Toronto the wild

It’s been a year since I read Toronto the Wild by Wayne Grady (and I haven’t posted on here since August 2019 — a month before my daughter was born, go figure!) but it’s a new year and I’m feeling inspired to try and revive this project, which I would still love to finish someday. In order to make that possible, I’ve decided to only review books published up until 2020. Not that I won’t ever review books published after that, but I want to at least give myself a concrete end goal, instead of chasing an always moving goalpost.

Toronto the Wild wasn’t on my radar until I happened upon it in a used bookstore in Victoria, BC. At the time, in May 2019, we were visiting the city as part of a reconnoitering mission. We were living in Markham, Ontario (a suburb in the Greater Toronto Area) at the time but, to put it plainly, we hated it. So, we were looking to move and although we weren’t keen on the idea of moving to the West Coast and being even further away from family, especially with a baby on the way, we decided to visit anyway.

Fast-forward a year and a month and I was packing Toronto the Wild (unread) into a box that would be shipped across the country to Victoria. The book would be coming home, as we made plans to start afresh on the West Coast. Fast-forward another six months and I was once more packing Toronto the Wild (still unread), this time into my backpack, which would be making the three hour drive north with me, to a small village up island, surrounded by forests and mountains, lakes and sea, where we had finally, finally bought a house and committed (at least for the next ten years) to settle down.

Just days before the move, I had finally cracked open Toronto the Wild and was delighted to find that the introduction opens with a quote from Richard Jefferies’s Nature Near London, the first book I reviewed for this project.

Toronto the Wild explores, chapter by chapter, a number of different species that inhabit the Toronto wilds — including raccoons, sparrows, snakes, termites, house finches, seagulls, pigeons, bats, coyotes, and rats.

Perhaps my favourite chapter was the one on bats. Grady writes about the colonies of big brown bats that live in his three-storey brick houses, built in 1915, and that he and his wife decided to co-exist with. I think I enjoyed it so much because I find the idea of human–animal co-existence. The house I lived in from the age of 11 until I officially moved out, post-university, at the age of 25, had a sense of porosity between the inner domestic world and the outer world that often tried to assert its presence.

I had a clothing moth infestation in my bedroom for many years and for one summer I had a loveliness of ladybugs living on my window. There were the usual spiders, but we also had frequent visits from mice. I would wake to the sound of squirrels in the attic and often found slug trails on the kitchen counter in the morning. The mice usually warranted a call to the exterminator (and I’m sure bats would have too! Though Grady did call in an exterminator only to be told his best option was to live with the bats), but when it came to the other creatures in our house, we just hoped they’d eventually go away (which was the case with the moths and the ladybugs).

Recently, in our new(ish) house, we experienced our own co-existence quandary. We woke one morning to find that something had gotten into our big bag of flour. We assumed mouse and my husband went to the hardware store to pick up a mouse trap. He wasn’t able to get a humane trap, so the next best thing was a trap that kills with an electric zap — supposedly a more pleasant way to die than having your neck snapped. For the next few days we kept the kitchen as clean and attractant free as possible and saw no further signs of the mouse — hurray!

Then we woke to droppings on the kitchen counter — rat droppings — boo!

So, my husband went back to the hardware store. This time to buy rat traps. We also decided to double down on keeping all attractants out of reach and he purchased large glass jars and 2 and 5 litre buckets for food storage. This time he was only able to get snap traps. I’d seen mouse-sized snap traps before and these looked comically huge in comparison. That evening my husband loaded one up with peanut butter and a cheerio and set it on the top step to the basement, safely behind the baby gate and out of reach of the toddler and the dog.

The next morning I was up at 7 am. It was still dark out and the hallway and basement stairs were cast in darkness. But as I made my morning cup of tea, I thought I saw something on the basement stairs, so I turned on the light. And there, drooping over the second-to-top step was a dead rat, it’s blood splattered around it.

I’d seen dead rats a handful of times, usually on the side of the road in a city. But this rat was different. It wasn’t dirty or rain soaked. It’s fur was clean, dry and smooth, a soft grey. It’s tail was ratty, but it wasn’t the pink colour I’d imagined. Instead, its tail was dark grey. I felt oddly sad, almost choked up as I stood there looking down at this peaceful and, yes, beautiful creature. Sure, it had ripped open our bag of flour and pooped on our kitchen counters. Sure, they carry the plague. But it had simply wanted, like all of us, to find a warm place to live and food to eat. And it found those things, in our home. Then we lured it with peanut butter and snapped it’s neck. I wished it had found a different place to live.

So, Grady learned to live with his bats, and we killed our rat. We also blocked up the hole in our basement that we suspected it had probably gotten in through, so that we could avoid having to kill anymore rats.

I really enjoyed Toronto the Wild. It’s a lively read and I think it’ll particularly appeal to anyone who lives or has lived in Toronto. The chapters are a mix of Grady’s own experiences with the creatures he’s writing about and input from experts. In my next review I’ll write about Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, another book about urban nature in Toronto. But, as the title perhaps suggests, Kyo is interested in exploring much more than just the facts and she delves into urban nature to find metaphors and meaning for her own life. In that review, I’ll write a little bit more about these different approaches to urban nature writing and why I like both.


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