WildCity: A Guide to Nature In Urban Ontario, From Termites to Coyotes by Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner (McClelland & Stewart), 344 pages, $24.99 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Anthropologists say that children in cultures more in harmony with the earth than our auto-crazed society can identify every species of wildlife within 100 miles of their homes. Given our environmental illiteracy, WildCity would be an excellent tool to raise educational standards in Ontario to such tribal levels. Even the most veteran amateur naturalist of our urban wilds will discover something new here.
Consider what Tim Tiner and Doug Bennet reveal about one keystone species of our Carolinian biome, the white-tailed deer. Native people who once lived in Toronto modified their habitats to increase their abundance, to the point of constructing enclosures.
I also learned a new explanation for why Iroquois chiefs are symbolically crowned with deer antlers. Antlers are viewed as super-sensitive, and chiefs need to be very aware of their surroundings.
And I discovered how to distinguish healthy forests, rich in spring ephemerals such as trout lilies and trilliums, from degraded habitats choked with dog-strangling vine and garlic mustard.
Celebrating the wonders of urban habitats, WildCity cites a multitude of glories. For instance, it tracks the story of the Canada geese that dominate our waterfront after verging on collapse in 1920s Ontario, the street patrols that rescue birds that have crashed into our skyscrapers and the Solomon's seal wildflower that survives in most urban forests.
WildCity's cover photo, showing a peregrine falcon in downtown Toronto, sends a great message about the need to revere our urban wildlands. It's taken from the Web site of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, a charity that monitors falcons with a variety of high-tech devices, 24-hour video surveillance and 50 volunteers.