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City Wilds: Essays and Stories about Urban Nature written by Terrell F. Dixon


City Wilds: Essays and Stories about Urban Nature written by Terrell F. Dixon


The assumptions we make about nature writing too often lead us to see it only as a literature about wilderness or rural areas. This anthology broadens our awareness of American nature writing by featuring the flora, fauna, geology, and climate that enrich and shape urban life. Set in neither pristine nor exotic environs, these stories and essays take us to rivers, parks, vacant lots, lakes, gardens, and zoos as they convey nature's rich disregard of city limits signs.

With writings by women and men from cities in all regions of the country and from different ethnic traditions, the anthology reflects the geographic differences and multicultural makeup of our cities. Works by well-known and emerging contemporary writers are included as well as pieces from important twentieth-century urban nature writers.

Since more than 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas, we need to enlarge our environmental concerns to encompass urban nature. By focusing on urban nature writing, the selections in City Wilds can help develop a more inclusive environmental consciousness, one that includes both the nature we see on a day-to-day basis and how such nearby nature is viewed by writers from diverse cultural backgrounds.


In over 300 tightly printed pages, this anthology collects 35 previously published essays and stories about how life in American cities need not be divorced from interaction with nature. Compared to other such collections I've reviewed for KLIATT over the years, the editor's choices here seem a little drab. Nevertheless, City Wilds has many highlights. Michael Aaron Rockland's account of canoeing around Manhattan with a friend is a delight. The trip included an overnight in Tyron Park at the northern tip of the island and shooting the hair-raising rapids next to Roosevelt Island. Joy Williams, in excoriating what population growth, development, and money have done to Florida, minces no words in her despair. She also questions the value of the endless stream of nature essays published each year, including her own: "Nature writing is enjoying a renaissance. This seems to be in lieu of nature itself, which is not.... Nature is receding in many different ways at once and may in fact, in our time, be utterly subsumed by language." The other writers, for the most part, soldier on, some of them wittily. Robert Michael Pyle begins his essay on the gradual degradation of his urban environment this way: "I became a nonbeliever and a conservationist in one fell swoop. All it took was the Lutherans paving their parking lot." The essays are arranged geographically, beginning in the Northeast, heading south, and ending up in Seattle. Thus urban readers from around the country can check in to see how their city is doing a fishless river in Minneapolis, a rapacious sinkhole in small-town Texas, the brown recluse spiders of L.A., and so on. Overall, the news is not good. KLIATT Codes:SA Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Univ. of Georgia Press, 311p., Healy

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