Seeing the Beauty of Nature in the Urban Environment

Review by Kristina Sepetys

In the mid-1960s, environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote a magazine essay titled “Helping Your Child to Wonder,” which later became one of my very favorite books: The Sense of Wonder. The book recounts Carson’s outdoor adventures along the Maine coast with her young nephew, exploring the natural environment, experiencing storms and inclement weather, and investigating the strange and fascinating flora and fauna they discovered. It’s both a beautiful meditation on nature and a guidebook for raising a child with a sense of delight and appreciation for wild places. Berkeley resident Nathanael Johnson has written a new book, very much in the same vein, but set in our own local urban environment.

Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails
& Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness

by Nathanael Johnson
(Rodale, 2016)

Johnson writes about food for Grist and is the author of All Natural, a book about raising a child with more nature and less technology. His latest book details his wanderings around San Francisco and Berkeley with his young daughter Josephine, learning to look closely at the trees, plants, and living creatures that they pass while on their journeys. Like Rachel Carson, Johnson claims that learning to see the world through the eyes of a child changes the way we think about nature. But where Carson’s focus is on the wild, undeveloped natural world, Johnson examines urban areas, urging people to look to immediate environments to see the magnificence of nature. “Instead of glorifying some distant and mythologized version of nature, I argue for the magic of the real.” This shift can add tremendous value to our lives and can be an initial step in addressing some of the problems that plague the world. As he writes in his conclusion, “Wonder doesn’t come from outside after driving somewhere spectacular, it comes from within: It’s a union of the natural world and the mind prepared to receive it.”

Nathanael Johnson speaks about Unseen City at Books Inc.
Wednesday July 6, 7pm
1491 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
Info: here