Take a moment to listen to my reading of William Bartram’s Travels describing“mountain vegetable beauties….”*
Red bottlebrush buckeye forming seeds: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
The only constant is change. As I write this, the last of summer lies heavy on the land. The little plants that spring up in the early warmth of the year have completely vanished, and the larger plants, such as red bottlebrush buckeye, are developing fruits to bear seed in the fall or spring of the coming year.
Hiawassee Waterfall: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
My body grows stronger too, a recent summer hike to a waterfall and back was much easier this Summer than an earlier hike this Spring. Perhaps the dip in the cool refreshing waters had something to do with it.
Many Fleeting Beauties
Thanks to the generosity of my folks, Jimmy and Joy Thompson, my friend Tina and I were able to spend a May weekend exploring the wildflowers of the Highlands Plateau. As part of Wildflower Whimsy and led by a couple of botanists, we hiked down a mountain trail to a waterfall cascading into a river, stopping to ogle the amazing spring ephemerals every step of the way. I saw many fleeting beauties:
Jack in the Pulpit: Wildflower Whimsy Hike by Beth Thompson
Native Violet: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson
Foam Flower: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson
4 Varieties of Trillium: Wildflower Whimsy Hike. Photo by Beth Thompson
Then came the climb back out. I got majorly frustrated with my slow pace until I remembered, less than a year previously I had been on crutches with a broken toe.
Tattered Butterfly: Hummingbird Walk. Photo by Beth Thompson
I remembered eschewing the crutches to climb down to a pontoon boat the summer previously in Highlands, the better to see waterfalls cascading into the lake. The fact I could do the Wildflower Whimsy hike at all was a testament to the amazing healing powers of the body. That in July 2016 I could hike to a waterfall and swim beneath it truly a miracle of healing.
Magenta Trilluim: Original Photo for Possible Perception below.
I am approaching another birthday, growing older, perhaps wiser in some ways, more foolish in others. I dream of a macro lens, the better to photograph next year’s spring ephemerals. I dream too of finding a path towards greater self-support in my art. But mostly, I am asking questions. Learning and growing and wondering: what could I do differently next time? How do I calculate the value of this experience? Of that one?
Take a moment to listen to William Bartram’s description of where the Bottlebrush Buckeye grows, which he named Fothergilla after his benefactor, Fothergill.
Laurel Rhododendron Buds: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
If the bank I rose upon was marriage, and the person I married ran parallel to my coast, then we have reached a vast plain, whereupon we can go our separate ways, no longer constricted by the landscape of the honeymoon, stars in our eyes.
Magnolia Grandiflora: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
My heart feels bruised liked the Magnolia Grandiflora blossoms must feel beneath a pollinating beetle’s feet. My marriage, begun only a scant year ago, feels fleeting like these Azalea blossoms in Spring, beautiful, oh so beautiful while it lasted.
Wild Pink Azalea: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
Wandering through the sand hills…
May I find a soft bed of long-leaf pine needles to lay down my bruised heart….
Long-leaf Pine Forest: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
I wanted to be strong and steady like this oak, he wanted to be strong and steady too.
Quercus: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
The Bottlebrush Buckeye…
Instead our hearts are battering one against the other, bleeding out against the sky like these Fothergilla blossoms….
Fothergilla Blossom: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail Series
May our hearts’ pain be transformed into greater beauty, as I was able to transform the image above into the Possible Perception of Bottlebrush Buckeye below…
Bottlebrush Buckeye: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson
While William tasted of the rattlesnake he killed, he did not swallow it….
Indigo Coils by Beth Thompson
It’s now illegal to kill snakes in Georgia, with the exception of snakes found near highly inhabited areas AND poisonous. Most are not poisonous. Only the copperhead and rattlesnake are poisonous and in the southern portions of Georgia the moccasin can also be found. That leaves a variety of non-poisonous snakes to be left alone.
Snake Gate by Beth Thompson
Such as my gate-snake, a grey rat snake. He showed up one afternoon while I was working on the artwork for this post. I went out in the afternoon, and was walking back into the house when I saw him, just before I opened the gate. My first response was to scream. My second was to go the the front door, deposit my purchases, and grab my camera.
Grey Rat Snake on Fence Post by Beth Thompson
I could tell by his round pupil he wasn’t poisonous, unlike the vertical pupil of this copperhead at Chehaw Zoo in Albany….
Copperhead at Chehaw Zoo, Albany GA by Beth Thompson
I confused the copperhead with this nonpoisonous water snake when I was out photographing at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. He is “wound round” with a brown stripe…
Creek Snake at Botanical Gardens, Athens GA, by Beth Thompson
So what happens if you kill your friendly, household rat snake? Well, you just might get rats, or their country cousins, field mice, in your home. So if you see a rat snake hanging about your habitat, you may be better off both legally and otherwise to let your gate-snake be.
Grey Rat Snake Tongue by Beth Thompson
Bartram’s remarks on snakes have had a far reach. I found mention that he influenced Coleridge once again in the poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
~Samuel T. Coleridge
Indigo Snake by Beth Thompson
I for one, am a child of the ’80’s and the song I like to think might just have been inspired by Bartram’ Travels and then Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is The Cure’s hit, Wrong Number. Although it is said to be inspired by 80’s fashions…
Bartram’s Snakes are definitely described as lime green, and the corn snake qualifies as tangerine.
Corn Snake Coils by Beth Thompson
I spent a morning driving in to Bear Hollow, the rescue zoo at Memorial Park in Athens Georgia. There Jennifer Kvapil, Program Specialist, kindly opened up the enclosure of Georgia’s most rare and endangered snake, the Indigo Snake. Seeing another Indigo Snake in the reflection on the big mirror that was the glass in my lens, she maneuvered to strike.
The Indigo Snake Prepares to Strike by Beth Thompson
Another inhabitant of the long-leaf pine forests and dependent on the gopher tortoise burrows, the Indigo Snake is a top predator I learned from Jenny. They even devour rattlesnakes. The Indigo at Bear Hollow was born in captivity, and wasn’t raised to live in the wild.
Striking Indigo Snake: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson
If you wish to support the conservation of reptiles and amphibians such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snake, click here for the Orianne Society, headquartered in Georgia.
Lead-in for Bartram’s Snakes Recording from The Slacks by Trip Shakespeare.
“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
Take a moment to listen to William Bartram on Cane-breaks….
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Take a moment to listen to me read from Travels, on the Gopher:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
A picture I then transformed….
Longleaf Keystone Chehaw Zoo, GA: Possible Perception Series, by Beth Thompson
* Opening Stanza from “The Pants” by Trip Shakespeare