NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World is out now from Mountaineers Books.

Order now on IndieBound, Powells, Third Place Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Book Depository in Europe. 

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 hometown of Seattle, which has plowed down hills, cut through the land to connect fresh- and saltwater, and paved over much of the rest, she exposes a diverse range of strange and unknown creatures. From shore to wetland, forest to neighborhood park, and graveyard to backyard, Brenner uncovers how our land alterations have impacted nature, for good and bad, through the wildlife and plants that live alongside us, often unseen. These stories meld together, in the same way our ecosystems, species, and human history are interconnected across the urban environment.

Press Release




Atlas Obscura : Nature Obscura – Wonders From Home series 

Kelly Brenner with Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Town Hall Seattle – Watch Here

Kelly Brenner in conversation with Seattle Audubon – Watch Here

How to Be a Backyard Naturalist with KNKX  – Watch here

Kelly Brenner in conversation with Bell Museum 

Be an Urban Naturalist with King County Library

(click for high resolution image)


“Gorgeously written and deeply felt, with rigorous research and information at its core.”

—Jeff VanderMeer, author of Dead Astronauts

“A warm-hearted meditation on the natural wonders that we city dwellers overlook every day,
such as the western pondhawk (a dragonfly), licorice ferns, and the charming
Anna’s hummingbird, her heart beating 1,250 times a minute—and the perhaps less
charming ant-decapitating fly and, yes, Fuligo septima, a.k.a., dog-vomit slime mold . . .
Once you read this book you’ll step more carefully, to avoid damaging the
myriad tiny worlds that add color and texture to our world.”

—Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile

“With observant eyes and beautiful prose, Kelly Brenner draws us all into the hidden depths of
the urban wilderness. Hummingbirds, dragonflies, ferns, and even slime molds come to vibrant
life alongside stories of the humans who keep watch over the nature that surrounds us. Nature
Obscura inspires everyday wonder, adventure, and wisdom about our changing earth.”

—Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Mozart’s Starling and Crow Planet

Nature Obscura reveals the living city through delightful encounters with natural
neighbors we all ought to know. An attentive, fun, and thoroughly engaging guide,
Kelly Brenner will help you become a better naturalist every day.”

—Robert Michael Pyle, author of Magdalena Mountain

“Drawing upon her astonishing fine ability to notice, and find both fascination and
enjoyment in, things that are all-too-easily missed in the daily hurly-burly of the
modern world – mosses, ferns, crows, muskrats, slime-molds (especially slime-molds) –
Ms. Brenner uses her exquisite command of the English language to guide her readers along
on a tour of the wonders to be found in the natural world that is not far-off and exotic, but close,
easily accessible, and remarkably (for lack of a better word) cozy.”

John Riutta, The Well-Read Naturalist

Nature Obscura is a book that embraces the mystery even as it searches for answers…
In a time when certain aspects of biology are particularly frightening, it’s a relief to be transported
via Brenner’s calm, elegant prose to the worlds of tardigrades and snails, moths and molds.”

Sarah Neilson, The Seattle Times

“In an ever more crowded world, it can be tricky to engage with nature in cities. But for those
fascinated by the small and overlooked, naturalist Kelly Brenner reveals some unexpected urban
species around her home in Seattle, including muskrats, moon snails and ant-decapitating flies.
Intriguing and at times quite technical, Nature Obscura is divided into seasons, and shares a range of
wildlife throughout the year. Brenner is keen to show that nature is “Within easy access”. While some of
her finds are so small that they require a microscope to be seen, others are easily spotted in parks and gardens.”

—Rebecca Gibson, BBC Wildlife Magazine

“Impeccably researched and written, Brenner’s smart debut is ideal for those with a deep interest in nature.”

Publishers Weekly

“Readers will be both mesmerized by the surprising poetry of Brenner’s prose and excited to
follow her example and discover nature’s marvels in their own surroundings. ”


“Brenner brings an infectious curiosity to urban nature–whether unpacking how the tiny
stickleback fish has, in a rare case of reverse evolution, transformed to lose and regrow its plates
of armor in response to pollution, or considering whether lichens really ever die, as they increase
reproduction the older and larger they get. With Nature Obscura, readers need not venture far to
discover a natural world teeming with life. ”

—Frank Brasile, Shelf Awareness

“It was also a pleasure spending time with Brenner, whose fascination with
the overlooked and unloved is endearing. ”

—Naomi Racz, Stonecrop Review

“Kelly Brenner brings to vivid life not only a series of microhistories found (sometimes literally)
in her backyard, but her own naturalist’s fascination for all life great and (especially) small,
from crows gathering at dusk to moon snails by the sea, from basement spiders
to slime molds in the woods to flies all around. ”

Bookshop Santa Cruz

“Naturalist Brenner writes an absorbing set of observations of the natural world found in urban environments. She looks for spiders in basements and collects moths from street lamps. From there, she brings lichens home from the park and searches for slime molds on rotting wood. The narrative continues as the author gathers moss from the shingles on her roof and then collects tardigrades from the moss, describing not just where to look for urban species, but also their fascinating traits and behaviors. Notably, Brenner examines how resilience and adaptation allow species to thrive in cities and change the environment they live in, and how they influence the community (and us) to adapt to them. From crows to flies to fungi, Brenner’s work shows how little we know about and how rarely we see the species that surround us. VERDICT Though focused on Brenner’s hometown of Seattle, this unofficial guide to finding wildlife in unexpected areas is wide ranging and companionable. Also included are tips and resources for budding urban naturalists.”

Library Journal

“Sullivan can’t help sounding delighted as she recounts the author’s experience sifting through green slime in search of invertebrates or turning a bug zapper into a moth light. Nature writer Brenner takes listeners on a tour of Seward Park, Puget Sound, and other sites, including her own backyard. Hummingbirds, dragonflies, and funguses are among the many life forms she considers. Listeners might not want to crawl on their garage roofs in search of moss or turn their backyards into habitats, as Brenner does. Happily, there’s also advice for more timid souls who want to explore nature close to home. ”

—(Audio Book Review) AudioFile 

“This poetic book flows peacefully as Brenner speaks to us about the value of becoming ‘urban naturalists’ and applying our many senses to explore the city in a mindful and open way. ”

Reef Reads 

Copyright 2020 Kelly Brenner | All Rights Reserved