August 23, 2011

"A poem as lovely…"

(Note: This blog post may also be found at

The older I get the more I love trees and the more photographs I seem to take of them. They crop up everywhere, these photos of trees. When I travel, I notice the architecture, the artwork, the people, the climate, the food -- but what I notice most of all are the trees.

When winter presses glaring whiteness against every window in our house, it is the trees I notice first -- their ink-like branch-strokes creating veins and arteries against the light grey February sky or their ice-covered bark holding on against weight and gravity or snapping like gunshots in the woods behind our place. (See photo below of the view from our kitchen window in the wintertime.)

When I remember being a little girl, my happiest afternoons were summers spent in the shade of a tall tree, on a blanket, playing with dolls. Here I am at age 10 picking oranges from the tree in my grandparents' yard in Bradenton, Florida.

In high school, my parents and I moved into a new house in northeastern Ohio, right on the Pennsylvania border, and my dad promptly set about transplanting small trees from nearby woods into our yard. By the time I was off to college, he had quite a nice, park-like backyard. He and Mom would rest in the hammock there, looking up at the trees. Here is Dad in 1982, with my eldest child, Bryce…introducing him to the joys of lawn care.

When I was nineteen and everything seemed to be before me, I stood at the top of Blanket Hill at Kent State and roll…roll...rolled down the leaf-strewn grass, passing trees who were teenagers also.

As a young mother in Sarasota, Florida, I took my sons, an old sheet, and some snacks and off we would go to the grounds of the Ringling Mansion. (Now, you can't just drive back to the grounds and wander aimlessly, but then you could.) There was a huge banyan tree there and that's where we'd sit and look out at the Intracoastal Waterway, the sail- and motorboats passing by, the pink stone facade of John Ringling's house so near we could almost pretend it was our house too. Here is a photo of us there, in 1984! Jesse is on the left and Bryce is on the right.

I went through a period of years where I didn't think much about trees; there were more pressing matters and, after all, trees always seem to be around when you get back to noticing them. They are patient that way. Eventually, though, I ended up back in Ohio in an old two-story house with a bedroom window that looked right out onto the boughs of a huge maple tree. When we moved there in March 1999, nothing much was happening, leaf-wise, but soon the buds, then leaves appeared, and then the morning bird sounds broke through the silence of cold winter nights, and I loved it so much that I knelt beside the open window at dusk, my heart filled with thankfulness at all the good that was in my life, even though when I look back on it now, I realize life was more than a little difficult. Maybe that's why the steadfast beauty of a big tree meant so much.

So, here are some of my tree photos, in no particular order. There will be subsequent tree posts, because I have so many photos and continue to take even more. At one time I kept an album of tree photos, thinking one day I would do a large painting and all these photos would come in handy. But now I just want the photos, and in many cases the stories that go with the trees that are in them.


The bright tree above is what we see out of our kitchen window in the fall. There is our bird feeder with the visiting goldfinches.

Above is the view of the road at the top of our street. I drive this way to go to the post office to pick up business mail. Ah…what a pleasant drive!

I feel sad when the beautiful autumn leaves fall to the ground, wither and die. The trees seem so stoic…they know what is coming. They are ready. I am not.

In our backyard, in the winter, the bare trees reveal the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen (below).

On the same morning I was standing out in the backyard in my robe, camera in hand, taking the photo above, I began to hear loud scurrying sounds among the branches. This tree, below, was acting as an early morning freeway system for a slew of squirrels who were chasing each other along the thicker branches, as if they'd already been hyped up on coffee for an hour or so.

Sometimes in the winter, I can look up to the skylight in our kitchen and see the blue sky and the silvery branches of a tall tree covered with ice. I dwell in a wonderland.

Years ago, the year the Tsunami hit Indonesia, we had an ice storm in Ohio. It was just after Christmas, and I had a very simple point-and-shoot camera at that time. After taking my son, Bryce, back to his home, I stopped to take many photos of the frozen trees. The photo below is not "Photoshopped" this is exactly how it (and many others) came out that day. When I got home, I learned of the tsunami. So, these photos also remind me of how beautiful, but how cruel and random the natural world can be.

I like the photo below of the woods in our backyard because it looks like something scary might happen at any minute…but not too frightening, just a little bit frightening…and then you drink hot chocolate with marshmallows!

You'll think less of my intellectual capabilities when you hear a story about the photo above. One day I noticed many robins flying to this tree, which is near our front door. All morning long, they came, landing on the branches, then flying to nearby trees, then back to the branches. Dozens of them. I thought it was some weird bird thing. Perhaps they'd been confused by a recent snowstorm… What was going on? Then I noticed all the berries were gone.


Some trees are meant to decorate our homes. Here is Gracie admiring a tree that comes once every year and lives inside of our house. It is not a real tree, but she still seems to like it!
Above: Here is another photo taken the day of the ice storm. I wonder if the ground has what is called "hoarfrost" on it…? I should look that up!


I love the way trees look when their leaves are just starting to emerge. They remind me of lace…like a Victorian beauty in fancy, somewhat transparent layers of pale fabric. I love seeing the branches through the tender, young leaves.

Perhaps I am easy to impress, but thinking about all the wonderful things trees can do and be fills me with wonder: flowers, fruit, nuts, shade, wood to use in hundreds of ways… And they live for hundreds of years!

Sometimes, you can find beautiful trees in unexpected places. The pink flowering tree below was located right next to the voice box at a busy drive-thru in a commercial area. Always keep a camera in your car, and you'll be surprised how many photo opportunities present themselves!

It seems some weird time trick to me, the time period when trees seem to have a few small leaves then suddenly all the leaves are out and summer is here. One time we went away for a few days and returned to find summer had returned full force. I am always a bit surprised by summer in southern Ohio. I think it is going to be a bit cooler and more comfortable than it is. But, before you know it, heat and humidity descend and my Florida relatives are telling me it is cooler in Bradenton than in Athens. The trees do their best to offer shade, but it's still hot, and I confess to looking at trees through the window much more than seems right.

Here is little Tyler, above, letting me know he loves the outdoors and can lead me right to the best places.

Guess where this tree, above, is at? (see below for answer)

Here is our backyard in the summertime. Everything is green, green, green. Strangely enough, while I love trees, green is not my favorite color. I even feel at times it is a bit oppressive and claustrophobic. I can only go so far into these woods without feeling too closed in. I prefer to walk here in the spring and fall.

My father loved to plant trees. In the yard where I grew up, he planted several trees in the front yard. (Actually, he planted them when I was just a baby.) There are photos of me as a girl with these trees. Last year, my mother and I drove back to see the house and yard and, yowzah!, the trees were humongous. They hid the entire front of the house. This (above) is a view from down the street of our old front yard (past the stop sign) and you can see four of the tall trees my father planted fifty years, or so, ago. At every house we had lived in we saw the trees my father had planted. I wrote a blog article about it, and you can read it here and see more photos:

Mark and I went to New Orleans earlier this year, and the lovely tree above lives in the Garden District.

In New Orleans, we ate at the Court of Two Sisters, which had a delightful outdoor patio. There were many table umbrellas, but in one area over a fountain, the trees provided a natural canopy (above).
In the photo above, you can see a tree that lives along the Athens (OH) bike trail, right near the Ohio University football stadium (in background). This isn't a very good photo, but I love the shape of this tree.
Here is Ash Cave in Logan, Ohio. I like the graceful trees that keep it company, provide shade for visitors, and also add soft, green foliage to contrast with the hard, large expanses of rock.

One morning I was working at my desk and looked out the window and this is what I saw.

In the remaining days of summer, grab a camera and take a few photographs of trees. Email them to me at "art at janicephelps dot com" and I will share them on a future blog post.

And where was the mystery photo taken? St. Lucia!

All photos copyright Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

August 18, 2011

Gravestones, Butterflies, and Soup!

Photographs are taking an ever-more important place in my life; perhaps they are in yours as well. I'm talking about photographs that I've taken of events, people, and scenes in my life--for better or worse, they are the "proof of life" for me.

Four things have led to this increased documentation: 1) my husband bought me a great camera for Christmas in 2009; 2) my son, Jesse, has a similar camera and shares tips with me; 3) I began attending a workshop once a month where several women get together to work on scrapbooks and talk photos and family; 4) there is so much to see in the world and I want to remember the scenes, events, and people who are so important to me.

I now take photos on my Canon Rebel, iPhone, a small Cannon Powershot that I keep in my purse, and a Diana+ camera. When we go on vacation, I want to take them all! The room I save by bringing my books on an e-reader is now lost to cameras… hmmmm….

Anyway, this morning I went through and picked out a few of my favorite photos thus far this year. They aren't necessarily the best photos, but they are the ones that have meaning for me. Here they are with short descriptions…

In February, Jesse visited and, when out for a drive, we stopped at a small cemetery that held the remains of soldiers of the American Revolution, War of 1812, and Civil War. It was very meaningful to me to take photos there with my son. Later in the year, I joined and began researching our family history. This has been a wonderful project, full of interesting surprises.

In 2010, Mark and I ate at L'Albatross in University Circle area of Cleveland, Ohio. I had squash soup and it was the best soup I'd ever had in my whole life. So delicious that at the performance of the Cleveland Orchestra later that night, I kept thinking about the soup. I longed to have more! So, this past February I found a recipe and made squash soup and, yes, it was every bit as good. This was also during Jesse's visit and he advised me to take photos of food from the side, a little above the side, rather than straight down. It was a very helpful tip!

Jesse recommended Joe McNally's book to me, and I purchased LIFE Guide to Digital Photography and learned to adjust the F-stop and ISO settings, and turn off the flash. I also got better at setting up the tripod.

I love trees and luckily have scores of them nearby to look at and photograph. I liked the thinner trunk winding against this stronger trunk, and the photo looks better in black and white.

On a very cold March day, this little bird waited patiently for his turn at the bird feeder. After taking several blurry photos, I broke down and got out the tripod and told myself I just must use it straight away next time, and get quick at setting it up, like those soldiers who can assemble their rifles in a few seconds!

Another tree photo: I love the way the branches look like lace against the sky. This is my favorite tree in our yard.

Before the leaves returned to our trees, we went to New Orleans. I had recently learned I could take photos from the plane! Here is one using the "fish eye" option on the Powershot.

One of my favorite photos from New Orleans. I can look at this and immediately remember everything about being at Cafe Du Monde!

In New Orleans I purchased several toy horses. I love the way they look here on the hotel windowsill.

In Cleveland, near Beachwood, we stopped at sunrise to get gas. I like the emptiness of the scene above.

Just before spring, one of my favorite local restaurants burnt to the ground: The Coffee Cup, in Nelsonville, Ohio. It had been around for decades. These dishes sat outside for many weeks and I stopped one day and took a photo.

Our parrot, Gracie, loves to watch soccer. We had a great time watching the Women's World Cup this year.

Twice a month I pass through central Ohio where the land is quite flat and dotted with these huge pylons. I've taken photos of them in many seasons. A friend on Facebook asked for pylon photos from around the world for a boy who collects them. I sent this one. I then learned that there are many people who are enthusiastic about pylons. Who knew?!
I love to take photos of trees. This photo means something special to me because it is one offshoot of a much larger tree, which fell recently during a storm. That's why there are so few branches on the near side of this trunk; the other tree was right there. This tree still stands, hopeful and flexible. I also read "A Widow's Story" by Joyce Carol Oates this year and this tree reminds me of her.

I learned from Jesse and Kim Austin about the Hipstamatic app for iPhone. Here is a photo, above, of Mary B's in Parkersburg, WV.

I also learned that when I can't get the camera to do something I want it to do, that I likely haven't learned enough about the settings, such as the sports setting. It enabled me to capture this butterfly's fast moving wings. I was so entranced with the many photos I took of her, that it was only yesterday I realized she is injured; part of her left wing is missing!

The photo above was taken on my last drive across central Ohio on an overcast Saturday morning. There are still 4 months left to the year, and many more photos to take!

Have a great weekend,

All photos copyright 2011 by Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

August 14, 2011

All There Is To See: Museum Photographs

Last night at dinner, Mark and I were discussing cities we would like to visit in the future. Mark has done extensive traveling throughout his life, I have not. We would like to take one real vacation each year (in addition to "staycations" which I also like), and I'm a planner, so…

Some on our brainstorming list: Edinburgh, Scotland; San Juan, Puerto Rico (again); Buenos Aires, Argentina (again for him, first time for me); Washington DC (again); Atlanta (again, Mark lived there for a while); San Francisco (neither of us have been to California, how can that be!); somewhere in Ireland; London (again for Mark), and also our regular trip each year to Philadelphia and a nod to NYC where we have visited separately and together in the past.

So, we were talking about the pros and cons of various places and how we would like to spend our time while away. I said I would like to visit the National Gallery of Art again as well as the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires (they just had a 15 million dollar rennovation) and also the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.

I got to thinking about the museums I've visited and photos taken, and thought it would be fun to share them with you. (I always ask for permission, or a definition of the museum's rules, before taking photos.) I'm sorry I don't know the artist or date on some of these pieces, but perhaps you will enjoy seeing them anyway.

Above: Paul Klee

Above: Marc Chagall

Above: Balthus. French, 1908-2001. "Lelia Caetani, 1935" Oil on canvas

Above: Jean Dubuffet. French, 1901-1985 "Woman Grinding Coffee" 1945
(Plaster, oil and tar with sand on canvas)

Above: Charles Demuth (1883-1935)