At ease with trees

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Trees always have been Paula Jo Steele's favorite thing to photograph. They don't move and they don't make her feel uncomfortable.

In fact, they put her at ease.

After reading the book, "Last Stand: America's Virgin Lands" by Barbara Kingsolver, Steele was inspired to collect her tree photos into one collection she calls "These Rare Trees."

"It broke my heart reading her stuff," Steele said. "It's amazing how we abuse everything around us."

Like Kingsolver's book, Steele's collection of photos expresses the feeling of solace that nature provides. She coupled the photos with quotes that plead to the viewer for the salvation of trees.

"Thank God they cannot cut down the clouds," she quotes Henry David Thoreau, and pairs it with a shot she took from the window of the gondola. Light spilled through trees and created a varicose-vein maze of branch shadows on the untouched snow. She saw the shadows on her way up the mountain one day and brought her camera the next.

"If the presence of humanity poses a question, a tree might be the answer. It offers silence to our noise, longevity to our hurried days, inspiration to our expiration," Steele quotes Kingsolver. Then she repeats the quote in her own way with a photo of branches, curling like unrolling ferns and quiet with lines of freshly fallen snow.

"Man always kills the things he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness," she quotes Aldo Leopold. "Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in."

Through her lens she communicates his sentiment just as well with a photo taken in her parents' back yard in La Crosse, Wis.

She woke up one morning and saw the ground sparkling with dew and the air heavy with fog. She focused on the trees and the resulting photograph looks like an old Southern graveyard.

Steele moved to Steamboat Springs 5 1/2 years ago from Madison, Wis. She had a degree in photography, but learned more in the past five years, she said, from friends and the simple experience of pointing her camera.

She only has two lenses and still uses film; she hasn't switched to digital photography.

Steele takes photos in her spare time between a cleaning job and a job at Snow Photo. She sets small goals for herself every year as a way to get closer to her larger goal of making a life as a full-time photographer.

"When I get a chance to take a vacation and go on a photo safari with friends, it's such a feeling of freedom to spend 20 minutes photographing a flower. No one is waiting for you to hurry up and finish and there is no job to get back to," Steele said. "I've been trying to set myself up as a photographer for the last year and a half. I know it's my calling."

Tonight's show will be her first.

"I think she's a dedicated young artist," Steamboat photographer Ken Proper said. "She has a good grasp of black and white with a beautiful palette of grays."

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