Nature and City: a preliminary checklist

How do you find Nature in the City? I’ve been developing the checklist below to help focus my own thoughts on this question. I suspect some of you may be thinking along the same lines and may have things to add. So even though this is merely a preliminary checklist, I’d thought I’d publish it here and see what you can add or correct.

Basic assumption: City isn’t separate from Nature or divorced from Nature; rather, City is an ecosystem (or collection of ecosystems) that is a subset of wider Nature. (Corollary: humans are not separate from Nature, they are an integral part of Nature.)

Purposes of the checklist: To remind me of what to look for to stay aware of the City ecosystem. To remind me of how City ecosystem affects my emotional and spiritual mood.

  1. Astronomical phenomena
    • Sunrise and sunset times
    • Sun’s angle of declination
    • Moonrise and moonset
    • Phase of the moon
    • Length of daylight and its effect on mood
  2. Meteorological phenomena
    • Precipitation: departure from seasonal norms
    • Temperature: departure from seasonal norms
    • Major weather events and their effects on mood
    • Climate and its effect on organisms
    • Climate and its effect on mood
  3. Plants
    • List of plant species
    • Trees: when they leaf out, when they lose leaves (N.B.: not just deciduous trees, conifers lose some needles every year) (include impact on mood)
    • Annual plants: when sprout, when flower, when go to seed
    • What organisms eat the various plants
  4. Birds, mammals, and other vertebrates
    • List of species observed
    • Birds: times of migration, breeding, nesting, molting
    • Mammals and other vertebrates: times of breeding and raising young
    • Predator/prey relationships, and/or food sources; times and locations of feeding
    • Habitat for each species
  5. Invertebrates
    • Seasonal appearances of invertebrates (e.g., cicadas)
    • Eating, breeding, other
  6. Interrelationships between humans and other species
    • Humans as food sources (e.g., squirrels and human trash, pigeons eating bread crumbs, etc.)
    • Humans as habitat providers (e.g., raptors which nest on skyscrapers, rats living in subways, etc.)
    • Species humans kill (e.g., roadkill, rat traps, etc.)
    • Emotional and spiritual effect of other species on humans
  7. Other?

Thanks to Mike for prompting me to post this.

3 thoughts on “Nature and City: a preliminary checklist

  1. Jean


    Smell of the air. Humidity. Rocks, stones, pebbles. Litter. It is, I suppose, at least some of it, eventual compost. I remember an essay about NYC once that marveled at the beauty of plastic grocery bags billowing in the leafless winter trees. Skin. People’s skin changes like a human barometer with the weather. Pink. Red. Dry. Flushed. Pale (anglos). Sweaty. You could watch domestic animals. They’re attuned to nature in ways that we overlook. Watch a dog sniff the wind. He (she) knows things. Cats go nuts before and during a full mooon. Raccoons are interesting. Sounds: wind, rain, creak of buildings expanding and contracting in heat and cold. Collect snowflakes on a thick mitten and compare their structure. Do what the lead character in Blue in the Face (oh, I think that’s the title) did: stand in the same place at the same time every day and take a photograph. Watch the world change, frame by frame.

  2. Mike

    This is a great list, including Jean’s additions. I think you each touch nicely on different aspects of mindfulness in your surroundings. The original post does a great job of categorizing things to track (i.e. noting the progression of the heavenly bodies, tracking the activity of non-human animals, etc.), while Jean’s comment really does a good job of focusing on the gateway through which we experience the world — our senses. Thanks for these great ideas. I think they provide great themes for reflection, sketching, journaling, etc. Also, I think the way you framed a city as its own ecosystem within the broader category of nature was a great viewpoint to take.

    Another thing I’d like to add to the list is human habits. If you take public transportation or walk your neighborhood often, are there “regulars” that you recognize? Other people have their commonly traversed paths and hangouts that likely intersect with yours. Recognize those. They are another animal in the ecosystem, just as you are.

  3. William Harryman

    Thanks for this post. Mike sent me over here and I’m glad he did. I don’t live in an extremely urban environment — rather, I live in the desert SW where we have two seasons: summer and hell.

    Thanks again.


Comments are closed.