Saturday, August 31, 2013

Introducing John Hanson Mitchell

A Paradise of Frogs: 


John Hanson Mitchell was born in 1940 in Gaylewood, New Jersey, and he has his B.A. in comparative literature from Colombia University.  He lives outside Boston, where he serves as the editor of Sanctuary, the magazine of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and writes about urban and suburban nature.  He is the author of a number of innovative and imaginative books about urban nature that seek out and depict the wildness surviving amidst our proliferating suburbs.  

This brief essay on frogs, which originally appeared as an editor's column in Sanctuary, has the whimsical imagination, the concern for wildlife habitat and the history that we humans write upon the land, and the dedication to the richness of nearby nature that characterize his work. We will begin discussing A Paradise of Frogs on Monday,September 2nd.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trash or Treasure? Seeing Beyond the Rubble of a Blue Jay’s Nest

Hiestand highlights how the common Blue Jay is not the sort of bird that inspires us.  It’s nest is rather humble, lacking organization and without any of the intricacies that we see in other nest builders. In fact, Hiestand describes the Blue Jay’s nest as a “motley jumble.”  This is a bird that is not selective about what material it chooses for nest building, but will use just about anything on hand.  Yet, this trait of adaptability – the fact that the jay CAN use discarded candy wrappers and plastic forks to build its nest (and doesn’t need a specific type of grass, for example) gives it an advantage.  Like other generalist species, jays are very adept at adjusting to urban environments and human disturbance.

As conservation scientists, we often focus our efforts on specialists – those species that are most vulnerable, relying upon a given set of environmental conditions for survival.  While a specialist has evolved to thrive in its niche, the moment that niche disappears, so goes the specialist – like the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is the generalist:  these species are the most resilient, and often the least likely to receive our attention. However, Hiestand speaks to the beauty of the generalist:  these are species that are the most visible to the majority of Americans, precisely because of their ability to coexist with humans.  And, these are the species that urbanites are most likely to relate to:  “Above all, this is the bird that comes to our window. It comes like the puppy that toddles across the room from the cardboard birthing box, puts its head in your lap, and chooses you.” 

As we seek to connect city dwellers to nature (and in fact, many of us are city dwellers), how do you think we should balance our approach of helping others appreciate generalists and specialists alike?  From an ecological perspective, do you find it challenging to be enthusiastic about generalists like the blue jay?  What are some strategies you've used to leverage a familiar generalist as a teaching tool and a springboard into a broader conversation about conserving wildlife?

You do NOT have to be a "member" of anything to join this discussion. Start by posting a comment below! Centered around urban nature, the focus of these essays differ from more traditional wilderness experiences. Urban conservation is increasingly becoming a part of the vocabulary for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This series of essays is a part of the build-up for a training for staff, Friends, and Partners regarding the Urban Wildlife Refuge Initiative.  We invite not only those who will be attending to participate, but also members of the public who are interested in the intersects between urban and nature.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Introducing Emily Heistand

Our first essay from City Wilds will be Emily Heistand's Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah.  Before we jump into her writing, however, we'd like to first introduce Emily:  born in Chicago, she and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she is Orion magazine's editor-at-large.  Her poetry has won numerous awards, and she is a self-described environmentalist who believes that the language we use to relate to our natural environment shapes our relationship to it, and in particular, the kind of natural resource ethic we're able to create.

Join us beginning on August 26 to share your impressions of this six-page piece about urban nature.