Naomi Racz

Writing & reading

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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Pieces of Light by Susan J. Tweit

Boulder, Colorado by Jason Rogers. 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.

As I’ve written before, urban nature forces us to zoom in, to look at nature on a smaller scale. Nature in the city usually exists in patches and pockets, without the grand vistas of a wilderness area. A number of the writers I’ve read and discussed so far in this series exemplify this close, attentive perspective. Perhaps none more so than Leonard Dubkin, who literally sticks his face into his lawn to watch the life of the insects and creatures hidden away there. Yet unlike those other books Tweit’s book is a book of grand scales. It is a book, as the title suggests, of light, but also of air and wind, rain, snow and thunder, it is a book of mountains and great plains, of forests and rivers. It is also about the passage of time, both on a geological scale and on the scale of a single human life.

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On reading 50 books in one year

Goodreads allows you to set a reading challenge for the year, indicating how many books you would like to read that year. Every year since I joined Goodreads in 2013 I have set myself a reading challenge – usually to read 50 books – and every year I’ve failed to reach my goal. In 2015 I apparently realised 50 books was too ambitious and lowered by goal to 30 books, which I also failed to reach!

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The Bird-Life of London by Charles Dixon

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

I’m leaping back in time again to do a post about The Bird-Life of London. The book is really more of a guidebook, more so than some of the other books in this series. But I felt it was worth dipping into because there is such a huge time gap between the book before it, Birds in London by W.H. Hudson (1898) and the book after it, The Murmur of Wings by Leonard Dubkin (1944).

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On bouldering and writing and sticking (at) it

As a kid my family and I would go out into the countryside – usually the Peak District – on nice weekends to hike and rock climb. I was a pretty fearless kid and I loved climbing. I was pretty good at it to – I had a flexibility I’m envious of now.

I lost interest in rock climbing as a teenager, but I’m finally getting back into it. Now my husband has the bug too and we’ve started going indoor bouldering (there aren’t any rocks in the Netherlands) twice a week.

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The Thunder Tree by Robert Michael Pyle

High Line Canal, Mouth of South Platte River to confluence with Second Creek, Denver

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

The Thunder Tree: Lessons From An Urban Wildland tells the story of the High Line Canal, a diversion of the South Platte River in Colorado, which was originally intended for irrigation. It is the story of the settlement of the Great Plains. But it is also a book about connection to place and the way in which people bring their own experiences to bare on a place.

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Is conservation too cute?

Awwwww. Image by George Lu. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to a campaign by BirdLife to save the Spoon-billed sandpiper. The campaign uses the hashtag #SaveSpoonie and there are pictures of cute, fluffy chicks. Whilst I aww-ed at the pictures I also couldn’t help but wonder, are cute animals being saved at the expense of less cuddly, fluffy animals? Is conservation too cute?

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All the world’s a theme park

Urban explorer

My favourite weekend activity is to go for a long walk through the city, admiring Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture, looking in shop windows and, best of all, walking down new streets I’ve never walked down before.

In fact, this kind of wandering is my favourite activity to do anywhere. I’ve travelled a fair bit now, though I’d hesitate to call myself a seasoned traveller, but I’ve travelled enough that I’ve come to feel wary of the things you’re supposed to do when you visit a place.

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My Writer’s Manifesto

Image by shira gal. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast Happier, my not-so-guilty guilty pleasure. Every week the hosts of the podcast, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, offer a “try this at home” and in this particular episode their “try this at home” was to write a manifesto. Gretchen Rubin has written a number of manifestos, including a happiness manifesto, a habits manifesto and a podcast manifesto.

The podcast episode inspired me to look at other manifestos and to start developing my own manifesto.

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