The Wild Things are Everywhere

A nature-loving blogger in Boston sets out to discover one new species in the city every day

By Kiera Butler

Photograph courtetsy Alexis Bywater

Nature isn’t the first thing on most city-dwellers’ minds. When there are buildings, cars, and people to look at, the weeds beside a parking lot can seem awfully insignificant. But Jef Taylor has spent the past decade looking beyond the urban fracas to find out where beings hide—and he’s learned some interesting things along the way.

By day, 37-year-old Taylor works as a wildlife care assistant at a nature center. But evenings and weekends, he scours the streets, parks, and riverbanks of Boston, and writes about his findings in his blog, Urban Pantheist ( Taylor has discovered that he’s not the only one who finds sidewalk slugs and house sparrows interesting: He estimates that about 500 people read the blog daily, and even more check in regularly.

The project was born in the mid-’90s. Fresh out of art school, Taylor rediscovered an old curiosity about the natural world, and he decided to publish a ’zine about what he was learning. The first issue, a few photocopied pages stapled together, had articles about pigeons, house centipedes, and the mice who lived in the subway tracks at Boston’s Park Street station. Over the next several years, Taylor published six issues, and developed a small but loyal readership.

Then, in 2002, Taylor took Urban Pantheist online. Blogging made it easy for Taylor to record his daily experiences in the natural world, but the real advantage was his blog’s capacity for showing photos. Describing a slime mold was good—but showing readers a picture of that particular slime mold, in all its oozing glory, was even better.

Last year, Taylor’s New Year’s resolution was to blog about a different living thing in the city each day. He called his plan the 365 Urban Species. As the year wore on, more and more entries accumulated. Tufted

titmouse. Mute swan. American dog tick. More readers began visiting Urban Pantheist to let Taylor know about plants and animals they’d spotted. At press time, Taylor was on pace to meet his goal. He’s categorized and cross-referenced his entries, and the result is an ever-growing database of city wildlife—something of an urban field guide.

In his search, Taylor has found it helpful to remember that living things are messy, and that they take root without regard for the intended purpose of the space they occupy. Species #309 is Lycopersicon esculentum, a common tomato plant, which Taylor found growing in a parking lot behind a business on a busy street. “This plant’s location suggests to me that it grew from discarded food,” writes Taylor. “A slice of tomato picked out of a sandwich and tossed into the bushes seems to have grown into a plant.”

Life in the city, Taylor has learned, is all around. You’ll find it bursting up through sidewalk cracks, clinging to drain pipes, and skulking at the edges of abandoned lots—if you just take the time to look for it.

Issue 25

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