In this Southlands College Reef Reads review for Earth Day, Ollie Cem writes about the book Nature Obscura: a City’s Hidden Nature World by Kelly Brenner (Mountaineer Books, 2020).
As we find ourselves living increasingly localised and urbanised lives, Nature Obscura is a timely and pertinent read. Kelly Brenner invites us to explore and reimagine the wildness of the urban landscape with a curious and playful approach.
Boldly stated in the opening line, Brenner seeks to remind us of how, “little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit”. Only by consciously connecting to the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit our cities, often unbeknownst to us, can we have greater appreciation for our natural environment. This poetic book flows peacefully as Brenner speaks to us about the value of becoming ‘urban naturalists’ and applying our many senses to explore the city in a mindful and open way.
Through the secret lives of urban hummingbirds and moss to roosting crows and summer dragonflies, the complex and varied ecosystems of Seattle are celebrated and connected. Yet, one can quickly relate the landscape to London, in particular the many walks and micro adventures we have all taken in recent months, on campus, through Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, or along the River Thames and Grand Union Canal. The biodiversity and ecology undertones of this book are presented through the language of collective action and agency, testament to the wide audience that Brenner wants to reach and the responsibility that we all have in defending our natural world and the role(s) we play in it.
There are many things to enjoy about this book:
- The format is clear and consistent. Chapters are split based on the season, with each mini chapter themed on a particular creature or element relevant to that season. A final chapter on how to become an ‘urban naturalist’ is a fitting summary and a call to arms for the reader.
- Poetic quotes litter the entire book. I found myself noting down a quite few throughout the read. My favourite being, “… the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the leafy pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain” (James Hutton).
- Although the book is a description of the interaction between urban and wild in Seattle, it is a blueprint for any city. The unseen or unheard can equally be explored in a large metropolitan area such as London.
- The imagery that accompanies the start of each chapter is ethereal.
For many of us who reside in dense, urban localities, this book is fascinating journey and invitation into the wild underbelly of the beast as well as the positive impact this exploration can have on safeguarding our urban habitats.
Ollie Cem is the Growhampton Project Coordinator at Roehampton Students’ Union.