August 7th, 2011

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(no subject)

It's interesting that both the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo have billboard ads that stress getting close to nature. In fact, "close" is in both their slogans. The zoo shows a child reflected in the eye of an animal; the aquarium shows a child nose-to-nose with a small, colorful fish.

This just reinforces the idea that nature is something out there, that you don't experience in the city. That it isn't nature unless it's exotic and behind bars, or that you travel to visit it. In The Language of Landscape, the author mentions a field trip taken from an inner city school out to see "nature"; the wildflowers they saw on their field trip were the same as the weeds in their parking lot.

Seattle is pretty great for waterbirds, for instance. There are slightly more than 50 birds listed in our record book, but 45 of them we saw between Carkeek Park and Green Lake. The Ballard locks have an osprey nest and several heron nests. We've seen eagles at Carkeek Park (and we've seen crows mobbing same). Seward Park has three different owls, which means that any large forested park (Carkeek, Discovery, Schmitz Preserve, Golden Gardens) has owls as well. There are rumors of coyote sightings in West Seattle.

I'm starting to think that one of the problems with zoos, and perhaps more insidious than their imprisonment of animals, is that they reify this idea that nature and city are separate. People visiting the zoo will drive or walk past dozens of different trees (which are native? which introduced?) and hear many different birds. They might see evidence of raccoon, opossum, or rabbit. But they can't stop now, they have to get to the nature in the zoo.

I agree with Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Crow Planet), Jennifer Price (Flight Maps), William Cronon ("The Trouble with Wilderness" and numerous other writings), Jennifer Wolch ("Zoopolis"), and Anne Whiston Spirn (The Language of Landscape): We need to be aware of how the false idea that nature and the city are separate degrades both. It prevents us from seeing the artifice of the trails we hike, the effort at maintaining a supposedly "natural" landscape, removing invasive species and cleaning up after the hominids. It prevents us from seeing nature in the city.