Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Charles Torrey Simpson unheeded warning

Charles Torrey Simpson
There’s a green space amid the concrete that is downtown Miami named for Charles Torrey Simpson, a man who late in life fell in love with natural South Florida and the Everglades and warned in four books and extensive writings about the need to preserve them.

Not much else remains in South Florida of Simpson’s legacy. He consulted with James Deering on the gardens for his Vizcaya estate on Biscayne Bay but his homestead in Lemon City just north of downtown Miami is gone. A towering condo, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools and a marina rests there now. All signs of the 9.5-acre plot with pine woods, a hardwood hammock and the three-story stilt house he called The Sentinels are gone.

In his second book, In Lower Florida Wilds, Simpson relates that he was astonished at the viewpoint of a distinguished scientist who called talk of the beauty of nature “pure bosh.”

"I do not want to investigate nature as though I were solving a problem in mathematics,” wrote Simpson. “I want none of the elements of business to enter into any of my relations with it. I am not and cannot be a scientific attorney.”

“In my attempts to unravel its mysteries I have a sense of reverence and devotion, I feel as though I were on enchanted ground. And whenever any of its mysteries are revealed to me I have a feeling of elation–I was about to say exaltation, just as though the birds or the trees had told me their secrets and I had understood their language–and nature herself had made me a confidant.”

A copy of the first edition of Simpson’s book is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Some consider Simpson the father of the conservation movement in South Florida. He was a respected friend of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, David Fairchild, John K. Small (about whom we will write soon), James Deering, and other luminaries in horticulture and botany.

Will Simpson's warnings about the need to preserve and protect the beauty of our natural surroundings be nothing more than a cry in the wilderness?

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