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City Creatures

Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness

Read about Ten Years of City Creatures at the Center for Humans and Nature

We usually think of cities as the domain of humans—but we are just one of thousands of species that call the urban landscape home. Chicago residents knowingly move among familiar creatures like squirrels, pigeons, and dogs, but might be surprised to learn about all the leafhoppers and water bears, black-crowned night herons and bison, beavers and massasauga rattlesnakes that are living alongside them. City Creatures introduces readers to an astonishing diversity of urban wildlife with a unique and accessible mix of essays, poetry, paintings, and photographs.

The contributors bring a story-based approach to this urban safari, taking readers on birding expeditions to the Magic Hedge at Montrose Harbor on the North Side, canoe trips down the South Fork of the Chicago River (better known as Bubbly Creek), and insect-collecting forays or restoration work days in the suburban forest preserves.

The book is organized into six sections, each highlighting one type of place in which people might encounter animals in the city and suburbs. For example, schoolyard chickens and warrior wasps populate “Backyard Diversity,” live giraffes loom at the zoo and taxidermy-in-progress pheasants fascinate museum-goers in “Animals on Display,” and a chorus of deep-freeze frogs awaits in “Water Worlds.” Although the book is rooted in Chicago’s landscape, nature lovers from cities around the globe will find a wealth of urban animal encounters that will open their senses to a new world that has been there all along. Its powerful combination of insightful narratives, numinous poetry, and full-color art throughout will help readers see the city—and the creatures who share it with us—in an entirely new light.

377 pages | 102 color plates, 16 halftones | 8 x 10 | © 2015

Art: Art--General Studies

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology, Natural History

Chicago and Illinois


"There is something here for everyone: poems, personal essays, histories, marvelous reproductions of paintings, photographs and drawings. From monk parakeets in Hyde Park to animals in zoos and museums, alley cats to alewives to coyotes to migrating cranes, this book brings the nature that's all around us into sharp focus."

Chicago Tribune

“INCREDIBLE. . . . A collection of stories, poems, drawings, and photographs contributed by numerous Chicago artists, scientists, and residents, it whisks the reader through the streets, parks, and history of the Chicago region, giving a perspective on the city’s relationship with nature that is at once complete, nuanced, detailed, entertaining, and surprisingly intimate.”

Nature of Cities

“[A] vivid and detailed depiction of Chicago’s natural world. . . . The book’s marriage of personal experience with historical record makes for an engaging read. The artwork included is as vibrant and awe-inspiring as the city itself.”

Chicago Tonight

“This fascinating look at wilderness through literature and art will be relished by Chicago area readers. The topics will also resonate with anyone who enjoys natural history and looks to find nature in their own backyard.”

Library Journal

"An outstanding compilation of essays, poetry, photographs and art. . . . After finishing this book, among the questions one asks is how can we take better, more proactive care of the natural world that’s intertwined throughout our urban infrastructure and how can we enjoy that world more fully?”


“As the perfect antidote to the sense of powerlessness that sometimes characterizes our inability to prevent mass extinction or amend catastrophic eco-disasters, this book shows us how eco-awareness can start on a small scale through caring for the animals we encounter in our neighborhoods, our backyards, and on our doorsteps.”


"Chicago wilderness? Who knew what fabulous creatures you may encounter there! There has never been another book that celebrates so beautifully the ways wild creatures can be encountered in the midst of the asphalt grids and windy shores of this most American of cities."

David Rothenberg, author of Survival of the Beautiful and Bug Music

“The essays, stories, art, poetry, and photography in City Creatures convey one insight after another about modern life, and in particular offer ideas about ethics, the importance of place, displaced species, the diversity of life, religious practice and thinking, and the role of literature and other arts in helping us see our daily lives. Human city dwellers will see their world far better and recognize how to stop harming their local habitat and their fellow urban 'citizens,' building toward coexistence with their nonhuman neighbors.”

Paul Waldau, author of Animal Studies: An Introduction

"Nature in Chicago is everywhere and for everyone. Read this book for its symphony of voices."

Bernd Heinrich, author of The Homing Instinct and Life Everlasting

"City Creatures is a collection of essays, artwork, and poetry from over 50 contributors. It exuberantly spans subjects from the spiritual benefits and moral issues around keeping chickens in the backyard to the unsung contributions of soil mites. We learn about orchid sex and the resurrection of frozen frogs. A scientist gives us a glimpse into the secret lives of urban coyotes. There’s a step-by-step description of taxidermy. We are treated to charming accounts of meetings with owls, parrots, skunks, snakes and other animal neighbors, and a haunting glimpse of herons on the concrete-lined banks of a polluted stream. The authors take us bird-watching, snake-hunting, dog-walking, and into Chicago’s museums and zoos. The book is about the wildlife of Chicago, but the subjects extend well beyond.
After reading City Creatures I was left feeling the strong collective impact of all of those voices. The stories were informative or intimate or funny or sad or all of these things. What I found most unique and unexpected was the book’s emotional content. I was touched. I literally laughed and cried, diving forward into each new story, genuinely interested to hear about the next person’s wildlife experiences."

Julie Feinstein, author of Field Guide to Urban Wildlife

"A fascinating and beautiful book linking ecology, anthropology, spirituality, prose, art and poetry that urges us to rediscover our relationship with urban animals. Chicago provides an ideal background for this elegant and engaging examination of how animals and nature can reconnect us back to our own humanity; addressing essential and universal questions for all city-dwellers in this modern age."

Beatrix Beisner, coeditor of Nature All Around Us

"A fascinating collection of thoughtful insights in the richly diverse and surprisingly pulsing urban nature of one of the world’s most busy cities. This vivid and passionate book opens our eyes to the wealth of animal life that regularly goes unnoticed in the hustling and bustling of the everyday. The animals we share our city with occupy different urban spaces, geographical areas, and institutional domains as their fleeting presences are captured in this book by essayists, poets, and artists. With its emphasis on local realities and histories, City Creatures sets the model for the eco-urban engagement this decade so urgently needs."

Giovanni Aloi, editor in chief of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture and lecturer in modern and contemporary art at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Table of Contents

Introducing City Creatures · Dave Aftandilian and Gavin Van Horn

1. Backyard Diversity

Up Not Out · Janice F. Meister
Keeping Chickens · Terra Brockman
Holding Backyard Chicken · Colleen Plumb
Consumes mi dolor . . . mi muerte (You consume my pain . . . my death) · Alma Domínguez
Looking Up · Melinda Pruett-Jones
Fieldguide · Mark Crisanti
Falling Apart · Tom Montgomery Fate
Five Squirrels Froze · Susan Hahn
The One That Hums · Kendra Langdon Juskus
Mysterium Opossum · Lea F. Schweitz
Raccoon · Amy Newman
Fox · Cannon Dill and Brett Flanigan
The Fox · Amy Newman
A Eulogy for My Friends · Steve Sullivan
Prayer for the Squirrel · Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody
Murder · Maskull Lasserre
Asha: jewel of the Nile · Xavier Nuez
The Western Scarab · Ed Roberson
Visits from a Messenger · Nora Moore Lloyd
The Oracle of Wasps · Patricia Monaghan

2. Neighborhood Associations

Chicago Wildlife · Johannes Plagemann
Keegan’s Story · Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody
Zoo Woods · Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody
Hubbard Street Murals · Leslie Berish, Augustina Droze, Ricki Hill, Chris Jones, Neil Shapiro, and the Hubbard Street Mural Project Volunteers
A Tale of Two Squirrels and One City · Joel S. Brown
Noble Horse Stables · Brooke Collins
Rooftop Beekeeping · Kyle Gati
Pigeons · David Hernandez
DH + BH · Camilo Cumpian
Civitas Canis lupus familiaris · Michael S. Hogue
Y ora pa onde chingaos · Alma Domínguez
Aquí se hace tarde demasiado temprano · Alma Domínguez
Wanting Was an Alley Cat · Susan Hahn
Ferrets · ROA
Kiskinwahamâtowin (Learning Together): Outdoor Classrooms and Prairie Restoration at the American Indian Center of Chicago · Eli Suzukovich III
Owl · Brooks Blair Golden
The Red Fox Who Toys with the Dead · Brenda Cárdenas
Remaking Our Covenants of Life and Death on the Dunes Commons · J. Ronald Engel
Nikki: (hiphop) dancing queen · Xavier Nuez
Crickets · Jill Spealman
The Boarding Stable · Joseph Kayne

3. Animals on Display

Dolphins at Play · Gregory J. Auberry
Train to the Zoo · Joan Gibb Engel
Puma · Carlos Ernesto Uribe Cardozo
Bridging the Divide: Pondering Humanity at the Zoo · Andrea Friederici Ross
Bushman, Field Museum · Colleen Plumb
Nature on Pause · Peggy Macnamara
A Museum of Change in Illinois · James Ballowe
Chicago Mammals, Field Museum · Colleen Plumb
A Living Taxidermy · Rebecca Beachy
Happy Birthday · Sonnet L. Schulz
Six Sketches at the Field Museum · Benn Colker
Playing for Life: Learning to Care about Nature at the Hamill Family Play Zoo · David Becker
Field Museum, Drawer of Bluebirds; Field Museum, Drawer of Cardinals; Field Museum, Drawer of Meadowlarks · Terry Evans

4. Connecting Threads

Flock · Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee
Migration: A Bird’s and Birder’s Eye View · Joel Greenberg
Birds Spotted While Hiking Wooded Isle, Hyde Park, Illinois · Diana Sudyka
The Song of Northerly Island · Wendy J. Paulson
Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive, Endangered Species · Michelle Kogan
A Siege of Herons: Nycticorax nycticorax · James Ballowe
Orchids and Their Animals · Stephen Packard
Massasauga Rattlesnake · Blake Lenoir
The Last Roundup: Observations on a Local Population of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake · Stephan Swanson
Snake 2 · Julie Meridian
Butterfly Collection · Julie Meridian
Letting the City Bug You: The Artistic and Ecological Virtues of Urban Insect Collecting · Andrew S. Yang
Untitled · Arthur Melville Pearson
Being Unseen: The Gift of Oppiella nova · Liam Heneghan
Soil: Alive with Life · Sharon Bladholm
The Indomitable Water Bear · Alex Chitty
Burnham Centennial Prairie, Lake Shore Drive · Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody
Visitations · Elise Paschen
Extinct Animal Series: Schomburgk’s Deer, Golden Toad, and Pink-Headed Duck · Jiha Park

5. Water Worlds

Stroll · Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee
Washed Up on the Shores of Lake Michigan · Curt Meine
The Alewives · Todd Davis
Alewives · Colleen Plumb
The Fanciful Fairy Tale of Freezing Frogs · Jill R iddell
Pescado Blanco en Río Chicago (White Fish in Chicago River) · René H. Arceo
Heavy Water · Kim Laurel
Canoeing through History: Wild Encounters on Bubbly Creek · Michael A. Bryson
Riverwalk Gateway, the South Branch of the River · Ellen Lanyon
Riverwalk Gateway · Ellen Lanyon
The Fish in the Cage · Todd Davis
Pond Reflection · Eleanor Spiess-Ferris
Flood · Eleanor Spiess-Ferris
Calumet: Requiem or Rebirth? · John Rogner
Bubbly Creek · Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

6. Coming Home to the City

Untitled · Molly Schafer
Great Migrations: Immigrants to the Indiana Dunes, from Grandparents to Great Blue Herons to People of Color and Conviction · Gary Paul Nabhan
Desenredando Fronteras (Unraveling Borders) · Hector Duarte
Eye and Cardinal · Tony Tasset
“Hardy, Colorful, and Sometimes Annoyingly Loud”: The Hyde Park Parakeets · Dave Aftandilian
Flock of Pigeons · Jyoti Srivastava
Endangered Species · Mary Cross
Pigeon! · Andrew S. Yang and the Small Science Collective
Sheka’kwa and the Skunks of My Re-Rooting · Marynia Kolak
Care Bare · Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee
Nature Calls · Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee
Above All · Kendra Langdon Juskus
Untitled (I Promise to Forget You) · Steve Seeley
Coyotes: The Ghost Dogs of Chicago · Stanley D. Gehrt
Wolf with Birds · Nikki Jarecki
Ghost Species · Brenda Cárdenas
Tickling the Bellies of the Buffalo · Gavin Van Horn
Indiana Dunes · Blake Lenoir

Recommended Resources
About the Contributors
Artwork Credits

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