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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

the secret life of leaves

Deciduous \De*cid"u*ous\
Falling off, or subject to fall or be shed, at a certain season,
or a certain stage or interval of growth, as leaves
(except of evergreens) . . . [1913 Webster]

THERE  IS  A   "reason for the season" as they say. You can look at it a number of ways. The holiday season's visual focal point is the decorated evergreen tree, around which everything else revolves in most cases—even in households that don't celebrate Christmas per se. It is also a reverent celebration of birth and a hope for rebirth of man's spirit. In any case, I prefer to meld the disparate (or are they?) belief systems into one. All are symbolic of new life and rebirth in a profound way—and pay homage to their roots, no matter how popular custom has been morphed to fit one belief system or another. Its obvious to me that the resonance of the first beliefs and rituals involving decorating a tree of any sort is at the core of our central belief in nature and who we are as part of the natural world.

THE  INCREASING  prevalence of all sorts of leaf ornaments has been unmistakable in the past few years. It's no doubt because of the focus on the environment with concerns of global warming (or climate change, as it inexplicably became termed). Broadly, it is reconciliation between man and nature—an atonement for an unbridled growth (due to greed) of man's command over nature. The human race is realizing the awesome power of forces beyond our control and being put in our place—as a working part of the natural world, not the controller of it. Global crisis involves more than the obvious weather shifts and such. We have to educate ourselves with how our food is produced. Meat farming and food crops have already been seized by large corporations and industrialized and genetically modified, producing disease and making farmers into indentured servants. A lot of farmers are forced to not even save their seeds! They have to buy the new line of genetically modified ones for next season or face bankruptcy. And the very essence of life—water is being traded as a commodity as I write. To quote a line from a well-remembered 70's TV commercial, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." The product it advertised was doing just that. I'll side with Mother Nature and have real butter from grass-fed and hormone-free cow's milk, thank you very much.

DECORATING  an evergreen tree with deciduous leaves (or representatives of such), is a meld of the processes of life and death (which is deciduous) with the hope of everlasting life (which is evergreen). When ideas come together like that, we come to the realization that everything is connected in nature and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I  WISH  LIFE, in general, could be more like that. We all get caught up with the end result instead of recognizing that the journey is the most important part. In my view, being open to a myriad of ideas and taking the time to absorb and learn from them are what makes life exciting—no matter how scary or messy it might get. And that's definitely something to think about—something that carries your spirit back home—to being a humble and reverent part of something bigger than yourself—Mother Earth.

LEAF COLLECTION | (Above, clockwise from bottom left): A golden maple leaf with a tiny jingle bell attached from the Martha Stewart Everyday/Golden Traditions line at Kmart, a mercury glass maple leaf, a bronze leaf with a tiny acorn attached from the Martha Stewart/Golden Traditions line at Kmart, a glass ivy leaf, and a large silver leaf from Pottery Barn—all atop a 100% recycled fiber paper/soy ink book-bound journal from greenroom eco / clementine paper, inc. at Target.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland


Friday, August 28, 2009

magical, mysterious mushrooms

I N   R E M E M B E R I N G  the first time I had mushroom tea, my friends didn't know whether or not their brew would be strong enough to have an effect. But we all drank some of it, and went along our way to the beach where they kept their catamaran. Just as we were launching it into the emerald green water of the Gulf of Mexico at Seaside, Florida (the idyllic town where The Truman Show was filmed), everything suddenly became indescribably more vibrant on this beautifully sunny and warm day. Riding the waves, the emerald-clear water we glided over was gradually dotted with beige, pink, and purple jellyfish and dolphins swam playfully along with us—no lie! I have never felt so at one with nature. We were giddy with laughter and excitement—and it is still one of the most vivid sensory moments of my life. It was like being in a movie (although it was years before the The Truman Show was filmed there). 

O N E   F R I E N D  who was with our group that day, John (A.J.) Prescott died this summer at the young age of 45. Again, I must be channeling some sort of energy from the many loved ones who have passed on in the last few years (too many). All their love still lives inside of me and I have to let it out now that they're gone—by doing something that is cathartic. A.J. and I were soulmates—friends that could always pick up where we left off. He was always bringing people together in magical ways—he introduced me to Lowell, who I spent six years together with in a wonderful relationship (still great friends). A.J. packed more into his 45 years that most people do in three lifetimes, so I can't be sad he is gone. He lived his life full-out, the envy of many of his friends he traveled without, because we encumbered ourselves with the stuff of life—he didn't. He saw places in the world I only dream about and had many experiences in being totally in touch with mother Earth as I have already described. Just maybe he had something to do with what I relate to you next.

A F T E R   I T   R A I N E D  all night and a good part of the day today, I noticed three unusually large mushrooms had popped up in the grass just outside my front door. I have no idea whether these are a kind you can ingest, so I wouldn't recommend them—you've got to know what you're doing if you harvest wild mushrooms—many are poisonous. Just an hour before, I had been talking to my friend Brandon about not knowing what to do for my next blog post. And when I got home, seeing the mushrooms there, an idea just "fell out of the sky" (ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms were sons of gods, sent riding to earth on thunderbolts)—imagine that! Inspired to use the real mushrooms along with two unique mushroom ornaments I bought last year, I suddenly knew what to write about. Riding in on a lightning bolt—it all came together—lucky indeed! 

M U S H R O O M   O R N A M E N T S  have long been a symbol of luck as a tree decoration. Glass tree ornaments are a German invention. Christoph Müller and Hans Greiner set up Germany's first glassworks in 1597 in the small town of Lauscha. Most commonly, these lucky mushrooms are blown with white stems and red caps dotted with white. You'll find airbrushed spun cotton mushrooms also, but I thought these modern fabric-and-glitter covered wire frame ornaments were uniquely beautiful. And lucky for me, I knew where they were in my unorganized stash.

M A G I C   A N D   M Y S T E R Y  have become an incredibly electrifying force in creating this blog. I find myself "in the zone" when I'm doing it—so I know I'm on an inspirational path. But, the serendipity in life only comes when you are in-the-moment. You feel connected to a collective consciousness—something much bigger than you. It's nice to invite it in. I'll remember my friend A.J. whenever I hang a mushroom on a tree and I'll invite all the wonderful memories of him inside. He was truly a flower child born too late for that era. I'll never forget him. He was never one to be usurped by the status quo—he lived as far off-the-grid as possible. The Times, They are A-Changin', for sure. I can only hope the love and light he gave, has been absorbed into a greater good for the world to heal itself.

RAINBOW'S FRIEND | John (A.J.) Prescott (above, left) was truly a pot of gold to everyone who knew him.

MAGIC MUSHROOMS | The three mushrooms I found that sprung up during an overnight rain (top, right), with two glittered fabric-covered wire mushroom ornaments. The beaded and sequined felt ball ornament with a metallic braided trim rounded out the photo (all from Anthropologie, 2008).

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

U P D A T E 
Who knew? Bob Dylan even has Christmas in the Heart. His 47th album (left) will be released October 13th, with all the royalties going to Feeding America (and two international charities)—in perpetuity. Now, that is what I call the Christmas spirit! I've never been a big Bob Dylan fan (except for his lyrics), but I'll be buying this one. I stumbled upon the news of it when I was confirming that all my post links were operable. The times have changed, indeed. Serendipity at work . . . again!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a thousand beautiful things

J A P A N E S E   O R I G A M I  cranes are the quintessential symbol of the art of paper folding. My collection started last Christmas and all three (pictured at right) were gifts from my tenacious-by-a-thread-beau. Folding a thousand such cranes (only one of mine is actual paper origami), stringing them together on 25 strands of 40 cranes each (a Senbazuru) will make a wish come true; help you find a mate; and bring both of you a long life of good luck, health and prosperity; all-the-while garnering world peace. Not to be dubious about this legendary and time-honored Japanese custom, I like to think that the meditative process of embarking on such a concentrated endeavor would have to bring about some incredibly good Karma to the world. In spite of the daunting prospect of doing such a thing, at least I can dream of a tree decorated with a thousand cranes and living luckily, healthily, prosperously, peacefully, and happily-ever-after.

A N   A U S T E R E  (couldn't be 1,000) and elegant version of a tree like this, published by Martha Stewart has already been done, along with everything else. But with a thousand cranes in all sizes and a tasteful color-scheme (not to mention a highly creative staff), I too, could produce a knockout symbol of all the good things in life. Or maybe my legions of (eight, officially as of this post) blog followers could just send me one crane they folded themselves? Eight is enough, right? Now 1,000 would be truly joyous! Is it too early to give Santa your Christmas wishes?

M Y   T R E E S  seem to always get overburdened with selections from an ever-growing prop studio (storage unit). This crane thing would be traveling light for me. And a hope for light and love traveling around the world, much like Santa himself on Christmas Eve.

N O T   T O   F O R G E T  another esteemed diva in my life, I have to give credit to Annie Lennox for her transformative song "A Thousand Beautiful Things." It truly has been one of my favorite songs since her album entitled Bare was released. Seeing her in concert on that tour, alongside one of my best friends, Alehandro back in March of 2003, the chilling songstress gave us goosebumps on numerous occasions during her playlist. Especially at one entirely unforgettable moment in the concert when a bell sound in one of her songs—like an amplified meditation bell—was cued with a single drop of liquid falling and causing a ripple on a huge projection screen behind her stage set (nothing there but whiteness and shadow until that point in the concert). It was a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room moment of clarity! And Ale and I looked at each other and shuddered in delight.

W H E T H E R   O R   NOT  it was "A Thousand Beautiful Things" (I think it was, but Ale thinks it was "Bitter Pill"), it all went down so smoothly that unforgettable night being serenaded by Annie at the Atlanta Symphony Hall. We were transformed. Thank you Ms. Lennox for that!

I   S H O U L D  get busy folding! And I'll listen to the words of Annie's song while I do it (please do it too—one will suffice). And I hope to find all the beautiful things about life everyday—even as I'm having to swallow a bitter pill along with it. 

THREE OF A THOUSAND? | (Above, from front to back) A white resin crane—with permanence—from One Hundred80 Degrees, an authentic folded crane from an Atlanta artisan Sachiko Kogure, and a ceramic crane intended for use as a place card holder from Target, 2008)

BEAUTIFUL THINGS | A small portion of my 
"vast" prop "studio" (storage unit, below).

collecting, photography and 
styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, August 24, 2009

wicked flight

E X H I L A R A T E D with his ability to fly with wings made of wax and feathers, Icarus followed his own course and flew too close to the sun. His father Daedalus (who was a renowned Athenian artisan) crafted each of them a pair of wings from these delicately weak materials in order to escape imprisonment inside a massive labyrinth in Crete. The admonition was that if Icarus flew too low, the feathers in his wings would get wet and make it difficult to fly. If he flew too high, the sun would melt the wax that held the wings together and they would break to pieces. Daedalus flew to safety. And Icarus' lifeless body eventually washed to shore. 

L I F E   I S   F U L L  of highs and lows and it's easy to attach romanticism to myth. Whether it is actual reality or created as an act of imagination doesn't matter. You want to believe what might very well just be fantasy. But you understand the parable of the story when you apply it to your own reality.

A S   I   R E L A T E D  in a previous post, I purchase ornaments to celebrate and remember important life events. I bought two of these beautiful winged hearts (the only two they had) at Home Goods last fall. They were both in different parts of the store and randomly displayed, as is often the case in stores stuffed full of merchandise. I usually don't go for the bling, but these wings forming a heart, I thought, were exceptionally well-crafted. I gave one of them to someone very special in my life on Halloween last year and it hung on the first Christmas tree we had together. Even though we live separately, it was ours. Why Halloween? Because that night was our first real night on the town alone together and he had mentioned that he felt as if it was any early Christmas. We went to see the musical Wicked at the Fabulous Fox Theater that night. It's one of those grand atmospheric theaters that escaped being torn down.

O F   C O U R S E , I took the anticipatory Christmas idea and flew with it. I decorated a black wire Halloween tree and put up the decorations I had for Halloween to surprise him (he was so touched, he cried). But I had a "Christmas" gift to give him to cap the night off. It was a very special and romantic night for both of us. I'll never forget it—I don't think he will either. We may have both not heeded the warnings over the past year in trying to fly to freedom together. All remains to be seen. I know he holds my heart in his hands. Whether or not he and I can make a life together, I will always cherish our time together. We've certainly had a year full of excitement and have grown to love each other dearly. He's the only man who has ever given me a ring along with a promise. He gave it to me on Christmas Eve while we ate at Bacchanalia, which by far, is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Atlanta. And that night is one of the most cherished of all my Christmas memories. And coming from a holiday fanatic like me, that says a lot. It was the first time I really felt home again since both of my parents died in 2005. Christmas with them was always beautiful in so many ways.

WINGED FLIGHT | (above, right), A bas relief sculpture of Icarus with his outstretched wings is surrounded by white glass ornaments by Martha Stewart Everyday/Woodland Holiday line at Kmart.

WINGED HEARTS | (above, left), Heartstrings all wound-up, and the rhinestone-studded wings folded into a heart shape. (below, right) The other winged heart on the holiday tree (2008) that illustrates the mock-up cover of my book.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Saturday, August 22, 2009

the evergreen (tree)

AFTER ABUSING THEM last winter (ivy winters well in Atlanta, if you keep it watered), I've miraculously saved both of my ivy topiaries. One of them (photo at right) is looking pretty good right now. What were once very lush topiaries several years back, are now much more sparse. I like the sparseness—it's not so predictable—now that the ivy is older and has woody stems. The interlaced stems are beautiful by themselves. I must admit though, my other topiary is formed by mostly stems, but the hardy nature of English ivy has kept a bit of green interspersed. Ivy, like life does have a perniciously tenacious quality, huh? You must keep it watered and nourished and it will grow and fill out around the structure you've provided.

ACCORDING TO THE Topiary Organisation, the topiary is one of the most ancient of garden crafts. According to what I've learned over the years, living evergreen decoration has long been an element in winter solstice (and later, Christmas decorations). Pagan tradition holds the belief that winter evergreens are a promise for another spring—symbolizing life's continuity. Evergreen decorations became ritualized at temples and even inside the home in winter celebrations because of the promise of new life. This symbology became Christianized (even though the early Christian church banned the use of evergreens because of its pagan associations). We all know now that the evergreen has developed into the holiday (or Christmas) tree and is an everlasting symbol of hope and merriment for most of the world. Whatever your belief, there is definitely an underlying reason for the hold it has on our imaginations.

IVY HAS LONG BEEN a symbol of love and fidelity, but the reverence to nature is important to me in any case. It's indisputable that the evergreen tree is resonant with many of the world's people. My evergreen topiary trees are symbols in a satisfyingly austere way, and I'm happy I can keep them alive!

"When you create within a sacred paradigm, you find a strange thing.
You are communicating with, and being fed by, sources you know are within you,
but have a much greater reflection somewhere else.
You are in touch with something timeless.” —playwright Elizabeth Fuller
photography and styling by Darryl Moland

TENACIOUS TOPIARY | One of the survivors outside my door (above).

PEACE SYMBOL | The dove topiary 
at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston (left). 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

collecting ornaments

WITH COLLECTING (anything really), one can be as broadly thematic or as singularly eclectic as your personal taste. Starting a collection of ornaments for your tree might be as simple as inheriting your grandmother’s ornaments from her attic. Constantly be on the lookout and buy only the things you like and you’ll soon see a theme emerge. Don't go for most of the commercial themes you see out there. Collecting is just that—finding disparate things over time and connecting and assembling them together into a unified whole. But you constantly have to be on the lookout.

I FOUND THESE incredibly gorgeous wooden finial ornaments in the bottom of a locked display case at Antiques and Beyond in Atlanta, Georgia just this past weekend. When I asked the salesperson to open the case so I could examine them, I was surprised that all four were priced at a mere $20! Of course I said "I'll take them." What a steal! I think I remember the salesperson saying they were from Sweden, which made sense at the time (I should have asked more questions).

AFTER I EXCITEDLY bought them, I remembered having a very vivid dream years ago in which the manufacturing process of such wooden finial ornaments was happening (in my dream they were multi-colored). It was as if I was watching my own line of ornaments take shape (which I do daydream about). A new picture formed in my mind's eye of a tree utilizing these finials along with other natural-colored ornaments of all shapes and sizes. I always "see" a very vivid image when I start thinking of what my next creation will be.

I THINK THESE particular ornaments might be handmade. I bought an incredible handmade wooden finial ornament once when visiting an antique shop to commemorate the day my nephew (sadly, now deceased) married his first wife in Rome, Georgia. The wedding was held at an historic wooden chapel on the campus of Berry College. Now, I want to marry that stored-away finial with these four finials!

IT SEEMS LIKE an incredibly weird amount of inspiration is coming to me from the important people in my life that are now deceased (more on that later). I've found through the years that buying ornaments while on vacation (not tacky-touristy stuff) or at the time of important life events brings a storied resonance to your collection. I, at least for one, remember where and when I purchased them (or got them as gifts) this way, no matter what type of ornament. It doesn't have to be something that directly amplifies a memory (like those ugly brass laser cut ornaments that are made for landmarks in a city and sold at tourist shops). Go out of your way to find a local dealer and buy something unusual or nicer. You will have an heirloom that attaches itself to a particular place or memory—I am still amazed at how a single ornament can serve as an index to help you file away a memory of an event or place in your life even if it changes drastically over time. Rest my nephew Alan's soul—he was only 33 when he died. That marriage created my grand nephew Sam who I haven't seen since Alan's funeral three years ago. I should do something about that, shouldn't I?

FOUR FOR A SONG | Wooden finial ornaments found from beyond (top and above)

collecting, photography and 
styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, August 17, 2009

the decorated tree (of life) | a modern ritual

Click on image to enlarge the view.
THIS BLOG WILL  be about the little things that give me great pleasure and decorate the tree (of life), both physically and metaphorically. To the physical end, it will be about my dream of having a book published with the working title: the decorated tree | a modern ritual. It's all about my obsession with the holiday tree (not just Christmas) and the custom of decorating one. To the metaphorical end . . . well, I'm still trying to figure all that out. How do I combine the words I put together here with the images I am making in sorting through the ephemera of my life? I have an incessant (and obsessive) need to collect and combine things to make something beautiful to feather my nest. I think it all started at an early age, but really took off when I started selecting props and photo styling in the photography studio at Cooking Light magazine (where I worked as assistant art director for eight years, from 1986-1994).

DREAM-INDUCED | (Above) A mock-up of the cover of my book in its waking moment.

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland

photography by Harold Daniels