This book contains profiles of thirteen men who explored the United States’ southeastern wilderness between the early 1700s and the early 1900s. Only a few of the men profiled in the book are well known such as John Muir, John James Audubon, and William Bartram. Yet, each of the thirteen men has contributed to a better understanding of our environmental heritage.
The earliest of these now little known “naturalists,” Mark Catesby, an English botanist, arrived in Virginia in 1712. He spent seven years in Virginia, returned to England and then sailed back to Charleston, South Carolina. Traveling the Carolinas for several years on behalf of the Royal Society, he made notes, drew sketches, gathered botanical specimens and seeds. He published “A Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas Islands” in 1730.
The remaining chapters are interesting profiles of strong, individualistic, and intrepid adventurers, but also dedicated naturalists.
The last chapter in the book profiles the two brothers, Roland Harper and Francis Harper. Although Roland was born in the Northeast, the Harper family ultimately moved to Dalton, Georgia and later Americus. The brothers wrote a number of papers on the Okefenokee Swamp. Francis explored the flora and fauna in the
swamp bringing his family to live with the “swampers,” the local inhabitants of the swamp, from time to time. Thus, he was able to describe in his articles not only the ecosystem, but the people as well. This chapter of the book describes not only the work of the two brothers, but also the natural history, lifestyle, development, and preservation of the swamp. If you have ever seen the Okefenokee, you will find this Chapter fascinating.
Throughout the book, the author provides a glimpse of what it must have been like to see this land when few people except the Indians had ever seen it; to conquer hardships to do so; and to also be the first persons to describe, draw, and preserve the newly discovered life flora and fauna on that land.
Ms. Fishman also relates how man has changed the forests, fields, swamps and water of the Southeast since the early 1700s. This historical information makes me and, maybe you, pause to consider what the Southeast will look like in another hundred years, and what should we do now to be good stewards of our land.
Holly Sparrow, Headwaters Master Gardener, Habersham County