Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Best Picture Ever! (That Never Was) Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, Cam challenged me to write a post describing the best photo ever, which I happen to think is an extraordinarily creative writing challenge (not to mention one that lives up to the name “challenge” in spades). Not only was I honored to have been chosen by her, especially after her extremely eloquent post on her own best photograph ever (a lovely portrait with a great story to match), but very eager to get going on the challenge. I happened to be in Boston at the time and immediately began to think about which photo I would choose. Should I choose my favorite wedding photo of Bob and me (our wedding was the only day in my entire life on which I was the least bit photogenic)? Should I choose some favorite photo from childhood? Should I choose one of the many wonderful shots we have from places like Bonaire? I’d have to go home and search through some boxes and see what I could find.

Then I left Boston after five very intense days of being “on,” sometimes from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. These conferences I attend fluctuate between being extremely invigorating and extremely draining. Being a self-trained extrovert who is a natural introvert, as much as I love all of these people with whom I only get to hang out like this a couple of times a year, and as much as I love to sit in sessions absorbing what all these really interesting people are doing in their science classrooms (and wishing I’d had teachers like this when I was a kid), and as much as I love to brainstorm about how I can turn all this information into books, I can only do it for so long without beginning to feel a little bit like I’m going insane. So, I was teetering on the brink of insanity as I left Boston to drive up to our company apartment in Northern New England where I’d be staying for the next few days while visiting the office.

As I was driving along, one thing I started to think about is that I’ve lately begun to realize how spoiled I was by the Connecticut landscape when I lived there. I remember when I first moved to the state, people would talk about the beach, and having grown up in North Carolina with its beautiful miles of shoreline along the crashing Atlantic, I’d look at them blankly, thought bubbles reading “Beach? Huh?” These relatively tiny patches of sand surrounded by rocks on the Long Island Sound were not beaches. Where were the waves? Where were the dunes? Where was the sense, with so much land all around, that the big wide ocean was endless, that if you weren’t careful when you went gallivanting about in your ship, you really might sail off into a pack of sea monsters before crashing off the end of the world as those old maps predicted? However, I soon came to realize that it didn’t take much to reach the shoreline of the Atlantic in Connecticut, and then one could easily go up into Rhode Island and walk cliffs along the ocean. I also eventually got used to it and came really to appreciate the beauty of the Sound.

Not only did we have easy access to shoreline in Connecticut, but we also had easy access to mountains. One could drive from mountains (granted, not the Rockies, but still mountains. I happen to love the rolling softness of the Appalachians) to the ocean within a matter of a few hours. And then, of course, one could drive up to Acadia, ME, where the mountains meet the ocean (heaven, in other words). Now, I’m living a good three-hour drive from the ocean and discovering I’m missing it terribly, so in my nearly insane state as I was driving along with all these thoughts and thinking about how I’d go walk along the beach after work during the two evenings I’d be visiting the office, I decided why wait? Why not stop off at Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts, get out for a little walk, and then hug the coast for the rest of my drive?

As soon as I got out of my car and began to walk along the sand on this gorgeous early spring day, regretting the fact I didn’t have a camera, I realized that my post for Cam’s challenge was going to have to be about the best picture ever that never was. And shortly afterwards, there it was, right in front of me, no camera in sight to capture it forever. So, you’re just going to have to believe me when I tell you it was the best picture ever.

Imagine it. It’s an old-fashioned print, with white trimming and glossy finish. It was taken with the best camera of its kind, loaded with superior film, so the colors are vibrant, perfectly capturing the colors of the day, epitomized by a clear, crisp blue sky more reminiscent of October in these parts than late March. The ocean, reflecting the sky, rather than being a murky half-translucent green, as it can often be, especially in winter, is deep sea blue. The waves along this part of the coast don’t crash so much as gently roll, but with a little more force than they do in places like the Caribbean. The sand up on the banks away from the water’s edge is bleached white, but down here by the water’s edge, where the picture was taken, it’s a little darker than a golden suntan.

This beach is a beach that allows people to bring their horses to ride. In the picture is a large, glossy Black Beauty of a horse, coat glistening. She’s completely black, except for the area right above her left back hoof, which is a patch of white. The camera has captured her in mid-gallop, her legs bent and spread in perfect racehorse formation, her tail blowing in strands behind her. Her rider is wearing a blue fleece jacket, a black riding helmet, and brown boots. Behind them rise the white peaks of a wave riding into shore to chase them as they focus on whatever goal they seem to be chasing themselves. You stare at the photograph, sigh, and think, “How come I never pursued horseback riding? What could possibly be more fun than galloping along the edge of the shore at full-speed on a Sunday afternoon in the early days of spring?” But then you remember that you walked back up from the beach, over the wooden platform that led to the parking lot, and came upon two women feeding their horses at the sides of their trailer, brushing them, and talking about how much they eat, and you remember, “Oh yeah, I didn’t pursue it, because it’s a lot of work and so expensive.” Nobody else who looks at the dreamy photograph has to know that, though.

Cam challenged two people to describe their best photograph ever, so I’m going to pass the challenge on to two others: Litlove and Hobs, in the hopes they’ll choose two more, etc.

10 comments:

Charlotte said...

Lovely image, Emily. And now I'm yearning for a real beach too.

litlove said...

Oh boy, that is one tricky challenge! You did it beautifully, Emily - what a vivid picture you build up! You'll be a very hard act to follow!

Dorothy W. said...

What a lovely picture (it would have been, if it had existed)! I should do more to appreciate the ocean that I live so close to -- I'm just not an ocean person! Take me to the mountains any day.

Susan said...

Wow. Hurry up and write your book, would you, so we can all have more of your writing? I could see your picture in mind, down to the women feeding the horses at the end...I could almost hear those waves gently rolling to shore.....and you really made me miss the smell of the salt air and the sea!! thanks, Emily! and all from a picture that doesn't exist!!! wonderful twist....

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, maybe you and I will have to meet at the beach for that coconut champagne and gin.

Litlove, not as hard an act to follow as Cam was, and I am absolutely positive you will perform beautifully!

Dorr, it took me a very, very long time to realize that I love the beach as much as the mountains.

Susan, glad you enjoyed it. Of course, the book doesn't get written, because I'm busy doing this stuff. Maybe people should give me a finish-your-first chapter writing challenge.

Cam said...

What a great description. Sounds like you had a pleasant afternoon.

One of the little details that I like: the white border you put around your picture. Nice touch!

Thanks for taking up this challenge and passing it on to others.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, it WAS a lovely and much-needed afternoon. And thank YOU for giving me the challenge, which really helped me stretch my imagination and made me really think about which words to use to best paint a portrait. I was thinking the title ought to be changed to the "Thousand words paint a picture challenge."

stefanie said...

Wow Emily, that is a beautiful photo. I've always wanted to be that person galloping her horse down the beach, but yeah, too much work and too expensive, not to mention the closest beach is 1,000 miles away from em now. Sure, there are lake beaches and Lake Superior but they aren't quite the same as the ocean (the Pacific in my case).

Emily Barton said...

Stef, oh yes, it's so annoying when you say to someone, "I love Chicago but couldn't live there, because it's just way too far from the ocean," and they say, "but you've got the lake."

Cam said...

Emily, I thought about naming it something like that, but 1000 words was discouraging to me, even though I know it isn't that many to write (and if I counted, mine was probably close to that many!).