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:

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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:

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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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Streams Murmur in the Piedmont: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 52

William Bartram's Desk, Bartram's Gardens, Philadelphia, PA by Beth Thompson

William Bartram’s Desk, Bartram’s Gardens, Philadelphia, PA by Beth Thompson

Take a moment to listen to Wordsworth’s words from his poem “Ruth: Or The Influences of Nature”, inspired by William Bartram’s book Travels.

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Cherokee Country

Cherokee Country by Beth Thompson

A Youth from Georgia’s Shore…

“ 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

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

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“.

Ogeechee Lime Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Ogeechee Lime Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

“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.

Wild Azalea: Possible Perception 6047 by Beth Thompson

Wild Azalea: Possible Perception 6047 by Beth Thompson

“He told of the magnolia, spread
High as a cloud, high over head!

Magnolia Cathedral Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Magnolia Cathedral Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

The cypress and her spire;

Cypress Swamp  $450

Cypress Swamp Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

—Of flowers that with one scarlet gleam
Cover a hundred leagues, and seem        
To set the hills on fire. “
~”Ruth”, William Wordsworth

Savannah Possible Perception 6038 by Beth Thompson

Savannah Possible Perception 6038 by Beth Thompson

“The youth of green savannahs spake,
And many an endless, endless lake

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

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 Overfarming in SW Georgia by Beth Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bertram's Garden Magnolia Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Bartram’s Garden Magnolia Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

* Opening Stanza from ” The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare

The End

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Meaningful Migrations: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 51

Take a moment to listen to William Bartram’s account of migratory birds, between Philadelphia and Georgia, as observed by him 250 years ago.

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Silhouette of Mallard Mother in the Rain

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Mallard Mother, by Beth Thompson, Possible Perception Series

 

 

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