Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Fourth Florida Naturalist

With its exotic flora and fauna (I was in college before I figured out which one was which) Florida has always been a destination for naturalists. There are at least four Florida naturalists worth knowing.

Probably everybody knows the name William Bartram, because he is memorialized in a sign by the marina at the bottom of Center Street. Less well known is the fact that the founder of the Sierra Club and savior of Yosemite, John Muir, came through here in 1866 on a walk from Louisville to Cedar Key.

A few of you may know that Bartram was in fact a father and son act, and both traveled in Florida in the 1700s when the Seminoles and Creeks still held sway.

In modern times, Florida’s own Archie Carr fought to preserve the unique Florida landscape with some victories and lots of defeats.

That’s three famous naturalists, so who is the fourth?

I bet you have never heard of Mark Catesby, in many ways the most interesting of the lot? No?

Let me remedy that

Catesby was born toward the end of the 1600s into a modest family in England. He was fascinated from youth by the natural world and heard stories about the Americas from relatives in The Carolinas. In 1712 he sailed off to visit them and stayed seven years. (And we think guests stink like fish after three days.) He collected specimens of every plant and animal he could find, and traveled within the limits of his budget. After returning to England he caught the eye of a number of rich patrons. On their nickel he returned to Charleston and this time stayed only four years. During this time, he was teaching himself to paint. The results you will be able to see shortly

His patronage ended upon his return to England and he began working as a gardener, quite a logical choice of profession. For the next eighteen years he devoted himself to the preparation his two volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. That’s right! Eighteen years.

William Bartram (the one on the Marina sign) was inspired by the work of Catesby, and eventually headed to Florida to find the marvels that Catesby had depicted. The resident Lower Creeks dubbed Bartram Pus Puggy, which means Flower Hunter, probably not intended to be a flattering name.

Now, the really good news.

The University of Virginia has put on line a really good E version of Catesby’s book, together with some biographical material. Click on the text and out pops the illustration. Its at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/amacker/etext/pre.htm

And that ends the blog for today because after you find Catesby’s pictures, you will have no interest in my insipid prose.