Bekka Burton takes great pictures. But it’s not just her eye for a great shot, or the color contrast, or the rule of thirds that makes it so special. It’s that the spot in which she stands to take the picture is the same spot that nestles her into deep thought. It’s the same reason she goes out on these hikes in the first place; to get away, to hear the silence, to get lost in the beauty that is the world. Some of us prefer to get lost in binge watching Netflix or in the heat of your favorite team competing. But not Bekka and sometimes, not me either.
Bekka Burton is my friend. She and I used to work together and my goofiness and predictability to spin a long pointless yarn always entertained her. We used to laugh and the dumbest things; like my dad drinking Mountain Dew, sometimes for weeks at a time. But then I stopped working there, or she did, or we both left I can’t remember; we lost touch, only once in a while running into each other at a random farmers market. Somehow she turned back up on my radar, living in Spain and teaching. She is a true outdoorsman trapped inside a farmer, trapped inside a teacher, trapped inside a philosopher, trapped inside a photographer, trapped inside a writer. Most of her future plans include wearing straw hats and owning bees. But she truly has an Ansel Adams side and I mostly thought it was just for fun.
Turns out she uses the outdoors as her meditation and to reconnect herself to nature. To Bekka, it’s like an art form to find a good hike and take a great picture. I thought her photography spoke to me like art and I wanted to copy a project that Lawrence Ferlinghetti accomplished in 1990. “When I Look at Pictures” takes famous paintings and combines them with original poems about each one, all written by Ferlinghetti. I love that book and I was mesmerized at the simplicity of the concept and the complexity of each individual poem. It forever made me look at a few famous paintings differently. I wanted to do that with Bekka’s photos. I wanted to tell a little story about each one.
I tried and tried. But I just kept falling short of anything that I would want to publish and I didn’t want to use these photos for something that I didn’t truly believe in. So I wrote Bekka and asked for her help. I wanted to at least come up with a title so that maybe I could be spurred into action. She used the word ‘ruminate’ and said “That’s what I do when I’m in nature. I could sit and watch a babbling brook for hours and never get bored”. And suddenly I remembered something that I had completely forgotten about. And it has to do with Milk.
My freshman year I made a friend named Mike Sood. He was a naïve and goofy guy with a big heart and a lovable disposition. He was a big, body building type, with square shoulders and a tiny round waist and he spoke like the stereotypical jock from a John Hughes movie. But once you got past the outer shell, he was incredibly deep and intelligent and really liked to talk at length about humanity, religion, and emotion. I liked Mike a great deal, even though the first couple of time we met we didn’t really care for each other. One time we even got into a fight. I lost. His nickname was Milk and that’s what everyone called him. At times I forgot his real name.
But one time we were out drinking and were talking about the nearby Shawangunk Mountains. We decided that in the morning we were going to drive up there and hike around. It was still winter, but there wasn’t much snow on the ground. Of course we failed to realize there would be waist deep snow on the mountain. The next morning we went up there, froze half to death, thought about coming back, decided to stay, and continued on our hike. There wasn’t anybody else up on the mountain that day. It felt like ours. It felt natural to be up there, walking along in silence, the crunch of the snow underneath our boots the only music, the wind whispering through the trees the only traffic, the noises of nature became the silence of our minds. We sat on a ledge and had a snack, barely talking, taking it all in, and ruminating on a mountain, completely at ease.
For this post, I thought for sure I had my poems ready, one for each of the three pictures used in this post. But I couldn’t write them. I didn’t know where to start or where to end with each piece. I was growing frustrated again. That is not how these pictures made me feel the first time I saw them. And then I realized I was missing the point. I wasn’t staring at the babbling brook, I was trying to imitate it. And you can’t. You can’t imitate nature. That’s why these pictures are so great; they are real. And the thoughts that come out are real and shouldn’t be imitated. And I sat right down and scrawled this out.
If anybody out there reads this and knows how to contact Mike Sood, send him this piece. And thanks Bek for the inspiration.
Moun tan DEWWW.
Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.
He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband