Many rooted people are unknown, so it feels appropriate to begin this list with someone you probably won’t have heard of.
Charles McIntosh was the son of a handloom weaver, who was born in 1839 and grew up near a town called Dunkeld in Scotland. As a young man he was sent to work in the local sawmill, where he lost all the fingers and thumb of his left hand in an accident with the circular saw. Of no more use to the sawmill, he became a rural postman, walking sixteen miles each day through all weathers to deliver the post to residents on the East side of the River Tay.
Charles had always been interested in nature and his long walks meant that he came to know his local area in great detail. He would collect historical artefacts and send them to Perth Museum and he gradually learnt to identify everything that lived and grew there, taking a special interest in fungi. He met others in the field, ‘fellows’ of this and that ‘society’, and they wondered at how much this tall and shy man knew. Charles was quietly becoming an authority on the natural history of this place.
There was one time when he befriended a young girl who was holidaying in Dunkeld and who shared his interest in fungi. This young girl loved to draw and paint, had a fine attention to detail and could even make fungi look interesting! She asked to meet with Charles and recalled in her diary how his head was so tall it mingled with the chandelier. Charles was extraordinarily interested in her drawings and the visit became the prelude for an ongoing exchange of mushrooms, drawings and paintings. The young lady in question was Helen Beatrix Potter, of whom more shortly in this blog, but she will be known particularly for her illustrated stories for children, the first and most famous of which was ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. Those who know the story will remember Mr McGregor, who nearly catches Peter when Peter was tucking into the plants in Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden. The drawing of Mr McGregor is uncannily like photos of Charles McIntosh and many have wondered if he was in young Beatrix’s mind as she drew.
Charles lived to the ripe old age of 82, though he had to give up being a postman when he was 51 after contracting pleurisy. Despite losing his fingers in the sawmill, Charles also managed to play the cello in his brother’s string band, conduct a local musical society, and did some composing on the side.
Charles was one of those people who became famous in his local area simply by service. There are hundreds of local artefacts and specimens in Perth museum today that he donated and Perthshire has the Charles McIntosh Memorial prize given annually to local children for an essay on natural history. He identified four species of fungi previously unknown to science and thirteen more that had not been seen before on these shores.
There are a million and one different ways that people can express a rooted spirituality, but the connection with all three elements, nature, place and people are clearly illustrated in the life of this extraordinary man.
(this story is told in ‘A Fascinating Acquaintance’ published by the Beatrix Potter Society 1989)