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Trash Animals

Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species

Kelsi Nagy
Phillip David Johnson
Foreword by Randy Malamud
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Trash Animals
    Book Description:

    Why are some species admired or beloved while others are despised? An eagle or hawk circling overhead inspires awe while urban pigeons shuffling underfoot are kicked away in revulsion. Fly fishermen consider carp an unwelcome trash fish, even though the trout they hope to catch are often equally non-native. Wolves and coyotes are feared and hunted in numbers wildly disproportionate to the dangers they pose to humans and livestock.

    InTrash Animals, a diverse group of environmental writers explores the natural history of wildlife species deemed filthy, unwanted, invasive, or worthless, highlighting the vexed relationship humans have with such creatures. Each essay focuses on a so-called trash species-gulls, coyotes, carp, cockroaches, magpies, prairie dogs, and lubber grasshoppers, among others-examining the biology and behavior of each in contrast to the assumptions widely held about them. Identifying such animals as trash tells us nothing about problematic wildlife but rather reveals more about human expectations of, and frustrations with, the natural world.

    By establishing the unique place that maligned species occupy in the contemporary landscape and in our imagination, the contributors challenge us to look closely at these animals, to reimagine our ethics of engagement with such wildlife, and to question the violence with which we treat them. Perhaps our attitudes reveal more about humans than they do about the animals.

    Contributors: Bruce Barcott; Charles Bergman, Pacific Lutheran U; James E. Bishop, Young Harris College; Andrew D. Blechman; Michael P. Branch, U of Nevada, Reno; Lisa Couturier; Carolyn Kraus, U of Michigan-Dearborn; Jeffrey A. Lockwood, U of Wyoming; Kyhl Lyndgaard, Marlboro College; Charles Mitchell, Elmira College; Kathleen D. Moore, Oregon State U; Catherine Puckett; Bernard Quetchenbach, Montana State U, Billings; Christina Robertson, U of Nevada, Reno; Gavan P. L. Watson, U of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8673-5
    Subjects: Zoology, Environmental Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Randy Malamud

    THERE IS A RANGE OF NONHUMAN ANIMALS who are despised or feared or mocked because we have constructed them as the disgusting “other” in our anthropocentric fantasies of existence.

    We like to imagine that we are in control of our homes, gardens, forests, parks, landscapes, and urban spaces, and we are determined to serve as gatekeepers, or wardens, adjudicating which species are allowed and which are banned, which are prized and which are denigrated. These decisions are often based on our prejudices, our taste, and our habits.

    Cats, for example, are lovely, as long as they are suitably domesticated, registered,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)
    Kelsi Nagy and Phillip David Johnson II

    WORTHLESS, THREATENING, DANGEROUS, destructive, and ugly. Varmints, vermin, pests, scavengers, nuisances, and exotics or invasive alien species—these terms come to mind, without much reflection, when we think about certain animals or, heaven forbid, when we actually encounter them. These terms make us think of animals like snakes, coyotes, carp, starlings, pigeons, prairie dogs, rats, mice, cockroaches, and locusts, to name just a few, and there are many, many others. It is common to think of these animals as harmful, filthy, despicable, or useless. We take it for granted that these and other animals are perceived as having little or...


    • 1 See Gull: Cultural Blind Spots and the Disappearance of the Ring-billed Gull in Toronto
      (pp. 31-38)
      Gavan P. L. Watson

      FOR MOST TORONTONIANS, the organism known as a ring-billed gull(Larus delawarensis)does not exist. This is an impressive feat for a large (mostly), white bird considered to be the most abundant gull in North America. In Toronto, gulls are some of the bigger birds that are regularly seen, and ring-bills are no exception. Beak to tail, their size is equivalent to the diameter of a discarded automobile tire, and with their wings spread in anticipation of flight, ring-bills have a foot to spare on either side of a typical city sidewalk. Though they are considered large birds in the...

    • 2 Hunger Makes the Wolf
      (pp. 39-66)
      Charles Bergman

      THE WOLVES HAD DUG THEIR DEN into the crest of a small ridge in a dense stand of spruce trees. We meandered toward the den site, keeping to the thin line of one of the many wolf trails, past several lifeless beaver ponds and through the wet underbrush. High in the Alaska Range, the soggy clouds hung off the sides of the surrounding peaks like wet clothes, loose and heavy. We emerged from the dark spruce into a clearing where the wolves had trampled the dirt around their den into a hard pack. A small hole in the ground, the...

    • 3 Beauty and the Beast
      (pp. 67-85)
      Catherine Puckett

      OUR CHILDHOOD WORLD at home in north Florida was one of women mostly alone while their husbands were at war, at sea, in the air. And while we children were scared of the wildness, we were thrilled by it, too. We lived in a new neighborhood mucked out of a swampy area near the Jacksonville coast. Snakes were divided into two groups: garter snakes or poisonous snakes, nothing else. We didn’t know enough to call them venomous then, and the only venomous snakes we could recognize for sure (kind of) were the rattlesnake and the cottonmouth (the moccasin, which came...

    • 4 Managing Apocalypse: A Cultural History of the Mormon Cricket
      (pp. 86-104)
      Christina Robertson

      They ravage farmland, rangeland, and gardens. They form migrating bands, miles deep. They are voracious to the point of cannibalism. They are a plague, a blight on the Western landscape. And they are on the march by the millions, headed for your backyard. A newspaper headline declares, “Mormon crickets showing no signs of making retreat.” Another intones, “Big, ugly stinky bugs taking over Nevada.”

      Locusts have been humankind’s bane since biblical times. Exodus reads, “The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt . . . a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before. . . . They...


    • 5 One Nation under Coyote, Divisible
      (pp. 107-123)
      Lisa Couturier

      UNTIL THIS MOMENT—when I am walking quietly through fields of long grass, vines, mud, trees, thickets, and the pale gray air of March—the day has been ordinary. Like millions of other mothers across the country, I sent my child off to school, accomplished some work, and ran errands. Now not far beyond the field I am in, rush hour is winding down, stoves warm dinner, families relax inside their homes—in the country, the suburbs, the city—where the nightly news lights up dens along the East Coast. Parents kiss and play with giggling children they’ve missed all...

    • 6 Prairie Dog and Prejudice
      (pp. 124-138)
      Kelsi Nagy

      IT WAS A SUNNY DAY in Colorado in late March when I looked out over a pasture full of fat, yapping little rodents and thought, “There is no way in hell I am turning my horse out on that field.” I was visiting a small, privately owned farm to see about leasing it with a friend for our collective four horses. The farm had all the amenities we required: an outdoor riding arena, a spacious four-stall barn, and a thirty-acre pasture our horses could spend their days grazing. Best of all, we could afford the lease.

      As I gazed out...

    • 7 Nothing Says Trash like Packrats: Nature Boy Meets Bushy Tail
      (pp. 139-150)
      Michael P. Branch

      “HONEY, GET THE CAMERA!” I’ve just peeled back the tarp covering a half-used pallet of granite to reveal the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. From between the slats of the empty part of the pallet pokes a furry little head with large, dark eyes, a tiny, sniffing nose, and twitching whiskers. Its big, rounded ears are backlit in the early morning summer sun, and its bushy tail is partially visible through the slats just behind its body. Then a second curious little head pops up, and a third, and a fourth! By now my wife has arrived with our two-year-old...


    • 8 Canadas: From Conservation Success to Flying Carp
      (pp. 153-170)
      Bernard Quetchenbach

      A JUNE MORNING IN BOSTON. A quiet tributary greenbelts its way through Riverside Park toward the Charles River. A pair of large Canada geese balance forward across the path as I walk by, preserving their dignity through a kind of aloof disdain. Geese appear at intervals in pairs and groups of three or four. Some don’t lift their heads from under their wings when I pass.

      Two old men are sitting on a bench, tossing bread crumbs in the general direction of several Canadas. Conversing, they seem hardly to notice the geese, which approach the men slantwise, not out of...

    • 9 The Bard’s Bird; or, The Slings and Arrows of Avicultural Hegemony: A Tragicomedy in Five Acts
      (pp. 171-181)
      Charles Mitchell

      It was 1890 and Shakespeare was in trouble in America. Though still a production staple of the major metropolitan theatrical companies, performances of his plays had declined significantly in number since before the Civil War. One critic, writing in 1882, reached a distressing conclusion: “Shakespeare was heard ten times in New York then [1840] for once that he is heard now.”¹ The statue of Shakespeare in Central Park’s Literary Walk was planned to commemorate the 1864 tricentennial of his birth, but the work was not completed until 1872. Leading Shakespearean actors had so thoroughly personalized their performances that theatergoers familiar...

    • 10 Fly-Fishing for Carp as a Deeper Aesthetics
      (pp. 182-198)
      Phillip David Johnson II

      SINCE I QUIT THE FLY SHOP, I’ve been wading through miasmic absurdity with a six-hundred-dollar fly rod, chasing carp. Yes, I said carp. For a fly-fisherman and former guide living on Colorado’s Front Range, choosing the ignoble carp over trout seems a travesty, or at the very least some kind of ingratitude. At this point, however, carp fishing, or “carping” as my friends and I like to call it, has become a compulsion, because it drives to the very marrow of all things angling.

      So today, while SUVs sporting kayaks, coolers, and mountain bikes head west into the mountains, I...


    • 11 Metamorphosis in Detroit
      (pp. 201-213)
      Carolyn Kraus

      ONE SUMMER MORNING a raggedy shadow darted out from under the old black-and-white television set on my kitchen table, plopped to the floor, and disappeared. A maverick beetle in from the garden, I reasoned, or maybe a mutant ant. The next day my six-year-old son Nicholas trapped something in a pickle jar. Grinning up at me from beneath his Detroit Tigers baseball cap, he announced he was taking it to show-and-tell. I stared through the glass at the flat yellowish-brownish creature: six hairy legs, long flickering antennae, two big wraparound eyes, the bulging brow of a philosopher. It was grooming...

    • 12 Kach’i: Garbage Birds in a Hybrid Landscape
      (pp. 214-220)
      James E. Bishop

      IN THE DAYS AFTER I MOVED TO CH’ANGWON, a small city on the southern coast of Korea, I started seeing everywhere a species of jay-like bird with a long tail, a black head, and wings splotched white and black with an outlandish turquoise gloss. It was—dare I say it?—an attractive bird. I saw them fluttering between rooftops, roosting in trees, hopping across parking lots, bobbing on telephone wires, and perching on the light towers of the soccer stadium across the street from my apartment. But I had no idea what they were. I had to look them up....

    • 13 Flying Rats
      (pp. 221-242)
      Andrew D. Blechman

      MOST DENIZENS OF NEW YORK describe their city’s pigeons alternately as “dirty,” “filthy,” and “disease-ridden.” Although pigeons attempt to groom themselves daily, they do in fact poo in their own nests. Combine that with the perilous life of scavenging in a grimy, sooty city, and you can understand why some city pigeons look less than manicured. One urban aphorism often applied to the rock dove is the regrettable moniker “rats with wings.”

      Although he probably did not invent the slur, Woody Allen popularized it in his 1980 movieStardust Memorieswhen he panicked at the sight of a pigeon in...


    • 14 Kill the Cat That Kills the Bird?
      (pp. 245-256)
      Bruce Barcott

      LAST SUMMER, even as he talked about facing jail time, Jim Stevenson couldn’t stop looking for birds. “There’s a couple yellow-crowned night herons,” he said, pointing out his living room window. “They roost in that chinaberry tree.” He rested his eyes on the blue-gray birds. “Anyway, the cops pulled me over and searched my van and found the gun, and—” A movement caught his eye. “Roseate spoonbill. And there’s a male orchard oriole.”

      Stevenson is a bearish, ruddy-faced, fifty-four-year-old former science teacher who is known as the ornithological guru of Galveston, Texas. Ten years ago, he moved to this...

    • 15 An Unlimited Take of Ugly: The Bullhead Catfish
      (pp. 257-266)
      Kyhl Lyndgaard

      ON ONE OF THE FIRST TIMES I was allowed to go fishing without adults, my friend Oscar and I were dropped off at tiny Lake Sagatagan in central Minnesota. We used the classic combination of worm and bobber and began catching one fish after another. The fish were bullheads: black with muddy bellies, about eight to ten inches long, with whiskers and big mouths. We kept the largest ones in a five-gallon bucket to eat later. Oscar’s father was disgusted when he came by an hour later to pick us up. He wanted to throw our prized catch onto the...

    • 16 A Six-legged Guru: Fear and Loathing in Nature
      (pp. 267-283)
      Jeffrey A. Lockwood

      WITHIN MINUTES, our hands are covered in feces and vomit. Our quarry, the prairie lubber grasshopper, is surely one of the most disgusting creatures to subdue. The largest of all insects on the Wyoming grasslands,Brachystola magnais reminiscent of the chewed cigar butts that I used to encounter jammed into ashtrays when I was a kid. They’re about the same size and equally appealing. This is no dainty grasshopper capable of lithesome leaps—it has the heft of a breakfast sausage. Every summer we collect a few dozen of these creatures from the weedy roadsides in southeastern Wyoming. They...

    • 17 The Parables of the Rats and Mice
      (pp. 284-290)
      Kathleen Dean Moore

      “A MOUSE WAS CRUSHED,” Jon said as he loaded the tent bag into the boat. He and Frank and I had been camping on a gravel bar in the Willamette River, not far from home.

      I looked up from my oatmeal.

      “What are you talking about?”

      “A mouse died under our tent.”

      “Of what?”


      Nobody talks this way.

      “What kind of mouse?” I asked. “How crushed?”

      “Deer mouse, I guess,” Jon said. “Very.”

      I’m not the kind of person who won’t kill if I need to. Slapping flies. Boiling crabs alive. Bashing a fresh-caught trout on the head. These...

  11. Publication History
    (pp. 291-292)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 293-296)
  13. Index
    (pp. 297-314)