Naomi Racz

Writing & reading

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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Top survival tips for urban nature

Image by Steven Gregory. 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.

Steven D. Garber’s The Urban Naturalist provides an introduction to nature in the urban environment, with chapters on grasses, trees, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Although it was published in 1987, I think Garber’s book has much to teach any species thinking about moving to the city.  So, inspired by The Urban Naturalist, here’s the top 5 survival tips for would-be urbanites.

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The Granite Garden by Anne Whiston Spirn

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Image by Davide D’Amico. 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.

Firstly, the observant among you may have noticed I’ve skipped over a book – Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins. Wildlife in the City gives a great overview of urban nature and I’d recommended it for anyone new to the topic. Jenkins makes some interesting points, but perhaps my favourite quote from the book comes after Jenkins has quoted a passage from W.H. Hudson’s A Hind in Richmond Park. The narrator of the novel encounters a hind in the park and notes how the hind responds to inaudible sounds and how those reactions are evidence of the animal’s once wild state. Jenkins writes:

Nature remains true to herself, even in the city, and Hudson’s London hind is an example of how sometimes, albeit only tenuously, the townsman can recreate himself by contact with the wild, even the ghosts of the wild.

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Birds of Town and Suburb by Eric Simms (or nature, class and town planning)

Diagram No.2 from To-morrow, A Peaceful Path to Reform showing a plan for a Garden City

Diagram No.2 from To-morrow, A Peaceful Path to Reform showing a plan for a Garden City

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

Birds of Town and Suburb focuses, as the name would suggest, specifically on nature in suburbia. Simms travels chapter by chapter from the inner suburbs outwards to the green belt and the edges of the countryside. Along the way he describes the bird life of various suburban habitats, such as factories, rubbish dumps, cemeteries, parks and allotments. Simms also dedicates chapters to watery habitats such as reservoirs, sewage farms and gravel pits.

However, I wanted to focus in on an issue that Simms touches on – the role of class and nature in town planning.

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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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