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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

seeds of the trees

C O N I F E R S   are by definition cone bearers. The seed-bearing "fruit" of pines, firs, cypress and yew (according to some) is the inspiration for some of the first molded glass ornaments made in Germany. Pinecones were believed to be symbols of motherhood and fertility, so were given to brides and grooms to hang on their first holiday tree together. As for my increasingly fertile ornament collection, if I were organized enough to have it catalogued, I'm sure the largest bulk of it is glass cones in as many shapes and sizes as you can imagine. Some are pictured (at right and below) and others are pictured on a tree in a previous post.

A S   P I N E C O N E S   are naturally beautiful by themselves and dry wonderfully, they are brought inside used as decor (or kindling) in many homes. Painted, glittered and coaxed into wreaths, garlands and even boutonnieres, they have endless decorative appeal. The Southern Longleaf Pine is the official tree of the state of Alabama where I was raised. There, in my earlier years, I've mowed over pinecones when cutting the grass or painfully stepped on them when running around barefoot in the summer. Even so, I've always had an affinity for their natural beauty. And attracted to glittery things early on, I remember a ribboned and glittered pinecone doorknob hanger (not unlike this one) my mother would hang on the inside knob of the front door every holiday season.

B O T A N I C A L L Y,  conifers are non-flowering plants (gymnosperms). Pollinated by the wind, their seeds are not enclosed within a fruit or seed pod. It wasn't until later in the evolution of plants that flowering trees (angiosperms) evolved. Female cones open up to catch the pollen from male cones. The usually flat, papery seeds that develop  fall out of the open cone when it matures and dries out. The cones can be soft and small, like juniper "berries" or as large as ten to twenty inches long such as those of the Sugar Pine.

L A S T   W E E K, Jon surprised me with a new book named Lives of the Trees. Diana Wells, the author has written An Uncommon History of 100 trees. You can listen to an NPR interview with the author here. The publisher (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) states: 

"as she investigates the names and meanings of trees, telling their legends and lore, she reminds us of just how innately bound we are to these protectors of our planet. Since the human race began, we have depended on them for food, shade, shelter and fuel, not to mention furniture, musical instruments, medicine, utensils and more.

Wells has a remarkable ability to dig up the curious and the captivating: At one time, a worm found in a hazelnut prognosticated ill fortune. Rowan trees were planted in churchyards to prevent the dead from rising from their graves. Greek arrows were soaked in deadly yew, and Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth used Gall of goat and slips of Yew to make their lethal brew. One bristlecone pine, at about 4,700 years old, is thought to be the oldest living plant on earth. All this and more can be found in the [book's] beautifully illustrated pages (themselves born of birch bark)."

E N D L E S S L Y   fascinating and rich with lore and legend, it's hard to see running out of subject matter for The Decorated Tree (of Life)! The connection we all have to trees is as deeply-rooted in our collective psyche as the trees are to the ground on which we walk. The ritual of decorating them to celebrate almost any occasion is just as resonant, whether it be a Christmas tree; a bride's favor tree; or as I'm planning in time for February 14th, a Valentine cookie tree (look for it here).

CONE COMPOSITION | (Above, right): Easily the largest part of my ever-growing ornament collection is comprised of glass cones such as these. (From top to bottom), a silver and white cone from the Martha Stewart Collection (2009) for Macy's, an elongated bronze Republic of Czechoslovakia cone from Department 56, a chunky rounded bronze cone from the Martha Stewart Collection (2009) for Macy's, a green Czechoslovakian cone from Cost Plus World Market, and a Waterford Holiday Heirlooms cone. The cones are composed on a piece of tree bark Jon found while walking his dogs, which he saved for me to use as a photography prop. 

BOOK OF TREES | (Above, left): Lives of the Trees by Diana Wells is quite an interesting and rich reference for 100 types of trees, from the Acacia to the Yew. It is published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing. Three of the largest cones are Polish-made ornaments. The small green cone with a blown glass loop is from the Martha Stewart Collection (2007) for Macy's. Others are unidentified from my collection, both new and antique. All is contained in a live edge mango wood bowl from Target. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

reaching for the stars

R A R E L Y,  D O  W E  get a good look at the stars anymore. The ambient light created by civilization drowns them out and dims the majesty of the universe of which we're only an infinitesimal part. Living in the city, it has been a good while since I was somewhere remote enough to look up at the night sky and see the humbling visual magic of the stars. It's no wonder that we wish upon them and they figure prominently in tree decorations. Legend has it that the initiator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was inspired, on a late walk home, to first light an evergreen with candles to illustrate to his family the twinkling of stars he saw through the fir trees.

C  I T Y - D W E L L E R S  like myself have to look to the twinkling cityscape before us to get even a semblance of the unfettered view of the cosmos. Somehow, I think the separation from such an awesome spectacle has a numbing effect on our humanity — blinded by the light, indeed. If we all could be alone with a clear view of the stars for even a few hours a week, it might give us the humbling perspective to realize our place in our tiny part of the universe. The nighttime counterpart to the healing powers  of the sun, it does make one wonder why we forget to seek a regular dose of the night sky. 

I N   R E A C H I N G  for the stars, we build our cities with taller and taller skyscrapers. And through the ambient light that surround them, block the view of the stars in the sky. The recently-opened Burg Kalifa in Dubai (an insanely futuristic-looking city) currently holds the record as the "tallest building in the world." It is a quite spectacular building architecturally. And being ever - cognisant of all things "decorated tree," I couldn't help but notice the building's resemblance to a giant holiday tree during parts of the fireworks show  surrounding it during its opening on January 4th. And I have to wonder if in the construction of the building, the builders had a topping out ceremony. Placing an evergreen tree or assemblage upon the last beam at the top of the structure upon its completion is an age-old building custom to symbolize growth and bring luck. That would be quite an awesome spot to decorate a tree (at 2,625 feet)!

I N  W I S H I N G  upon the stars, they play tricks with our vision. It's almost impossible not to think of the utopian Disney song "When You Wish Upon a Star." Reading the the lyrics goes right to the heart of why we all dream bigger and bigger: 

When you wish upon a star 
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

STAR CONSTRUCTIONS | (Above, right) I've collected these three-dimensional laser-cut star ornaments in the last few years. Although amazing constructions in themselves, they're nothing like the newest "tallest building in the world", Burg Kalifa, which opened this month in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

photo (top, right): collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Sunday, January 10, 2010

tree of souls, tree of life

TREES  are symbols of life in the most profound ways. After all, they are the oldest living things on Earth. I was struck by the importance that a single tree in the movie Avatar took — The Tree of Souls. The movie could have been pure poetry. Visually it was astounding, but the dialog was cringe-worthy more often than not. Ultimately, it's one of those movies that sets a precedent for many new things to come in the movie-making industry. I've never seen a more flat-out, unapologetic and ecologically reverent/ anti-war movie. The most basic concept of the movie is about the struggle of our physical selves with the divine. It's definitely a movie to see, but don't strain too hard to listen. The symbolism is quite profound if you let your mind wander with the visual aspects and broader concepts of the movie without listening to some of the inane chatter.

THE   TREE   OF   SOULS, which grows as the alien Na'vi's sacred space in the movie Avatar, represents the eternal, where The Home Tree (symbolizing the Tree of Life) represents the temporal. The temporal things that are usually seen, and the eternal things that are not seen are pushed out-of-the-box in this movie. The movie's sacred Tree of Souls with it's willow-like luminescent strands allow the Na'vi to "link" by actual physical connection with their ancestral souls through "mother nature" represented by the tree. The Home Tree is just that — a home for an entire clan. Pandora, where the movie takes place, is a lush, Earth-like, moon of the planet Polyphemus.

IT'S   OBVIOUS  that the name of the moon is taken from the name of an ancient Greek goddess — the first mortal woman, Pandora. She was given something by each of the gods in Greek mythology including the well-known box she was told not to open. Of course Pandora's curiosity got the best of her and she opened the box, releasing all the evil and mistrust of the world. When Pandora looked at the bottom of the box, all she saw left was hope. Maybe this movie signals a shift from patriarchy back to matriarchy by its focus on a tree. Mother nature and war surely don't benefit from each other. There's definite hope in that concept.

THE   TREE   OF   LIFE  is a widely-interpreted metaphor used in science, religion, mythology and philosophy that illustrates that all life on earth is related. To me, the souls of trees resonate throughout nature and give a sense of life to many things, providing food and shelter, both physically and metaphorically. No one can dispute how important they are to all of us. Our place as a part of nature depends on this reverence. 

TREE ORNAMENTS | (Above, right) A delicate iridescent-glittered tree on a large clear glass globe contrasts with an extremely rare German ornament, known as a "Julekugle" made previous to WWII. Julekugles were decorated with Teutonic runes or symbols. This particular Julekugle has two different sides.The side pictured above is an apple tree, the symbol of life. The other side (at right) is a shield with a sun in the center as a symbol of the universe (or Eye of God). After 1942, recommendations made by the Nazi party regarding tree decorations used these Julekugles because they were symbols of Germanic ideology. Of course, all references to God were deleted. This is a piece of history that is rarely spoken about.

AVATAR | (Above, left) In a still from the movie Avatar, the two main characters (from left) Jake Sully (in his Avatar body) played by Sam Worthington and Neytiri, a native inhabitant of Pandora, played by Zoë Saldana.

TREE OF LIFE | (Left) This painting is one of the most beautiful representations of the tree of life I've seen. It combines an organic tree along with the mystical geometry of the Tree of Life. Painted in 2008 by Richard Quinn in Berkely, California, a print of this painting can be purchased here. The artist's statement about this painting says it best:

The Tree of Life is a mystical diagram representing the process by which the universe was created from nothing and a path back to the creator. It comes from the Kabbalah of esoteric Judaism. The Kabbalist seeks to know the universe and himself as the expression of God. 

I have incorporated this spiritual symbol into a living tree. Ten Sephiroths, here represented as spheres, express aspects of the Divine, such as The Divine Crown, Wisdom, Mercy, Justice, Beauty, Glory and Eternity. Also present in the symbol are 22 Paths or Relationships linking the various Names of the Divine.

The initiation of the Creation is at the top and flows through the various Sephiroths down into the condensing of the physical universe. It is then thought that the Divine energy reverses course and begins the ascent up the Tree to the origin from whence it sprang. Each Sphere or Sephiroth is associated with a particular color representing its energy or quality.

I believe the “Tree of Life” is one among a number of inspired attempts to express the profound mysteries that are inherent in the quest to gain insight into the nature of the origins of the Universe and ourselves and perhaps the much more daunting task – the nature of the Creator that brought into being such a Creation.  

©2008 Richard Quinn

 Avatar movie still distributed by 20th-Century Fox 

ornament photos: collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Friday, January 1, 2010

hindsight is twenty-"ten"

LOOKING BACK as one is wont to do at the beginning of the first decade of the second millennium, it's always the practice to resolve to not make mistakes of the past. As for the future though, superstitious beliefs abound. In the American South, eating collard greens for prosperity and black-eyed peas or Hoppin' John for luck is part of the New Year's ritual. I had some of each, although on New Year's Eve at an early dinner at the Collonade. Maybe by doing that, it only helped me through the last few hours of 2009. It has not been an especially easy year for anyone (that I know, at least). Our vision is not always perfectly clear in looking back. We have to "be in the now" to really find that elusive moment of clarity. That is a resolution for anyone—to be aware of and in the moment when conducting daily life.

IT WAS THE SECOND year that I've adopted the Spanish tradition of consuming “las doce uvas de la suerte” (or the 12 grapes of luck) at the turn of the clock at midnight, along with a glass of bubbly (or wine, as we did this year). Each grape represents a month in the new year—some sour, some sweet—as I'm sure they will be. We're ushering in a new decade and have that chance again to make this the decade known for something. I'm not sure what label we'll stick on the decade that began with a two and three zeros. With the word "Twitter" being the top word of 2009 (in the English language at least), I wonder if anyone can sum up the decade in 140 characters? It has been quite a time of upheaval and limbo in many ways. 

IT'S NOT ALWAYS what we say but what we do. The following quote from one of the most notorious people in the last decade really sums up what unsettling and contemptuous rhetoric the decade has brought:
"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know they're some things we do not know. But there're also unknown unknowns; the ones we don't know we don't know."
Did you get that? That quote was from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on February 12, 2002. No matter whether it effectively explained why the U.S. government had no idea what it was doing by invaded Iraq—in taking it out of context it points not so succinctly to many unsure missteps we have made collectively. 

ALL I CAN SAY is that I still believe in and wish for peace in the world. As time continues to tick away, the planet is getting smaller every day technologically and the people of the world are understaning and reasoning with each other in more civilized and succinct ways.

HATS OFF | Toasting 2010, Jon and I had a glass of wine with a skewer of 12 grapes, representing each month of the year—a Spanish tradition (above, right). The 2009 top hat ornament is from Martha Stewart Everyday Modern Celebration line at Kmart. The 2010 headband is from Target. 

TIME FOR PEACE | A delicate hourglass from Target (above, left) sits next to a past season's top-hatted Dee Foust licensed snowman figure produced by Bethany Lowe Designs that resembles an iconic New Year's image. It all overlooks a mercury glass globe ornament from my personal collection atop a glass-glittered peace sign ornament from Pottery Barn.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

REAR VIEW | This surrealist image (above) of an uprooted fir tree as car air freshener was found on a Catalonian blogger's site that commented on my blog this past August from French photographer Cédric Delsaux. I'm sharing the smile of irony it gave me. Hindsight is not unlike a rear-view mirror.