The William Bartram Challenge: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail #1

Say Everything:

I recently read Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg ( )on the history of blogging, and while I was reading it, a friend loaned me the movie “Julie and Julia”. I didn’t make time for the movie, but Julie’s blog ( ) was mentioned in the book. So I went back and rented the movie and watched it. Julie challenges herself to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s French Cooking recipe book in 365 days. Well, it was a success as a blog, a movie has been made about it, and Julie is now working as a writer and author.

Whose Musings?

So of course, as a nature and landscape photographer in the Southeastern United States, who loves to write and to read, what book could I use as my muse, to give some direction and inspiration to my writing and photography?

My Thing is the Southeast:

Well, a person cannot be even a highly amateur naturalist and environmentalist in the Southeast without hearing some mention of William Bartram. I first heard of him when I worked with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, UOWN ( ). It was said that William traveled through this neck of the woods and wrote of the crystal clear waters of the Oconee.  Which just seemed impossible to me. As anyone who regularly observes and photographs the Oconee knows, the waters are anything but crystal clear. In fact, as my image Japanese River shows, the waters are more of an orangey-red brown color, especially after a heavy rain.

Japanese Screen River by Beth Thompson

During the drought, they are green. Just when did this William person travel to the Oconee River anyway?

Middle Oconee River in October by Beth Thompson

Middle Oconee River in October by Beth Thompson

Bartram’s  Travels:

Never the less, in asking myself what book I could use to write about the nature and landscapes of the Southeast, William’s Travels came to mind. A trip to the library, and I had Francis Harper’s Naturalist Edition of William Bartram’s Travels in hand. It turns out William traveled to the Southeast in the 1700’s, prior to the Revolutionary War! That’s over 2 centuries ago! So I guess I will have to concede to William the crystal clear waters after all.

Crystal Clear Waters by Beth Thompson

Crystal Clear Waters by Beth Thompson

Yes, I would like cheese with my whine!

As much as I would like to do a 365-day challenge with reading and responding to William’s book, with both writing and photography, I am reluctant to do so. One, what would the challenge be? To photograph every plant mentioned in the book? I think there are 50 or more mentioned in the first few pages of the introduction, all by Latin names, of which I am ignorant. Or should I challenge myself to photograph in his footsteps across the Southeast? Easy enough with one William Bartram trail head I spotted only 2 hours from here, but I would need at least 3 days to drive to and photograph the Okefenokee Swamp. Not to mention areas of North Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. I don’t get that much free time from my job, or enough cash to make all those trips in a single year. And there’s also the not-so-small issue of my self-kindness practice. Do I really want to take on the pressure of retracing William’s every footstep over the course of a single year? Or researching hundreds of Latin names? While working at a completely unrelated job 30+ hours a week? I know, I know, Julie did it. But she had to eat dinner anyway!

Leap and the net will appear:

They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So here’s my challenge: I will read and post a response to William’s Travels once a week for one year. That’s 52 posts in one year. A minimum of 52 images a year. I’ll keep going until I get to 52 posts, that’s my promise to you, my promise to myself. From translating a Latin plant name into a photograph and then into a Possible Perception or Fractal, to retracing William’s footsteps, to simply allowing his prose to inspire me to yet unknown adventures in photography and blogging, I take on this challenge.

So mote it be.

Magnolia grandiflora in autumn by Beth Thompson

Magnolia grandiflora in Autumn by Beth Thompson

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