There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

sunrise spring, a blue moon and Easter

THIS YEAR in the northern hemisphere the first day of Spring or Vernal Equinox fell on Tuesday March, 2oth. The equinox marks the day when day and night are the same lengths all over the world, with the word equinox literally meaning ‘equal night’ in Latin.

I WAS FORTUNATE to witness an open-access event this year at sunrise on the vernal equinox to celebrate and welcome the new spring. Everyone is allowed into the center of the monument (or Druid temple) to witness the sunrise. A pre-dawn ceremony is usually led by some of the most well-known of the modern Druids. It was a sublime and happy experience I'll never forget. It seems that world peace is what the Druids wish for the most. That, and the protection of Stonehenge as sacred place of honor to the ancient Druids that were buried there.

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON | It's not often you see a blue bunny. Metaphorically, that would describe the magical experience I had at Stonehenge and then realizing just last night was a full moon—a blue moon.
A FULL BLUE MOON rose into the evening sky last night (March 31). This will be the second and final blue moon of 2018. Despite the name, the "Blue Moon" it isn't actually blue. In fact, it looked the same as any other full moon. According to the current definition, the term refers to the second full moon in a given calendar month. The traditional definition of a blue moon was reserved for the third full moon in a season that has four full moons, which happens in years that have 13 full moons instead of the usual 12.

SPRINGTIME BUNNY | This facsimile of an old metal chocolate bunny mold fits in nicely among all the symbols of fertility and rebirth during the Easter holiday. The small foil-wrapped chocolate eggs are from a Sainsbury's grocery in London.
THIS COSMIC SERIES OF EVENTS culminates with Easter which took place this weekend from Good Friday on March 30 until Easter Monday on April 2, making Easter Sunday fall today on April 1, which is also April Fool's day (which some say dates back to 1564—when France officially changed its calendar to the modern Gregorian version—moving the celebration of the New Year from the last week of March to January 1). These are interesting times indeed.

ATH OF JESUS occurred around the Jewish passover, which is traditionally held on first full moon following the vernal equinox. As the full moon can vary in each time zone, the church said that they would use the 14th day of the lunar month instead – the Paschal full moon—and celebrate Easter day on the following Sunday. Once the date of the full moon is known, Easter day and the Easter holidays are determined.

Because of this multi-level resonance in the Old World, Easter in the UK and other European nations celebrate in a big way. All the stores—even convenience stores and supermarkets—have amazing Easter treats. I brought quite a few home to photograph and share here.

WILD ABOUT HARRODS | Fancy stuff here at Harrods in London, including these beautifully meticulously-decorated spicy biscuits (amazingly delicious also) from Careless Biscuit Company and tiny chocolate eggs in pastel hues.

EGGCENTRIC SELFRIDGES | Selfridges of London had the most unique collection of Easter treats such as the chocolate speckled eggs above.

WHAT'S THE TEA? | London's Fortnum & Mason, in addition to the finest selections of tea they are known for, had the most elegant Easter finery.
CHICKEN AND THE EGGS | From Windsor Castle came these creamy delicious pastel eggs. A delicious Northern-Italian restaurant named Carluccio's in London is where I bought this white chocolate chicken. 
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST | This fabulous whole chocolate egg, when broken for the holiday contains creamy chocolate-caramel robin eggs and bits of chocolate to make it interesting. From the supermarket called Waitrose in London.

collecting, photography 
and styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, December 25, 2017

hope dies last

THE VERY ESSENCE of a Christmas tree is a physical meditation of hope for the renewal that spring brings. Our world seems to be having a long, hard winter right now, but hope springs eternal, as it always does. We have to hold onto that with our loved ones and the friends in our lives that see the world as we want it to be, even when its not Christmas. This ritual of hope is embodied in The Decorated Tree.

THIS TREE, with woodland creatures, birds, stars, hearts and moons hidden in its branches embodies the magic of the season. Although it doesn't take anything this elaborate to find the spirit of Christmas, it can be as simple as a single candle, for us to reflect on what's important. The people in our lives, our special relationships with our pets, and remembrance of loved ones that are no longer with us, are all what makes the season meaningful.

I THINK I've achieved some of that with this tree. It may be one of my favorites because it is imbued with the hope and light of the season in a playful way— having a lot of delightful surprises scattered throughout. But the theme is consistent — a magical mix of things that could make even the hardest of hearts happy.

IT WAS A VICTORY of spirit for the world way back in late 1944 in the WWII Battle of the Bulge, and my brave father was part of it. During the wake of the Allied forces' successful D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, it seemed as if the Second World War was all but over. On Dec. 16, with the onset of winter, the German army launched a counteroffensive that was intended to cut through the Allied forces in a manner that would turn the tide of the war in Hitler's favor.

THE BATTLE that ensued known historically as the Battle of the Bulge was on, and the courage and fortitude of American soldiers like my father was sorely tested. Nevertheless, the the ultimate response meant the victory of freedom over tyranny (at least for many decades in this country).

I REMEMBER my father every year at this time. He told me how cold it was in the trenches in the snow-covered Ardennes forest in Belgium and how Patton was his hero because he saved his troop from the cold. That's why I continue with The Resistance in the battle we're now facing with the current presidential fiasco at hand.

AND SO, WITH HOPE, and my fight right here in our own country, my father's service won't have been in vain. The current political climate turns a blind eye to the fight of greed over goodness. Hope truly dies last, and I won't let history repeat itself if I can help, in my own small way, to put an end to it. America was great then, but it has become only a hollow slogan now, if we don't back it up with the best of our better angels. I intend to do all I can to make that happen. It's my way of keeping my father's spirit alive.

MY PARENTS instilled in me this hope at Christmas every year of my childhood and it made the strongest of impressions. So I'd like to part with this quote from Joan Winmill Brown: "When Christmas Day comes, there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes."

©2017 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Sunday, April 16, 2017

a golden easter

SPRING CAME EARLY this year. We all needed this, whether it was by design or if Mother Nature was sounding her alarms. The ephemeral quality of the warmth brought to us this time of year gives us the hope for a rebirth of our spirits and the dedication to embracing the miraculous transformation we have the privilege to watch unfold before us. The delicate flowers of spring bring hope to the forefront.
ANIMAL SPIRIT: If spring has an animal spirit, it's definitely the Easter bunny! This one may or may not have hung the tree above with eggs.
WHEN WE WERE KIDS, the anticipation of the Easter bunny leaving us a basket filled with saccharine-sweet confections was only outshone by Santa at Christmastime. In a lot of ways, the fresh nature of spring was always brighter, if not bolder, than the winter holiday. Easter baskets are now linked with the Easter holiday, while ancient religions determine our date with the new season of growth. Easter Sunday is always determined to be the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. 

BUNNY TALES: These beautiful bunny chocolates made locally (in Atlanta) by Pastry Chef Jocelyn Gragg of Jardí Chocolates are some of the most delicately beautiful and delicious I've seen (or eaten). When you buy an "Easter Adoption Box" of them, the profits go to local House Rabbit Societies all across the country. Crossing the pond, you can find these bunny tails from Great Britain's Charbonnel et Walker, which are actually Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles (by appointment to Her Majesty, The Queen, no less). 
AS ADULTS, we develop a taste for a more sophisticated way of celebrating the season if there are no kids around. I've gathered a trio of delectable chocolate confections for this Easter spread. The most exciting find was the beautiful handmade chocolate bunnies. But the Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles, I'm calling bunny tails, just for fun, because the kid in me is still there. No Easter is complete without chocolate eggs. These are infused with a heady 60% dark chocolate combined with a blood orange/olive oil mix.
EGG COMPLEXITY: These molded small batch eggs are from local Atlanta XOCOLATL Chocolate and are made of dark chocolate, blood orange, olive oil and packaged in a jar with crystallized ginger.
WHILE EASTER BASKETS of the ancient religions were based on the cycle of growth in spring. Farmers gathered seedlings of their new crops in baskets for blessings for a successful year. Modern Christian baskets symbolized the end of Lenten fasting, when we feast on a large Easter meal. That feast had its beginnings with that meal being brought to the church in large baskets for blessings by the priests.

SYMBOLS OF ABUNDANCE: These marbelized eggs were combined with papier mâché eggs gilded with gold foil for my Easter tree.
GOLDEN EGGS: Gold-leafing is a surprisingly simple process, but it takes a bit of time and patience as any craft does. The reward is worth it. I used papier
mâché eggs as a base.
GOLDEN DAFFODILS: My father loved spring more than any season. These delicate yellow daffodils are a happy reminder of him.
My Easter tree is usually only adorned with eggs. Some are marbelized and some are gilded with gold foil to celebrate the rebirth and renewal of the season. Eggs are the ultimate symbol of that. And bunnies are a symbol of fertility and hope for the continued tradition of celebrating Mother Earth's miraculous yearly rebirth.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Sunday, December 25, 2016

a long winter's night

"I don't know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself. I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

SQUIRRELING AWAY | We all know what squirrels do when getting ready for winter in gathering nuts, but this squirrel is saving a for abundance—the fertile pinecone. This sets the tone for the whole idea behind the tree.
FINDING THE EXQUISITE in my quest to adorn a tree that inspires me, and in the process, others, is a sometimes a formidable process of searching and seeking. As an art director, this is my modus operandi—my particular way or method of doing things.

COLLECTOR'S PALETTE | Once I decide on a theme for a tree, I hunt and sort through years of my collection to find the perfect combination of color and texture—sometimes buying a few new ornaments. While decorating the tree, I edit further as I carefully place each ornament in relation to the others around it.
THIS TREE brings together many pieces of many years of collecting, as I dug deep into my storage space this year to find the perfect palette of baubles to achieve the effect of a long winter's night, after I found a wintry flocked tree that spoke to me.

STAR SIGNS | The constellations in the night sky inspired Martin Luther to place the first lights on a tree in the way of small candles as legend would have it. A candlelit tree is like no other, but safety and convenience rule the day.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE has always been a ritual to conjure the following spring, just in case there has been an upheaval in the natural order of things, as it has this year. By Christmas day, we're several days past Winter Solstice and the nights are already becoming shorter and the days longer.

WINTRY MIX | Glass beaded Czechoslovakian stars, glass icicles and milky glass orbs combine to form a cool textural mix.
WINTER MAY BE the most unnerving season of them all because everything seems to seemingly die all around us. But the light of the universe keeps luring and coaxing life to burst forth again every year as spring arrives. This is why we celebrate Christmas the way we do. Whether it's the Christ Child, or just the human spirit, it matters not.

WINTER INTO SPRING | Starry winter nights become shorter as the spring encroaches with longer days.
IT'S QUITE MIRACULOUS how this happens, but we, still as mortal beings, feel the need to find a ritual that somehow seems a necessary process to usher things forward, even though we know we are not always the better for it in the short term. It's necessary to push through the bad, and to rediscover the good in the long term.

FUN FOREST | The proliferation of newer iterations of vintage-style bottlebrush trees in the past few years has been a welcome sight. Playfully-gathered on a cake stand, they create quite a presence.
THAT'S WHAT the Christmas holiday means to me and why The Decorated Tree has become an exquisite ritual for me—one that can "excite intense delight or admiration," as explained in The Oxford English Dictionary. My winter tree is always a meditation and an actual physical altar that represents the will to keep hope alive.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland
 SPECIAL NOTE | This real silver tip tree has been flocked with an environmentally safe flocking material made from corn starch, boron, and wood pulp and is safe enough to compost after the holidays are over. (From Pike Nurseries in Atlanta).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

tree in the city

I GREW UP in a small town near Gadsden, Alabama (where I was born) called Hokes Bluff. I spent my formative years there — childhood, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and high school. It was a small close-knit community and I still have many lifetime friends that have known me since I knew me. To get an idea how small, there were only 104 people in my high school graduating class. 

I WOULDN'T  TRADE my small town upbringing for anything. I learned a sense of belonging and comfort that fewer and fewer people experience. Since my zodiac sign is Taurus, this sense of stability was even more important to me because we Taureans like such predictability. The "tin soldier" in this photo, standing guard under the tree reminds me of a song we played in high school band called One Tin Soldier. The chorus goes like this:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, 
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing,
Come the judgment day,
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

One Tin Soldier is a 1960s counterculture era anti-war song that tells the story of a hidden treasure and two neighboring tribes; the peaceful Mountain Kingdom and the warlike Valley Kingdom. Coveting the treasure of the mountains, the Valley People ultimately invade and slaughter the Mountain People. The treasure turns out to be simply three words —"Peace On Earth" — inscribed on the underside of a rock.

I've probably never really digested those lyrics until now. And after all this time, life has such a weird way of leading you to things that help you figure out why you've taken certain paths, when others are satisfied with the status quo. It helps when you're looking from the outside in.

CITY LIFE: The Atlanta skyline beckoned me from safe environs in Birmingham, Alabama way back in 1994 (just before the Centennial Olympic Games were held here).
I HAVEN'T MOVED FAR in my life from where I began, physically, at least. First, after high school, I got a visual design degree at Auburn University in Alabama. My love of magazines led me to my first job out of college in Birmingham, Alabama at Southern Living magazine and then Cooking Light magazine (which was born from a column in Southern Living). I worked at that company for 10 years before I made the "jump" to Atlanta in late 1994  — just before the Centennial Olympic Games here in 1996 — I've never really looked back. A large part of it was being queer and trying to find an accepting family far away from the family of relatives and friends who didn't quite get who I became, not by choice, but by innate preference.

MY PARENTS WERE both blue collar workers. My mother worked at the high school lunchroom and my father had a job operating a crane at the local steel plant, which is now shuttered. It's no wonder the people who stayed behind in small towns feel marginalized now. There are fewer jobs and what was once a bustling town has fallen into decay. They rely on what is left of what was and the future looks bleaker by the day.

IT REMAINS A mystery to me how we got here. How could our new Twitter Troll In Chief be forming, against his claims of helping the forgotten middle class in small towns, a billionaire's club of contemptuous and out of touch cronies?

PRECIOUS METAL: WWII ornaments were made with bits of silver tinsel pushed inside unsilvered glass globes to save metal for the war efforts.
THE COUNTRY my father fought for in WWII is in trouble in facing the same dangers he fought against in Nazi Germany. It is truly frightening.

My father was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne that occupied Hitler's Headquarters (The Eagle's Nest) and was renowned for its role in the Battle of the Bulge around the city of Bastogne, Belgium that was finally rescued by General Patton. This battle effectively ended the war.

When I see members of the new Alt Right (Neo Nazis) emboldened to raise their hands in a Hitler salute for Trump, it
lets me know that tyranny like this can happen here. It scares me also because as a gay man that just recently was afforded the right to marry, we have an extremely anti-gay Vice President calling the shots with an inept clown at the helm. 

I find it very hard to accept that the scourge my father fought to eliminate in WWII is in a very real way, upon us again. It is my only hope that we all realize the treasure that we all are looking for is simply "Peace on Earth" and we finally, once-and-for-all get the message that love trumps hate.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland,
German-style goose feather tree designed by me and made by 
Dennis Bauer is available for sale at Home Traditions

Thursday, October 6, 2016

the pumpkin tree

THE PUMPKIN PATCH is  firmly rooted in Autumn lore — even iconic. It has woven its way into the social fabric of Thanksgiving and Halloween. The pumpkin has long been a symbol of our connection to the earth and a paean to our agrarian history. I'm only one generation away from my uncle who was a cotton farmer in Alabama. And my own father had a large garden with a neighbor every year in our community.
We're missing something in losing that connection in our busy lives where everything can be ordered online, except maybe . . . pumpkins . . . hmm. 

AN INTRIGUING BOOK I've just found online (but haven't ordered and read yet), is simply titled Pumpkin with the subtitle A Curious History of an American Icon. The book sounds entirely worth a read, and dovetails nicely with what I've always tried to achieve with this blog — bringing resonance back to the symbols of, and surrounding the decorated tree and the connections to nature. Pumpkin is written by Cindy Ott, an assistant professor of American Studies at Saint Louis University. The description reads, in part: Beginning with the myth of the first Thanksgiving, she [Ott] shows how Americans have used the pumpkin to fulfull their desire to maintain connections to nature and to the family farm of lore, and, ironically, how small farms and rural communities have been revitalized in the process. And while the pumpkin has inspired American myths and traditions, the pumpkin itself has changed because of the ways people have perceived, valued, and used it. "This major contribution to American agricultural and sociocultural history" can be ordered online here.

THE MOOD OF AUTUMN: Photographer Art Meripol, my old coworker and friend from my days at Southern Living magazine and Cooking Light magazine took this photograph. Art says he photographed this little girl in a pumpkin patch near a small town in central Missouri. The atmospheric mystery of the photograph is palpable. With the wind blowing her hair across her face and the cloudy blue autumn sky meeting the earthy tumble of the pumpkin patch is, to me, the quintessential image of autumn. Please visit Art's site here to find even more breathtaking imagery.
'TIS THE SEASON: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels are a different take on each autumn's tedious pumpkin spice season—topped with a sprinkling of Hawaiian red sea salt.
SEARCHING THE PATCH for the perfect pumpkins is quite a fun endeavor each autumn season, even if it's only at your local supermarket. It's even more challenging when you have in mind to make a "tree" from a graduated sizes of these gourds. Then one has to decide on color and form and how well they all stack up.

TRICK OR TREAT: Skull-stamped treat bags are filled with either tricks or treats, so upon opening, you determine what you have. Treat bags are available at Michaels.
TIERED TREATS: Trader Joes has no shortage of Halloween Treats. These Belgian Chocolate Pumpkins and Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins are both quite delicious.
IT'S A GREAT DIVERSION from the politics at hand this season. It's either "trick or treat" in this election. Our choice is more polarized than ever before. So it goes with the Halloween dessert tableau seen in the photo at the top of this post. The treat (or trick?) bags enclosed under lock and key are purposely mysterious. Yours is a grab bag of one or the other. These sinister skull-imprinted bags could hold an October surprise. Either way, there are enough treats to keep us at the scene of the crime.

GOURDS GALORE: Quite a mix. You can find elegant gourds everywhere this time of year, but look at specialty shops and florists and farmer markets. I found the long-stemmed beauties at French Market Flowers at Krog Street Market in Atlanta.
PUMPKINS are a form of squash, and both are part of the gourd family. There are endless varieties, colors and forms. What I set out to achieve in this post is using the natural gourds without coaxing them by carving or painting — becoming something else entirely. That can be a fun thing to do, but my mission this time was to keep things pure and simple.
BEAUTIFUL VARIETY: It's all about diversity.

PURE AND SIMPLE isn't meant to be without variety though. It takes all shapes, sizes and colors to make an interesting and beautiful mix. You might even say that also applies to people. We are all part of the same familythe human familyand we need to start acting like it to survive along with the natural world. It's all we've got when you get down to basics.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland,
Pumpkin patch photo courtesy Art Meripol photography.