June 14, 2013
It was early October in 2010 that found this little girl pensively navigating the as-yet uncharted territory that was Chester County, Pennsylvania in her black 5 speed VW, sunroof open, heat full blast on the floor while the sun dipped below the horizon. I do my very best thinking while driving as it’s a practice handed down to me from my father; wander lusting, on new-to-me roads and I headed north from Delaware on rt. 52 past Winterthur and just kept going.
I knew from art history and regional celebration that I was in N.C. and Andrew Wyeth territory and I knew that the serenity of those rolling hills and curving roads called to me. I had just completed two of the biggest photography assignments I’d been invited to do up in New York City and thirsted for solace, a recharge, from the fight and fury of having spent so much time steeped in such a frenetic, frenzied metropolis. My cells required it of me. And, after the completion of those assignments, I felt a bit empty. I needed to suss out a new direction for myself.
Enormous farms, unadulterated fields, roaming horses, the road weaving through with meandering abandon; I felt a great exhale.
Somewhere in between the surreal dusk and the beginning tendrils of starlight I rounded a curve and magically, poetically, a tree standing lone on the top of a steep hill emerged. It was a perfect unassuming silhouette against a navy nakedness so true. I pulled over to admire it and to snap a quick image of it with my iPhone so that I could do a watercolor of it later back at home. It stood, isolated, beautiful in it’s inaccessibility. A painting in real life.
I sat alert and gazed up at that tree until it was barely detectable in the night and the autumn chill became uncomfortable. Inexplicably affected, I climbed back into my car and drove away.
I had no idea where I was or it was or how to find it again.
Over the course of the next six months, I made regular trips to explore the rustic beauty of Chester County, hoping to happen upon that tree. I was so inspired by it that I wrote journals-full of prose about it. I even began to sketch it out for use with a fable I had written years ago that I unearthed and have expanded upon as a major and dear-to-me project. It became a profound visual metaphor for the very beginning of a special story about a journey and the evolving understanding of the Universe, and the backbone of a lot of the creative work I’ve done since which I’ve umbrellaed under the moniker “The Tree Grows”.
It wasn’t until I had posted the only evidence I had: a terrible, grainy, rude iPhone image to my Facebook six months later that someone took notice of it, and (miraculously- seriously) knowing exactly the tree it was, contacted me about it. I had just begun doing a lot of tree research and was looking for two particular styles of trees for my project. A few days later I was whisked away by motorcycle (!) for a Grand Tree Research Journey with a guide who knew the County all too well. We observed trees at Loch Nairn, we looked at trees around Unionville, north of Kennett Square, and eastward toward West Chester.
On this brisk Sunday afternoon tour I met my great wise friend that many in my close circle have become acquainted with as “Mr. Quercus Alba”, an enormous oak older than the state of Pennsylvania itself that sits next to a Quaker meeting house just off of Newark Rd. As a vast old tree with so many branches it dominates the sky when standing nearby. Mr. Quercus was perfect for the end of my story about the journey. I have returned religiously to sit with, sketch, storyboard about, evolve my story around, visit when I’m celebrating and when I’m mourning, and introduce to those closest in my heart as if he’s a member of my human family.
The very next tree I was taken to on the motorcycle tour emerged just as it did the very first time I experienced it. We rounded a lazy curve and there it came to be, up on the horizon, lone, perfect. In wonderful spring daylight. At last!
All in one Sunday I had met both the Alpha and the Omega for “This Little Girl” (
Since that re-discovery of the Tree Up On the Hill, I’ve learned that it’s been a regional favorite for years and has been photographed countless times by professional and leisure photographers alike. It is a stone’s throw from The Whip, and just around the corner from Blowhorn.
Since that re-disovery, a whole new corner of the world has opened up to me and embraced my heart and captured my soul. I sometimes wish I could drive along the roads of Chester County like the Robert Frost poem with new eyes. Both Quercas and The Tree Up On the Hill have given me countless gifts of inspiration and love. For instance, in November of 2011 I was hungering for the inspiration of Chester County and took a drive from Chestertown, Maryland where I had been hibernating for ten delicious days on a writing retreat. After visiting “my” trees, I ended up decompressing with a glass of wine at my most favorite restaurant in the region, Sovana Bistro. It was here by absolute kismet that I was introduced via a mutual friend to two beautiful people, one of which is my incredible beau whom I consider the best birthday present I’ve ever been given as it was just a handful of days before our shared day that we met!
Many lazy-sunny Sundays since then my guy and I have languished in a drive past the hilltop tree and stopped for an early supper at the Whip. Each time I carried away from it some little spark that would fuel me (or haunt me, if I was procrastinating) creatively through the following days and weeks. At the suggestion of my significant other I began a photography project about that tree, a sort of long term study in film.
Unfortunately, it will go unfinished.
If you’re in the region or if you’ve been watching the US Open then you certainly know about the unexpectedly intense weather situations with which southeastern Pennsylvania contended the past seven days. A tropical storm pelted the 95 corridor last Friday. Northern Delaware experienced a small tornado touchdown and Chester County, PA grappled with flash flooding along the Brandywine and ancillary waterways as close to 3 inches of rain came out of the sky in just sixteen hours Monday. Monday’s rains brought comparisons amongst friends to the climactic frog scene at the end of the film Magnolia. I personally am enthralled by extreme weather- the electricity and erotic drama of it- so I was perfectly happy to batten down the hatches and feel it unfold around us.
The electricity held on faithfully as the basement’s sump pump ran constantly from Monday through a rainless and sunshiny Tuesday clearing water out and it seemed like the worst was in the past. Oh but it was not.
Yesterday morning at about 9am the Chester County skies turned black. Small flecks of hail pelted the roof and violent lightning jutted from thick rolling clouds and stabbed at the land. I was at the studio with friends around lunch time when I got a call from another photographer about our beloved Tree Up On the Hill.
The tree was down! It didn’t really occur to me until a few hours later that this was very sad news. I don’t think I was ready to process it until later in the day. I took a drive up to it early in the evening to see it for myself. It was sad, mournfully sad.
I stayed until sunset contemplating the tree and the beautiful adventure it gave me these past few years. Then I went over to the Whip where I had the bartender pull a draught for me and I raised a proper pint to the tree. Several surrounding acquaintances commiserated. It was a favorite; the landscape just isn’t the same now.
I’ve never grieved a tree before. On the outside it may seem rather silly to do so- that’s of no concern to me.
I’d really like to see them plant another one in it’s place.
May 31, 2013
I’ve been on a bit of a photography hiatus this year to focus on a different creative dream. I’ve also taken a step back from it in order to assist a couple of good friends with strengthening their busy, established photography business on the social media front. Their niche is predominantly weddings so for the past few months I’ve been steeped in the quirky, picky world of current trends that comprise (and perhaps compromise) today’s successful wedding photography. (First off, just mention these two words to any savvy wedding photographer to make them cringe: MASON JARS.)
I’ve noticed a big trend in what I’ve come to call “sniper-” or “stalker photography”. These are shots that are taken through things like window panes or tree branches:
Personally I don’t find this type of composition romantic so much as creepy! It’s like a saber toothed predator is about to jump out and make a meal out of the couple or a psychopathic ex who won’t let go is lurking!
What do you think?
April 15, 2013
March 19, 2013
The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself. -Ernest Hemingway
January 30, 2013
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in their way.” -William Blake
January 29, 2013
Today I got to meet and work with a renaissance woman who instructs yoga. She came to me as a referral and I was immediately intrigued! One of the bigger challenges for a bit of a shy-girl (that’s me) who is a photographer is posing people for their portraits. I don’t like telling people what to do! Here was someone I wouldn’t have to direct very much which freed me to be able to concentrate on the technical aspects of the shoot and allowed her to flow through her movements. Both of us were at ease, and before we knew it an hour and a half had passed and the shoot was finished!
(Learn more about Hunter Clarke-Fields’ yoga practice here:
January 20, 2013
Once upon a time many chapters of life ago I worked out of Washington, DC and would commute at the end of each week back to Delaware and Pennsylvania. I wrote this on one such trek eastward this time eleven years past. Freshly “post 9/11″, having been immersed in a strange new world of confusing and radical precedents (especially regarding travel, which was a large part of my experience back then) and fear (I worked nationally and within a myriad of federal government buildings daily) what I felt below was like coming up for gulps of delicious life-giving oxygen.
Chesapeake Bay Sunset
by Alessandra Nicole
The moon is bright and full and I actually got out of work before dark for once. The sun was setting over the great Chesapeake Bay as I crossed the five-mile bay bridge.
Suddenly, a feeling of euphoria welled up from somewhere deep within me, like my soul woke up from a nap and was stretching. I began to feel so peaceful and happy that tears came to my eyes. Seeing both the sun setting and the fat moon hanging in the sky like it was I had to pull over to give them my full attention.
I looked out over the Bay as vibrant violets and tangerines lost their tempers and exploded into an astonishing array of furious flames filling the clouds overhead with a raging fever. What was even more breathtaking was the reflection made in the water, perfectly mirrored as if there was no horizon line, and it didn’t even stagger as it was sliced in half by a sharp ocean liner. I stood there and imagined myself diving into that reflection, swimming and swirling with the mercury-stained sun and the shy stars, swept into a Technicolor tide of tremendous color play. I waited until the very tip of the sun vanished below the horizon, and filled my lungs with the sweet Bay air musk I grew up with.
I waited until a gentle northeastern January breeze ran her chilly fingers through my hair, whispering into my ears that night had begun and the temperature had dropped. I climbed back into my little car and let the moon lead me east, and I drove up the moonbeams to my home.