For James Barilla and his family, the dream of transforming their Columbia, South Carolina, backyard into a haven for wildlife evoked images of kids catching grasshoppers by day and fireflies at night, of digging up potatoes and picking strawberries. When they signed up with the National Wildlife Federation to certify their yard as a wildlife habitat, it felt like pushing back, in however small a way, against the tide of bad news about vanishing species, changing climate, dying coral reefs. Then the animals started to arrive, and Barilla soon discovered the complexities (and possible mayhem) of merging human with animal habitats. What are the limits of coexistence, he wondered? To find out, Barilla set out across continents to explore cities where populations of bears, monkeys, marmosets, and honeybees live alongside human residents. My Backyard Jungle brings these unique stories together, making Barilla’s yard the centerpiece of a meditation on possibilities for coexistence with animals in an increasingly urban world. Not since Gerald Durrell penned My Family and Other Animals have readers encountered a naturalist with such a gift for storytelling and such an open heart toward all things wild.
James Barilla is associate professor in the MFA program of the University of South Carolina, where he teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing. He lives in Columbia, SC.