Cane-break: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 56

“I see climate change as the great, deep moral question of our time.”
~Starhawk

“The idea behind a kaleidoscope is that it is a structure that’s filled with broken bits and pieces, and somehow if you can look through them, you still see something beautiful.  And I feel we are all that way a little bit.”
~Sara Bareilles

“Activism tells you, Art shows you”
~Wing Young Huie, Forward to A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks

Take a moment to listen to William Bartram on Cane-breaks….

 

Bamboo: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

Bamboo: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

Responsibility to Reflect…

As an artist I feel, as Nina Simone expressed, that I have a responsibility to reflect the times. Our times, as Starhawk put so eloquently, are defined by climate change. How much more can we humans modify the earth to our own selfish ends without damaging the very climate that allows us to exist on the earth?

What have we lost?

For a peek at what we have lost along the way in the Southeastern United States one only has to sit down with Travels by William Bartram. Perhaps not even that, perhaps we have only to read an excerpt from his work here and there.  I compare and contrast my modern world, my modern thinking, my modern challenges, to those confronted by William Bartram 250 years ago on my blog, using my creative tools, the camera, the pen, and the computer.

Arundo gigantea

For example, photographing bamboo in the Mobile delta that was “as thick as a man’s arm” perhaps was not quite enough. The canes which Bartram wrote about weren’t bamboo, they were native to the Southeast and I have never seen them. Illustrating his post then posed a special challenge, and I chose an invasive species from another continent to do so.

Bamboo: Possible Perception 6046 by Beth Thompson

Bamboo: Possible Perception 6046 by Beth Thompson

The Design Question…

Yet with each post on my Bartram series I have chosen to go beyond simple words and photographs. I have created a Possible Perception out of a picture. Why? Is it a problem of design, not of photography? Or do I design photographs already by choosing what to photograph, when to open the shutter, where the focus falls, and what depth of field to use?

Bishop Park Pool House: by Beth Thompson

Bishop Park Pool House: by Beth Thompson

A broken bit of the whole…

Thus the whole of my work is a design problem. For me, the final kaleidoscopic piece at the end of each post is the crowning joy of the work. Its a broken piece of the the environment I originally photographed.  Perhaps there was a person nearby, whose figure and face I chose not to include when I took my pictures. Perhaps there was a city rising about me when I chose to narrow my focus to a single blossoming tree in a park. The photographs I bring home are already broken bit of the whole.

A single viewpoint chosen…

River Cane in Cherokee, NC: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

River Cane in Cherokee, NC: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson

A single image is chosen by me, a single viewpoint of the entirety of a photoshoot, a photoshoot that is itself merely a broken part of the whole. Then I cut a triangle from the image, making design choices as I do so, what to include, what to leave out.

River Cane Triangle: by Beth Thompson

River Cane Triangle: by Beth Thompson

An imaginary line between photography and art…

I take this single broken representation of the whole of the environment I experienced, and using repetition I mirror the triangle about itself. I encounter the design questions along the way, ending with the question of when and where to crop the final image. So are my Possible Perceptions photography, or do they cross an imaginary line between photography and art?

River Cane: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

River Cane: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Reassembling the past?

In my Travels on the Bartram Trail, the very geography of the ecological systems Bartram observed have been broken up, disjointed, and now are only found in out-of-the-way, forgotten places, if at all. These places too have been forever altered by human activity. Thus my response to the landscapes I inhabit: I break apart one of my photographs and reassemble it.  We may never be able to reassemble the Southeastern landscape as William Bartram perceived it, but perhaps neither would we want to. But we can take what’s left and let the broken bits become part of a greater whole, which, as Sara Bareilles points out, when the light shines through, it’s beautiful.

Winter Magnolia at Oconee Forest by Beth Thompson

Winter Magnolia at Oconee Forest by Beth Thompson

Designing mindfully…

Returning to the question of climate change, is our challenge as humanity not to design mindfully, consciously, our environment so that the Earth that gives us life is allowed to breath Herself? The very thing that has brought the climate change question to the forefront is our human activity on the face of the planet. So therefore is it not our duty and obligation to conserve the environment, the trees and ocean algae that put our oxygen into the air, the diversity of crops that put food on our tables, the exotic plants and everyday herbs that provide us with cures to disease?   Climate changes beckon us to yet another design question, how to design the environment to sustain both human life and wildlife.

Winter Magnolia: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

Winter Magnolia: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson

A big Thank You to portfolio reviewer & photographer Mike Smith for prompting me to look into the question of design in my work.

And a shout-out Thank You to the Do Good Fund for a month of great exhibits, lectures, and discussions, right  here in Athens GA.

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Longleaf Keystone: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 55

Take a moment to listen to me read from Travels, on the Gopher:

*

Baby Longleaf Pine by Beth Thompson

Baby Longleaf Pine by Beth Thompson

What is Wiregrass Ecology?

Having recently read Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray I have become fascinated with longleaf pine forest and its wiregrass ecology.  Bartram’s Great Land Tortoise, the Gopher, still burrows its way through the sandy soil of Georgia’s remaining stands of longleaf. However, I am unsure if I have actually seen the wiregrass ecology in action.

Gopher Frog, Bear Hollow, Athens GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Frog, Bear Hollow, Athens GA: by Beth Thompson

Rattlesnakes and Frogs…

When my husband asked me if the Gopher liked to live alone, I laughed, because the Gopher Tortoise supports the existence of approximately 400 other species though its burrows, including the Eastern rattlesnake.  Thus the Gopher as a species bottom-lines the survival of these other creatures, and is referred to as a Keystone species.

Doris, Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens, GA: by Beth Thompson

Doris, Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens, GA: by Beth Thompson

A Gopher named Doris:

The first Gopher Tortoise I met was Doris. She lives at Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA. When I met her she was all worn out from playing with children all day. Although I suspected she would rather stay in the dark, she kindly allowed me to turn on the lights, set up my tripod, and photograph her.  I felt sure she would like more sand to create her own burrow.

Gopher Tortoise Forest, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Tortoise Forest, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

In the southwestern corner of Georgia….

In November of 2015, my husband and I combined a trip to Bronwood, GA for Thanksgiving and camping at Seminole State Park, home of a longleaf pine forest.   I wanted to see Doris’ natural habitat.  Waking at dawn, I photographed the soft light filtering through the long leaf to the understory of red oak.

Morning Sun on the Longleaf Pine, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Morning Sun on the Longleaf Pine, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Then the sun peeked over the horizon and laid a strip of golden light along the trunk of this long leaf pine. I went in to wake my husband  and prepare for our hike. The purpose? To find a burrow for Doris.

We walked to the very back of the Park’s property, passing a pond along the way.

And there, nestled among the pines, carpeted with needles, we found…..

Gopher Tortoise Burrow, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Gopher Tortoise Burrow, Seminole State Park, GA: by Beth Thompson

Mad Respect for Rattlers…

Of course, I was thrilled to find a Gopher Tortoise Burrow. But mad respect for that Eastern rattlesnake kept me from poking my head in there to say hello to Doris’ family!  I was just going to have to find another way to photograph a Gopher with his Burrow.

Emerging from Lair, Chehaw Park Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Emerging from Lair, Chehaw Park Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Collard Temptation…

Luckily, Chehaw Zoo in Albany, GA provided just such an opportunity.  Apparently Gophers like collards. Who knew?

Collard Temptation, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Collard Temptation, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

Amazing Stillness…

What amazed me as I took portraits was this tortoise’s uncanny ability to remain perfectly still. I think he (or she) may have winked once.Having a long lens handy for my Nikon D80, I was able to capture this close up in the dying light.

The Gopher Tortoise, Keystone Species, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

The Gopher Tortoise, Keystone Species, Chehaw Zoo, GA: by Beth Thompson

A picture I then transformed….

Longleaf Keystone Chehaw Zoo, GA: Possible Perception Series,  by Beth Thompson

Longleaf Keystone Chehaw Zoo, GA: Possible Perception Series, by Beth Thompson

 * Opening Stanza from “The Pants” by Trip Shakespeare

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Musings on the Bradford Pear

Are All One?

In this image of a Bradford Pear Tree in blossom, we do not see the frothy white blossoms as being separate from the black silhouettes of the branches against the blue sky. All are part of the same tree. All are part of the same Earth. Why is it so easy to see that the black branches, the white flowers, and blue sky are parts of a greater whole, and yet still so difficult for our society and its power structures to look past the color of someone’s skin?

Bradford Pear Tree in Blossom

Bradford Pear Tree in Blossom

A Creatrix…

As a creatrix I use the tools I have available to create Possible Perceptions. What are they? Are they a photograph because each one is deeply rooted in the photographic medium? Or does the Possible Perception transcend the simple mechanics of shutter speed and f-stop? Certainly the tool I use in its creation does! Or do simple ones and zeros truly surpass an exact replica of what is in front of a camera when I click the shutter button?

It is my chosen subject matter—Earth—that transcends, not the process.

And so it is for me, in my final analysis, Art. Possible Perceptions are my art. Or are they really mine? Perhaps the black branches bearing green and white blossoms against a blue sky are not separate from the words used to define, control, pigeonhole, analyze, and figure out what black, white, green and blue mean within the societal context that define my seasons and my whereabouts as a creatrix the Southeastern United States.

Bradford Pear Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Bradford Pear Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

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Terebinthine Pine Forest Morn: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 54

Take a moment to listen to William Bartram’s words describing dawn in a longleaf pine forest:

*

Longleaf Sentinels at Dawn by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series.

Longleaf Sentinels at Dawn by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series.

A month in motion:

Thanksgiving month saw my husband and I in motion. Visiting 4 Georgia state parks in our trusty travel trailer, we went from the Northeastern corner of the state to the Southwestern corner of the state. Seminole State Park of Georgia grabbed my attention as having a large longleaf pine forest contained within its boundaries. We arrived at dusk and set up camp.

Moonlight through the Pines by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Moonlight through the Pines by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Moonrise…

The moon rose shortly after dinner, and shone brightly through the long needles of the pines, from whence they gained their name. Racing clouds added a dynamic to my long exposures.

Sunrise…

Waking before dawn the following day I watched as the sun came up over the horizon. The tops of Bartram’s terebinthine pines, standing tall, were the first to catch the sun’s rays. Thus I experienced the same gilding of the pines with gold that Bartram spoke of centuries ago.

Sun-gilded Pine by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Sun-gilded Pine by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Resounds in the skies…

All of a sudden, I heard an awful racket! From not too distant came a flock of birds, a huge flock, and they were racing right over me, talking and chattering the whole way! With but a few moments notice, I readjusted my camera to point straight up and…

Dawn Chatterbirds by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Dawn Chatterbirds by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

An Arch of Longleaf Pines…

The Pines around the campsite backed up to a pond. With the sun rising behind them they framed the landscape with an arch of silhouettes.

Arch of longleaf silhouettes at dawn by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Arch of longleaf silhouettes at dawn by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Transformation…

The image above became the Possible Perception below….

Longleaf Dawn Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Longleaf Dawn Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

*Opening Stanza of reading by Trip Shakespeare

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Tinkering with Nature: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 53

Why can’t we stop tinkering with nature?

cries fellow photographer and scientific illustrator,  OC Carlisle.

Bartram’s very words at the beginning of his book are:

*

 

Gossypium

Gossypium for clothing, Dawson, GA

Gifts from God….

Plants, therefore, were viewed as a gift from the Creator, placed in our world for sustenance, amusement, and delight. The concept of an invasive species had yet to appear on the horizon. So the Bartrams’, among many others, went tinkering away. They were not alone in humanity, and in their tinkering they did actually preserve the Franklin Tree from complete extinction. Yet tinkering perhaps endangered the Franklinia in the first place, along with the chestnuts.

Franklin Tree, Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, PA

Franklin Tree, Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, PA

Poison from the New World…

Tinkering also led to the export of a poisonous exotic, straight from the New World, poison ivy. Arriving in one of Bartram’s Boxes in Great Britain, I heard from a recent tourist it has been spotted on the campus of Oxford, in a bed of English ivy, which is itself an invasive species in the United States. Tit for tat, apparently. I prefer English ivy to poison ivy in the garden. At least when I rip out English ivy I don’t itch for days afterward.

 

English Ivy Invading Oconee Forest, Athens, GA

English Ivy Invading Oconee Forest, Athens, GA

What could have been

William Bartram’s niece, Ann Bartram Carr, had a rockin’ business in the 1800’s importing exotics and growing Native American species. Thus her business could have been part of the import of a water mold, Phytophthora cinnamomi, to the United States. Combined with the South’s over-farming for cotton, the P. cinnamomi colonized first in exhausted fields of Gossypium, or cotton, and then naturalized in the Southern forests, killing all susceptible species in its path. Thus that very water mold caused Bartram’s Franklin Tree and the chestnut tree to go extinct in the wilds of Georgia.

Cotton Field in South GA

Cotton Field in South GA

Defining Invasive Species….

Of course, there may be one more invasive species on the continents of Asia, Europe, North America, and South America that we have yet to mention. Many many centuries ago, a cell made a bargain with a bacteria, and a mitochondria was born on the continent of Africa. Descendants carrying that mitochondria spread out over the entirety of the earth, invading the land, changing it everywhere they went, and celebrating those changes as science, art, language, civilization, culture, religion.

Taming Pegasus at Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC

Taming Pegasus at Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC

Described by Hamlet….

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 2

Don Quixote, Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC. Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington

Don Quixote, Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC. Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington

What power is this?

Can our human culture set right its wrongs?  Can we use the tools of science, art, language, the tools of our culture, to conserve, make right, restore the environment and climate we have impacted by our very presence?

Poison Ivy Pine, Ben Burton Park, Athens, GA

Poison Ivy Pine, Ben Burton Park, Athens, GA

Quintessence of Dust….

Or are we but specks of dust, jousting with a giant, powerless over the course of Nature, powerless even to the ways in which we do impact the environment? Just one more species surviving on the face of the planet?

Poison Ivy Pine Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Poison Ivy Pine Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

 * Opening Stanza from “The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare

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