The Journey to Augusta: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 44

Take a moment to listen to Bartram’s description of his Journey to Augusta:


Love Locks on the Savannah River

Love Locks on the Savannah River

A Massive Lake with Rain Predicted…

Rick and I set off for a weekend in Augusta, with rain predicted. We took his camper and found a beautiful campsite right on a massive lake, about 40 minutes outside of Augusta at Mistletoe State Park.  The first day we spent setting up camp and cooking dinner.


Rain on the Lake

Cataracts Ahead!

Saturday morning we took off for the Savannah Cataracts Park in North Augusta. To my dismay, things had changed a bit since Bartram wrote about the 4 to 5 foot falls. A dam was in place at the head of the cataracts, and between the mainland and the river there was a canal, so the river’s edge was actually along an island.

Crossing over at the head of the canal, Rick and I saw a sign that he and I at least were on the right track, a series of locks about a metal fence with lover’s names scratched into them. We didn’t have a lock of our own to leave, but having each other, I didn’t feel we needed to leave one.


Savannah River Cataracts

Occasional Break in the Brush…

With the rain threatening, we took a slow stroll down the island, between the river and the canal, slow because I kept stopping to take pictures. Often the riverside was steep and covered with trees and impenetrable vines and brush, completely obscuring the river and its cataracts. Every now and then there would be a break in the brush, and I would clamor down in my inappropriate shoes to get a shot of the river.


Tree Overhanging the Savannah

It was on one of these visits that Rick found the Appleseed bugs, a favorite insect of mine since childhood. Playing in the creeks of Greene County on my father’s farm in Penfield, I would capture these shiny black creatures, so resembling apple seeds, and shake them up in my hands, to be rewarded with the sweet scent of apples. Rick discovered a whole family reunion of Appleseed bugs, swarming in still water close to the bank. I photographed them at relative rest, and then had Rick jump on a floating dock, which shook the anchor chain right beside the Appleseed bugs, and then photographed them moving in high gear.


The Scent of Apples….


Appleseed Bugs in High Gear

Savannah Cataracts Possible Perception

I took the following picture on another treacherous descent to the river, with the spring leaves just out on this young tree, and the ripples in the water caused by the famous cataracts of the Savannah. Working with the image I created a Possible Perception from it, Savannah Cataracts Possible Perception.


The Photograph


Savannah Cataracts Possible Perception

Savannah Cataracts Possible Perception

The Metropolis Of Georgia!

But what about Augusta? The very metropolis of Georgia itself? The afternoon brought us to the city, and it brought the rain. We took a wet walk along the South Carolina side of the city, finding a wetland pond, and then driving to get closer to the river. It was here, on the South Carolina side, that I could really see this fine, navigable river, the one capable of supporting ships up to thirty tons. However, no ships were in sight, only pleasure boat docks, all the people being safe and dry indoors on this rainy Saturday. The riverside was quiet and peaceful in the rain, and the water silky in my camera lens, peppered with raindrops.


Deep and Wide, Peppered with Raindrops

The River Walk

Crossing back over, Rick and I had an early dinner and then climbed down the river walk in Augusta proper. From the top I was able to see the skyline of Augusta, this Georgia Metropolis, and photograph it. Cars are now the main mode of transportation in Augusta, the river lay silent and still in the soft rain.


River Walk

Below is the Possible Perception of Bartram’s Metropolis of Georgia, his prophecy from long before the crossing of railroads in Atlanta was conceived.

The Photograph

The Photograph

Possible Perception of the Metropolis of Georgia

Possible Perception of the Metropolis of Georgia

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Alligator Swarm Possible Perception

Facing down Mama Gator….

To photograph the picture for Alligator Swarm I had first to face down Mama Gator. I stood on the small watercraft with my camera pointed in her direction, and as she slid through the weeds towards me, I calmly snapped her picture. I don’t know if she experienced that as me blinking, that eye in my camera, or as me shooting in her general direction, but she choose that moment to dive beneath our small craft, to the collective gasps of my mother and my aunt.

Mama Gator by Beth Thompson: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Mama Gator by Beth Thompson: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Our guide has said Mama Gator had slammed up against the boat before, but this time she simply disappeared beneath the black waters, not to be seen again.  This left me free to take pictures of her offspring, who were all about us, as we had literally pulled the boat up into the alligator nest of young hatchlings.

I needed a swarm of alligators….

Since I was writing about the Alligator Swarm experienced by William Bartram in his Travels, I needed a swarm of alligators. However, I was lucky enough to have only my encounter with Mama Gator and not having lived through an actual alligator swarm. Thus I took one of my images of Baby Alligators and created a Possible Perception that imitated a swarm of alligators.


This is the original image of the Baby Alligator.  Although this wasn’t the closest picture of a baby alligator I got, I liked that it showed most of the alligator’s body, and I liked the patterns made by the floating vegetation and browning weeds around him.  I also liked the blackness of the water revealed by his motion.

Alligator Swarm 6065 by Beth Thompson: Possible Perception Series

This is the Alligator Swarm Possible Perception I created from the original. The black water outlines a center star shape created by the floating vegetation. The baby alligator’s body is almost a deep blue, possibly from being wet and reflecting the sky. The drying weeds create a chain around the star shape that the body of the alligator crosses.

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Tulip Tree Possible Perception

A Lifetime in Athens, GA….

I have lived in Athens all my life, but I never explored Bishop Park until I moved into a condo right across the street. At first, Bishop Park seemed like little more than some tennis courts, basketball courts, a pool and a playground. It was for the team-sports inclined, or for moms with kids, not for the solitary landscape photographer that I am.
Yet I began to take walks through Bishop Park. And I began to discover its charms. While there is plenty there for the sports-inclined, I also discovered so much for the nature-inclined too. A grove of ancient holly bushes, dark and mysterious grows there. A weeping cedar tree, of the likes of which I have never seen has a home there. A grove of crept myrtle flourishes there, which I have never caught blooming but am continually fascinated by the smooth bark on their limbs.

The Bradford Pear in March….


One March, I decided to photograph the Bradford Pear Trees in the parking lot, which were in full bloom. Exploring further with my camera I soon came across a cherry tree in full blossom. But I wasn’t amazed, awed, and stunned until I discovered this Tulip Tree, reaching for the heavens with its limbs, covered in these stunning pink blossoms against a blue sky. I think it was then that I realized that Bishop Park, in addition to all else I have mentioned about it, also houses an arboretum of the most amazing trees.

Amazing Kaleidoscopes by Japanese Photographer/ Architect….

May found me at my computer, doing research on kaleidoscopic photographs online. I found amazing city-scapes by a Japanese photographer/architect, Palla, and immediately challenged myself to recreate his technique. While I may have failed at that, I quickly discovered a new technique of my own for creating abstract photographs from my work. I began with a city scene, driving across a bridge in Charleston while visiting a friend. Then I moved on to work with the new technique and my own subject matter, landscapes and nature.
Tulip Tree Possible Perception was the first highly successful piece of the new series, and made the cut when I prepared my portfolio for The Atlanta Celebrates Photography Portfolio Review the following October. At the encouragement of the museum curators and New York City gallery owners who viewed my portfolio, I plunged into the new series, which now contains more than 60 pieces.

Here is the image I took that resulted in Tulip Tree, of a Saucer Magnolia in full bloom.


And here is Tulip Tree Possible Perception.

Tulip Tree Possible Perception 6003 by Beth Thompson (actually a saucer magnolia)

Tulip Tree Possible Perception 6003 by Beth Thompson (actually a saucer magnolia)

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Idealized Tree


Idealized Tree

I recently had a conversation with someone who wants a large image of a tree to go over her dining table, in black and white. I hope she checks my website, because this image immediately came to mind as a possible work of art to meet her needs.

Achieving Perfect Symmetry…

Taken at Bishop Park, I cropped out part of the image and then mirrored the image. This created a tree that is perfectly symmetrical. No such tree actually exists in nature, they are all so wonderfully asymmetrical. But I like the dream of perfection, of symmetry, there is something comforting about perfect symmetry, something that comforts me.

Perfect Objects….

Its sort of like Plato’s idea that there exists, for every object, and perfect and idealized object out there somewhere. While I don’t actually agree with this philosophy, I think diversity is actually the true ideal, I really like playing with the idea that for every actual tree there is an idealized version that exists on another plane.

Perfection Now!

But then again, doesn’t that put the pressure on? To live up to the idealized tree, or worse, the idealized Beth that exists on another plane? Where as embracing uniqueness, diversity, differences, allows me to be myself, to relax into imperfection, and stop striving to be so perfect, to live up to the idealized Beth on that other plane of reality, and realize that this tree, this person, this time, is perfect exactly the way it is.

Not sure I would have said all that had I not been playing around with Plato and his ideals, now would I?


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The San Juan River: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 43

William spent a great deal of time on the San Juan River, or St. John River, of Florida, and much of his book Travels in describing his adventures there. But what did he make of the river itself? Take a moment to listen to my reading of his words on the subject:


The Rive flows into Jacksonville...

The River flows into Jacksonville…

River as an aspect of the Divine Feminine….

The Native Americans who lived along side the Rio Grande saw the river as the clit of the world, and the waters that flooded its banks as the birth waters of the Earth. Rivers, and water in particular, symbolize an aspect of the Divine Feminine, and I think that this was true for William Bartram as well. Check out some of the adjectives and phrases he uses to describe the majestic San Juan River in Florida:

Jacksonville Possible Perception 6069

Jacksonville Possible Perception 6069

Wide but deep
Purity of water
Wide and deep river
Bordered by rich, deep swamps

And the darker side of the feminine:

Oozy bottom
Putrescent scum from the bottom

The San Juan River: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

The San Juan River: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Flood Waters….Birth Waters….

Water is linked to the Earth, another symbol of the Divine Feminine, by its surrounds. The flooding of the river brings the rich topsoil that gives rise to life in the form of foods grown. Thus the flood waters are likened to birth waters for the earth that they bring.

The St. John’s River in Florida water has purity. The water is above the bottom, the bottom of the river is dark, deep, oozy, and gives rise to putrescent scum, and rich deep swamps.

Rich, Deep Swamp bordering the San Juan: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Rich, Deep Swamp bordering the San Juan: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Against the Current…

These descriptors give the San Juan River its character, after all, being below the fall line, there are no gushing waterfalls, treacherous rapids, or clean rocky bottoms to this particular river.

William traveled against the current to come to anchor in the reading I choose. While below the fall line, there are currents in the St. John’s River, which can be seen as the water flows around these floating islands of plants:

River Winding: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

River Winding: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Speaking of Floating Islands of Plants…

He describes floating islands of plants in the middle of the river, which still exist on the lower San Juan River, as the picture below shows.

Floating Island of Plants in San Juan: Beth's Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Floating Island of Plants in San Juan: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series

Enduring Pieces of William Bartram’s World….

I traveled from Nassau Sound to Jacksonville to Blue Springs, but mostly by car, and did not see all the wonders that William Bartram saw on the San Juan River. I also didn’t encounter the many dangers, especially with the alligators, which William so bravely endured. Yet the beauty of the San Juan River persists, from Jacksonville, much changed since it was a simple Cow Ford, to the driftwood on Nassau Sound, at the mouth of the river, to the wonders of the birds, alligators and manatees on the lower San Juan River, deep in the head waters.

Call it Florida, call it Xanadu, call it the San Juan or the St. John’s, pieces of William Bartram’s world still endure, despite the challenges of encroaching civilization.

San Juan River Possible Perception 6071: by Beth Thompson

San Juan River Possible Perception 6071: by Beth Thompson

 *Note on recording: Opening Stanza from “The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare.






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