Friday, April 9, 2021

Beatrix Potter and the Postman

Agaricus Sylvaticus
By Beatrix Potter
Perth Museam & Art Gallery
Beatrix on Holiday in 1889
Beatrix Potter had a passion for mushrooms. For the better part of 14 years she spent her time studying them, drawing them, sprouting them. Their postman in Dunkeld -where her parents rented houses for extended holiday stays, was also an avid Natural Historian and fungi enthusiast. They exchanged several letters on the subject, via the twice daily mail, and I love to imagine them both, contented in their obvious solitude, but granted the unexpected delight and gift of friendship.

“He is a perfect dragon of erudition, and not of gardener’s Latin either. His successor has a tricycle. It will save his legs, but modern habits and machines are not calculated to bring out individuality or the study of Natural History.”

Charlie McIntosh with
his grizzly beard and aquiline nose, swinging his one good arm, would wend his way through the Scottish countryside, at home in his outdoor lab, picking up specimens here and there on his mail routes to bring to the lonely girl on the hill with the large eyes and quiet ways.
Locally dubbed as the “Perthshire Naturalist, he could appreciate her sketches of fungi:

Charles McIntosh 
Perth Museum & Art Gallery

“His judgements speaking to their accuracy in minute botanical points gave me infinitely more pleasure than that of critics who assume more, and know less.”

Neither of them would have papers published on Botany- though Beatrix’s Uncle did try on her behalf, to publish a paper titled: “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae”. When the paper was eventually rejected after several months of revisions and several more years of work, she stopped writing in her personal journal and the paper itself disappeared.

Letter to Noel Moore 1892
The Pierpont Morgan Library, NY
Were it not for a letter she wrote to a friend’s little boy in which she recounts a family of rabbits living under a tree, and for her friend’s encouragement to turn it into a book and self- publish it, we might never have heard from the quiet self- taught naturalist turned farmer who lived in the Lakes District.

I like to think on that postman, and his long lonely walks which were never dull to him, and which he found a quiet contentment in, because of his fascination with things that grow…and this independent study, this love of his, prepared him to be a great wealth of comfort for another human being greatly in need of some support and mutual sympathy.

Who can tell? Perhaps the world would never have met Cecily Parsley or the bunny in the blue jacket if Charlie McIntosh hadn’t had the habit of bending his long limbs and scanning the ground for toadstools, and other oft unnoticed treasures, like the silhouette of a girl bent over a sketchbook alone by a marshy wetland.

 We are celebrating Easter Week here on the farm. Work preparing fields for planting is interrupted and punctuated by gentle rains and drizzles. All the water is waking the trees and shrubs…they are slipping into their gauzy underthings. The garlic is up. The bloodroot is blooming, with its white blossoms and blood red juice: a living ode to the Resurrected Christ. I love to think of Mary Magdalen. How she was first to the tomb. How she mistook the Lord for the gardener.

flats of seedlings awaiting an Easter bath 
at Little Flower Farm
How he must have been doing the things that gardeners do. Encouraging new growth. Playing about in the dirt. Pushing aside mulch to ease the emergence of bulbs…conducting a symphony of resurrection. She thought he was the gardener, and found him to be the Christ…like Beatrix Potter going to retrieve her mail and finding a friend, like anyone who finds the unexpected treasure in the ordinary and rejoices. It is the experience of spring.

inspiration, quotes, and pictures found in Marta McDowell's lovely book "Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life...The plants and places that inspired the classic children's tales" Cannot recommend it highly enough for a delightful spring read! To visit Marta's page go to

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