This past weekend, I had the privilege of interviewing Patrick Dean in front of an audience at Thank You Books about his new book Nature's Messenger: Mark Catesby and his Adventures in a New World.
Despite being the first earned weekend after the first full week of school—also known as the "leave me the hell alone while I sleep the weekend away" solo slumber party—I agreed to the interview.
I'm glad that I did.
The event was delightful. Was it, as the Royal Society had called Catesby's Natural History, both "curious and magnificent?" Maybe not, but it was intimate and inspiring, a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Thank You Books has a charming and comfortable children's area that served as our interview space. Patrick was generous with his time and expertise, and he captivated the audience with his stories about Catesby, one of the forgotten predecessors to Audubon. As for the audience, My family was there, and yes, Laurel and Ella interrupted the interview, but only in adorable ways. Other attendees included horticulturalists, history buffs, Catesby fans, and even a Catesby descendant was in the audience!
Roger Catesby Jones, IV, presented Patrick Dean with an illustration of Alabama's state bird, the Yellowhammer (colaptes aurutus). So, it wasn't THE Catesby's original work, but at least it's A Catesby's original.
In praise for Patrick Dean's previous book, A Window to Heaven, one reviewer noted, "No matter how many times the Denali story gets told, it never gets old. The trick is to make it new. Outdoors writer Patrick Dean has done just, casting the climb in new light. The story reverberates today." Dean's done it again with his newest work, Nature's Messenger: Mark Catesby and His Adventures in a new world.
He took a 300-year-old story of an overlooked and overshadowed naturalist, considered it through the lens of today, with all that we know, and told the story anew. Whether it's the addition of previously unpublished information, the added attention to the enslaved boy Catesby may have purchased, or Dean's stylistic blend of detailed descriptions and relevant context, Nature's Messenger is beautifully written, bold in its undertaking and brilliant in its execution; it begs to be read—it's an important contribution to our nation's collective conversations around race, our history, and how much of our past are we willing to admit is tied to the slave trade. At times both heartbreaking and inspiring, fascinating and frightening, Dean's chronicle of Catesby's trip to the Carolinas during the Age of Reason—an age when empiricism replaced providence and readily-available knowledge and news enlightened the masses—is a must-read for fans of early American history, nature, environmentalism, ecology, writing, history, and much more. Pick up a copy of Dean's Nature's Messenger and enter a world of botany, pirates, slaves traders, sugar cane, and southern magnolias.
If you haven't read Nature's Messenger, or Dean's other book A Window To Heaven, do yourself a favor and pick it up—it'll inspire an urgent need for adventure. Trust me, it won't be long until you find yourself paddling the banks of the Cahaba to study the way Mountain Laurel clusters, setting out for the Appalachian Trail, or snagging a few mason jars because you now fancy yourself a weekend lepidopterist.