If wildness can stop being (just) out there and start being (also) in here, if it can start being as humane as it is natural, then perhaps we can get on with the unending task of struggling to live rightly in the world—not just in the garden, not just in the wilderness, but in the home that encompasses them both
–William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness”
The search for wildness in a city brings people to parks, to rivers, to little tracts of untouched forest left standing on a hill. It’s there if you look for it. It is why birders carry binoculars and why my cousin, Peter Green, carries a camera. No matter how hard people try, we can’t build cities that can keep the wilderness out.
How did you start noticing and taking pictures of birds of prey in Providence?
Shortly after moving to Providence, I pointed binoculars at a pigeon perched high on the downtown bank tower and immediately saw it was not a pigeon—it was something eating a pigeon. I looked online, identified it as a peregrine falcon, and learned how wildlife officials had installed a nest box on the building to encourage the recovery of this once-endangered species. From then on, whenever possible, I eagerly watched the falcons from my window.
I soon began to notice pigeon carcasses downtown with all of their feathers pulled out, and suspected the falcons must be hunting here, so I made sure to always have my camera with me. One day as it started to snow, I finally saw a large raptor standing on the ground in the park next to the bus station. I quickly got down in the dirt and took some of the best pictures of my life. I couldn’t believe this wild animal was right here downtown in the city. And, to my surprise, it was not a peregrine falcon—it was a red-tailed hawk. Read more…
Towards the end of Edward Abbey’s One Life at a Time, Please, there’s a curious little essay called “TV Show” that’s loosely in the form of a television script, although I’ve always remembered it by the subtitle, “Out There On the Rocks.” When I read this delightful little essay—part travelogue, part deadpan frontier humor, part poem about our place in the world—I assumed it had been broadcast and quickly wrote a short note to Ed Abbey, care of the Henry Holt publishing company in New York City, asking how I could get a copy of this segment. Back in the days of three networks plus PBS, long before streaming video and YouTube on every cell phone, it was a special treat to see your favorite cult author on television.
When the author in question is consistently anti-television, it was even more rare. So I dropped my note in the corner mailbox and promptly forgot about it, as an earlier and very earnest letter to Ed Abbey from the high-school version of myself had been politely ignored years before.
The surprise was very real when the mailman delivered a postcard stamped TUCSON AZ many months later, with an image of City Lights Bookstore on one side and a brief handwritten message from Abbey himself on the other. Read more…
What makes for a good Hollywood movie in 2014? Start by keeping out all the terrible things: computer-generated spaceships, bad-dialogue pornography, 45-year-old giant babies making two hours of fart jokes, and the usual plotlines about the end of the world or getting pregnant or being a robot. Bears is a surprisingly pleasant movie about wild bears and other critters living in the Alaskan wilderness.
Not much happens, which is a relief. They do not defeat a super-villain, a sequel is unlikely, and no critics will describe it as a subversive or sly take on Our Current Situation. Even the moron element of these Disney nature movies—the cornpone narrator—is a minimal offense. Read more…
The instructions said to meet beneath the 210 freeway overpass in the L.A. foothills neighborhood of Lakeview Terrace. We get out of the car, unbuckle the children, and head toward a group of 15 people huddled at the base of a cement embankment. A soft-spoken man collects the $20 fees and hands out small cups filled with a red liquid—a fermented soda made with wild blackberries, cherries, manzanita berries, tarragon berries and raw honey. After a morning of foraging, we will sample more of the wild aromatic infusions created by Pascal Baudar, all as pretty as they were refreshing.
Welcome to the “Wild Food Walk and Wild Aromatic Infusions Tasting” hosted by Urban Outdoor Skills, which aims to connect city people with the natural environment all around them.
“Most people who live in larger cities are disconnected from nature. Nature was part of my life from the beginning, it was my world,” said Bauder, who writes and teaches about wild food and self reliance. Baudar founded Urban Outdoor Skills in 2006, and leads weekly classes on foraging and wild edibles that range from three-hour plant identification walks to daylong desert explorations. Read more…
Sometimes life happens to you all at once. Things are fine, or at least as fine as they ever are, and then life throws you a crisis. And crises, like hyenas, travel in packs.
In the midst of such crises, it’s normal to think, “Man, I could really use a vacation.” But this time, that was exactly my problem. I did have a vacation planned. A four-day vacation with my partner’s entire family in sunny Palm Springs, California, the Florida of the West. And I was completely unraveling. I wailed in self-pity. There wasn’t time for a vacation, with everything crumbling around me! I began to tumble freely within a vortex of psychotic, rueful laughter.
But fortunately, I hunkered down. I faced the hyena pack of absurd deadlines and other threats and tragedies, hoping to beast it all by the time vacation time rolled around. Or at least, enough of it. I also whined incessantly. My partner, Sam, bore the brunt of this. I flopped despondently on the couch, buried in a sea of papers. I asked him repeatedly to remind me what wonders lay ahead of us. Just humor me like you’re George and I’m Lennie, I whimpered, morosely. Tell me about Palm Springs. Tell me again.
Palm Springs, he told me, is a beautiful desert oasis, a magical place where you can lounge poolside with a margarita, or go for a hike surrounded by mountains and palm trees, or go on a thrifting binge. As it turns out, Palm Springs is a haven for gays and the elderly, and as such, it boasts incredible thrift store pickings. And while I did lounge like a lizard, and I did leave with a stuffed suitcase full of what looked like prime picks from Rue McClanahan’s estate sale, what I found most wonderful was the nature. Nature, of course, was the only thing that could save me from myself. Read more…
I hung a right at the Stinson Beach fire station, and the trailhead appeared. My friend Tami and I had tried to hike this trail in February, somehow missing the trailhead and hiking the Cataract Trial farther up Mount Tamalpais instead. But because no fewer than three people told me the Matt Davis Trail was their favorite, I decided to give it another shot. And now here I was.
I followed the trail into the forest.
The Persephone of myth was radiant, referred to as “Kore” or simply, “the maiden.” She was gathering flowers with Artemis and Athena—what need the huntress and wise woman of war had for flowers isn’t clear. Perhaps they simply liked them. The three of them, along with some nymphs, were gathering flowers when the earth opened up. Read more…