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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

a long winter's night

"I don't know what I may seem to the world, but as to myself. I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

SQUIRRELING AWAY | We all know what squirrels do when getting ready for winter in gathering nuts, but this squirrel is saving a for abundance—the fertile pinecone. This sets the tone for the whole idea behind the tree.
FINDING THE EXQUISITE in my quest to adorn a tree that inspires me, and in the process, others, is a sometimes a formidable process of searching and seeking. As an art director, this is my modus operandi—my particular way or method of doing things.

COLLECTOR'S PALETTE | Once I decide on a theme for a tree, I hunt and sort through years of my collection to find the perfect combination of color and texture—sometimes buying a few new ornaments. While decorating the tree, I edit further as I carefully place each ornament in relation to the others around it.
THIS TREE brings together many pieces of many years of collecting, as I dug deep into my storage space this year to find the perfect palette of baubles to achieve the effect of a long winter's night, after I found a wintry flocked tree that spoke to me.

STAR SIGNS | The constellations in the night sky inspired Martin Luther to place the first lights on a tree in the way of small candles as legend would have it. A candlelit tree is like no other, but safety and convenience rule the day.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE has always been a ritual to conjure the following spring, just in case there has been an upheaval in the natural order of things, as it has this year. By Christmas day, we're several days past Winter Solstice and the nights are already becoming shorter and the days longer.

WINTRY MIX | Glass beaded Czechoslovakian stars, glass icicles and milky glass orbs combine to form a cool textural mix.
WINTER MAY BE the most unnerving season of them all because everything seems to seemingly die all around us. But the light of the universe keeps luring and coaxing life to burst forth again every year as spring arrives. This is why we celebrate Christmas the way we do. Whether it's the Christ Child, or just the human spirit, it matters not.

WINTER INTO SPRING | Starry winter nights become shorter as the spring encroaches with longer days.
IT'S QUITE MIRACULOUS how this happens, but we, still as mortal beings, feel the need to find a ritual that somehow seems a necessary process to usher things forward, even though we know we are not always the better for it in the short term. It's necessary to push through the bad, and to rediscover the good in the long term.

FUN FOREST | The proliferation of newer iterations of vintage-style bottlebrush trees in the past few years has been a welcome sight. Playfully-gathered on a cake stand, they create quite a presence.
THAT'S WHAT the Christmas holiday means to me and why The Decorated Tree has become an exquisite ritual for me—one that can "excite intense delight or admiration," as explained in The Oxford English Dictionary. My winter tree is always a meditation and an actual physical altar that represents the will to keep hope alive.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland
 SPECIAL NOTE | This real silver tip tree has been flocked with an environmentally safe flocking material made from corn starch, boron, and wood pulp and is safe enough to compost after the holidays are over. (From Pike Nurseries in Atlanta).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

tree in the city

I GREW UP in a small town near Gadsden, Alabama (where I was born) called Hokes Bluff. I spent my formative years there — childhood, kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and high school. It was a small close-knit community and I still have many lifetime friends that have known me since I knew me. To get an idea how small, there were only 104 people in my high school graduating class. 

I WOULDN'T  TRADE my small town upbringing for anything. I learned a sense of belonging and comfort that fewer and fewer people experience. Since my zodiac sign is Taurus, this sense of stability was even more important to me because we Taureans like such predictability. The "tin soldier" in this photo, standing guard under the tree reminds me of a song we played in high school band called One Tin Soldier. The chorus goes like this:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor, 
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowing,
Come the judgment day,
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.

One Tin Soldier is a 1960s counterculture era anti-war song that tells the story of a hidden treasure and two neighboring tribes; the peaceful Mountain Kingdom and the warlike Valley Kingdom. Coveting the treasure of the mountains, the Valley People ultimately invade and slaughter the Mountain People. The treasure turns out to be simply three words —"Peace On Earth" — inscribed on the underside of a rock.

I've probably never really digested those lyrics until now. And after all this time, life has such a weird way of leading you to things that help you figure out why you've taken certain paths, when others are satisfied with the status quo. It helps when you're looking from the outside in.

CITY LIFE: The Atlanta skyline beckoned me from safe environs in Birmingham, Alabama way back in 1994 (just before the Centennial Olympic Games were held here).
I HAVEN'T MOVED FAR in my life from where I began, physically, at least. First, after high school, I got a visual design degree at Auburn University in Alabama. My love of magazines led me to my first job out of college in Birmingham, Alabama at Southern Living magazine and then Cooking Light magazine (which was born from a column in Southern Living). I worked at that company for 10 years before I made the "jump" to Atlanta in late 1994  — just before the Centennial Olympic Games here in 1996 — I've never really looked back. A large part of it was being queer and trying to find an accepting family far away from the family of relatives and friends who didn't quite get who I became, not by choice, but by innate preference.

MY PARENTS WERE both blue collar workers. My mother worked at the high school lunchroom and my father had a job operating a crane at the local steel plant, which is now shuttered. It's no wonder the people who stayed behind in small towns feel marginalized now. There are fewer jobs and what was once a bustling town has fallen into decay. They rely on what is left of what was and the future looks bleaker by the day.

IT REMAINS A mystery to me how we got here. How could our new Twitter Troll In Chief be forming, against his claims of helping the forgotten middle class in small towns, a billionaire's club of contemptuous and out of touch cronies?

PRECIOUS METAL: WWII ornaments were made with bits of silver tinsel pushed inside unsilvered glass globes to save metal for the war efforts.
THE COUNTRY my father fought for in WWII is in trouble in facing the same dangers he fought against in Nazi Germany. It is truly frightening.

My father was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne that occupied Hitler's Headquarters (The Eagle's Nest) and was renowned for its role in the Battle of the Bulge around the city of Bastogne, Belgium that was finally rescued by General Patton. This battle effectively ended the war.

When I see members of the new Alt Right (Neo Nazis) emboldened to raise their hands in a Hitler salute for Trump, it
lets me know that tyranny like this can happen here. It scares me also because as a gay man that just recently was afforded the right to marry, we have an extremely anti-gay Vice President calling the shots with an inept clown at the helm. 

I find it very hard to accept that the scourge my father fought to eliminate in WWII is in a very real way, upon us again. It is my only hope that we all realize the treasure that we all are looking for is simply "Peace on Earth" and we finally, once-and-for-all get the message that love trumps hate.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland,
German-style goose feather tree designed by me and made by 
Dennis Bauer is available for sale at Home Traditions

Thursday, October 6, 2016

the pumpkin tree

THE PUMPKIN PATCH is  firmly rooted in Autumn lore — even iconic. It has woven its way into the social fabric of Thanksgiving and Halloween. The pumpkin has long been a symbol of our connection to the earth and a paean to our agrarian history. I'm only one generation away from my uncle who was a cotton farmer in Alabama. And my own father had a large garden with a neighbor every year in our community.
We're missing something in losing that connection in our busy lives where everything can be ordered online, except maybe . . . pumpkins . . . hmm. 

AN INTRIGUING BOOK I've just found online (but haven't ordered and read yet), is simply titled Pumpkin with the subtitle A Curious History of an American Icon. The book sounds entirely worth a read, and dovetails nicely with what I've always tried to achieve with this blog — bringing resonance back to the symbols of, and surrounding the decorated tree and the connections to nature. Pumpkin is written by Cindy Ott, an assistant professor of American Studies at Saint Louis University. The description reads, in part: Beginning with the myth of the first Thanksgiving, she [Ott] shows how Americans have used the pumpkin to fulfull their desire to maintain connections to nature and to the family farm of lore, and, ironically, how small farms and rural communities have been revitalized in the process. And while the pumpkin has inspired American myths and traditions, the pumpkin itself has changed because of the ways people have perceived, valued, and used it. "This major contribution to American agricultural and sociocultural history" can be ordered online here.

THE MOOD OF AUTUMN: Photographer Art Meripol, my old coworker and friend from my days at Southern Living magazine and Cooking Light magazine took this photograph. Art says he photographed this little girl in a pumpkin patch near a small town in central Missouri. The atmospheric mystery of the photograph is palpable. With the wind blowing her hair across her face and the cloudy blue autumn sky meeting the earthy tumble of the pumpkin patch is, to me, the quintessential image of autumn. Please visit Art's site here to find even more breathtaking imagery.
'TIS THE SEASON: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels are a different take on each autumn's tedious pumpkin spice season—topped with a sprinkling of Hawaiian red sea salt.
SEARCHING THE PATCH for the perfect pumpkins is quite a fun endeavor each autumn season, even if it's only at your local supermarket. It's even more challenging when you have in mind to make a "tree" from a graduated sizes of these gourds. Then one has to decide on color and form and how well they all stack up.

TRICK OR TREAT: Skull-stamped treat bags are filled with either tricks or treats, so upon opening, you determine what you have. Treat bags are available at Michaels.
TIERED TREATS: Trader Joes has no shortage of Halloween Treats. These Belgian Chocolate Pumpkins and Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins are both quite delicious.
IT'S A GREAT DIVERSION from the politics at hand this season. It's either "trick or treat" in this election. Our choice is more polarized than ever before. So it goes with the Halloween dessert tableau seen in the photo at the top of this post. The treat (or trick?) bags enclosed under lock and key are purposely mysterious. Yours is a grab bag of one or the other. These sinister skull-imprinted bags could hold an October surprise. Either way, there are enough treats to keep us at the scene of the crime.

GOURDS GALORE: Quite a mix. You can find elegant gourds everywhere this time of year, but look at specialty shops and florists and farmer markets. I found the long-stemmed beauties at French Market Flowers at Krog Street Market in Atlanta.
PUMPKINS are a form of squash, and both are part of the gourd family. There are endless varieties, colors and forms. What I set out to achieve in this post is using the natural gourds without coaxing them by carving or painting — becoming something else entirely. That can be a fun thing to do, but my mission this time was to keep things pure and simple.
BEAUTIFUL VARIETY: It's all about diversity.

PURE AND SIMPLE isn't meant to be without variety though. It takes all shapes, sizes and colors to make an interesting and beautiful mix. You might even say that also applies to people. We are all part of the same familythe human familyand we need to start acting like it to survive along with the natural world. It's all we've got when you get down to basics.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland,
Pumpkin patch photo courtesy Art Meripol photography.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

perfect miracles

ONE OF MY FUNNIEST friends, Kathy Reed, loves her chickens. She loves them so much that she carts them around and says one rooster is famous. It's in his contract that I have to mention his name, although Jack Sparrow missed the photo session for no good reason. I for one, believe her when Kathy says Jack had a cut on his foot and had to send an understudy. Although Kathy and I have seen each other several times in the past few years, we first talked about photographing her chickens for my Easter blog 3 years ago. This year it finally happened.

READY ROOSTER  | Crusty was definitely ready for his closeup since Jack Sparrow didn't show. #shotoniphone6
IT'S AS IF the planets (and eggs) finally aligned. There is definitely a cosmic connection between Kathy and I. We were instant friends when we first met. And although we may not see each other as often as we would like, we have a rapport that's probably a lot like the communal nature of chickens. We exchange witty bon mots with each other in a pecky no-holds-barred staccato, as if we understand how chickens speak. And we have rituals, like eating fresh strawberries and whipped cream at The Original Pancake House along with our breakfast — something chickens would probably eat if they were human.

BEDAZZLED EGGS | Plain dyed and painted eggs take on a whole new look at Easter with spatters of gold paint and gold leaf.
COME TO THINK of it, none of this is so far-fetched. Chickens lay these "perfect miracles" as Kathy likes to call them. Kathy can talk for days about watching the miracle of life happen when she sees a chick peck through an egg, popping out and prancing around like it's the most natural thing in the world. Well, it is probably the most natural thing in the world, and is synonymous with spring's heady symbolism. That's why we see so many eggs in so many forms at Easter. It's a celebration of life.

SERAMA SISTERS | This breed of chicken is the smallest in the world. Short Stack and Jackalin are quite uninterested in the camera. #shotoniphone6
BIRTH, REBIRTH AND LIFE are what springtime is about. And it's amazing how mother nature teaches us the lessons of Easter (Oester) every Vernal Equinox. When you revel in nature as much as Kathy does, and I would like to, it's a constant reminder that the cycle of life in any scenario is transformatively poetic.

EGGSPERT | Peter Cottontail wrote the book on embellishing eggs.
PETER COTTONTAIL may not be the egg's maker, but he delivers them at Easter quite proudly (if not dapperly), after embellishing them with dye and paint and gold-leaf, transforming into bright pastel jewels, perfect for embellishing this magical tree, composed of nests and branches.

EGG ON TOP | The proverbial Golden Egg sits atop the tree.
WE ALL KNOW the reason we celebrate spring. It's a spiritual experience for some, a sexy and heady transformation of nature for others, or simply a reason to show off your Sunday best for anyone. Whatever it is to you, these perfect miracles called eggs make us smile like a good friend who helped you through a particularly harsh season that always comes around again, warmly smiling, when you get yourself back together in spring. If you had only listened the first time.

SERAMA SIBLING | Blackalin is Jackalin's sister, although they (obviously) came from different eggs. #shotoniphone6
GLAMOUR EGGS | Embellished eggs are sitting pretty in a brass container.
SERAMA SECRETS | Short Stack and Jackalin are always establishing a new pecking order.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland
chicken talent and laughs courtesy of Kathy Reed 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

collective souls

OUR LIVES are touched most profoundly when we connect with other souls. Valentine's Day is a good day to remember that. It's not about couples, it's not about people who are alone. It's not about an ephemeral display of flowers and chocolate. It's about the collective of souls we connect with at the level of love.

FRAGILE HEART | This beautiful hand-blown glass ornament was a Christmas gift from my friends Eric and Tim, who now live in Germany. They bought it at one of the many Christmas markets 
there I've always wanted to visit. 
AS FRAGILE as life can be, we live most of our lives as if we are impervious to any harm or disease that might come our way. That's the only way to live life fully. When, in fact, the older we get, our physical selves decline, but our souls get stronger.

BLEEDING HEART | These shiny glittered glass heart ornaments were produced in antique molds in the Coburg area of Germany.
WITNESS the recent passing of my Bengal cat Abella. She lived a long and full life, but her body finally gave way. Up until that point, she commanded a matriarchal respect from both Frida, our Ragdoll cat and Tallulah Barkhead, our newest addition to the family.

A BEAUTY | Abella is Italian for "a beauty", and that she was. Rest in peace sweet Abella! This beautiful photo was taken by my great friend Claudia Lopez when Abella was probably 3 or 4 years old.
HER STRENGTH and presence was truly commanding. In dying, she left all of us an amazing gift. Because we were lucky enough not to have to make that terrible decision of an injected death, this family was brought closer together in her last moments. Juan and I laid on the bed with Abella on my chest and Juan with his hand on Abella's head. We knew the time was near. She passed so peacefully and beautifully with my hands cupped around her body. We both felt that magical last soul vibration just before her heart stopped. That locked us all together forever. No words can really describe this kind of peaceful beauty. It is an experience that, at once expands and calms at the same time. That was January 24th, just 3 weeks ago today.

TOOLS OF LOVE | These tools are made to be eaten because they are made of chocolate by Scholokomell in Germany. The heart-shaped chocolates are from Cacao in Atlanta. The flavors are sweet and spicy: gold is Aztec Aphrodisiac, white is Cayenne Passionfruit and pink is Antica Strawberry.
VALENTINE'S DAY isn't only for lovers, it's for friends also. Not only the glass ornament above was in a Christmas package from my friends Eric and Tim in Germany, they also included these wonderful chocolates in the shapes of a wrench, a bolt, a paintbrush and a tube of paint. Broad brushstrokes for collective souls indeed.

BUTCH ROMANCE | Chocolate tools by Scholokomell of Germany. The heart-shaped chocolates are from Cacao in Atlanta.
WE'RE ALL STRONGER for the collective souls that touch our lives. And as Juan always corrects me, when I tell him I am lucky to have him, saying "we are lucky", so I correct him now by saying I love "us". Together, all we have is us, and that is more than enough.


collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland