A letter from Jesse Burke to his daughter Clover:

The woods are blanketed in blackness, a subtle reminder of how small and fragile we are. The fire crackles as embers float from the flames and mix with fireflies as they spiral into the sky. I sit here listening to the crickets sing you to sleep and wonder if you’re dreaming of salamanders or sunsets. We’ve been roaming all day and long into the night, out in the feral woods. We collected mica flakes on the summit of Mount Washington and watched the yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill shallow rows of sapwells. You are tired and dirty, yet radiant. My heart swells.

There are so many things I want to teach you. I want you to know which leaves belong to which trees, what the bumps of a toad feel like, the sweet smell and taste of wild honeysuckles. I want you to trust the night air, to not be afraid of spiders, to know things that I don’t, things I was never taught. I want you to feel at home in the wild.

My mind is full of moving images: you running down to the sea as the gulls laugh overhead, you collecting spindly strips of birch bark and downy striped turkey feathers, you and me quietly brushing our teeth alongside one another beneath the hum of the green fluorescent light in our motel bathroom, you ducking in and out of the massive drift logs as sunbeams cut through the dense fog behind you, and you in the backseat with your chin up and eyes tightly closed, singing along to Johnny Cash while the mountain wind rips through your hair.

Each day is a new adventure that we enter as if upon a stage. Every day you are bigger and braver. I know I can’t ask you to stay small, to stay innocent. Nature will run its course. You will change and grow. You’ll shed the velvet cloak of childhood like flowers in their final bloom before the cold of winter arrives. The metamorphosis is beautiful to watch, but heartbreaking. Oh, sweet child, I beg you to be wild, but stay precious.

Sleep well, my love. The fire calls me.

I love you to the moon and back.

Jesse Burke’s series “Wild & Precious” brings together images from a series of road trips traveled with his daughter Clover to explore the natural world. To encourage a connection between his child and nature, Burke uses these adventures to give her an education that he considers essential—one that develops appreciation, respect, conservation, and self-confidence. While on the road, father and child study and document the routes they drive, the landscapes they discover, the creatures they encounter, even the roadside motels where they sleep. This project is as much about love and parenting as it is a hands-on training manual of new age environmentalism. “Wild & Precious” reveals the fragile, complicated relationship that humans share with nature. Burke wants his children to genuinely understand how magical the world we inhabit is and how we, as humans, are an integral part of the system. He wants his children to feel a deep connection to every aspect of their surroundings.

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