The fire was started by a spark from logging equipment, there to remove trees felled by Hurricane Isabel five years earlier.
Ponce, a former pediatrician who has her head in both science and art, wanted to learn what really went on in the swamp to keep that fire going so long.
More particularly, she hoped to document the regeneration of the swamp after that four-month blaze.
Before long, her focus went to trees and peat and falling water tables; all of which have a place in the photos, background and specimens she collected that are now on exhibit at the
Ponce, who specializes in ecologically concerned art,
had to get a special permit to go out by Corapeake Ditch, close to the
The first time she went, in early fall 2009, the charred smell was gone but the landscape was clearly devastated.
When she returned a few weeks later, she was able, because of a drought, to walk into the swamp and shoot panoramic photographs, which she learned to do just for this project.
She saw blackened stumps rising out of the low waters, as if trying to walk away. A logging company already had sliced the trunks off the stumps to remove debris.
Lush regrowth, in the form of grasses, provided an encouraging sign of regeneration.
"I wanted to show the vastness," she said.
Ponce printed her own photos, which tend to keep both close and far elements in focus, enhancing the sensation that you are standing before the scene.
"With the panoramas, I'm trying to get this feeling: You go out there and it goes on and on, and you can hardly see the boundaries. There was this vast destruction and human interference with the canals and ditching, which allows the water table to fall over time."
She returned numerous times.
Ponce didn't just take in the scene with her eyes. She absorbed the situation with her mind.
She read and spoke with experts who explained that natural fires are part of a helpful cycle. But the 2008 fire happened during a drought.
It was deemed likely that it burned deep into the swamp's peat foundation and destroyed even the seeds of the
Because the swamp's water table is lower now, fires can burn longer and hotter and destroy seeds that might evolve into plant matter.
The ditches and canals that were dug, starting in the 1760s by a
Ponce feared the worst. She returned in
Other titles indicated what she saw: "Scorched Trees," "Barren Vista," "The Expanse of Destruction."
In one image, grassy brush takes on a reddish tone in a certain light. She called that
"I was going to follow the regeneration for five years, but that other fire kind of blew that. The
She shifted her exhibition's focus from regeneration to education. Her show features maps of the fires and the refuge and easy-to-grasp explanations of the swamp's issues.
Ponce also made a digital illustration blending two photos and her own drawing to make it look like a ghostly stand of
Turns out, the swamp stumps really could walk. Ponce retrieved a cluster of them from the Great Dismal. A welder,
Photos from her last visit to the site are on view, too.
That section of Corapeake Ditch used to be quiet. "But this spring I started hearing a lot of frogs. They were very noisy, all these different frogs. I guess with that water, they moved in."
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