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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

picnic panache

ANY  EXCUSE  is a good excuse for a picnic (as well as a decorated tree). Although  the sweltering heat of July is almost unbearable for a lot of dining outdoors, if you plan for a late dinner instead of lunch, it is a special way to enjoy the warm weather. And there's nothing better than a cool slice of watermelon to help with the heat. I have fond memories from childhood when we would ritually spread newspaper on our backyard picnic table and slice a fresh watermelon. A lot of people find this unusual, but we always brought the shaker outside and sprinkled our slices of watermelon with salt before we ate it—I like mine with mild sea salt, please—it intensifies the juicy flavor. To this day, watermelon is one of my favorite things about summer. Another summer ritual is making fresh tomato sandwiches on good white bread with lots of mayonnaise, salt and fresh-ground pepper—sliced on the diagonal, but that's a different story altogether.

IN  AN  ERA  of plastic everything, it's nice to know that great eco-friendly alternatives exist for picnics and casual get-togethers. This disposable beech wood cutlery is a great alternative to plastic. I've decorated a small wire tree  with the wooden utensils. You can also find plates made from naturally-shed banana tree leaves and those cool striped paper straws I remember from my early childhood. The list is growing as the market responds to a more responsible and sustainable way of living. Of course what was commonplace back then, is only had at a premium these days. The plus to all of this is that many new products are beyond utilitarian and have a natural, biodegradable beauty that remind one of the day when sandwiches were wrapped carefully in waxed paper and you carried other food in glass containers wrapped up in a cloth, tucked carefully into a picnic basket. The containers weren't thrown away, but put back into the basket and washed when you got home.

PICNICS  ARE  PERFECT  for two people as well as lawn games. Croquet and horseshoes are as easily played by two as well as two teams, but the most romantic way to spend an evening is a special outdoor meal. It's interesting that these wooden utensils are made of beech wood, because lovers have a long history of carving their initials into the smooth gray bark of these trees. These carved affections grow as the tree grows and get bigger with time due the thinness and elasticity of beech bark. Thin slabs of beech bark have also been used since early times to write on and were sometimes tied together in making the first books. And the symbolism of these tree "ornaments" goes even further because the Latin name for the beech tree is Fagus, which comes from the Greek phagein, "to eat." It's high time to plan a special meal outside. And if you're having it with someone special, instead of defacing a tree, have a picnic under its shade to stay as cool as possible.

TAKE IT OUTSIDE | The biodegradable beech wood cutlery is by Seletti. The tree is a green coated wire tree from IKEA. The antique oilcloth-lined basket was lent by my friend Odette. She also brought this beautiful miniature Crimson Glory watermelon to me (I'm saving the seeds!). It's from the Mennonite Delano Community Farm Market, in Delano, Tennessee. The striped paper straws are made by Kikkerland Design, Inc. The gingham cloth in the basket and the croquet balls and hammers were lent from Green Central Station, my good friend Nancy Tran's shop specializing in vintage picnic items in Birmingham, Alabama. Click on the photo to see an uncropped version, twice to enlarge even more.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Saturday, July 3, 2010

the liberty tree

A STATELY ELM TREE that first stood in Boston Common in the late 1700's became an early touchstone for American independence. In the decade that led up to the American Revolution, this particular Liberty Tree provided a symbolic canopy and a physical gathering place for the people to assemble on their own terms and for their own purposes. The open space under its branches was called Liberty Hall and a flag pole was erected through its branches. A hoisted flag on this pole served as a call-to-action. Inflammatory cartoons and verses were nailed to its trunk. Even Tory effigies hung from its branches in protest. Under the boughs of the Liberty Tree in 1765, patriots, calling themselves The Sons of Liberty, gathered to protest the imposition of the stamp act. Innumerable lanterns were hung among its branches after the stamp act was repealed.

IN  THE  YEARS  that followed, almost every American town had a Liberty Tree —a living symbol of freedom of speech and assembly. Thomas Paine wrote the following song (below) in 1775, which explains the original tree's demise and its symbolic promise. During the siege of Boston, at the end of August 1775, a party of British Loyalists cut the tree down and used it for firewood. It was a spiteful act, knowing what it represented to the revolutionists. But this only fueled the fiery spirit of the colonists. As resistance to the British grew, flags bearing a representation of the Liberty Tree were flown to show an unwavering spirit of liberty.

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,

Their bread in contentment they ate
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defense of our Liberty Tree.

THE  INDEPENDENT  spirit of the American people was first symbolized by the Liberty Tree. It is my hope that on this and subsequent July 4th celebrations, the symbolic spirit of this tree serves as a touchstone for America's common link to all the people of the world as well as our original colonists from wide and far. Trees play an important role in creating and purifying the air that all the people of the world breathe freely, not independently. And they create it by the simple process of living in harmony with nature. 

STARS AND STRIPES | (Top) My interpretation of the holiday serves as a tree centerpiece and is a bright reference to the original 13 American colonies. To represent each colony, I decorated a painted tree branch supported in a striped glass vase with 13 glittered wooden stars. I trimmed each star's edges with complementing ribbon and a paper star in the middle. See details below on how this was done. And since this is the United States' 234th birthday, we must eat cake. I've simply added little flag toothpicks stuck through a single blueberry to store-bought cupcakes. The table top is trimmed with a ribbon garland from the 2007 Martha Stewart Crafts line. 

FLYING FREE | (Above, right) The American Liberty Tree Revolutionary Flag, circa 1775. 

LANTERNS OF LIBERTY | (Above, 2nd and 3rd photos from top) This Liberty Tree, hung with 13 lanterns representing the original American Colonies is a dominant feature of Liberty Square in Walt Disney World, Florida. When I first went there as a child with my parents, it made a big impression on me. The lanterns are wired and lit at dusk. This particular tree is not an Elm, but rather a Southern Live Oak that was transplanted. Both photos by ladystardust722.

LIBERTY TREE MONUMENT | (Middle, right) Liberty trees have been popular all over the world. This sculpture in Carlow, Ireland was designed by John Bethan to honor those who were massacred in the Battle of Carlow, who fought and died in the cause of religious and civil freedom (marking the Bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland). The sculpture features a number of macabre skeletons arranged around an abstract tree shape. It is made of bronze and set on a circular base with a fountain.

TORY ROYAL OAK | (Bottom, right) Toryism is interestingly enough symbolized by this Royal Oak insignia. Toryism is a traditionalist political philosophy. It is one of the prominent political parties in Great Britain, but also features in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada. Historically it also had exponents in former parts of the British Empire.
STAR MAKING | (Left) I bought these glittered wooden stars in the dollar bin at Target, Then I glued contrasting ribbons around their wide edges with a hot glue gun. To finish I added a punched paper star to the middle of each punched from metallic cardstock paper, then tied all 13 of them to the tree ("radiant star" craft punch from Martha Stewart Crafts).

Photography and styling by Darryl Moland