Pieces of Light by Susan J. Tweit

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 Thunder Tree by Robert Michael Pyle

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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Wild Nights by Anne Matthews

Wild Nights: the nature of New York City is ostensibly about nature in New York City, but more than that, it is about what we have lost, what still remains, and surprising new arrivals. It is also about ways of looking at nature in the city and how we might transform the way we see urban nature.

When I started my MA in Nature Writing one of the first things the tutor asked the class to do was make a list of all the different ways you can look at a landscape. I didn’t really understand the purpose of the exercise at the time but somehow I grasped that we were being taught something important. It is only after reading so much nature writing and thinking a lot about how to write about nature that I’ve come to see the importance of this lesson. A landscape or a place is not a static, objective thing that exists out there in the world. Rather, landscapes are canvases onto which we project our own perspective.

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Top survival tips for urban nature

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

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)

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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