Notes from the Field | Re-conceptualizing Nature: Discovery the Natural World in an Urban Setting


Palo Alto Baylands
Urban landscape meets the shoreline at the Palo Alto Baylands. Photo by Jess Madding

Growing up on the Peninsula, my primary interactions with the natural world were separate from my everyday life: hiking in the Sierras, school trips to outdoor education facilities in Santa Cruz or Point Reyes, or tromping around in Tahoe snow.

My encounters with nature shifted in college, as I discovered numerous ponds, lakes, nature trails, and even climbing destinations on the outskirts of Boston. However, it wasn’t until working for Save The Bay that my perception of nature was truly challenged.

Most of Save The Bay’s restoration sites have urban backdrops: Oracle Arena can be seen from our sites along the Oakland Shoreline, the Dumbarton Bridge is adjacent to our Ravenswood Pond site, and our Creekside site in Marin is below swing-sets and jungle-gyms at Hal Brown Park.

Teaching environmental education surrounded by man-made structures has given me a new vision of experiencing “nature.” At first, I worried about my ability to instill students with the same wonder at the natural world I felt in more secluded locations. However, this fear evaporated as I witnessed excited students discovering how to identify native plants and unearth purple shore crabs along the shoreline, even on levees or armored shorelines.

Ultimately, the meeting of a city landscape and the Bay shoreline provides local residents with more connection with our tidal marshes. These marshes protect our cities from flooding and provide habitat so that we can experience the awe of seeing a fox or hearing the call of an endangered clapper rail.

Spend some time connecting with nature in your own backyard – volunteer with us.