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Book Review: The Comfort of Crows by Margaret Renkl

Look out your window.  How does your yard fit into the natural world?  Margaret Renkl’s yard in Tennessee seems to fit well, and in her book, The Comfort of Crows, she expresses her joy in nurturing and experiencing it.

In Crows, Renkl, who is a weekly opinion columnist for the New York Times, chronicles a year, week by week, of observing and reflecting on the natural world, mostly in regard to her yard.  As in her NYT columns, Renkl writes about flora, fauna, politics, and culture. However, Crows is more personal. The book consists of 52 essays or vignettes, each of which is a few pages long, accompanied by beautiful artwork, created by her brother, Billy Renkl.  While mostly recounting animal and plant stories related to her yard through the seasons, she also includes stories of her childhood, her family, her neighbors.

The book has encouraged me to be more cognizant of nature in my neighborhood. I no longer fret about the raccoons digging in my compost pile.  Let them have at it.  Regarding the leaves in my yard, like Renkl, I will try to keep them from blowing in my neighbor’s yard, but save many for nesting insects and plant fertility. Perhaps I can replace the sparse grass and Creeping Charlie in my side yard with native pollinators.  

While Renkl does acknowledge that the ongoing destruction of nature is real and dire, she suggests, in an engaging way, that knowing the natural world up close, in our neighborhoods, and in our lives, can lead to an amazement, that is both a gift and a plea for action.