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Elisa Murray: The Street-Smart Naturalist

Elisa Murray is communications director for Northwest Environment Watch, a Seattle research and communication center that tracks progress toward a sustainable Northwest through its Cascadia Scorecard project.

Lately, I’ve been getting inspiration from the kind of writing that reminds me that the natural world--and humans’ connection to it--doesn’t start when I go to a park or on a hike, but with the small but powerful act of paying attention, wherever I am. Yep, it’s a simple idea, but surprisingly easy to forget in our age of long days in front of computers and other small screens.
Along those lines, I’m very much enjoying Seattle writer David Williams’ new book of urban natural history essays, titled “The Street Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle,” because it’s literally about what I see—but don’t really see--every day. The book, whose mission is to extinguish a disease known as “ignorance of the common,” starts with eagles and ends with crows, chatty citydwellers who deserve a closer look. In between, William covers everything from Seattle’s fault lines (it turns out we can blame California for our geologic problems), famously hard-to-predict weather, hills, water, the sometimes very political debate over invasive plants, and Canada geese--whose invasion may have started via an innocent reintroduction project titled Operation Mother Goose. I especially enjoyed the chapter on stone, in which Williams goes fossil hunting in the limestone and rapakivi granite of Seattle’s downtown buildings; and the chapter on Thornton Creek, Seattle’s largest--and largely unsung—watershed. And as Williams writes, Thornton Creek, a poster child for the best and worst ways that humans treat urban streams, is “a lesson in the resiliency of the land and its inhabitants.”

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Thanks, Elisa, for sharing Williams' work. Insights -- reminders, really -- into how cities are of and in the natural world are good for changing perspectives.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 1 Jul 05



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