“Just Like” the Uber Rich; Meet Our New Trophy Tree

April 25, 2021. New Kensington, PA.

The New York Times has a firewall.

I can read ten free New York Times articles a month from my personal devices. Then, the firewall blocks me from reading more.

Sometimes I think about purchasing an online subscription to the Times. However, the Times published something or fired someone with which I disagreed. Did an editor tweet something stupid? Perhaps an organized labor dispute? Anyway, it was enough to keep me from giving money to the Times. (Same reason that I don’t pay to read past the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s firewall.)

(I can also log into my work computer and read such firewalled-stories using my employer’s corporate subscriptions, but I don’t like to do too much reading about personal interests on my work computer. Surveillance and all that.)

I mention all of this ’cause the Wall Street Journal has a similar firewall. If I’m not willing to pay to read my 11th Times article of the month, I’m not going to pay the Journal to read one or two articles posted there each year.

Instead, I use the same workaround to get beyond the Journal‘s firewall that I use to snoop around the Times‘ firewall:

I Google key words from the article’s title to see if somebody else republished the story as an AP story, or to see if another, non-firewall publication already posted a story about the firewalled story that I actually want to read. Sometimes, I go onto the publication’s Facebook page to see if they posted a link to the story there. Then, I read the story’s Facebook comments. If the story has enough comments from enough engaged readers, I get a synopsis.

If I’m still not satisfied, then I break down and read the story on my work computer.

The TL;DR from all of this is that I only read the first four paragraphs of the Wall Street Journal article The Newest Status Symbol for High-Net Worth Homeowners: Trophy Trees,” by Katherine Clarke, dated April 22, 2021. The firewall blocked the rest of the story for me. I had to go read a synopsis of the rest of this story on DailyMail.com.

So, here’s the gist that I cobbled together: Really, really rich people – referred to as “super rich,” “superrich,” “uber rich,” etc., have a new way to spend enormous amounts of money: they hire consultants to scout out other people’s trees and offer those people lots and lots of money to purchase said trees. Then, they hire specialists to dig up the trees – root systems and all – and transport these trees to the rich person’s estate. The specialists transplant the trees on the rich person’s estate, just as if the tree had been there for years.

I’m not talking about the time that my dad went to a nursery and purchased baby trees in little buckets for our front yard, or the time that Jonathan and I hired landscapers to bring baby trees in buckets to our house and plant them along our sidewalk.

I am talking about a tree just doing its tree thing, setting down roots in the earth. Some human digs up the tree’s roots, moves the tree to a new location, replants said tree in the new location, and tells the tree, “This is your new home now!”

So, I pieced together what I could without reading the full original article, and I thought, “Jonathan and I are on trend!”

You see, a much-beloved Japanese maple tree used to live in our backyard.

We spent years trying to keep the tree from dying. The tree eventually died, though. We were very sad.

Before the tree died, though, it dropped seeds all over our backyard. Japanese maple saplings popped up all over our yard. Most of these saplings popped up in poorly shaded areas or other spots that were not very good locations for us to host brand-new trees.

Several times, Jonathan attempted to transplant these saplings to other spots in our backyard. Each time, the saplings died.

By last fall, the original Japanese maple which shaded our backyard was dead, cut down, and existed as firewood next to our backyard chiminea.

Jonathan noted that one of the Japanese maple’s saplings still thrived very close to a rear corner of our house. Despite that particular location’s intense shade, the sapling was now quite large – a regular little tree, in fact. Unfortunately, this little tree grew way too close to our house’s foundation for our comfort.

So, we decided to risk digging up as much of this little tree’s root system as we could. To replant this little tree in a different part of our yard. The tree could die in this replant. However, we couldn’t let the tree put down more roots in its current location – next to our house’s foundation.

We chose our front yard for the replant because the front yard gets more direct sunlight than does our back yard.

So, here is what our little tree looked like in autumn 2020 after our replant. I took this photo off of my smart phone:

October 2020. New Kensington, PA.

Here is the same tree today, from a different angle:

April 25, 2021. New Kensington, PA

So, you see, Jonathan and I are “just like” the “uber rich!”

Now, I know that so few uber rich exist, that any publication can take any dumb thing or not-so-dumb thing that a handful of the extremely rich people do, and say, “You see, a significant number of the people in the X tier of wealth are doing this thing! It’s a trend!” For instance, a few years ago, I listened to a podcast about this one tech billionaire who flew around the world in his private plane looking at birds for a year so that he could cross all of these birds off of his list of “birds that you MUST see – but they MUST all be seen in a one year time period in order for you to get bragging rights!” The podcast episode intended to highlight the “trend” of “extreme bird watching” among the ultra-wealthy.

I know that having Jonathan dig up a little tree so that it doesn’t damage our house’s foundation, and then replanting this same tree in a sunnier patch of our yard in order to give the tree a second chance is NOT the same thing as purchasing somebody else’s fully-grown tree, moving it on a flatbed truck, and replanting it beside a billionaire’s new construction mansion as if the tree “always” lived there.

I took this close-up of the newly replanted Japanese maple’s leaves the morning after a snowfall, late April, 2021. New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

However, with all of the money that I save by not purchasing subscriptions to websites with firewalls, I might someday be as wealthy as the Uber Rich.

The April Fools’ Day Spring Flower Show in Parnassus, Pennsylvania

Impromptu Spring Flower Show. Parnassus, New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. April 1, 2021. April Fools’ Day. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Happy April Fools’ Day in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

My husband, Jonathan, and I usually visit Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh a few days prior to Easter (so, during Holy Week). We visit – and photograph – the annual Spring Flower Show.

We didn’t do this during Spring 2020 because Phipps held no Spring Flower Show that year.

As of today – April 1, 2021 – I haven’t yet received a Covid-19 vaccine in the lovely Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, due to circumstances beyond my control.

For this reason and others surrounding this Global Pandemic, my husband and I decided to skip the 2021 Spring Flower Show at Phipps.

Today, on April 1 – April Fools’ Day – snow fell on my neighborhood of Parnassus. Snow accumulated on the ground – and also on the spring flowers.

So, I photographed the snow-covered Spring Flower Show in my own neighborhood.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Overcome by Engagement Photography

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. This is the one-lane road on which we walked from the parking lot. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, just as a heads-up, you are not going to see any engagement photos in this blog post.

Yesterday, my husband Jonathan drove to Butler to run an errand. I came with him and we brought our cameras along so that we could take photos if we saw anything scenic.

After Jonathan finished his errand, he drove us to McConnells Mill State Park. The park has a mailing address in Portersville, Pennsylvania. However, the park is surrounded by woods and includes woods and hiking trails. The park features an 1860’s-era gristmill next to Slippery Rock Creek.

The mill sits at a small waterfall.

Next to the mill sits a covered bridge built in the 1870’s. The bridge crosses Slippery Rock Creek at the bottom of the waterfall.

Here is the park’s official website.

A ghost story exists about the gristmill. So, if you want to conduct a ghost-related internet search, there you go.

The park includes very limited parking between the mill and the covered bridge. However, I don’t think that I have ever actually visited the park when any of this parking was available to me. A majority of park visitors have to park on the hill above the park. A one-lane road leads from the two parking lots on the hill above, down to the mill. You can have a shorter walk (instead of walking from the parking lots down the one-lane road to the gristmill) if you use a “multi-floor level” set of wooden steps from one of these parking lots, down the extremely steep hillside, to the mill.

Now, when Jonathan first suggested that we visit the park yesterday, I got nervous thinking about the ice.

Serious accidents happened on the hillside and also on Slippery Rock Creek. In fact, one of my former classmates was involved in a fatal accident at this park shortly after we graduated. For this reason, even though I visited this park with my parents when I was a kid, I get nervous about safety (mainly, falling over the hillside or into the creek) at McConnells Mill.

However, we both brought spikes to wear on the bottoms of our boots. We agreed to not use the hillside steps. We decided that if we could not find a place to safely park, we would give up on the visit.

Also, of course, we brought masks and agreed that we would leave if we weren’t able to social distance. The inside of the mill building is currently closed for the winter and also for Covid-19.

We did park in one of the parking lots at the top of the hill. That parking lot was pretty empty. We walked down the one-lane road to the mill. We saw and heard people “ice climbing” on the steep hillside (which, by the way, is actually a cliff).

I felt more confident about the ice than usual because I wore the spikes on my boots. Still, I stayed pretty close to the mill. I did cross the road in front of the covered bridge at one point for a photo. However, I didn’t walk through the bridge for a look at the mill from the other side of the creek.

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. The covered bridge was directly behind me. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jonathan trekked more adventurously than I did for his own mill photography. However, he told me that for some of the shots that he wanted, he had to wait for other visitors to get out of the way. Then, he had to get the shots that he wanted and get out of the way of other photographers.

Looking through my photos of our trip, I don’t have that many people standing in my shots. Maybe that’s because all of the people were over with Jonathan, trying to take photos from the same vantage point as him.

Covered Bridge. Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

At the mill, I saw a young woman wearing what looked to me to be a “winter engagement photo outfit.” You know, boots with jeans. But not the type of boots that one wears to shovel a car out of snow. The type of boots that one wears when trying to look cute. A cute top. A cute coat. Red lipstick. The entire look was the look of a woman trying to look cute.

Jonathan and I never actually had our own engagement photos taken. However, Jonathan took the engagement photos for several of our sisters. I acted as his “photographer’s assistant” for these events. That is, I held Jonathan’s lighting equipment where he needed me to hold it. (So, I guess that I was actually a human light stand.) I served this same function for several other photography sessions that Jonathan did for other people’s senior high school photos and engagements.

It’s been several years since Jonathan’s last customer contracted him for a photography gig. At one time, Jonathan looked into the possibility of swapping his day job for the life of a professional photographer. However, then a completely different job opportunity presented itself to Jonathan.

I should also mention here that I took my sister O.’s senior high school photos on my own. On the day that I did this, Jonathan rested from a sprained ankle and thus he wasn’t around to offer assistance. I am flattered that O. asked me to do this.

Here’s the tl; dr to all of this: I like to scout out tourist attractions for spots to take portrait photography. When we visit parks and other attractions, I like to detect which people are part of a high school senior or engagement photography session. Obviously, at least one person in the party has to have at least one camera. Sometimes, the people in the group carry multiple cameras and / or lighting equipment.

So, anyway, I saw this woman at the mill who looked as if she was dressed up to have her engagement photo taken.

Jonathan showed up. Jonathan offered to walk back to the parking lot himself, then drive to the mill and pick me up. I accepted Jonathan’s offer.

I waited at our agreed-up pick-up spot directly across the road from the front of the mill. I saw the “cute engagement outfit” woman, accompanied by two men and a woman with a camera.

The woman with the camera directed the “cute engagement outfit woman” to pose with one of the men. I assumed that the “cute engagement outfit woman” and the man with whom she posed were an engaged couple. The woman with the camera posed them in front of an ice formation.

The woman with the camera then asked the second man to get out of her shot.

Then, the woman with the camera posed the “engaged couple” in front of the mill’s front woodwork.

The woman with the camera again berated the second man to get out of her shot. Actually, I think that her exact words were, “Get the hell out of my shot.”

To be honest, I kinda got the impression that the second man was the photographer’s significant other or else some other man with whom she was extremely familiar. She spoke to him as if he was on this trip specifically to accompany her. Maybe he was even supposed to be her photographer’s assistant. Except, he was a photographer’s assistant who annoyed the photographer.

I heard the photographer say to the engaged couple, “Now, show us the ring.”

Just then, Jonathan drove up to me. I jumped into his truck. I was pretty cold.

“Hey, I think that somebody is getting engagement photos,” I said, pointing to the group.

“I saw them earlier,” said Jonathan.

Jonathan then said, “I think that the photographer brought her guy along as an assistant, and he is in trouble.”

Jonathan explained that he heard the photographer ask the guy, “Did you bring it?,” apparently referring to a piece of equipment. Then, she said, “Oh, nevermind,” as if she were already upset at him.

Then, Jonathan told me that he got the vibe from observing this group that the man in the “engaged couple” was in trouble with his woman as well.

I mentioned before that Jonathan and I didn’t get engagement photos. Jonathan proposed to me on a cold December 22 at night at Pittsburgh’s West End Overlook, on the mountain above The Point- the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Jonathan brought his camera in order to photograph me as he proposed. However, when he went to take my photo, his camera’s batteries were dead. He looked through his pockets for fresh batteries. I was sick with an earache and infection and in no mood to pose in the cold. The morning after our engagement, I visited my doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics.

A few months after our Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve engagement, we road tripped to Toronto for a long weekend. We stopped at Niagara Falls on the way up AND on the way home. We watched the icy Niagara River flow over the icicle-covered ledge of the Falls. I pressured Jonathan to get down on one knee with my ring in front of the Falls for me to take a photo. I intended to tell people that it was a photo of Jonathan proposing to me at the Falls. I don’t know what happened to that photo. I don’t know how I managed to keep from scaring Jonathan away.

I’ve been to other parks where I’ve watched other couples as they pose for photos. Sometimes, the couple seems happy. Sometimes, the couple seems unhappy. For instance, the man seems unenthusiastic about posing for the photo, and the woman seems unhappy about the man being unenthusiastic.

This other time, Jonathan and I picnicked at another park and a bunch of people showed up and held a wedding at a pavilion near our picnic table. We overheard the entire ceremony. The couple wrote their own vows. The bride said to the groom, “I’ve loved you ever since the day that you ran up the wrong set of stairs and knocked on my door.”

On the drive home from our picnic, Jonathan said to me, “Poor girl. She had to marry a guy who couldn’t figure out which stairs to use.”

I am glad that Jonathan put up with me when I made him pose on one knee in front of Niagara Falls.