this week when I read Nancy's post about meeting a kestrel rescued from the streets of D.C. Even as our society is more and more centered around urban living, the natural world fights to find a foothold for itself in cities everywhere. I was also reminded of a very favorite book of ours and thought that it would make for a great review here this week.
Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City was written by Janet Schulman and illustrated in lovely watercolors by Meilo So. It is the true story of a red-tailed hawk who took up residence on the roof of the most upscale apartment building in Manhattan, causing a chain of events that were followed by nature lovers around the world. Pale Male is an inspiring tale of the ways that the natural world can fill us with wonder and surprise, especially when we are able to witness first hand the persistence of animals following their instincts, in spite of fumbling human interventions. It is also a story about the ability of the beauty and simplicity of nature to help people form communities and to successfully engage in activism.
When Pale Male's nest is repeatedly destroyed by angry residents of the apartment building that he calls home, people from around the world successfully protest his displacement. And not just birders or scientists or others that you might expect. For the people of New York (and beyond), Pale Male had become a symbol of the way that nature can and will find it's way, even in one of the most populated urban centers in the world. He had become a symbol of hope and renewal and his supporters included everyone from celebrities to school children.
Pale Male is an incredible story for many reasons, but not least of these is the fact that it demonstrates the ways in which people, for all of our modern conveniences, cars and computers, can still be awe-struck when Mother Nature shows her colors. This story reminds us that this awe can turn to love and affection and bring strangers together in collective efforts to protect that love. Yes, nature bats last, but raising our children to realize that we are playing the game together is among our larger undertakings as parents.
I think I could probably go on (and on) about this wonderful book, but I think that I'll let it rest here; my family loves this book whole-heartedly, and I suspect that yours will too.