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, December 14, 2009

tree of dreams

THE HOLIDAYS are a time for family, no matter what form that concept may take—friends, partners, spouses, pets, siblings, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren . . . or some combination of all of the above. But it's our mother that brings us the most profound connection to nature by her very essence as bearer of new life. We are all a part of them as much as they are part of us. My mother richly infused my memories of the holiday by encouraging me each year to use my creativity in decorating our family tree. Since there were ten years between my next oldest brother Mal and I, there was enough room for me to do so. My brothers were both jocks and not really interested in such things anyway. And my sister had already found her own life. We all had a hand in it when I was younger, but after a point, it became my own canvas—to sometimes dismal effect (like the tree limited to an all-white color scheme with homemade paper doily fans, which looked quite funereal). My mother provided all the room she could have to let me experiment by allowing me to buy ornament kits and letting me use my imagination in configuring the tree with the ornaments we had and the new ones I created. I always took this challenge with great glee and was successful more times than not.

THIS TREE of silver and pink was inspired by a dream I had of her. Shortly after her death, I dreamt about her finding a Christmas present from me­—a pink and silver rhinestone brooch. Though she never received it physically, this tree is an offering to her spirit. It was as if, in order to celebrate her life, I was now charged to keep the flame of creativity she helped spark in me. Her mischievous exuberance is captured by the varied animals (a giraffe, birds, a Christmas spider, and even a mouse) combined with sparkly baubles, flowers, leaves and stars; all evoking the brilliance of the brooch gift I had for her in the dream. Friends tell me that this photograph looks like an altar, and it is, of sorts. Every tree should garner such a response. There should be a light within it, even if it isn't illuminated with actual lights. My coworker Dan told me the tree I put up at work this year didn't need lights because it had a sparkle all-it's-own.The light and magic of a well-decorated tree is evocative of the historical and natural context of our collective memories and should speak to that sense of wonder, whether directly personal or a homage to generational history.

MY PARENTS instilled in me this sense of wonder during the holiday. I carry this with me and am sharing it here—creating a testament to their spirit. Plenty of holiday trees I see each year have become overwrought with elements that have little meaning or relevance to the time-honored traditions of the decorated tree, but my intent is to bring it all back in focus, by giving historical context as to why certain decorations and themes are more richly relevant than others. It really all depends on what is important to you and your family of choice—the spirit of Christmas is ultimately for the kid in all of us—and it's easy to find a pure sense of self when you're decorating with something in mind to honor—not unlike an altar to your memories of the people with which you share or have shared your life.

INSPIRATION  for a tree can take many forms. I probably take that more seriously than most people do because I've continued to grow and nurture the seeds my mother planted in me years ago. All the trees I've created in my lifetime hold memories of places I've been, people I've known and people I cherish with associations I've made in my collecting wherever I go. And nature is the base source of this inspiration. You can find incredible color schemes within one seashell or the pinks and grays of a winter sky after a freshly-fallen snow. There's nothing more magical than towering evergreens covered in snow—the sparkle and texture found in such a scene is awe-inspiring in its unadorned simplicity—sweet dreams are made of this. Embellishing those dreams and making them into reality are the stuff of wonder and surprise. 

PRETTY IN PINK | My mother's "signature" color was pink, so this tree (above, right) serves her memory well (as well as my dream of my gift to her of a pink-and-silver brooch). The seemingly random mix of ornaments are tied together only by color and my interpretation of my mother's creative spirit. They all represent some aspect of her exuberant, sometimes loud, always unique and endearing personality. The ornaments are from my own private collection of antique ornaments and newer baubles—from sources far-and-wide: Target once had an incredible line of ornaments designed by Thomas O'Brien (the tree topper and silvery-blue ornaments), the pink and silver tinsel tree and mouse ornament are from the now defunct Martha by Mail catalog. This "altar" to her memory is flanked by two mercury glass candlesticks with flames softly framed by vintage-style bottle brush wreaths. 

MOTHER'S CHILDREN | That's me on the far left (above, left) looking off into the trees even then, at only three years old.The photo was taken on a 1964 summer vacation by my father: My brother Ronald stands ever-stoically in the background, my sister Donna pensively holds me safe, and my brother Mal stands smiling to the left of my mother—the best mother anyone could have—in her boldly-striped dress. Here we are a few years ago (left) in the same configuration sans our mother (made not long after both parents died in 2005)

NATURAL MAGIC | This sepia-toned grouping of evergreen trees (above, right) covered in snow form an iconic and magical silhouette against a wintry sky—a sight rarely seen in the American South where I was reared. I haven't lived farther north than Atlanta, where I now reside. A significant snow is a rare occurrence in the winters here.

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, 
photography (Top—Pretty in Pink) Claudia Lopez
(Above—Natural Magic) iStock