January 30, 2002: Class Notes


1991-2001 & Graduate School

Class Notes Profiles:

Bears in the backyard
Anne Matthews *81 chronicles natureÍs tenacious hold on habitat

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Bears in the backyard

Anne Matthews *81 chronicles nature’s tenacious hold on habitat

About 10 years ago a deer jumped through the window of a hardware store in Princeton. The incident made the front page of a local paper. Recalls Anne Matthews, a writer living in Princeton who earned an M.F.A. in art and archaeology in 1981, “I thought, ‘That’ s odd,’ and filed it away. Then one February morning about four years ago I was on the train to New York and saw some egrets in the Jersey Meadowlands. They were flying straight for lower Manhattan. I wondered, ‘What are they doing here? How do they live?’ ”

Matthews’s curiosity led her to write Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City. Published last year by North Point Press, it documents the often uneasy coexistence of animals and humans sharing the same living space. She writes of moose in Boston suburbs, mountain lions and black bears invading Colorado subdivisions, and urban encounters with elk, antelope, geese, wild turkeys, coyotes, jaguars, and alligators as housing developments push relentlessly into rural and semiwild habitats. In greater Atlanta, according to Matthews, on average 50 acres of forest are “felled each day to make suburbs for the 95,000 newcomers who arrive each year.”

Some of the creatures chronicled by Matthews have always been there and go about their business oblivious to humans. Horseshoe crabs, she notes, “have come to lower Brooklyn to make and lay their eggs for 360 million years. They may outlast us all.” Matthews expects that ultimately nature will triumph as global warming proceeds apace and rising ocean levels turn New York City into an American Venice. Global warming notwithstanding, she adds, 15,000 years from now a new ice age will yet again bring glaciers south to scour Manhattan.

Much of Wild Nights deals with greater New York. Says Matthews, “New York is the most heavily disturbed environment in America — the fact that nature can not only survive but thrive there fascinates me.” There and elsewhere in our increasingly urbanized culture, the animals “are adapting to us faster than we’re getting used to them. We don’t know how closely we’re watched.”

By J. I. Merritt ’66

J. I. Merritt is a freelance writer living in Pennington, New Jersey.


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