Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson

In 2012, I enjoyed Corvus: A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson, in which the author told about rescuing birds, mostly from the Corvid family, with the intention of returning them to the wild. Some of the birds, however, proved not to be candidates for release. Instead, they became lifelong residents of Woolfson's home, almost siblings to her children. I think it is an excellent book which reveals the mind of an unconventional woman devoted to nature.

Now I have read Woolson's Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary in which the author recounts a year in Aberdeen, Scotland, a small city on the North Sea. There are many yearbooks in natural history literature, mostly set in rural, natural settings. In contrast, Woolfson's story is set in the gardens, streets, and industrial lots of a cold, moist city where many people do not often linger outdoors. Woolfson, however, walks daily, observing how wildlife survives even this challenging climate and altered environment. In her brief daily posts and her lengthy seasonal essays, she champions common and unloved species that most people label as pests. Seagulls, rats, pigeons, spiders, squirrels, and even slugs seem beautiful and admirable to her. Without them, she muses, Aberdeen would be bleak and truly dead. 

While Woolfson does not list reforms for urban living, she certainly challenges mindsets that support eradication campaigns based on what she argues are myths and misconceptions. After reading Woolfson's diary, you may better appreciate the life in your neighborhood.

Woolfson, Esther. Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary. Counterpoint Berkeley, 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781619022409.

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