Saturday, July 09, 2005

Reading: A Species for Eternity

This is a neat book. Of course, I'm biased...because this tome about American maturalists and botanists features my ancestor, John Bartram, prominently. This guy was just flat out cool. He was a Quaker, but eventually managed to get himself kicked out of the meetinghouse (or whatever they call it) since he couldn't believe that Jesus was divine, and espoused the (then) modern theories of Newton. He found at least as much joy and fascination in plants as I do, and shipped 150+ new species to England, to be classified (classfication has just been introduced by Linnaeus...the two were contemporaries and correspondants). He became a very competent botanist despite that fact that he had a very limited formal education and didn't know Latin (a disadvantage in the circles he moved in). He opposed slavery and set a slave free who had been born into the family. On top of all this, the man was a pretty accomplished self taught artist. IIRC, so was his son, William. I haven't gotten to that part yet.

The book is interesting in its own right, though. I never really realized how much trading of plant material took place between America and England, France, etc, especially at that time. It kind of makes me sad though...becuase these men, from all different backgrounds, countries, religious persuasions, were drawn together in the pursuit of science and were very generous with one another towards that end both in terms of time, expense, and trouble (John Batram went out for weeks or months at a time on plant collecting expeditions, braving wild animals, hostile Indians, and risking his own poor health). He did all that while raising a family with 7 kids and managing his own farm!

And now....if a layman wanted to do something like this, it'd be so hard. Just consider the regulations and restrictions on plant material and seeds! I understand that there are reasons for that....but what resources and potential are we sacrificing by doing this? Would we see such brotherly cooperation between countries, across political lines, regarding plants never before identified or seen by a white man's eye? I can't help feeling disappointed by the way things are today.

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