David B. Williams
I began work on this book soon after my wife, Marjorie, and I moved to Seattle in 1998. I did not have any preplanned ideas when I began work. I simply wanted to focus on the natural world in Seattle. In some essays I explored by foot or bike. In others I chose a topic and delved deeply into it, interviewing experts, probing its history, and going out into the field with scientists. A few of them focus on topics that have long interested me, such as building stone or weather, and others arose because they simply seemed fascinating at the time. I enjoyed writing and researching each of them. I also know that I like Seattle better after spending so much time exploring and discovering new and old places.
What these stories and my adventures in Seattle confirm for me is that you don’t have to go to exotic places to find interesting natural history stories, despite what you might see on the Discovery Channel or in the pages of National Geographic. These fine purveyors of nature leave you with the distinct feeling that nature is out there, away from most people’s ordinary lives. They fail to show that stories are in our yards, under our feet, and on the walls of our buildings. Stories and nature are all around us, if we take the time to look and wonder.
I am not saying that we should substitute urban experiences for wild ones, but I recognize that most urban dwellers stand a better chance of developing a relationship with a goose than with a gorilla. We will develop connections with nature more often in our neighborhood parks than in national parks. We will have our first childhood encounter with a wild, undomesticated animal while exploring our backyards or nearby green spaces. These encounters and experiences will become more important as we continue to become a more urban planet.
Getting to know the urban wild will also influence how we react in wilder places. What lessons will people learn when they see public officials killing Canada geese in Seattle? What if instead citizens heard public officials challenging us to make changes in order to coexist with thousands of geese? I cannot help thinking that positive experiences with wildness in urban settings will lead to a positive land ethic in wilder places.
“Bird-watchers, bicyclists, organic gardeners, rock hounds, tree huggers, weather nuts, history buffs, community activists and downtown office workers — that covers just about everybody in Seattle, doesn’t it? — will find plenty to embrace in ‘The Street-Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle,’ an inviting new book by David B. Williams.”
~ Barbara Lloyd McMichael
Seattle Times review – June 10, 2005
“Even if you are not familiar with Seattle — I’ve been there for one relatively brief visit, so I’m definitely in that category — there is plenty to relate to in this book…Williams’ essays demonstrate that a keen eye is as useful as an unlimited travel budget in studying the natural world.”
~ Tom Palmer
The Ledger review – Lakeland, Florida September 8, 2005
“A passion for nature and the love of a chosen city combine seamlessly in David Williams’ sharp-eyed rambles through Seattle. These beautifully told field notes of this inspired urban naturalist bring to life our streets and hills, our downtown edifices, and suburban green pockets on levels infinitely more profound than the every day.”
~ Ivan Doig
Author of This House of Sky and Prairie Nocturne
“Reading David Williams’ The Street-Smart Naturalist is like suddenly acquiring x-ray vision, supernaturally acute hearing, a synapse-clearing sense of smell – and the expertise to process this rush of new data. Who knew that there was so much fascinating natural history crawling, flying, sprouting, flowing, drizzling, cawing, accreting and sliding within the city limits of Seattle? Every page, every paragraph of Williams’ book brought me revelations – not to mention the sheer pleasure of keeping company with such a sharp and enthusiastic writer. I can’t think of a better guide to what’s really going on – and has been going on for millennia – in our fair city.”
~ David Laskin
Author of The Children’s Blizzard and Rains all the Time