Friday, August 07, 2009

What do shreds and scraps of the natural scene mean, after all, in the shadow of the citified whole? What can one patch of leftover land mean to one person’s life, or to the lives of all who dwell in the postindustrial wasteland? - Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree

This blog is a response to these questions from Robert Pyle’s book about a drainage ditch in the suburbs of Denver. These questions were not specifically addressed to geographers, but they are distinctly geographical questions about urban spaces that have been little studied by geographers – the shreds and scraps of nature that emerge in wastelands and margins in the urban landscape. His book is about a personal journey back to the origin of his life-long study of butterflies and of his foundational experience of affection for the natural scene. The irony for him is that it all began in a weedy drainage ditch, but he turns that irony back on himself and other American nature writers and environmentalists by insisting on the importance of “shreds and scraps” of urban space like vacant lots for an experience of nature in the shadow of the city. Interestingly, he uses a rhetorical sleight of hand to assist his argument - with the “ditch” becoming an “accidental urban wildland.” This rhetorical move is an attempt to fit these accidental habitats into the discourse of nature in America and, thereby, to use an accepted trope of the discourse of American nature - wildland - to signal that these overgrown urban margins are a part of nature and, therefore, worthy of our affection. But, if these leftover shreds and scraps of urban habitat are “nature,” what kind of nature is this accidental stuff?

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