Galer in October

 
It really doesn’t get any better than Galer Estate and Winery in October 🍂🍁🍷🍷🍇

This award-winning winery is right in our backyard in southern Chester County, PA. It is tucked behind Longwood Gardens and is a mainstay on our favorite restaurant Sovana Bistro‘s wine list. 

I photographed this image for a local magazine cover this time a year ago.

Autumnal Mums

It’s that time of year again! I bought purple mums to greet our guests at a wonderful little soirée we threw at the studio a couple of weekends back. The stunning marmalade-colored mums were given to us that night by our favorite friends Chris+Albert as a host gift. 

We mixed and sipped and mingled and then all headed to Longwood Gardens to see my friend’s brilliant light and sound installation “Nightscape”. It’s gotten incredible press and is only up for a few more weeks- a Must See!  More info: http://longwoodgardens.org/nightscape
 

Up to 100 wishes an hour

  

This is a screenshot from the lovely Sky Guide™ app (download it if you don’t have it already- it’s magical).
 

We enjoyed a sweet 3:55AM shooting star date and saw more than 20 brilliant meteors in a half hour! We sat in lawn chairs near the big open field across from the house and, necks craning in the inky small hours, counted.

I’ve adored the Perseids shower since I was a little girl summering with family in the Catskills. Although in southeastern Pennsylvania we’re pretty much at sea level unlike in the mountains of upstate New York, the meteors and their long champagne trails were still very visible. 

As a girl in the Catskills, I have vivid memories of being so close to the shimmering firmament I felt as though I could reach a hand up and pluck wishes directly from it, or that the effervescent glitterings would come to land in my hair and on my eyelashes like pixie dust. We were so close to the sky on the mountainside and it was stunning, breathtaking, ethereal.

Being in PA was special and surreal for other reasons. The early sounds along the Brandywine River were riveting. We listened to barn owls in the trees call hauntingly to one another as bull frogs croaked in unison down on the banks of the river. The air was refreshing and brisk at the 4:00 hour and the field behind us smelled sweet and alive. 

The Earth has music for those who listen. 

                       George Santayana

At first we sat looking over the house, northeast toward West Chester and found many fiery meteors draping their trails over the rooftop, but soon realized facing south and west toward Kennett Square afforded an even livilier view. The meteors were almost countless, spectacular in their number and intensity.

If you missed seeing the Perseids this morning, do get up and do it tomorrow; a phenomenon like this is worth a bit of lost sleep. It’s the stuff of life 🎆
Here are a couple of informative links about it:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/perseids.cfm
http://www.iflscience.com/space/dont-miss-annual-perseid-meteor-showers

Three chili peppers, some rocks, a honeybun and three cigars

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Words and Photographs By Alessandra Nicole, As appeared in the spring edition of Landenberg Today, April 2015

filming of White Deer, Photo © Alessandra Nicole 2014

Three chili peppers, some rocks, a honeybun and three cigars. Four white plates containing these objects were lined up on the hardwood floor in front of a fireplace in a cozy Landenberg apartment all awaiting their screen debut and their sacrificial destiny — on the strikingly cold and misty Saturday morning when I performed in a music video, on assignment from Landenberg Today.

I was greeted at the door by the broad Cheshire Cat smile of writer/film director/musician /Renaissance man Chris Malinowski, who was creating a music video titled “White Deer” that would soon serve as part of the soundtrack for his latest film, “Yes, Your Tide is Cold and Dark, Sir,” which has been screened at several festivals around the nation and is now available through Amazon on DVD.

I stepped through the doorway of his cottage, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, that simple step forward was as good as signing my name on the dotted line of a contract issued by a distant and unknowable Supreme Creator. Stay with me here.

After returning Malinowski’s smile, I very shyly offered my own to a small group of five other women, all strangers. Gathered to one side of the virtually empty living room, they were completely clad in black just like myself, as Malinowski’s email a week prior had requested. On the room’s other side, a man with a camera adjusted a rig, holding it belted firmly around his waist.

Filming of White Deer, Photo © Alessandra Nicole 2014

In the rain, still others were positioning a large light just outside of a bank of windows that led into the living room. A flick of a switch and Ahh: Instantly the cold, misty Saturday morning was transformed into the fantastical mind trickery that was a perfectly realistic sunny afternoon. The “sun” streamed luxuriously across the floor of the room and the women flocked toward it, smiling.

I knew little about Malinowski, beyond his unapologetically gregarious and dramatic stage performances (at times in full makeup) at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, with his band, The Collingwood. As frontman and lead guitarist, he seemed to be a man possessed. His eyes would roll back into his head in an inner-lighted bliss.

A well-known fun fact about Malinowski is that his favorite place on earth to visit is New Orleans, and that not only does he bask in the well-known undercurrent of ・voodoo・ central to the core of the city, he channels it, often, in his creative work.

For me, it wasn’t the most absurd thing to agree to show up to the set of a music video. Years ago, I was an art student at a college in Savannah, Ga. There, I found myself participating in courageous filmmaking and acting projects, convening with my fellow students in basement coffeeshops until the small hours, fleshing out their visions. We all worked tirelessly on film shoots, propelled forward by the natural electricity of inspired artistic discourse and execution.

After college, I was a production designer on several short and lengthy projects, grim horror stories, high-concept dramas and dark comedies. I lost hours and days without realizing it while in production.

In Landenberg, I was totally in my element.

Filming of White Deer, Photo © Alessandra Nicole 2014

The six of us sat cross-legged on the floor around the white plates. We held hands. Malinowski sat in a wooden chair in a corner of the room with one more statuesque and masked woman standing at his shoulder. We fumbled with our ill-fitting masks, offering one another rolled bits of paper to keep the masks from chafing our faces.

Someone pressed ‘Play’ on a boombox that sat on the floor by the door, and suddenly, the room was filled with the haunting, melodic sound of Malinowski’s guitar on the track “White Deer.” It was the first time I heard the tone of the song, and the first time I would get a real feel for what our director was looking to achieve. The song was played with saturating volume, the tempo slow, and it cast a spell over us. I am a hyper-aware introvert and holding hands with a stranger of the same sex was a hyper-real experience on its own, but I barely noticed the camera hovering around us.

Filming of White Deer, Photo © Alessandra Nicole 2014

At first, we were to sit as still as possible. Severals takes were made. In between, we smiled, and fixed one another・s hair and masks. I was in the company of extraordinary women; it was as if the setting and the music had peeled off our earthly bodies and we were these radiant young souls. The more vulnerable and transparent one of us became about a wrinkle or an ill-placed strand of hair, the stronger we became, and the greater we were as a formed circle.

When I stole looks across the plated offerings at our knees to the ladies facing me through the ill-aligned holes in my Zorro mask, I saw our manufactured golden sunshine creating angelic halos around their heads. Something quite special was happening to us. Soon, we were on our feet, dancing in slow motion, hands waving around.

Malinowski coached us in that the footage was going to be slowed down so that we would appear to be in slow motion, but I felt that it was already happening, in that way you feel when you are aware that you・re going from merely buzzed to full-blown drunk. Although we were all clearly sober, time was slowing in the most peculiar and special way.

There was one part to the shoot left. Alhough it was raining, Malinowski asked if we would be willing to go outside and dance in the elements. I looked to the other women, and it was a universal understanding that this was the perfect evolution of the day — to ground our collective heightened spiritual experience by dancing in the rain in the cold Landenberg afternoon.

A few of us removed our shoes and decided to dance barefoot. We ran outside and gathered at a tree behind the cottage, and without any external music guiding as at all, we danced together, slowly, beneath an overcast sky while rooted to the earth beneath our tender feet. The more I trampled the frozen world beneath me, the more I felt vested by the women around me, and existence itself, to stay vibrant, new, open.

a frame from

a frame from “White Deer” by cinematographer Robert James Stuart

I left the set of Malinowski’s music video feeling transformed. His cottage and his song provided the backdrop to such a special synergy that I will not easily forget. It’s wondrous when you’re open to brand new experiences to begin with. My own reaction to life prior to this had been one of isolation, but to meet creative women who are all on the same stage, was like seeing the glow of a lighthouse after having been at sea for too long, and getting to dance with that beam of light.

I want to live in that light, to bask in that light.

Still from

a frame from “White Deer” by cinematographer Robert James Stuart

Alessandra Nicole is a writer and photographer. Her essay, “Like a Ballerina in the Air,” appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of Landenberg Today. To learn more about her, visit www.alessandranicole.com. Other published essays include: “Sunlight, Held Together by Water,” which appeared in Fall 2014’s edition of Kennett Square Today magazine, and “Requiem for a Tree,” which first appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of West Chester and Chadds Ford Life magazine.

To view the “White Deer” video, visit: The Collingwood: “White Deer” Official Music Video, on YouTube.

Alessandra's article in Landenberg's 10th Anniversary edition, spring 2015

page 3 of Alessandra's article

Landenberg Today Magazine, Spring 2015

March Force

It is March 4th and this week in southeastern Pennsylvania we have been experiencing the strangest winter weather yet. 

A 3-day storm is moving through and has brought us water in every form! Yesterday, everything was quickly encased in an inch of solid ice. Today brought temps in the 40s so the lingering snow from last week began to melt which caused a magical fog. Tonight it has been raining torrentially and after midnight the rain is forecast to turn to snow that will bring upwards of 6″ in accumulation. 







View these images on Alessandra’s Instagram: Alessandra_Official

Sunlight, held together by water

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Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery has become one of the leading boutique wineries in the region, marrying old world methods with modern technology to make wine. Recently, one local oenophile spent a day among the grapes and the vines at Galer, learning the art of what makes its wines so unique

Sunlight, held together by water

By Alessandra Nicole

I spent one day this past September in a beautiful, golden daze, up to my elbows in freshly harvested Chardonnay grapes.

As the late afternoon sunshine glowed on the vines, I dove into the two-ton tub of bright green grape clusters. Big, brazen bees buzzed unabashedly all around me, attracted to the delicious sticky juice on my hands. I was feeling a fulfilling fatigue from having worked a very honest day in the fresh air.

On assignment from this magazine, I was a winemaker for a day at Galer Estate Winery and Vineyard.

Few things paint a more romantic picture in my mind than winemaking, and my own romance began the year before I was of legal drinking age. I studied to be a wine sommelier while attending art school in Savannah, Georgia, which gave me a realistic insight into the culture, science, art, and profession of winemaking.

Though a career in photography eventually won out, my personal love affair with the end results of each bottle of wine I uncork is very much ongoing. With each inky elixir I tip to my lips, I acknowledge the hard work that goes into what eventually ends up in my glass, on my dinner table, and enjoyed with my friends. Wine has stayed quite interwoven in the great and continuing tapestry of my life.

My teacher at Galer was the exceptionally talented and personable Virginia Smith Mitchell, Galer’s new winemaker. Soon after I met her, I realized that this assignment had given me the opportunity to spend a day with someone who aspires to keep the bar raised very high for this very special winemaking region. Learning from her was like looking into the window of my missed calling, and knowing that it’s all being handled by an extraordinary visionary who is attending very much to hers.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Mitchell, along with her new husband, Chase, both graduated from Penn State with food science degrees. Mitchell worked a couple of internships with large commercial wineries in eastern Pennsylvania and abroad in South Australia at Two Hands during college. She returned to Erie after graduation and worked her way up to assistant winemaker at Mazza Vineyards, one of the first wineries in Pennsylvania and the largest in the state.

Mitchell utilized her time there to work on new products and hone in on what she really wanted from her career and trained under a really great winemaker and oenologist. She was able to make her first vintage in 2011.
At Mazza, as many as 50,000 cases – about 1,000 tons — of wine are produced annually, compared to 25 tons of grapes processed each year at Galer. Part of the reason why Mitchell left the large winery was to become more involved with the grapes and be more hands-on in all aspects of the process.

“I felt I was missing out on some things at the larger winery,” Mitchell said. “Mazza gave me a lot of opportunities to make products, but then those products became owned by the winery. Working at a boutique winery like Galer gives me an opportunity to work directly with the grapes and the winemaking, put my name on the product and share some ownership of it.”

For vineyard owners Brad and Lele Galer, bringing Mitchell on board was a very easy decision. Galer opened in 2011 and with it began a new standard of winemaking in Chester County, that marries “Old World” style winemaking with advances in “New World” technology. “Old World” winemaking is an intelligent combination of respect of the history and wine producing abilities of a particular region, melded with reliance on terrain, soil and climate. It is an elegant art form of embracing “what is,” in terms of seeing what the process yields as the grapes are harvested and fermented. The Galers worked closely with a team of experts to build the highest level of wine-making facility, allowing them to control all aspects of winemaking, from production to bottling.

I arrived for my day as a cellar hand mid morning, wearing the recommended long pants, waterproof shoes, and t-shirt, and walked through the signature towering rust-colored iron gates. Mitchell took me on a brief tour that included the Barrel Room, which she had recently pressure-washed the floor of herself, and with the assistance of her husband, arranged the pretty oak wine barrels into neat rows. I was able see her well-lit white laboratory where we would later test grapes for acidity to determine when they would be ready for harvesting.

Mitchell then took me past the bottling machine. “Next to fermentation, bottling is the most important aspect of winemaking,” she said. “The bottling line is the end point, and if something gets messed up in the bottling line, that’s your end product, the end result. Brad wanted to buy a new car, but they decided to buy a bottling machine instead.”

The machine can both cap and cork the bottles, and labels them. It takes up to three people to run — one person to feed the bottles into the machine, another to take the bottles off at the end to put them into cases, and someone in the middle to make sure everything is going properly.

We ended the facility’s tour up in the fermentation room, where we began the day sanitizing large long plastic hoses so that we could “rack the Chardonnay,” a process that moves the juice from one temperature-controlled vat through an air tight hose via a pump into another tank where fermentation is added and monitored daily until it is ready to be aged in oak barrels in the Barrel Room below.

Mitchell clamped the end of a hose to the spout at the bottom of the tank of grape juice harvested a few days prior, and asked me to press the big button on the pump. The juice began flowing through the hose.

While the Chardonnay was racking, Mitchell showed me how to document the ferment of a nearby tank of Pinot Gris. Documentation is very important to Mitchell so that she will be able to look back year to year and track information and progress. From the documentation, she is able to create graphs for her processes. This information will become her Winemaker’s Diary. She wrote down all of the ferments daily which consists of temperature and a Brix reading – or sugar concentration.

“20 brix will give an alcohol of 11.5 percent,” she said.

While the Chardonnay we just racked had a brix of 21 ― which will make an alcohol equivalent of about 12 percent — We used a thermometer and a hydrometer to check the sugar reading of the Pinot Gris. Mitchell observed the color and aroma of the Pinot Gris. She took a taste of it through the hydrometer, and offered me a sip. The juice had a thickish salmon color and a slight yeasty taste that reminded me of beer.

With the Chardonnay racked and all the daily ferments checked and documented, we set out in the early afternoon sunshine to walk Galer’s lower vineyard to take grape samples from different areas for a diverse test sample to represent the entire vineyard. When the grapes are tested at around 20 brix, she decides along with the vineyard manager when to harvest.

We hiked down through the upper vineyard where the fourth-year vines twist and curl their lovely little grip around the stakes and wire in natural elegant filigree until we reached the lower vineyard. These vines were planted in 1994. We plucked a few grapes from various areas and different places of the cluster and I popped a grape into my mouth, enjoying the sweet meat of it and worked the seed out, politely discarding this as I kept up with Mitchell’s stride. The rows hadn’t been mowed in a few weeks, and tall husks of grass met the edges of the brown soil at the base of the vines.

I turned to admire Galer’s property from the bottom of it’s lower vineyard. Set just behind Longwood Gardens, Galer is a quiet, peaceful place away from most traffic where the songs of bird and insect are able to dominate a charming and rustic landscape. I had seen this beauty before, only much bigger.

Last September, I was gifted a trip to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions of Northern California. Each breath of air I took seemed to take on the enormity of a personal revival. We drove through miles of grapes and uncorked some of California’s best 2010 vintages. We fell in love with many remarkable bottles, scribbling down names and notes. We spoke with other travelers, with many sommeliers, chefs, winemakers, and especially with each other. It had been a long time since I had sipped wine so very consciously. All of my antennae were up. All of my senses were engaged and my palette rejoiced.

With lower vineyard samples in sealed zip-lock bags, we headed back up to Galer and into Mitchell’s laboratory, where we popped the grapes in the bags, mashing them until they were nice and juicy.

Mitchell poured the juice into a little bowl and calibrated a pH reader for three tests to be done on the juices from our sample. Testing is not Mitchell’s favorite part of the winemaking process.

“I would rather just be making the wine instead of doing all the tests myself,” admitted Mitchell, though she’s really good at the data and lab part of this process and it’s really important to her. She continued to show me how she tests the acidity of the juice to determine if the grapes are ready for harvest.

When we emerged from the lab, it was time to climb into Mitchell and her husband’s pickup and drive ribbons of roads through the southern Chester County countryside, past Embreeville, to an enormous, gorgeous vineyard in Coatesville, one of two in the area. I had no idea it existed. The vines seemed to stretch endlessly. We took a drive around it’s perimeter so that I was able to take it all in before circling back to meet the vineyard manager for our Chardonnay pickup.

“It varies year to year but this year the only grapes we have at the winery is the Chardonnay, which is about 7 or 8 tons,” Mitchell said. “We don’t really ever have to supplement the Chardonnay. Sixty-five percent of the wine that we make is grown by the Galer’s property. At Galer Winery and Estate, we keep Chardonnay and then there’s the home winery [where Brad and Lele Galer reside], which has five varietals.”

The vineyard manager used a tractor to push the tubs of grapes onto a large scale pad that weighed the grapes. He sent us back to Galer with two and a half tons of absolutely delicious-looking Chardonnay on a trailer on the back of the truck. We returned to the ribbons of road, winding through the country side with the windows down and air blowing our hair around. I watched the grapes through the back window of the truck’s cab, strapped in and following us in four very large plastic lugs on a trailer. I couldn’t imagine a more rustic and romantic sight than being on horseback on one of the green hilly farms and watching three people in the cab of a pickup hauling Chardonnay grapes.

Soon we were back at Galer and Mitchell’s husband used a tractor to lift one of the huge bins of grapes onto the deck where we would manually scoop them into buckets. For me, this was probably the most pleasing part of the day from a tactile standpoint. It was later in the afternoon at this point and the shadows in the upper vineyard were drawing out slowly. The glorious shining sun was losing altitude. Working so closely with the grapes all day and getting that amount of fresh still-summery air had been especially gratifying.

Wine is sunlight, held together by water.

I held these green weighty clumps of grapes in my hands, with Galileo’s quote on my mind and admired the wholesomeness of them. These exact grapes will be juiced in the machine, the marrow of them flowing through the long hoses into the fermentation room, into a holding tank, and carefully attended to by Mitchell through her fermentation process. Afterward, they will be casked in the oak barrels stored downstairs where they will rest for many moons, and bottled, saving their very unique poem until someone is incited to open one, pour it into some stemware, and finally tilt the glass to their lips. That moment will be a couple of years or more from this very moment.

By then, Mitchell will have spent a couple of years flourishing with Galer and will have blossomed into an award-winning household name amongst foodies and oenophiles alike. Yet at this moment, as I admired the grapes, Mitchell was standing next to me. She was nursing a fresh bee sting, her second sting of her first harvest season at Galer Estate and Winery. She shrugged off the sting, as if to say that such mishaps are part of the bargain for choosing to follow one’s passions – the necessary evil of one’s artistic imprint.

The bees bounced off of my arms and my smiling, sun-kissed cheeks as I continued to help fill the buckets.

————

Alessandra’s story and photos: http://www.kennettsquaretoday.com/magazines/kennetttodaywinter14/index.html

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ahctober

couple snapshots from early this morning outside of the studio…

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sunrise! 645 am Octobertime

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if I had to awaken on a bed of yellow mums, I’d be in the shape of a smile too. : )

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We really got doused last night!

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funny things one sees outside of the studio (DD!)

a slice of Sonoma in Southern Chester Co. PA

A journalist colleague of mine and I visited local winery Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery a couple of weeks ago for research on an exciting story we’re planning to do in the future. Galer is located right behind Longwood Gardens and is our favorite winery in the region for a handful of reasons. Here is a smattering of snapshots from our tour. It was a perfect little slice of Sonoma that afternoon!

Captions for many of these were posted to my Instagram @alessandra_official, please follow me there!

Later on my beau joined me for the sunset so his handsome smiling face is on here, too. 🙂

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20140620-111052-40252177.jpgwhere the magic happens

20140620-111054-40254802.jpgRichard speaking with Winemaker’s Assistant Nick

20140620-111054-40254025.jpgJournalist and playwright Richard L. Gaw

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20140620-111058-40258709.jpgmy favorite guy

November!

I read a quote online recently that I can’t seem to relocate but the essence of it was something like this:

Who will regard your dying as beautiful?

Those of us in love with the season of Autumn as much as I must on some level regard aging and letting go as a beautiful process; a glorious celebration in bursts of colour, sexy textures, smokey scents. Summer’s tantrum is through and the following season is an eloquent, sensual eulogy before a snowy funeral, really; at least if you live in an area that experiences four proper seasons.

Where else in life do we regard the aging and dying process as such a gorgeous one? What if we were to embrace it in each other with such revelry, presence, appreciation as well?

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Bailey’s Dairy Farm

Enjoying every moment so far of the second day of Autumn here in Chester County, PA. This is one of those places that breathes life back into me again. These cows always seem to be in perfect contentment! I just love to see them graze.

A breath away from this serenity is an atrocity that is a Toll Bros. housing development. It is one of the (many) great travesties in America “culture” that a land development company can knock down a bunch of trees, fill the acres with uninspired made-to-order houses, and further insult the region by calling this cramped new neighborhood “The Preserves”. “Cut down all the trees and name the streets after them…”

The dairy farm after “The Preserves” helps me believe in humanity again.

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Requiem for a Tree

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West Chester and Chadds Ford Life magazine, Fall 2013 edition

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”.

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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!

www.AlessandraNicole.com

The Tree Up On the
Hill

All in one Sunday I had met both the Alpha and the Omega for “This Little Girl” (https://www.facebook.com/thetreegrows)

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.

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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.

tiny island

pteridomania {noun} “fern fever”:

a term coined in 1855 by Charles Kinglsey in reference to the Victorian fern-collecting craze

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At the beginning of Autumn last year, my beau gifted me the book “Tiny World Terrariums” by Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow, the creators of Twig Terrariums (http://www.twigterrariums.com.) I have always been captivated by terrariums and was eager to learn what it takes to make a successful little ecosystem of my own.

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The process was an amazingly rewarding little journey. I purchased a Weck jar and went hunting throughout Chester County, PA for the many elements over a period of weeks. I used soil, moss, and small pretty stones I found along the Brandwyine River on hikes with my beau around his home and out at The Laurels (http://www.brandywineconservancy.org/laurelsPreserve.html.)

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After consulting a bit with the professional green thumbs at one of my most favorite indulgences, Terrain (http://www.shopterrain.com/styers/) I topped this new little world off with a little plant from there that reminded me of a favorite tree.

I’m very proud of my inaugural terrarium and am already looking for glass and moss for my next one! I think I’m going to seek out some vintage-y apothecary glass for it this time and maybe introduce some tiny imaginative creatures.