Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary

Field Notes from a Hidden City

Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson looks at the “hidden city” of Aberdeen, meditating on our complex relationships with the natural world. She intimately portrays the wildlife of this northern city.

In the night a few times, I’ve been wakened by the stillness. Even the gulls are silent. Here, you’re often woken by the sounds of gulls. Even when it’s nearly morning, in winter darkness, it still feels like night, their cries arching lightly in the air over the silent city. I waken and then as I sleep again, think about the sounds they make which might be of warning or joy, or grief, but which are most probably an unfathomable Larus chorus of dialogue and exchange. For me, gulls’ voices are a welcome wakening, a kind of wild music, a reminder of where I am in that moment of renewed consciousness: a city on the edge of the sea, at the north-eastern rim of a northern island between the western coasts of Scandinavia and the eastern beginnings of North America, the southern reaches of circumpolar north.

Looking down from a plane window when you’re flying towards it from the south, for a long way below you see only rock and grass and fields and suddenly it’s there, a tight grey city with sea and water almost surrounding it. It’s a city perched on the edge of water, a city of two rivers, blown by every wind named and unnamed, by ban-gull and haugull, blinter and flist. There are days in the wind and rain when it feels as though the whole of it, every edifice and structure, every garden, streetlight and tree will detach and set out determinedly to sea. The grey granite from which Aberdeen is built can look only a semitone lighter or darker than the clouds and sky. We’re part of a thin string of cities, a chain of northern places, poised along this numbered scale, the circles of latitude; the last habitation before the real cold begins, on the fringes of subarctic ice and snow, at the northern reaches of an earth circling in an ellipsis around the sun.

The Guardian review ” “Just like the herring gull a century ago, contemporary nature writing is migrating into cities, albeit with publishing trends as much as evolution forcing the pace. Field Notes takes the form of a year’s worth of diary entries, starting in the depths of winter.”