The Public Life of the Street Pigeon by Eric Simms

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

img_20161128_204353-2I bought The Public Life of the Street Pigeon long before I decided to read my way through the history of urban nature writing because the title sounded intriguing. It didn’t disappoint. It is filled with interesting stories, observations and facts about pigeons. Did you know: pigeons produce milk to feed their young; unlike other birds pigeons are able to suck up water, using their beak as a straw; and they are highly social and affectionate birds? However, the most interesting insight I gleaned from Simms’s book is just how important pigeons have been for human society and how closely linked with humans they now are.

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City Critters by Helen Ross Russell

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

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City Critters bills itself as a fine general introduction to a natural world that is often ignored. In her general introduction Russell covers sparrows, starlings, pigeons, seagulls, mice, rats, squirrels, earthworms, and house pests. Each chapter provides an overview of the creature’s presence in the city, how it came to be there or to adapt to life in the city, as well as its habitats and mating habits. Russell also looks at the various methods used to control these “pests”. She seems to be in favour of measures to limit their numbers, but she also recognises the value they bring to the city and doesn’t want them to be eliminated completely. Not only do many of these species provide people with pleasure, but they (and we) are also interrelated:

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The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey

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

This is the first book on my list that I have read before. In fact, it was Mabey’s book that sparked my interest in urban nature writing. It showed me what urban nature writing could be and it has been my blueprint ever since. I have already written a review of The Unoffical Countryside on here. I wrote that review over four years ago when I first became interested in nature writing. I can tell that I’m just starting to grapple with some of the ideas I’m still grappling with to this day.

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Hunting Big Game in the City Parks by Howard G. Smith

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

This wonderfully titled book is a field guide to hunting for insects in the urban environment. Each chapter focuses on two or three species and the chapters have equally wonderful titles: The Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Flower Garden, Ruthless Bandit Kings and Hungry Tigers, Man-Eating Kangeroos and Music-Playing Warriors. With a keen sense of curiosity and wonder and a lot of patience Smith explores urban parks, swamps and his own back garden to uncover the often hidden and rarely seen lives of wasps, bees, ants, grasshoppers and beetles, amongst others. His adventures are beautifully illustrated by Anne Marie Jauss.

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From Prague to Budapest and home again

My partner and I spent the last two weeks cycling through Europe – specifically, we cycled from Prague to Budapest, via Vienna. Outside my familiar milieu of Amsterdam, work and chores, time seemed to stretch. The two week gap between finishing work and today somehow feels looser, as though time were a straight line that suddenly became a puddle.

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A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines

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

N.B. Possible spoilers.

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Enjoying ‘A Kestral for a Knave’ on the train

A Kestrel for a Knave tells the story of Billy Caspar, a young boy living in a South Yorkshire mining town referred to only as the the City. This unnamed City lurks at the edges of the book but Billy’s life is dominated by home, school and the fields in which he trains his kestrel, Kes. I was torn as to whether this book is in fact urban nature writing since urban nature is not really a focus of the book, however, something Hines notes in his afterword intrigued me.

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The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin

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

In The Natural History of a Yard Leonard Dubkin provides his observations on the natural life of his yard in Chicago over the course of three summers. Dubkin describes the yard thus:

…a little plot of grass bordered by a privet hedge. A high iron fence separates the yard from Sheridan Road… Just behind the iron fence on either side of the driveway is a forsythia bush, and in the rear of the yard, before the entrance to the hotel, is a tall, stately elm tree. That is really all there is to it.

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The book is beautifully illustrated by Carl Kock

However, through Dubkin’s probing and close attention, we are shown that there is in fact much more to the yard than that. We meet a whole cast of characters – Dubkin’s daughter Pauline, Emil the gardener, Nutsy the squirrel, families of robins and screech owls, flocks of pigeons and sparrows, and a colony of carpenter ants – as well as various other insects and plants. Dubkin brings the yard to life with his stories about these animals (human and non-human) and plants. He is often ignorant (he readily admits to not being able to name most of the insects in the yard) and always curious, and his spirit of inquiry is infectious.

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The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay

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Rosebay Willowherb (Image used under a CC 2.0 BY license)

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

The World My Wilderness is set in 1946 and tells the story of 17 year-old Barbary Deniston, who has been living in Provence with her mother, Helen Michel, for the last seven years. Helen left her husband, Sir Gulliver, and son, Ritchie, in London. She later divorced her husband and married a Frenchman, who was accused of being a conspirator with the Nazis and killed by the French Resistance. The novel begins with Barbary moving to London, at the request of her father, to live with him and his new wife, Pamela, and to study painting at the Slade. Barbary’s stepbrother, Raoul, also moves to London to live with his uncle.

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Adventure Lit Their Star: The Story of an Immigrant Bird by Kenneth Allsop

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I love the cover on my edition of the book.

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

Adventure Lit Their Star: The Story of an Immigrant Bird tells the story of the little ringed plover[1], and one little ringer plover in particular, as the species attempts to breed in England for the first time. The first pair known to breed in England arrived in 1938.  They bred at a reservoir on the border of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. But it was from 1944 onwards that their numbers began to rise. Kenneth Allsop was a keen ornithologist and first sought out the little ringed plover in 1947. He found two nesting pairs, one in Wraysbury and one at a reservoir in Staines. Of these birds he writes in the book’s Foreword:

I was immediately arrested by the dramatic circumstances within this crowded and dingy stage-set, and gradually there grew upon me the urge to write the story of these pioneers. This I have tried to do. The result is a combination of personal observation, recorded data and imagination. Imagination was sparingly used, for I wanted the account to be truthful and factual, wild life as seen through binoculars’ lenses.[2]

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