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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
The image above became the Possible Perception below….
Longleaf Dawn Possible Perception by Beth Thompson
cries fellow photographer and scientific illustrator, OC Carlisle.
Bartram’s very words at the beginning of his book are:
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
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
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
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.
“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
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
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
* Opening Stanza from “The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare
“ There came a youth from Georgia’s shore— A military casque he wore With splendid feathers drest; He brought them from the Cherokees; The feathers nodded in the breeze And made a gallant crest.” ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
As I am uncertain which bird’s feathers the Cherokees wore in the time of Bartram, I have used this image of Cherokee country in North Carolina (above), to illustrate the verse.
“The moon, the glory of the sun, And streams that murmur as they run Had been his dearest joy.” ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
Running Stream by Beth Thompson
While much has changed down South since Bartram’s visit, the streams still murmur as they run, especially here in the Piedmont. The image above is of the stream at Ben Burton Park in Athens GA. The green color comes from the plants growing underwater anchored to rocks. The circle of light is the sun reflecting off the water.
“Among the Indians he had fought; And with him many tales he brought Of pleasure and of fear; Such tales as, told to any maid By such a youth, in the green shade, Were perilous to hear. “ ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
As William was raised a Quaker, he did not fight in the Revolutionary War, not with the Indians or anyone else. However, he was quite adapt at finding green shade to rest in!
”He told of girls, a happy rout! Who quit their fold with dance and shout, Their pleasant Indian town, To gather strawberries all day long; Returning with a choral song When daylight is gone down.” ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
Dancing Nymphs: Possible Perception 6040 by Beth Thompson
These fleeting Cherokee maidens of the mountains, Bartram’s Innocently Jocose Sylvan Nymphs, I discovered in Alabama at Jasmine Hill Gardens, forever frozen into Greek statuary, complete with the watchful eyes of the older Heras, and forever hotblooded lad, caught in time, in sculpture. Bartram’s comments on this event are in “Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 17“.
“He spake of plants that hourly change Their blossoms, through a boundless range Of intermingling hues; With budding, fading, faded flowers, They stand the wonder of the bowers From morn to evening dews.” ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
I suppose that the flowers didn’t actually change hues hourly, but if one were reading quickly through William Bartram’s Travels, the flowers might seem to change that rapidly.
With all its fairy crowds Of islands, that together lie As quietly as spots of sky Among the evening clouds.” ~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
Evening Clouds by Beth Thompson
“And all the while,’ said he, ‘to know
That we were in a world of woe,
On such an earth as this!’ “
~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth
Erosion due to Over-farming in SW Georgia by Beth Thompson
Bartram may have already seen the impact of the settlers upon the land during his Peregrinations from North to South and back again. Certainly he was aware of the mistreatment of the Native Peoples. How that mistreatment carried on to present day is the subject of my blog post “The Sacrament of the Land“.
Remains of a Cherokee Village in Franklin, NC by Beth Thompson
During my journeys along the Bartram Trail I photographed many of the same plants, animals, and landscapes Bartram saw, but the landscapes were fractured by the human populations living in close proximity to the wild spaces.
Redbud at Bartram’s Gardens, Philadelphia, PA by Beth Thompson
Furthermore, our consumer society is becoming more and more addicted to the quick fix of having that Thing, that shiny Thing hanging in the window of the store, advertised on TV, etc. This fixation on consuming is having devastating consequences on the natural and wild environments as resources are being plundered without regard to who lives downstream.
Fordham Rd, Bronx, before the street sweepers, by Beth Thompson
In a lecture ( “A Cherokee Looks at William Bartram,” ) by Cherokee Language Professor Tom Belt during the 2013 Bartram Trail Conference, he said “We all live downstream.”
Downstream, Oconee River from Ben Burton Park, Athens, GA by Beth Thompson
So yes, as the poem “Ruth: Or the Influences of Nature” expresses, we live in a “world of woe”. Yet in my journeys, I saw lots of hope too. Portions of the Bartram Trail are preserved, plants he discovered live on in places, creatures he wrote about thrive in the backwater ways far from the crowds of civilization, and sometimes up close and personal to civilization.
Egrets roosting, Skidaway Is, Savannah, GA by Beth Thompson
Most of all, William Bartram’s incredible account of his early exploration of the American Southeastern states lives on. His words remind us of what has been lost, and what we can yet regain. His book has inspired nature writers down through the centuries, from when it was first published to 250 years later.
Bartram’s Garden Magnolia Possible Perception by Beth Thompson
* Opening Stanza from ” The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare
Take a moment to listen to William Bartram’s account of migratory birds, between Philadelphia and Georgia, as observed by him 250 years ago.
Silhouette of Mallard Mother in the Rain, Augusta, GA: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
250 Years Ago…
250 years ago a man migrated south from Philadelphia. His was The Migration of his life, and his account of this migration, Travels, would shape the literature about Nature, the poets of his time, the settlement of the Southeast, and the names of plants growing in the Southeastern United States, forevermore.
Native Azalea, Oconee Forest, Athens GA: From Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail.
250 Years Later….
250 years later, I found one of the migratory birds mentioned begging for food in Philadelphia. Quite fearlessly, a mallard couple introduced themselves to me and my beloved on the Philadelphia piers in May. Whether they had recently arrived from a more Southern climate they couldn’t say.
Philly Mallard Couple: Philadelphia Piers: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
Migrating in the Footsteps of a Giant…
You see, I have traveled in the footsteps of a giant, William Bartram, for 3 years now. My migration has not perhaps been as exciting, however, I have run into alligators, South American Vultures, and entered into the Okefenoqua Swamp in Search of the Daughters of the Sun. Recently Alligators swarming has been captured on video, proving Bartram’s account of the same to be true, and King Vultures have been found in the fossil record in Florida.
South American Vultures, outside Charleston, SC in Birds of Prey Center: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
Diving and Re-Emerging…
Sadly, the Florida aquifer has been depleted, so the great fountain that inspired Coleridge in an Opium Dream while reading Travels is a mere upwelling of water, however, colorful fish dive into the opening and re-emerge still.
Fish in Crevice, Florida Spring: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
Ubiquitous Philly Mallards…
Yet leave it to the lowly Mallard Duck, common, ubiquitous, and always begging for stale bread, to connect the wildlife of the Southeast to the wildlife of Bartram’s hometown, Philadelphia.
Mallards Flying, Philadelphia Piers: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail.
Metropolis of Georgia Mallard Mother…
Here’s a Mallard Family in Bartram’s Great Metropolis of Georgia, Augusta, hanging around and posing for the camera in the hopes of a hand out….
Mallard Mother, Rainy Day in Augusta, GA: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail
Finally, here is a Possible Perception of Mallard Mother and her brood, taken from the image above. I have to say, the computer doesn’t do this image any favors, so please come and check out the print at my show at the Botanical Gardens Fall of 2015!
Mallard Mother, by Beth Thompson, Possible Perception Series