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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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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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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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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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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