Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.
Unseen City: The majesty of pigeons, the discreet charm of snails & other wonders of the urban wilderness is Nathanael Johnson’s journal documenting the journey of teaching his daughter about the natural wonders of their home city, San Francisco. For me, the beginning of this book was what really shone. Johnson writes about his daughter’s habit as a toddler to ask “that?” when pointing at all number of objects in and features of her environment. In addition to identifying things like “house” or “sky,” Johnson found himself saying “tree” so frequently that he decided to change the way in which he replied to his daughter. He writes:
“I added a rule to complicate the game—I would give the same answer only once per outing. The second time Josephine inquired about a tree, I would have to be more specific. ‘Trunk,’ I would say, or leaves, a branch, a twig, a flower. And it was in this way that I noticed for the first time, though I’d walked by this tree hundreds of times, that it had tiny yellow flowers. The leaves were long and narrow, dark green on the top and, on the underside, nearly white, spotted with black. At the center of each cluster of leaves were tiny yellow flowers. I picked a few (a difficult task because breaking the supple green branch was like tearing a red licorice rope) and stuffed them in my pocket.”
Many fellow naturalists will see themselves reflected, to some extent, in this passage. Johnson and his daughter are curious explorers and hungry to understand more about the organisms in their environment. The real strength of Johnson’s book is how accessible he makes exploring one’s natural surroundings, even in a city. The section “Some Practical Recommendations for Neighborhood Naturalists” is spot on, and easy enough to follow with children.
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