Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach


I’ve appreciated this diverting book about unfortunate interactions between wildlife of all sorts and humans. The phenomenon is increasingly problematic as human habitation grows and overwhelms wildlife habitation. Bears in the mountains of Colorado have more interactions with the humans who also love places such as Aspen. Those tasked with keeping them apart and safe have quite a challenge.

This is my first Mary Roach book and irreverence is a key component as she tells dramatic, funny, and scary stories of these interactions. It turns out that elephants do love to drink and worse than having the elephant drink your liquor outside is making the mistake of taking your stash inside to safeguard it from the elephant. They can smell it and will break into your house to find themselves a drink.

She goes all over the world to learn about these interactions. Gulls in the Vatican had become a problem and she visited there to learn more about efforts to mitigate them. Each January Pope Frances appears on a balcony with children from a Catholic youth group to read a message of peace and release a dove. After a gull swooped in and attacked the dove in 2014, they substituted a helium balloon in the shape of a dove. Good solution.

More recently the sea of daffodils and roses ornamenting St. Peter’s Square had been vandalized by gulls the night before Easter and in preparation a laser operated scarecrow was been flown in and laser beams were to be set to protect the flowers. The flowers remained unmolested. In the course of the conversation she learned that lasers are dangerous, including the handheld type used in classrooms, as they can damage the retina. It has been speculated that lasers will be outlawed in time.

She became curious then to know more about Pope Francis and his connection with Saint Francis of Assisi, the animal lover and managed to have a conversation with an appropriate person or two in the Vatican. ¬†Biological rather than chemical means to mitigate pest problems within the Vatican and its gardens have been introduced. Having observed a compost pile, the author takes the opportunity to segue to that denizen of compost piles, the rat. Yes, of course the Vatican kills rats. She wanted to know under what circumstances a wildlife species is specified as “pests” and exempted from extermination or cruelty.

Trying to follow St. Francis’ teachings means recognizing that brotherhood is not a simple relationship; there’s no idyllic way to deal with conflicts between beings, human or mixed species. She asks specifically about killing the messy Canada geese to give golfers tidy golf courses. The complications of the needs for humans to find employment such a situation was mentioned. She was impressed with the Vatican’s nuanced responses.

Along with thorough descriptions of scientific and social issues that relate to these questions, the author lapses into the scatalogical often. I wonder how many times she uses the word “dump” as in “This balcony was only useful as a place for rats to take a dump.” And I must say I have become sensitized to uses of sexual body parts of either women or men to describe to unpleasant behavior.

Mary Roach, Fuzz:  When Nature Breaks the Law, W.W. Norton, 2021, 308 pages (I read the kindle version). Available in the public library.

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