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Nature Obscura: A City's Hidden Natural World

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  210 ratings  ·  37 reviews
With wonder and a sense of humor, 'NATURE OBSCURA' author Kelly Brenner aims to help us rediscover our connection to the natural world that is just outside our front door - we just need to know where to look.

Through explorations of a rich and varied urban landscape, Brenner reveals the complex micro-habitats and surprising nature found in the middle of a city. In her homet
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 1st 2020 by Mountaineers Books
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: outdoors, seattle, pnw
Loved, loved, loved this beautifully written, seasonally-organized guide to discovering the natural world hidden in overlooked urban spaces. Brenner's careful observations of the tiny creatures most of us never bother to look at, much the less really see (such as tardigrades, damsel flies, spiders) gave me a newfound appreciation for the tenacity of life in urban environments, how it still manages to survive despite everything humans have done to degrade natural habitats. I loved the chapters on ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology, favourites
What a wonderful book! Kelly Brenner is a great writer and does very well in describing the nature around her in the city. She has a great way of getting you interested in creatures you hadn't thought about before. I learned about musk rats, slime molds and other cool things. Definitely recommended! ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book kept my mental state from scraping the very bottom of its capacity when COVID really started flaming, and for that I will be forever grateful. It is just a really lovely (and totally fascinating!) ode to different life forms, most of them tiny (slime molds! tardigrades!) that the author, an amateur naturalist with total reverence for the world around us, has observed in the Seattle area. There's also some great writing on the ways in which humans and urban areas shape and are shaped by ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished-in-2020
I was a bit disappointed in this one, although probably because it didn't match with my expectations. I expected this to be about nature you can find in an urban setting, but with a few exceptions (hummingbirds, crows, tardigrades) this was all about creatures she found in very wild places. I was hoping to be surprised by things you can find in the city, but Seattle has several very large, very natural parks and this is where she found most of her subjects. There were some interesting observatio ...more
Wendy Wagner
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, nature
Packed with interesting information about the local flora and fauna of Seattle.
Nicholas Martens
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
I love what this book set out to accomplish, and considering the diversity of subjects she undertakes to explain, I think it mostly succeeds. Portions of it will read better in and around Seattle where the flurry of place names have greater meaning. There’s a huge wealth of information about how land use has changed over the last century, and the implications this has had for wildlife; it’s the exactly the type of local knowledge I’d love to gain about my own hometown, but although the author’s ...more
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
While I don't live in Washington (or a biome anything like it), this is a great walk through the myriad and diverse life we can encounter in urban and suburban areas. It has inspired me to think about building a nature pond in my backyard. There is also a great section on how to be an urban naturalist. ...more
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed this book. Natural history books are often hard to balance as one can fall too easily into narratives or into annotated bibliographies, but Ms. Brenner finds a nice balance in here. Moving seamlessly across phyla she demonstrates an infectious curiosity. I enjoyed the collections of vignettes that included her process of coming upon the creatures but then moved beyond the personal to share the scientific so that you got to share in her learning. As a marine biologist I, of co ...more
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Educational. Inspiring. Set in Seattle, the author details her urban naturalist adventures. From her pond to Puget Sound to far-flung slime mold samples, the author narrates her love of the world we live in. This books inspired me to be a more curious, more observant person and to encourage this curiosity for the natural world within my family.
Dylan Zucati
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When was the last time you looked at a plant, animal, or insect outside your home and really wondered what life was like when you walked past them and onto the rest of your life? Was your last thought about moss unpleasant, did you last consider mushrooms solely as participants on your plate? Nature Obscura asks you to look outside with that childlike wonder that you may have lost while growing up. I like to consider myself someone who appreciates nature, I like going on hikes and walks through ...more
Dan Trefethen
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
For a city dweller, this book is the perfect guide on observing nature in the urban environment. The author points out that urban wildlife is more diverse than most areas just beyond it, and to appreciate it all you simply have to “get your eyes in”, as the British say about close observation.

Each chapter is devoted to a different urban life form, whether it's the daily migratory pattern of the urban crow, or the kinds of lichens you can find on trees. Living in Seattle, her observations are abo
Wendy Feltham
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I read this book with my natural history book club and we all loved it. Although it's about Seattle's hidden natural world, where I live on the Olympic Peninsula we have the same mosses, lichens, dragonflies, ferns, slime molds, moon snails, etc., just more of them. So it's not a book exclusively for Seattleites, or even for Washingtonians. It's a book about looking closely at nature, wondering about it, and diving deep into its exploration. Kelly Brenner followed up in ways I wish I could, by v ...more
Marjie C-O
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
From tardigrades to moon snails to spiders to slime molds and beyond, a great deal of interesting material on a wide range of topics. While not written with the lyrical beauty of say Macfarlane or Muir, I found Kelly Brenner to be an extremely knowledgeable and likeable author. Kind of a nonthreatening everywoman, somebody you'd like to pal around with looking at lichens in the woods. But then she deployed a reference to Doctor Who and totally won me over. A very solid book not only for those ju ...more
This was a lovely, grounded, honest reflection on being a self-taught naturalist in the city of Seattle. As someone from Seattle, I particularly enjoyed the book, but the essays are written in a way that are accessible and enjoyable by anyone in any location. It’s helpful to realize how much “nature” we live within if we take the time to slow down and look. So many books in this tradition are about going away from home to find nature, but really what’s being advocated by the best books with eith ...more
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh, how I wish I'd pursued biology, ecology, botany and more instead of doing what I did at Uni. I'm forever attracted to and engrossed in natural history. Brenner's book is a joy to read and provided me with a big fix of natural history education. I'll be looking for more by her. Those of you who are still fit and agile, be sure to read the last section of the book that provides clear guidance about becoming a citizen scientist or amateur naturalist. I'd be out there in a heart beat if I could ...more
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
It's okay... Proponents of this book say it is well written, but there is no lyricism, nor any florid prose. It feels like a freshman effort. My headcannon is that she has a large following in the Northwest and that's why this book is getting so many positive reviews. I imagine her next book will have more insight. This one was too simple for my taste. The subject matter is right up my alley, but I wanted more. Compared to the other amazing books I am reading right now, this one seems wan. ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book by Seattle author Brenner. She reminds us to stop and notice the world in our own urban areas and how they are teeming with life. Each chapter focuses on a particular subject that she has painstakingly researched and explored herself. She builds a strong case and gives you all the tools you need to be an Urban naturalist. Reading this made me want to run out and explore my urban parks and backyard! You may never look at your urban environment the same way again ...more
Beverly Kent
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a lovely, gently written nature book set in Pacific North west largely where the author could easily ramble. The chapter on dragonflies was particularly lovely. This is a relatively small not too expensive book for anyone who wants to know more about what is under his feet or above his head in the trees. It was a perfect antidote to the pandemic.
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Delightful read for anyone who lives in Seattle or who wants some extra inspiration to take in the glorious, little natural details in their world... To not just observe them, but to learn and discover their stories. It was so fun to walk through Seward Park and stumble upon the sword fern die off or exclaim at the first sighting of a Rufous hummingbird returning for the season.
Oct 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature-read
Actual rating 3.5.

Short chapters with lots of interesting info. I decreased my rating because of the lack of photos or illustrations. A number of the organisms that she wrote about were unfamiliar or else there appearance was unfamiliar because they are microscopic. I got tired of frequently googling things to see what they looked like.
Sean Morrison
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a delight! I think I would have liked it regardless, but living in Seattle made it so much more fun to read. Just getting all the local references and knowing what specific things I can look for here was fun. I’ve told everyone I know to read this.
Jim Corson
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great read about the world around us that we may see but don't really observe. Brenner discusses plants and animals that are right here in the city that we likely don't even realize is there. It may open your eyes! ...more
Joanna Rose
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Inspired me to start slowing down and looking closer at the world around me. So soothing and full of wonder.
Don  Kent
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very informative book, especially pertinent if you reside in the PACNW. The chapters on Anna's Humingbirds, mosses, Dragonflys and Damselflies and Arachnids were especially well done. ...more
Mary Helene
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature-guides
Just delightful. An enhanced awareness of the natural world around us and the complexities of relationship. The book itself is not complex. What a great read!
Ann Cooper
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this lovely, gentle book extols the virtues of looking at small, under-sung creatures in the urban wilds. Truly, nature close to home and accessible to all book
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
This book inspired me to get a hummingbird feeder, and had many other beneficial effects as well.
Feb 11, 2021 added it
Apr 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, ebook
I love this book! Primarily written about the Pacific Northwest, Brenner’s book focuses on the joys of observing nature. Very nerdy but very readable.
Lil  Jen
Some interesting aspects and thoughts to keep any urban dweller connected to nature.
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KELLY BRENNER is a naturalist, photographer and writer based in Seattle with a focus on urban nature. Founder of the website The Metropolitan Field Guide, she writes about urban nature, wildlife habitat design, books, poetry, folklore, and a variety of other natural history topics. Her work has been published in Popular Science, Crosscut, National Wildlife Magazine, and The Open Notebook, among ot ...more

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