urban ecology

School is done for the semester, and I’m now realizing that we are full on in the holiday season. I’m driving to the Pacific NW in a few days stopping in Mt Shasta, Portland and then the Olympic Peninsula. We’re bringing a cooler of food, good music and a few emergency blankets. We’re set. Every time I make this trip I’m completely floored by the beauty, and then since there’s always a flip side, I’m also devastated by the seemingly endless views of clear cutting that are punctuated by the enormous mossy logs sailing down I-5 on the back of trucks. And the paper mills, and the smell of the paper mills…. We are not powerless in this vision though, we just need to change some of our (modern) traditions. Two of my favorite blogs Small Measure and Design Sponge have been collaborating lately to talk about ecology and the health of our planet. Today Ashley from Small Measure has a great post on alternative ways to ‘wrap’ presents. Check it out here!


I am really excited to have a guest post today from the talented photographer Charlie Stephens. Hopefully he will be making a semi-regular appearance here to offer up some beautiful images of urban ecology. Make sure you click on the ‘more’ section to see all of today’s images because they are incredible. You should also check out his etsy shop and flickr page! Enjoy!


I’ve written before about plastic on this blog, I’ve talked about cutting down the usage of plastic bags with reusable produce bags and about creating your own seedling pots out of paper. Small steps, but important steps. Two days ago the NY Times wrote about the culminating piles of trash collected in our oceans. One massive entanglement has grown to be roughly twice the size of Texas.  Let me repeat that: twice the size of Texas. Most of this trash is plastic. The avoidable, pervasive and oh so toxic material of modernity.


Please click here to view the whole article. Nurseries and growers use a tremendous amount of plastic. Perhaps starting with one simple target would be good, like putting pressure on the nurseries to put pressure on the growers, to stop using the plastic tags in each and every plant. Imagine how many of those tags are discarded a year. Now think of our oceans. Tragic. I would also encourage all of you who don’t already, to return your used black pots to growers and nurseries, most will gladly take them back for reuse.


I’m sorry for the lull in posts, I snuck in another camping trip even though my acupuncture program is in full swing already. I spent a few beautiful days in the redwood forest up in Humboldt County in Northern California. But that’s not what this post is about, although in a round about way it kind of is.

The closer we got to the city on our return trip, the more and more plastic bags I saw. They were everywhere. Stuck in the trees. Balled up in the meridian. You know, you’ve seen it. Most of us have at least 5 tote bags in the kitchen now to bring to the market. Maybe there’s even a tiny bag that fits in our backpack, glove box or purse. Great, I love that; it’s helping. But then I’m in the store and I’m watching people, including myself, piling beautiful organic produce and bulk foods into clear plastic bags. I usually reuse them, but still they pile up. And they’re plastic. And that beautiful food has now sat in an off-gassing bag. So I want to point out some lovely folks on Etsy that are here to help with reusable & washable bags for your bulk foods and produce. I know there are other ways around this, but I thought I’d share just a few shops with you. Click on the photo to get to their site.


nylon bulk food bags by Kootsac


cotton produce bags by wonder thunder


mesh bags by QwertyO

**QwertyO is offering an additional free mesh wash bag when you order their bags if you mention you saw them here at The Urban Field Guide. Thanks Kristin and Susan! (ps. Kristin is 16, and selling these bags as a way to raise money for college!)

A good friend of mine sent me these pictures recently. The content is the sort that just really gets to me, the kind of thing that is so simple that it amazes me. I love when nature and cities find a way to coexist, but this example is so special – in part because it’s about relationship.  My friend, Karen K, went to Japan in the spring and then returned again a short while later. On her initial visit she saw these swallows nesting in the eaves of a building.


On the next trip the eggs had hatched and she was able to take another picture.


And the amazing part — well look at the next pictures. The shop keepers had hung umbrellas from the eaves so if the baby birds fell out they would be caught by the umbrella and be safe. Now, I love birds and I have come across many tragic instances where a bird fell out of a nest and met its end. And I never would have thought of this beautiful and simple solution. Love it.


Thanks Karen, for the story and the pictures!

Years ago a good friend gave me a journal that I fell in love with. The cover was bright aqua and there was a line drawing of a beautiful california poppy on it – it’s the last image below. Over time I’ve seen a lot more artwork by Jill Bliss and thought I would share some of her native plant drawings today. As a gardener I can really see how much time she spends with the plants, and as an herbalist I appreciate how some of her prints list the plant’s medicinal uses. Lovely work.

jill bliss olympia 5



Let me just say, that I love Detroit. The city holds a special place in my heart because the residents are so amazing and kind and tough. Capitalism has seemingly left this city behind to co-mingle with nature and the results can be at times heartbreaking and at other times magical and almost otherworldly. I think the 100 Abandoned Houses project captures this feeling and the images below are some from that project. Of course I pulled some of the photos where the gardens have continued growing. Or that one – where I can see the urban farm or restored forest so clearly. Nature seemingly will swallow our creations eventually, hopefully. Maybe you want to check out Alan Weisman’s book, A World Without Us on these thoughts.