I grew up in a Rust Belt city. In spite of what anyone may think, city kids do follow the turnings of the seasons.
For me autumn moving into winter was about watching the trees in the neighborhood change, the dew on plants outside the door, and eventually the frost patterns on the windows. It was about changes in the appearance of sunrise and sunset. These may be framed against cityscapes, rather than dark shadows of pine trees or Joshua Trees; still the light of a summer sunrise is so very different from that of an icy Great Lakes city winter. The way the snow appeared and felt told me about weather changes. So did the appearance and disappearance of animals. Migrations of birds were apparent and tied to the seasons – which ones show up in your back yard, on your garage eaves, and who is on the wires overhead each month.
Some city folks grew gardens. This was decades ago, not just the current trend of urban gardening (which I’m solidly in favor of). Some neighbors maintained a few fruit trees in their back yards. I had my own first vegetable garden at age nine. There was a wild grape vine sprouting under and across an old tin shed in my backyard that changed with the seasons and provided snacks and a hiding place for me and my friends and the neighborhood birds. We had some sense of where our food came from. A sense of wonder at the natural world was available to us. Maybe it was presented in odd or out of the way places, but it was there.
I grew up in a river town. The river was polluted and in a sad state, yet, as a child and teenager, it was a region of connection with nature for me. Things happened at the riverside that were different from my land-based life. Sometimes we would find an old rowboat, take it out onto the river, explore river islands, and then bring the boat back. Maybe we’d be seen as delinquents now for doing that? Eventually, one of my friends became the riverman. He bought and patched an old rowboat. He taught me to fish and although the river fish was not safe to eat, there were old water-filled rock quarries near the city that yielded a day’s fishing and simple, delicious food, prepared over a fire at the side of the quarry.
There are so many ways that people in cities can interact with the natural world. Children, especially, are wide open to this.
I live in a rural area now and have a micro-scale drylands farm. My heart is still with city kids and their parents, though, as they look for relationship with the natural world in their own best and most creative ways. I have recently been considering on and off whether I might eventually migrate back to a city. If I do, I have no doubt I’ll still find ways to carry on with extreme gardening and garden/farm education. It’s not an easy choice.