City Nature

Water Scarcity Inspires Tucsonan’s New Book

FROM THE HEADLINES: You’ve probably heard about the federally mandated Colorado River water cutbacks for the states of Arizona and Nevada and the nation of Mexico. They’re happening for the second year in a row, and they’re in response to the 23-year drought in the Colorado River basin.

An August 16, 2022 news release from the Department of the Interior outlined these cutbacks:

  • Arizona: 592,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 21% of our state’s annual apportionment
  • Nevada: 25,000 acre-feet, which is 8% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Mexico: 104,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 7% of the nation’s annual allotment

Big Problem, Big Opportunity

For Arizona, 21% is the biggest cut to date. No doubt about it, we’re facing a big challenge, but I also see an opportunity. 

Who am I? My name is Martha Retallick, and I’m a Tucson-based photographer, writer, and designer. 

For nearly 20 years, I’ve been transforming my central Tucson home into an urban oasis. The secret to my success: Water harvesting. It’s at the heart of my new book, City Nature.

Water Harvesting Made Simple

In simple, easy-to-understand prose, I explain the rationale for water harvesting – and I’ll show you how I put it into practice. Since I purchased my central Tucson home in 2004, I have incorporated two types of water harvesting – passive and active – into my landscape. 

Passive water harvesting is simply the act of sculpting the landscape to direct the water to where it should be – like plants – and away from where it shouldn’t be – like a home’s foundation. My landscape incorporates a variety of passive water harvesting features that eliminate the need for irrigation that’s connected to the municipal water supply.

That’s right. No irrigation system here, and this is in a city where 40 percent of our municipal water is used outdoors for purposes like landscape and garden watering.

My landscape also includes two active water harvesting features, a 1,500-gallon cistern that collects rainwater for use in the back-yard garden, and a laundry-to-landscape graywater harvesting system that diverts wastewater from my washing machine to three fruit trees.

My 1,500-gallon cistern (above right) harvests rainwater from 500 square feet of roof.
Greywater harvesting system emitter (above left) and overflow line (above right).

City Nature: A lavishly illustrated book that will look great on any coffee table – especially yours!

In City Nature, I’ll introduce you to my ornery desert plants and the opinionated birds that decided that my place is the perfect venue for nesting and raising young, I’ll share my gardening triumphs and tragedies, and I’ll explain how I capture it all through a lens. 

But this is so much more than a nature-themed coffee table book. The word “project” is one of my all-time favorites, and you’ll find a lot of them in City Nature. Among other things, I’ll show you how to harvest and grind mesquite tree pods into flour, and I share my favorite mesquite cookie recipe.

My favorite mesquite cookie recipe.
A rainstorm bejewels these snow pea flowers in the morning light.

I am also a passionate upcycler. And what is upcycling? It’s the act of repurposing worthy objects in ways that are useful or artistic. In City Nature, I will show you my favorite upcycling project. It involves a used chandelier – and my garden.

Upcycling used chandelier pendants.

City Nature concludes with a list of suggested resources that encompasses books, websites, organizations, and businesses that will help you learn more about desert gardening, landscaping, and water conservation.

A purple trailing indigo flower provides a striking contrast to the yellow flowers on a feathery senna shrub.

A Book with a Mission

There’s an unfortunate trend in coffee table book publishing. It needs to stop, and I’m doing my part to make it stop.

Unlike many other publishing ventures, where the photography, writing, and design are done in the United States, but the book printing is done overseas, City Nature is a made-in-Tucson project.

I shot the book photos with camera equipment purchased in Tucson, I worked with two Tucson-based editors and an indexer, and I also will have the book printed here in Tucson. In addition, when you receive your copy of City Nature, you’ll notice that the book was packaged and shipped from Tucson.

For me, localism isn’t just a lovely word, it’s a way of life. That’s why I’m a proud member of Local First Arizona, the largest locally owned business coalition in North America with nearly 3,500 business members.

Why am I so passionate about localism? Here’s why:

  1. Localism strengthens our community. Supporting locally owned businesses keeps local people working in our hometown. It also fosters strong relationships, and let me tell you, this has been the best part of the City Nature project. I haven’t just done business with local people, I’ve made lifelong friends.
  2. Localism keeps dollars in our local economy. Let’s go back to what I just said about getting a book printed overseas. That money is never going to do anything to help Tucson. Ever. By contrast, locally owned businesses spend their money here, and that enriches our entire community.

City Nature: Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Preface. Introducing the three themes of this book:

  1. Nature and the Built Environment
  2. Nature Nourishes
  3. Nature Delights

Introduction. I was born in Pittsburgh and raised outside of that city and Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania was where I formed my interests in nature and photography. My University of Michigan years sparked a sense of adventure that led to bicycle travel through all 50 of the United States. That same sense of adventure inspired me to buy a house with a yard that consisted of a sun-baked expanse of crushed rock in the front yard and out-of-control Bermuda grass (an invasive species) in the back-yard. Shortly after my offer was accepted, I showed my house-to-be to a friend. She saw my barren front yard and said, “That’s your palette!”

Chapter 1: Nature and the Built Environment. It’s one thing to be inspired when a friend calls your barren front yard a palette. Putting that inspiration into action – and integrating nature with my built environment? Now, that is a project! It’s one I’m still working on. In this chapter, I introduce the basic concepts of water harvesting, and show how I’ve put them into practice. I’ve also found that water harvesting is a great way to build community. My lush landscape had to be created from scratch, and that was a project that involved a lot of other people. 

Chapter 2: Nature Nourishes. It’s time to get those hands dirty in the desert garden! I’ll show you my  gardening triumphs and tragedies, which include detailed instructions on harvesting mesquite tree pods and making flour from them. Care for a plate of mesquite cookies? I’m sharing my favorite recipe, along with fast and easy recipes for salsa and salad dressing.

Chapter 3: Nature Delights. When it comes to photography, there’s nothing more satisfying than capturing the veins on a leaf or eavesdropping on bees gathering nectar. Looking for some natural beauty that’s well inside the city limits? And a thriving back-yard bird habitat? You’ll find them here.

Afterword

Plant Lists

Bird List

Suggested Resources

About the Author

Low water-use plants in my front yard.

What You’ll Receive

In addition to photographing and writing City Nature, I designed the book. Although book design is often viewed through a visual perspective, the reader’s tactile experience is just as important. 

And why not? This book tackles a difficult problem – the need for the American Southwest to reduce its dependence on Colorado River water. 

So, why not solve this problem with style – and have fun doing it? This is why your enjoyment of City Nature is so important to me.

When you receive your copy of City Nature, you’ll be impressed by the vivid colors in the photos, the solid feel of the pages, and the velvety soft cover. This won’t be a book that will just sit on your coffee table. You’ll be picking it up – over and over again – and so will your family and friends.

Bounty from my fruit trees.

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My very first back-yard mourning dove family.

Testimonials

Martha has created a delightful confluence of art and ecology! Her words and pictures tell a story that reminds us of the adventures we can take observing nature, its flora and fauna weaving itself between our city structures.

Michael Ismail, Owner, Thrive and Grow Gardens

A Whole Earth Catalog for our time, this book addresses all the important things: food, water, cookies, flowers, bees, and bicycles. Part practical guide, part personal diary, many parts gorgeous coffee table book, City Nature is for anyone looking to learn how to be a better steward of one’s own backyard, as well as a visual celebration of what grows from dirt when we take the time to nurture it. A must for the preservation of our dwindling resources, presented with positivity and clear instructions!

Carrie Seid, Artist and Creativity Consultant

With accessible prose, humor, and crystal clear photos, City Nature breathes life into Tucson’s water harvesting movement. A practical and stunningly beautiful guide for anyone interested in transforming their relationship with nature in the desert.

Eliza Stokes, Watershed Management Group

Meet the Author

Martha Retallick. Photo © 2022 Julius Schlosburg.

Martha Retallick is an award-winning photographer, writer, and designer. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of Michigan and has done additional coursework in graphic design and in building and construction technologies at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.

Martha has freelanced as a commercial photographer, web and graphic designer, and business consultant. She has also worked on the editorial staffs of three different publications.

As a fine art photographer, Martha has hosted her own solo photography exhibitions and has been included in group shows at Tucson’s Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery & Workshop and the Tohono Chul botanical garden.

In addition, Martha volunteers as a citizen scientist through daily weather monitoring, as a host for a Tucson-based environmental organization’s annual home and garden tour, and as an undergraduate admissions interviewer for the University of Arizona Eller College of Management.

Preorders Now Open

The presses will soon be be rolling on the first printing of City Nature. Don’t miss your opportunity to preorder an autographed copy of a first edition book that’s sure to become a collector’s item. It will make a great addition to your coffee table and a wonderful gift for family, friends, and clients.

To celebrate the book’s first printing, I am offering two special hardcover editions of City Nature:

COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Limited to 150 hardcover books)
$199.95 each

The Collector’s Edition features a signed and numbered hardcover book (1-150) in a black slipcase. This full-color hardcover book will have a Soft Touch cover with ultraviolet spot finish that makes the colors pop. This is a book that’s sure to stand out on your coffee table, and the slipcase will ensure protected storage when the book is shelved in your library.

PREMIUM EDITION (Limited to 350 hardcover books)
$99.95 each

The Premium Edition features a signed and numbered hardcover book (1-350). This full-color hardcover book will have a Soft Touch cover with ultraviolet spot finish that makes the colors pop. It will make a wonderful addition to your coffee table and your library.

GOT A QUESTION? Send email to info@westernskycommunications.com or text or call 520-690-1888.

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