On being a slow, quiet person in a loud, fast world

Image copyright Spencer Cappallo

I do everything slowly. I walk slowly. I eat my food slowly. I get dressed slowly. As a kid my slowness was a constant source of frustration to my mum. In the morning she would urge me to hurry up so I wouldn’t be late for school. Stop being a snail was a common refrain. I was always the last kid out of the school doors at the end of the day. I guess my mum’s first clue should have been the fact that I was born five days late and even then I had to be delivered by cesarean section because I hadn’t turned around yet.

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The first day of spring

Wednesday, March 20 – Today was the first day of spring. It didn’t feel like spring when I caught the bus this morning. The bus shelter was laced with ice and I crunched over frozen puddles. As the bus drove past my local park, I looked out over the still-frozen pond, ringed by frost-tinged trees and grass. Just as I had seen them gathering at the start of winter, the pond was busy with geese. They have been honking overhead for days now, heralding the changing season. As the bus turned a corner, I saw a distant tall, glass building glowing pink. I looked behind me and saw the sun rising above the horizon, a sliver of pink.

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Flake the wild one

Bookshops often lump nature writing together with books about gardening and pets and I’ve always balked at this grouping. Gardens and pets belong to the tamed world of humans, nature writing explores the wild beyond the doorstep. Of course, when I reflect on it, I don’t actually think that. But it’s still my immediate reaction. The implication is that books about gardens and pets are somehow lesser, not worthy of mingling with the likes of Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane.

I always thought that if I got a pet, I wouldn’t allow it to “taint” my online persona (whatever that is). But I recently adopted a puppy and screw it, I’m going to write a blog post about him.

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Eating the city

This is a review of The Fruitful City by Helena Moncrieff and The Edible City by John Rensten. This review is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

I’ve jumped ahead again, but I just couldn’t resist reading The Fruitful City by Toronto-based author Helena Moncrieff. I’ve recently moved to Toronto, so I was really pleased to be able to add a book about nature in Toronto to my reading list. And, because I’d read The Fruitful City, it only seemed right to read The Edible City by London-based chef and urban forager John Rensten.

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Nature: garden, paradise, or wilderness?

This is a review of The Cincinnati Arch by John Tallmadge. This review is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City is John Tallmadge’s account of moving to Cincinnati and the slow process of discovering nature in his new home, and with it, a connection to a place he never thought he could like, let alone feel a deep sense of belonging to. The book begins with Tallmadge and his pregnant wife moving from Minnesota to Cincinnati. The opening line of the book states: I never wanted to live in Cincinnati, Ohio. Why move there then? Because Tallmadge has been fired from his associate professor position and with a child on the way, he is forced to take a dean position at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati.

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City wilds, urban gardening and black self-recovery

bell hooks, 1988 by Montikamoss – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45370215

This is a review of City Wilds, edited by Terrell Dixon. This review is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

City Wilds is a collection of 35 essays and short stories that range across the US from New York to Los Angeles, and from Miami to Seattle, via Colorado. The authors also represent a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds including African American, Native American, Mexican American and Asian American writers – something that has been sorely missing from the Small Rain series to date.

City Wilds is about urban nature, but more than that it is about the ways in which people connect with nature. One of those ways is through gardening, and gardens crop up in many of the essays and stories. The gardens range from large and suburban, right down to a flower on a fire escape.

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Rats by Robert Sullivan

These are fancy rats. Image by S. J. Pyrotechnic. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Rats centres around a single New York alley way, called Edens Alley, over the course of one year. In the book, Robert Sullivan spends that year watching and getting to know the rats of Edens Alley and learns a lot about rats, humans and New York City.

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Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral by Charles Siebert

Image by Boston Public Library. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral is a complex series of intertwined stories. The overarching narrative takes place on a single evening in Siebert’s New York neighbourhood of Crown Heights. As he writes about the approaching night he recalls the last few months spent in a crumbling log cabin in the middle of the Canadian countryside, called Wickerby; his travels in Central and South America; the mumblers of New York; his childhood; and his father. These narratives provide the backdrop for a broader reflection on humans, nature and the city.

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Sagebrush and Cappuccino: Confessions of an LA Naturalist by David Wicinas

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Sagebrush and Cappuccino is the first book in this series to focus solely on Los Angeles, a city I’m most familiar with as the home of Hollywood and traffic jams. However, David Wicinas shows that there is undoubtedly another side to LA. The book is written as a series of walk, each chapter focusing on one walk. Wicinas’s walks take on mountain passes, beaches, creeks, caves, oak trees, mountain lions, earthquakes and sand dunes.  His wanderings are interspersed with cultural and historical information about the people and events that have shaped these places.

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