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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

good eggs

WE  ALL  KNOW the answer when asked which came first, the chicken or the egg? The question and the answer are rhetorical. Eggs are the perfect symbols for spring. Before eggs were associated with Easter and the resurrection of Jesus; Chinese, Egyptians, Gauls, Persians, and Romans used eggs in their rite-of-spring festivals. They represented the Earth's rebirth after a long winter. Eggs are containers for new life. Humans even start out as an egg, but that, of course takes us back to the obvious.

GROWING  UP,  I have fond memories of the new suit for church-going on Easter Sunday every year, along with the candy-filled basket left by a mythical bunny. And of course I remember the gleeful Easter egg hunt in the fresh unmown grass. The confectioner's smell from jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps and chocolate bunnies permeated the air inside along with the fresh smells of tulip trees and other early blooming flowers outside. All are brought together in a heady gust stirred up by the brisk winds of spring. Change and new life are in the air. And a cleansing of our souls takes place.

AND  THE  LIGHT, it seems, is warmly beamed directly from heaven, coaxing things back to life again. That's what every spring becomes . . . a rebirth, however you choose to believe, it's undeniably intoxicating, life-giving and affirming. I'll leave you with these images, because as it is said, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the spirit of my favorite season, I created three times that here. These are some of my best, so I'll let them speak with their light.

When we live in darkness, our human life is a constant want.
When we live in Light, our divine life is a constant achievement.
Light in the physical is beauty.
Light in the vital is capacity.
Light in the mind is glory.
Light in the heart is victory.

Talk on the Inner Light by Sri Chinmoy
SIGNS OF LIFE | (Top, left) The heart shaped leaves of the American Redbud tree have yet to form here. They first burst forth with spring flowers, like tiny sweet peas, that appear magically along the gnarled bark of the tree branches. It's easy to associate this tree with the miracle of rebirth, rather than its usual dark connection with Judas. A branch hung with speckled multi-hued eggs (from Marshalls) emphasizes the point. The ceramic bunny is from West Elm and the antique glazed cache pot is from my collection. An alpine bird ornament from Merck Family's Old World Christmas is a joyful symbol of spring and overlooks its egg-filled nest. Glassblowers in Germany often kept wild birds during the winter months since the sound of the gas flame in the workshop prompted the birds to sing. When spring arrived, the birds returned to freedom.

EPHEMERAL BEAUTY | (Middle) An even grander indication of spring, a branch from a yellow-blooming tulip tree (Japanese magnolia) provides short-lived beauty. The flowers, when cut from this tree with prehistoric magnolia roots quickly turn brown and start dropping their petals in a matter of hours—a lesson in the tenuous, but glorious bond life has with its source. These delicately floral-patterned egg ornaments are from Michaels. Their original frilly bow hangers were removed and replaced with simple ribbons—beautiful just as they are as an artistic reverence to nature.

BUNNY, BASKET and EGGS | (Bottom, right) This large chocolate bunny from Golda and I Chocolatier holds a spring bouquet of sugar flowers while presiding over a grapevine and paper flower basket bought at Ross. I filled the basket with fresh green wheat grass from Sevananda, and tied the handle with a bow of faux bois (wood grain) ribbon from Martha Stewart Crafts. The beautiful patterns covering the ceramic egg ornaments bought at Marshalls render them as works of art. 

 photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Luci in the sky

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. —Anatole France

IF THERE WAS ever a reason to relate the unique bond that sometimes humans are lucky enough to be able to share with animals, then there would be no words to describe such a profound and wordless expression of love. Poetry could possibly come close, but true-to-form, the love (and bond) I shared with my Calico cat Luci was indescribable in words, except to say that I've never had a more amazing connection with an animal. She brought such pure love and light into my life, I wonder sometimes if I could have made it through some of the losses and trials I've been through in the past few years without her. Now that she is gone from this plane of existence, I'll have to find my way back to her with all the good memories she left with me.

BARELY ABLE to write the Saint Patrick's post I had already prepared the photos for last week, I was at a loss, but did it to take my mind off of my grief, if only temporarily. It was written last Tuesday on the evening of the day I had to let Luci go "run with the Gods." I titled that post "faith, hope, love and luck." And I had in mind a double meaning when that title was decided, as that was a set of words that could also describe the reasons for the angst I felt in my loss. It was almost impossible to make the decision to have her euthanized because she wasn't letting go of this life very willingly and I wasn't letting go of her because I was able to care for her well in those last days without her being too uncomfortable. But I know she was hanging on for me as much as anything, and that awful decision finally had to be made for her sake. For this week's post, I add the word "light" to that list of words . . . in honor of Luci.

THIS FIRST day of spring was a rainy one here, but last Tuesday, when I had to let her go, it was a beautiful, sunny and warm day that felt more like the first day of spring than today. Being an indoor cat with only minimal time outside during her life, I took her outside that day. She bathed in the sun, breathed in the fresh springlike air and even attempted to nibble a few fresh grass blades. Coming home this evening, after the rain had let up, I looked up into the sky and saw the stars more clearly than usual (with all the ambient light a city like Atlanta creates). Maybe it was only Luci looking back at me and allowing me to see more stars in the sky than I thought possible. There's something about the days of mourning after a great loss that makes one more cognizant of the profound things the universe holds—so easily missed—in our busy lives. I'm paying close attention to that and I'm trying my best to remember that through the tears I've shed after loosing my constant and beautiful companion. She's just with me in a different way now and it will take some adjustment.

LUCI WAS a magical cat if there ever was one. Her name Luci (short for Lucifur) quickly became one that held the meaning "light-bearer" instead of what one would commonly think of as a name for Satan (Lucifer) in English. Lucern ferre in Latin literally means light-bearer—the morning star or dawn appearance of the Planet Venus that heralds daylight. The name Lucifur stuck for the wrong reasons when she was a kitten, as she was so active and mischievous, but was quickly shortened to "Luci." The Gods must have known then that it would have a deeper and more resonant meaning as the years spent with her came and went. Over sixteen years later, growing from a kitten to a beautiful diva, she makes her exit to the stars. I can only hope her becoming part of the collective consciousness of souls creates more of the light and love needed for this existence in larger quantities than ever before.

I DEARLY LOVED Luci. She left a big void and my heart aches in her absence. It will never be the same without her, but I know her light will continue to illuminate the way. I must keep my eyes open to it and become as watchful to the unseen as a cat.

MEMORIAL | (Top) For some reason, the color red became suddenly significant after loosing Luci. I found this stone cat that was carved in Kenya on the day Luci died.This weekend, I picked red camellia flowers and red-berried holly (both evergreens) from a friend's yard to make a memorial arrangement (composed in a milk glass fish bowl vase). A terra cotta bird Jon gave me this Valentine's day sits atop a tiled bone box bought to hold Luci's ashes. A Christmas bell ornament that Lowell gave me this past season with the word "dream" written on it sits next to the red stone cat carving. Jon and Lowell are two very important men in my life that have realized and shared the incredible love bond with Luci that I did. Lowell was there for the formative years of Luci's comfortable life and I thank him for giving his own brand of magical love to Luci. Jon has been with me the whole time through Luci's illness and death (and a while in health) and I thank him for his incredible love, grace and recognition. Luci thanked them both in in her amazing way of bonding with them.

YOUNGER YEARS | (Above, bottom) This black-and-white photo of Luci taken by Lowell about mid-way through her life has always been one of my favorites. The magical beam of light in her eyes is evident.

 memorial photograph and styling by Darryl Moland
photograph of Luci by Lowell Hylden 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

faith, hope, love and luck

WHEN I mentioned photographing the four leaf clovers Jon and I found last year, my Irish friend Patrick Brady was quick to say, "not to nitpick, but shamrocks only have three leaves. Saint Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Pagans about the Holy Trinity." I guess I've never really made that distinction, so I won't dispute my good friend, or push my luck. After all, he challenged me to create the St. Patrick's Day tree you see here. He's been very supportive of my blogging efforts. And this is my way of returning the favor while celebrating his Irish heritage along with him. Whether Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, or all the Pagans, it matters not—I prefer not to make comparisons. Snakes can be as beneficial as a good Pagan in Mother Nature's mix.

IT IS SAID that the four leaves of a lucky clover stand for faith, hope, love and luck. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit represented by a three leaf clover (or shamrock) could also use a little luck in my book—just as any concept of faith—it's always inherent in the very nature of believing in the supernatural. It is a leap of faith (and a little luck) that helps one resolve any set of beliefs. Most Pagan traditions have been disguised in subsequent Christian traditions. Four leaf clovers were Celtic charms predating Christianity and believed to be potent against malevolent spirits. This is how the power to bring good luck comes into play. It is obvious that the rarest form of clovers has four leaves. So, I'll leave my luck at that.

THE  IRISH  FLAG colors of green, white and orange together are quite cheerful. I've seen a few pop up in the neighborhood in the last few days and think how fresh they look against the pale blue/gray of the spring sky. With this Saint Patrick's Day tree, I wanted to use this vibrant color combination in full. And I usually prefer to leave the conical shape of an evergreen tree for the winter holidays. 

THE SEVEN sacred trees of the Irish culture are oak, hazel, apple, yew, ash, holly and pine. Each clan of Ireland centered around such a Chieftain tree totem. The forests were revered because they gave so much sustenance, while supporting the Old Irish in mind, body and spirit. It's no wonder they are so rooted in the Irish psyche. Because of this, I wanted a tree that that formed an iconic shape most commonly thought of with such trees, and I was lucky enough to find one that I could modify. 

THE HISTORY of ancient Ireland is steeped in the lore of supernatural beings and home to ancient artifacts and structures dating back to 3100 B.C., Ireland's prehistoric passage-tombs are in the historical realm of England's Stonehenge or even the Egyptian pyramids. So it seems there's a lot more Irish culture to explore than the Saint Patrick's Day holiday. This only scratches the surface of the rich history of Ireland. I'll need lots of hope, faith, love and luck to find out more and continue my quest to bring historical relevance to the art of the decorated tree.

COLORS OF THE CLAN | (Above, right) This tree is composed using a wire tree made "ancient" from Pier One Imports. I reshaped this tree sold as an Easter tree, by brushing off most of the glitter and straightening out the curled stems. The cylindrical ornaments representing the Irish flag are from Department 56 and the small green ornaments tied with thin orange ribbon were found at Marshalls and on Ebay. The glass shamrock ornament hanging from the table drawer pull is a KD Vintage design from Bayberry Cove. At the base of the tree lies a stem of Bells of Ireland tied with a kelly green ribbon.

IRISH SYMBOLS | (Above, left) The glass shamrock ornaments are by KD Vintage and from Bayberry Cove. The two small four leaf clover ornaments and indent ornament (a four leaf clover within the indent and shamrock design glittered on the exterior) were found on Ebay. The small reproductions of Saint Patrick's postcards were bought from Bayberry Cove and are from the Annie Schickel collection.

GOOD LUCK CHARMS | (Right) These four leaf clovers found by Jon and I last year during a streak of good luck (in close succession), were pressed in a hiker's flower press from Martha Stewart's defunct Martha by Mail catalog.

 photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

spring in bloom

THIS SHOULD be a glorious spring. Signs of new life are everywhere—from a crocus peeping through the snow (in the North) to the first daffodil showing its sunny face (here in the South). 

IT HAS been an unusually wet winter in Atlanta, and the trees will soon paint the sky with broad strokes of freshly-watered yellows and pure chartreuse. The warmer weather and longer daylight hours are more than welcome this year. The older I get, the less I can endure cold weather. I like the cool feel of new grass underneath my feet and the riot of pastel colors that seem to be transported from a Monet painting—all assured signs of the return to spring.

THE RITUAL of the decorated tree has its roots in summoning spring's return along with an evident promise of renewal. The lethargy of winter loosens its hold and gives way to the budding of new life. Spring is my favorite time of year because it symbolizes rebirth in the natural unbroken circle of the seasons. It's not too hot, not too cold and the winds seem to blow in an effort to softly lull the earth fully awake again. And green—in any shade—is my favorite color.

FLOWERS ARE  undoubtedly the sex symbols of the plant world. Not only for their fresh beauty, but their proud sensuality. Those decorating trees are obviously a celebration of all of this, whether real or man-made. Although you'll see all sorts of flowers year-round, it seems that this seasonal rebirth of nature asserts their fresh colors and graceful beauty. A rare tree will be decorated with fresh flowers (usually sufficiently enough in nature alone), but luckily there are many forms of artificial decorative flowers. With an Impressionist pedigree like the glitter-edged fabric and beaded ones you see in the photos here,  clipping a few to a branch can rush the season. Are they roses? Lilies? That's the point, they're not too carefully constructed to be anything other than an impression, which starts a lively dance.

ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS  and trees are just that. Although often approximated, there's nothing like the texture and feel of a a budding branch from a slumbering tree directly from nature. A man-made flower or tree should only give an impression, not try to recreate the unparalleled sensory bounty of nature. I'm amazed at how realistic some artificial flowers and trees can look, but ultimately, they're only an illusion. They are frozen in time and only collect dust, not memories. I don't understand the point to them. I'd rather invest in a few real twigs or blooms—ephemeral as they are—than a vase full of silk flowers. Nothing compares to what mother nature produces. Beauty can be found in something artificial only when it creates an impression, because it is something altogether different. Their reasons to exist should't try too hard to mimic the rich complexity born to the natural world.

IF ONE CAN'T indulge themselves with flowers bought at the market or brought in from a garden, the year-round option of a book of photographs can be quite satisfyingly up-close and intimate. My friend Barbara Bordnick's  three volume series of flower portraits capture a moment in time of the life of a flower, so that you can return to it again and again. The books are all appropriately named Searchings and vividly capture "the secret landscapes of flowers." These books were published several years back, but they are still available—especially the last two volumes. I am lucky enough to have a personally signed copy of Volume III (published in May 2005). This volume explores the enigmatic simplicity of the color white. White flowers have a language all their own that isn't readily seen, except in amazing up-close photographs like these. Barbara describes this in the third volume of Searchings: 

"I began to photograph, and once I got past the lull of their serenity, I encountered an infinite variety of color, texture, and personality. While demure, I found them to be the most seductive and audacious. They just dared to call me in a little bit closer, requiring more of my time before moving on. No longer acquaintances, it became time well spent with intimate friends. Perhaps of all the colors in Nature's palette, none is more beautiful—or holds more secrets—than her whites."
DECORATING WITH flowers, whether included with other ornaments on a tree or in their natural form in a single bud vase, is the ultimate form of celebrating the life brought forth in spring. And their singular faces always turn to look toward the warm light of the sun.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE | (Top, right and middle, left) Impressionistic beauty can be found in artificial clip-on flower ornaments like glittered fabric roses and seed-beaded flower forms, all from the 2009 Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's

REAL BEAUTY | Veteran New York photographer Barbara Bordnick's series of books, all named Searchings capture intimate portraits of real flowers to enjoy all-year-round (all three volumes shown together, above, right). When she turned her lens to flowers, she captured a secret landscape rarely observed. To purchase signed, limited edition prints of her work, contact her here. I've been fortunate enough to work with her on a few occasions. She brings a Zen-like quietness of respect to the set, no matter how imposing a client can be. It's no wonder that she became fast friends with flowers and these books were published to rave reviews. A closer look is a celebration in itself.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland,
Searchings book covers ©2010 Barbara Bordnick

Monday, March 1, 2010

tree of life heraldry

LIONS HAVE  been widely used in heraldry to symbolize bravery, valor and strength. This particular bas relief plaque is a reproduction of a fire mark from somewhere in England. It is unusual in that the rampant and regardant lions flank a tree of life. Often heraldic symbols have local significance or a historical link, but fire marks displayed on a building would symbolize protection by a particular company that insured the building.

AFTER THE  Great Fire of London in 1666 devastated one-third of the city, there was a turning point in attitudes towards the hazard of fire. Like-minded property owners pooled resources to provide their own insurance protection with organized teams of fire fighters. Few streets were named and the buildings were not numbered, so some method of identification was necessary. Fire insurance was born. The plaques with either the logo of the insurer or the county's coat of arms (most likely the case here) were attached to buildings, indicating the group or company that insured the building. Most fire companies were financed this way and protected buildings marked with their fire mark, with any uninsured fire damage paid for by the individual. This practice continued for 250 years until fire stations were  publically-funded to protect the public from all fires.

YOU'LL ALSO  see plenty of lions depicted in sculpture and architectural statuary, evoking a sense of majesty and awe, especially around public structures. A few notable examples are the Great Sphinx of Giza; Patience and Fortitude, the regal stone lions outside the main branch of the New York Public Library; and lions used in traditional Chinese architecture. In the ancient city of Beijing, flanking male/female statues are seen in almost every door entrance. The Chinese people believe that lions protect humans from evil spirits. The Chinese New Year Lion Dance is performed during their celebrations to scare away demons and ghosts. 

WHATEVER  the specific origin of the fire mark shown here, I will always cherish it as a thoughtful and symbolic gift from Jon, however our lives continue together. Ever-thoughtful and romantic in his gift-giving, he personalized the gift with a card that contained a drawing of a beautiful tree, along with a terra cotta bird representing his urge to "nest within the heart of [my] branches." After all, birds and trees, just as humans are dependent on each other for a place of refuge. And I'll always be surrounded with the magical wisdom of cats. Few animals compare to their grace, beauty and courage. It's good to have all of this combined in a significant marker from someone I care about deeply. It serves as insurance for the fire of the soul and protects the refuge found by both of us in this (decorated) tree of life.

What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?
—Henry David Thoreau

HERALDIC BEAUTY | (Above, right) This plaque, a reproduction of a fire mark from England is sold at Atlanta Water Gardens and from a North Carolina company, Unique Stone. The copper stand was bought at Flax Art and Design. The table is from the Charlotte Collection at Pottery Barn. (Above, left) A hand-drawn interior of a card by Jon Chavez, card (exterior not shown) by Papyrus. Terra cotta bird from Atlanta Water Gardens. 

photography and styling by Darryl Moland, tree drawing by Jon Chavez