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Introducing The Rust Belt Bestiary

Introducing The Rust Belt Bestiary

By Matt Stansberry

I grew up in Akron in the 1980s – the decade the Rubber City lost 8,000 factory jobs and the Ohio exurbs swallowed 13 acres of farmland per hour.

Despite growing up in nadir of the Rust Belt’s environmental health and biodiversity, I spent an incredible amount of time outside, torturing small animals.

As many experts will point out, these kinds of behaviors typically portend mental illness. And in my case, I became addicted to fly fishing. I fled Chrissie Hynde’s ever-sprawling Northeast Ohio and moved to the Pacific Northwest to become a fish-hugging environmental activist.

But when I returned to visit my parents, I started noticing beaver dams and northern pike in marshy headwaters of streams I assumed were sterile. I found hawks picking off sparrows at bird feeders. I heard owls at night in the trees.

This place I had assumed was lifeless, in fact had been bursting with diverse and resilient fauna.

This place I had assumed was lifeless, in fact had been bursting with diverse and resilient fauna. And in 2012, I moved back home to raise my sons.

In the spring of 2014, I began writing a monthly natural history column for Belt Magazine, an online literary nonfiction publication based in Cleveland. I partnered with my friend David Wilson, who illustrated and painted images for each essay.

I approached the topic not as an expert, but rather as a happily surprised idiot with a lot of questions.

What animals are in abundance? What animals are in decline? What are the challenges and what are the joys of living with wildlife in this region?

This publication collects those first six columns.

These are stories of warblers migrating from the tropics to Toledo, the tiny joys living in the creeks of Lake County, the diversity and abundance of fish swimming through Cleveland, and a fungus killing our hibernating bats. They are stories about bugs and the people who love them, and the last wild places in Ohio and the misguided fools who would ruin them.

The essays and images in Redhorse present the wildlife of Lake Erie as it exists today. These are the shockingly wild inhabitants of our landscape.

We wanted to produce something you could hold in your hands, and we wanted to produce something immediate.

We wanted to produce something you could hold in your hands, and we wanted to produce something immediate. I was recently flipping through a gorgeous, fairly current hardcover book on Ohio wildlife, but when I read the introduction, I realized that the original content was written more than twenty-five years ago.

These columns archive how we interact with wild nature today. Redhorse is named after a fish, a kind of noble sucker. The Greater Redhorse (Moxostoma valenciennesi) lives in the Sandusky, Maumee, and Grand River systems. Most people have never seen one, even fishermen.

But they are here, native to our last best places, and they require incredibly clean water.

It’s not a glamour species, not a trophy or food item. It’s not something you would photograph or watch through binoculars. But it’s here, and it belongs.

The Redhorse is representative of how little we know about what’s below the surface of the visible world.

Order Redhorse here!
Order signed prints of David Wilson’s original art here!
The monthly column, “North Coast Biodiversity,” is collected here.  

Matt Stansberry was born in Akron, Ohio. He is a dad, nature writer, and fly fisherman. Find him on Twitter @LakeErieFlyFsh

Support paywall free, independent Rust Belt journalism — and become part of a growing community — by becoming a member of Belt.  

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