Tuesday, October 21, 2014

(un)conventional wisdom

ATHENA, the Greek goddess of wisdom was represented or accompanied by an owl in mythology. 'Little Owl' (Athene noctua) was her ever-watching "mascot." Large numbers of owls were said to nest in the Acropolis in Athens, which is the temple dedicated to Athena. As her symbol, the owl accompanied Greek armies to war, gaining the mystique of being seen as a protector.

FLIP SIDES | Rather than being emblematic of a deep connection with wisdom and intuitive knowledge, much traditional folklore places the owl as a messenger between the living and the dead—or even as death's messenger-in-chief. A less morbidly superstitious belief has them simply representing a metaphorical shift in perception, providing insight and wisdom to something we haven't seen or considered before—an (un)conventional wisdom, as it were. In ancient Greece, this coin (right) was the most influential of its time. The Athenian Owl featured Athena on one side and an owl on the other (shown). Nicknamed "Owls", these coins were in circulation for well over 300 years (c. 430 B.C. to c. 99 B.C). It is also the first widely minted coin that placed a 'head' on the front and a 'tail' (an animal image) on the back.

SOME CULTURES associate owls with sorcery and evil (Aztecs and Maya), while others consider owls as bad omens (Arab mythology), but the association with wisdom, art and scholarship (which all have their roots in Greek mythology) is the most resonant in Western culture.

PART OF THE MYSTERY surrounding the interpretation of the owl as an animal symbol lies with the longevity of the species. Dating back as much as 60 million years, the owl has been found in prehistoric cave paintings as well as ancient fossils. This span of time over millennia, no doubt, contributes to the owl's mysterious nature and is further amplified by its nocturnal habits and eerie call, giving its nighttime appearances an otherworldly demeanor.

SYMBOLIC MESSENGERS | This fantastic Owl Totem tree topper inspired this tree and was found last season at Star Provisions in Atlanta, but you might find one online at Terrain (or not). They seem to be very popular and hard to find. 

OWLS HAVE BEEN represented in the market—more and more the past few years as decorative items and ornaments. You can find them everywhere if you haven't noticed. This paper tree displays the collection of owl ornaments I've gathered, lending a mysterious quality perfect for Halloween. The owl totem topping this Halloween tree is a paean celebrating the owl's mystery and the good and bad of its generational (as well as cultural) history. In Indian American traditions, the owl is referred to as the Night Eagle. The owl totem has a special connection with the night and the moon which is a perfect symbol for the change in the airspace that mysteriously blows in with the autumn season.

THIS HALLOWEEN (and first days of autumn) signal the return of my blog after a much-needed hiatus. Taking time for the important things in life, I have found an amazing new partner, a new job and a new lease on life (as well as a new camera). Just as the owl represents transformation and change, my intuition tells me that this renewed creative flight is a protective symbol of what's to come. The owl has played a diverse and fascinating cross-cultural role in myth and folklore and its intuitive wisdom surely holds lessons for all of us. It allows us to explore the unknown in such a way that can uncover the magic that we might otherwise miss in keeping a watchful eye and listening for the eerie call of "whooo."

CANDLELIT MYSTERY | This owl and tree branch candlestick sits atop a frog which sits atop its base—very witchy indeed. The crown-shaped candle bases denote the nobility of the mysterious owl. Velvet fabric stuffed pumpkins sit amongst real ones and a diminuitive brass candleholder with curvy legs looks as if it could animate and walk amongst the pumpkin patch.
PUMPKIN GLITZ | This monogrammed and glittered faux pumpkin sets the tone for a real grey/green pumpkin with a glittered stem, alongside another velvet stuffed pumpkin and a small white pumpkin.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

mother's work

A MOTHER'S WORK is never done. I've heard this all my life, and it still applies after she's gone. It's hard to believe it has been almost nine years since my mother died. Still, I feel her constant presence in my life. This year has been especially active with serendipitous happenings. This lets me know that there is only a thin veil of consciousness separating my day-to-day life from her undying spirit. My mother's handiwork continues to weave itself into my life's fabric in surprising ways, so I persevere in honor of her yearly preserving.

BELLES OF BALL | Last year, replicas of Ball's blue 1913 Perfect Mason Jar were released, selling eight times what the company projected; this year it reissued the brand's green 1914 Perfection line.
MY MOTHER WAS industrious to say the least—from putting up her famous dill pickles, icicle pickles, bread and butter pickles and sometimes, green tomato pickles every year—to canning and freezing almost every uneaten vegetable that was produced from our family garden. Those perfect pickles are all gone now (my nephew Kris still tries his hand at making them), but this year I found a commercially available version that came as close as my memory can get to how those divine garlicky-dill cucumber spears tasted.

FITTED FOR FLOWERS | The sealing lids that come with the jars have been replaced with flower frog lid inserts to create this floral tree (made by Ashland and distributed by Michaels).
THIS "TREE" celebrates all this by using blue and green retro canning jars as vases for a lush flower display. Although my mother's jars were always clear glass (produced much later), she always saved and reused the rings and jars, only buying new inner lids every year to ensure a proper seal for the joys of next season's pickle and relish tray. The tiered wire stand is reminiscent of the canning and sterilizing process used to prepare the jars for the careful alchemy of preserving.

I MISS THOSE DAYS of being able to run to the hall closet to fetch another jar of pickles, German vegetable soup, pickled okra, or canned stewed tomatoes. I miss our bountiful family garden we grew every year, sharing a large garden plot and responsiblity with the neighbors who lived across the street and next door. The garden was luxuriously large by many standards today. We grew at least 10 football-field-length rows of Silver Queen corn, several rows of snap beans with bamboo teepees for them to entwine, a half row of carrots, a couple of rows of potatoes, squash, radishes, purple-hulled peas, butter beans . . . the list goes on-and-on, and only changed slightly from year-to-year.

LOCAL TREASURES | These truly incredible artisan chocolates are handmade by Adam Turoni of Chocolat by Adam Turoni, based in Savannah, Georgia—a richly tasty way to celebrate the sweet times.
THIS IS A SYMBOLIC celebration of that yearly harvest that continued into the fall with a second late summer planting of turnip greens, mustard greens and collards. Life will never be the same for this boy that has chosen to live in the city, but I will always have the memories of the fruits of mother's work of preserving the bounty from my father's carefully-planted and tended crops. I am lucky to know what it took to make all of this happen, as well as having had a hand in it. To have gotten my hands dirty in the soil, helped me learn that we truly reap what we sow in life, even symbolically. This exuberant and bountiful crop of flowers (the peach-colored roses I grew in a container garden) are a living metaphor for a life well-lived, under the tutelage of a mother (and a father) that taught me how to love. This is a happy Mother's Day because her work is still not done. And this is my way of remembering.

collecting, growing, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Friday, April 18, 2014

east meets Easter

ALTHOUGH THE EASTER holiday is celebrated mainly in the West as a Christian holiday, its message of love is universal. The overarching message of the religious version of the holiday might be summed up with two words: forgiveness and rebirth. 

THE RABBIT is the secular symbol of Easter as a symbol of fertility, as well as eggs. Both symbols date back to pre-13th century Pagan traditions.

CHRISTIAN HOLIDAYS aren't celebrated in the East (unless you're a Christian or simply like the secular aspects of the holiday), but this Japanese magnolia Bonsai tree hung with blue and white china eggs has a decidedly "East meets Easter" feel. Underneath lies a large golden egg for luck and prosperity.

CULTURES ARE FUSING all over the world with the connectedness of modern technology. Indicative of the recognition of the universal truths of love, no matter what their belief system may be, many religions and beliefs have developed a more global world-view. And as we enter into some really significant astrological times with Pluto, Mars, Jupiter and Uranus forming a Cardinal Grand Cross, the apex of which happens on April 23 of this year, there is sure to be a breaking (or turning) point in the way the collective consciousness of the world behaves.

FORGIVENESS is the step we all must take to make room for new love. Although sometimes extremely hard to do sometimes, we must forgive (and sometimes forget) the people who have squandered our love and find a place (or a person) with which it will thrive and prosper. I've been very lucky to have found just such a person and am excited about the quickly unfolding prospects ahead of us!

LOVE is the grandest of all our emotions. It is entirely based on our faith (in any aspect) and being in tune with ourselves and others around us. It can come in the most unexpected of places. And for it to be received fully and without trepidation, our intent has to be pure when asking the universe what to do with it. Being ready to receive this kind of love no less than a spiritual rebirth. And I, for one, am ready!

REBIRTH is a serious matter, even in spiritually metaphorical terms,  as it is a visceral recognition of renewed life. So put on a pair of fuzzy pink bunny ears to bring levity to such a weighty transition. This Easter and the spring days ahead are full  of the promise of an untold life of joy and purpose. The message is there, any way you look at it—religious or secular, north or south, east or west. It's up to you what to do with it. The message, pure and simple, is all about love.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

hearts and arrows

CUPID CAN BE quite a trickster. One need look no further than his choice of weapon to know that something is amiss. Arrows? Aimed at the heart? Sounds like a dangerous proposition. 

LOVE IS most certainly the finely-drawn target that we are all after, but unless the correct balance of grace, light, and levity are found in just the right proportions, it's easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we've found the love worthy of our noblest aims.

IF WE DARE open our hearts again after having them shattered, we had better be sure this time around that our little buddy cupid hasn't been off flying in the clouds for far too long. Being a romantic fool, I'm often right there with him, flitting around looking for suspects without planting my feet firmly on the ground.

LOVE IS quite a heady affair, but only becomes substantive once our arrows are sharpened and our aim is sure. It's not an easy sport at all. And it's certainly not for the faint of heart.

BUT WE KEEP getting up, brushing ourselves off and finding a way, lessons learned, to move in that direction again. A sure-fire direction of love. Because nothing else compares, and nothing else will do. After all—true love, if you've ever had it . . . well, you know the drill. And our hearts know the way.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Friday, January 31, 2014

chinese lunar new year

LUNAR NEW YEAR or Spring Festival in China is not just one day of celebration as it is in the United States. The Lunar new year is, of course determined by the lunar calendar. The festivities starting on January 31st extend for 15 days. Other Asian countries (including Korea, Vietnam and Japan) get in on the celebration.

THE NEW MOON starting the night of January 30th this year is also known as the Black Moon. In addition, it's the second Supermoon of the month. This is similar to the Blue Moon where there are two Full Moons in a calendar month. Some Pagan cultures imbue such a lunation a lot of power. This raises the stakes with regard to any ritual celebration of the lunar cycle (such as the Chinese Lunar New Year). It is a particularly auspicious time in the months ahead to devise a new way of being. It's a time to revise old habits with a goal toward a better future.
THE CHINESE ZODIAC, known as Sheng Xiao is based on a 12-year cycle with each year being related to an animal sign. This year's trip around the sun will be the Year of the Horse. Each year is designated by an animal that interacts with one of five "earthly branches," (earth, water, fire, wood and metal), with this year being a "yang wood" year—defining the mood and direction of the world.

THE YEAR OF THE HORSE contains a great deal of fire energy. Along with wood, the flames are stoked. In a "yang wood" year people are said to stand firmly by their principles, making it harder to negotiate or compromise. The combination of a Horse year and a "yang wood" year only happens every 60 years and is historically marked by regional warfare.

THIS TREE branch is guarded by a Chinese-style horse and held upright in a faux bois container in front of a faux bois background, both representing "yang wood." Incense is a common tradition at altar rituals throughout the holiday and represents the fiery energy of 2014. The tree is hung with pleated paper disks and glass lanterns. The paper disks represent fireworks; the noise from which is to scare away the half-dragon, half-lion monster "Nian" who comes out of hiding during the Lunar New Year. By scaring away Nian, the Chinese wish that the coming year will be full of opportunities and prosperity. The glass lanterns symbolize the lantern festival which marks the conclusion of the celebrations (this year on Valentine's Day). The "forced branch" with flowers represents spring. And displaying and eating tangerines and oranges is said to bring wealth and luck. The tradition stems from the way the Chinese words for gold and orange sound alike, while the word for tangerine echoes luck.

RED ENVELOPES are handed out to younger generations by their parents, grandparents, relatives, and even close neighbors and friends during Chinese New Year and usually contain "lucky" money. Giving and receiving red envelopes, gifts, and business cards is a solemn act. They are usually presented and received with both hands, although the culture has become less formal about such things.

MANY FOLKTALES are also shared among families and friends during the Lunar New Year. This year the Story of the Taoist Farmer (The Horse that Ran Away) will surely be one of many parables that is repeated:

This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to console him over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "What makes you think it is so terrible?"

A month later, the horse came home—this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "What makes you think this is good fortune?"

The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "What makes you think it is bad?"

A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "What makes you think this is good?" said the farmer.*

THIS STORY is an example of an ancient Chinese philosophy known as Taoism. This Taoist farmer believed in accepting events as they come, without becoming too elated by the highs, or too saddened by the lows. The Taoist principle of living in harmony with nature and what it brings, serves as a metaphor for life. It is an understanding that difficult and stressful events can turn out to have a long-run positive effect on your life. It's a bold reminder that everything happens for a reason (or maybe only for a season).

IN CELEBRATING the lunar new year, it is good to remember that bit of Taoist philosophy and apply it to all the ups and downs we all inevitably face during the course of a year.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.
*The Horse that Ran Away as told by Executive editor, Elise Hancock, in the Johns Hopkins Magazine, November 1993. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

welcoming the new year

IF IT'S TRUE what is said about the number 13 being the unluckiest number, then this year has played out the way it should. It has been one of the unluckiest years on record, in my life anyway, as well as a number of friend's lives. The New Year's holiday can be one of trepidation, but since 2014 can only get better than 2013—in my book—I give the new year a whole-hearted and welcoming embrace. That's what the New Year's celebration has always been about—setting intentions for the future.

THIS TREE signifies a celebration of the best that has yet to come. And it will be colorful, fiery and bright. I know that if I can create a magical tree such as this, then I surely can muster some of that magic in my own life. Let it be so. That is my wish for the New Year. Although I'm not particularly religious, I am spiritual, and my God is found in nature and the cosmos, so I'll share the best-known form of the serenity prayer to push my intent to the universe on this New Moon New Year's Eve:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

THE GRACE of a deer is also significant. Ever alert and at one within its natural surroundings, the beautiful symbol of a deer is a poetic metaphor for leaping ahead to the new year. May the original form of the serenity prayer be a comfort in the New Year, no matter whom or what your God embodies.

The original words, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr: 

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Monday, December 23, 2013

gifted gestures

A GIFT that won't fail to be appreciated is at once personal and unique. You can never go wrong with an ornament as a gift if you match the ornament to the recipient's taste level. Also, if you put consideration into it being something symbolic of your relationship with them or something pertaining to their personality and likes, it becomes an especially thoughtful gesture. Since Matthew Mead has been an ardent supporter of my blog and has included my work in last year's and this year's issue of his holiday magazine, as well as a recent blog post where he named me "King of the Forest,"  I gifted he and his wife a literal tree ornament like the one you see above. Last year, I gave them a different tree ornament, along with a copy my book The Decorated Tree. He's already utilized this year's ornament as a prop in one of his beautiful photographs illustrating how to decorate a mantle.

EVEN IF YOU'RE a last-minute shopper, the variety and abundance of ornaments on the market during the holidays is so vast, you will surely to find something special for everyone on your list—even if they are hard to buy for. Ornaments also make great tie-ons for special gifts. Since I am on the constant lookout for the perfect ornaments to decorate the trees for this blog, I see the best-of-the-best in my collecting pursuit. I've found that selecting ornaments that are neutral in color (or even clear glass like this beautiful heart) are the best way to go when buying one as a gift, because they can be incorporated on almost any tree. And what says "I love you" more than a heart-shaped ornament? I collect heart-shaped ornaments in memory of my mother, as I maintained a yearly tradition of tying one onto a special gift to her every Christmas. The collection still grows in her memory.

THE CHRISTMAS after she passed I had a dream about her in which I gave her a brooch that inspired an entire tree. I'm including the photos of the tree here, but you can read the original post here. This tree is an assemblage of  ornaments that remind me of my mother's spirit and humor. It served as a altar of sorts to her memory. It's still one of my favorite trees because it is so symbolic of a mother's love and was completely inspired by a dream of a gift I never got to give her, except in my dream, which is why I entitled the post "Tree of Dreams."

IF YOU TAKE a closer look at this tree, you'll see a myriad of symbolic and figural ornaments, all brought together by the cohesive color scheme inspired by the brooch. Even though most family trees are a hodge-podge of family memories (and there's nothing else like them), the trees I present in my blog are designed to create a certain theme or mood, which dictates that I usually stick to a predetermined color palette as I have in this post. Still, there is room for a lot of variety within such parameters. Not long after my parents had passed, I gave ornament gifts to my siblings representing my parents (a bluebird and a butterfly). I detail the special packaging in which I presented them in this post.

The Tree of Dreams spread as it appears in my book.
THE BROOCH (or the facsimile I found after having had the dream) inspired the tree above. You'll see it at the top of the photograph above. Another brooch I happened upon this year reminded me of a Christmas tree pin my mother used to wear. The tree brooch caught my eye in a glass cabinet at the checkout of a store that sells soft drinks and snacks, of all things. I saw the brooch as I made my purchase and immediately asked to see it, and I bought it as another memento of my mother's memory. Maybe this tree brooch will inspire another traditionally-colored tree. Maybe it's a message of inspiration from my mother to create one! I think my more sophisticated adult approach is much different than one as seen through a child's eyes. Or maybe it's only a reminder from the universe to rekindle the innocence I've sometimes lost in seeing a tree as a child would see it. Any way you slice it, it's a definite creative challenge to think of a way to create that innocent wonder and magic.

HANDMADE ORNAMENTS are always welcome gifts, such as this polar bear made by my friend David Schump. In his modernized tramp art style, he creates ornaments sold on his website entitled "The Art Tramp". I've bought two ornaments from him this year and have two more on hold that he has made. He makes them in limited quantities, but I'm not sure if he has plans to make multiples of this one-of-a-kind polar bear pictured above. Please check out his site for other beautiful tramp art creations, including beautiful symbolic boxes here. The hand-blown glass deer ornament at the bottom of the photo above, is also quite special. Both ornaments would be a welcome addition to any tree, certainly adding a personality that only animals can. Animals evocative of winter are especially appropriate gifts to celebrate the winter solstice that happens just a few days before Christmas (December 21st this year). They also serve as a reminder for us to be careful stewards of the eroding environment in which such animals live.

MANY ORNAMENTS are commercially available, such as this lettered cardboard butterfly and a sturdy metal peace sign, which looks as if it's made from twigs. I gave the butterfly ornament this year as a gift to a former companion since butterflies represent his sister, who died of cancer much too early. I know how much he loved her and how he cherishes the butterfly symbol his family has adopted to represent her life. Either of these ornaments would be an appropriate gift for your more gentle, peace-loving friends, or as a special memory of one.

STARS ARE THE SHINING symbols of the light of the season. They give us hope for a future filled with the best things life can offer. It's no secret how stars have figured into my world since that special night in Tulum I've written about in posts this year. These two gold stars were gifts for Devin and serve as a reminder that while reaching for the stars in his new life in New York City, he should not forget the stars we saw on that unencumbered beach last November and the love we professed for one another. The light of the stars in such an atmospherically unobscured sky is our gift from the universe, reminding us all how insignificant we are in the big scheme of things and humbling us enough to live our lives with unconditional love.

TODAY WOULD have been my parent's 68th wedding anniversary. They were married December 23rd, 1945 and both lived short of their 60th anniversary in 2005. I feel extremely lucky to have had the bedrock example my parents both set and the real unconditional love they shared with my entire family. Love hasn't worked out so well for me, but I'm in a different situation and unable to legally marry. Maybe one day, that will become a reality wherever I live, as it has already for many in this country and around the world. But until then, I'll keep trying to find the one who will make that sort of unconditional commitment and stick by my side, for better or for worse. I am truly ready for that to happen.

MUCH LIGHT and LOVE to everyone this holiday season. May you and yours find the indefinable magic of the season. And remember those special people in your lives that are less fortunate than you, and include them in your family gatherings to share in the joy of Christmas.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.
Tree photos by Claudia Lopez Photography.