Why in the World do I Write This Blog?
I’ve missed two (three?) weekly dealines for this blog. Why am I writing it in the first place?
I have not, as of yet, described why I am writing this blog. This kind of introduction might not be required reading for you, but I realized that as I missed the blog’s deadline last week and this week, that it was required writing for me. As author Joan Didion is supposed to have said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”
I have, I think, an odd relationship with nature. I write about it, sometimes I photograph it, but mostly these are just excuses to be in it. I assume that this is the case for most nature writers and yet this also comes with a desire to never capture it. I am proud of a well written sentence or a good photo, and in any moment of looking at a bird or a shimmering pond or a swaying tree my heart swells and I begin to describe it to myself. All too often though, it stops there. My pen freezes over the paper. As a writer I want to capture the moment’s essence, yet I fear that such an act will somehow degrade the moment I am in and the spell that I am under.
Or, perhaps it is an act of jealousy. Maybe I guard these small moments away and horde them, afraid that others couldn’t possibly understand the majesty that I am witnessing — even though it is my job to guide their eyes.
I bring this up, mainly to say that I find the very idea of this blog oddly difficult, if only because it feels raw and emotional and honest. Loving nature, especially in a city, must come with an ability to find wonder in the most mundane, and nobility in the most common. To see wonder among tall grey buildings, you must have a kind of daily innocence As Michael Pollen put it in his delightful book, The Botany of Desire, “innocence in adults will always flirt with embarrassment.”
Sometimes I find I find that innocent viewpoint easy and sometimes it is a strain, but writing about it is always a flirt with embarrassment.
Still, I think it’s important. The areas of the world that we think of as “wilderness” are shrinking. Increasingly, nature is not what survives far away on the savannah, but in our cities and beside our homes — the pigeons, geese, gingkoes, raccoons, rats and cockroaches of the world. They are not pests, they’re survivors and innovators. Even as their wild cousins disappear in the background of the Anthropocene, these creatures use us and our built world to thrive. When I look at the nature of a city, that sense of wonder come not from a world thriving without us, but from a world thriving in spite of us.
So here I am, a Naturalist in the City. I began this blog because I find this regular exercise in measured innocence rewarding. It helps me see nature as something that is not separate, but living in the densest cities, and that helps me remember that I am still part of a larger ecosystem. When I think that way about the natural world I want to share it, and I want to write it down.