“While “pink flamingo people” in general see themselves as part of a bigger concept, sorta like sharing an informal alliance, they are not “bottle tree people” – who, to a person, are singular creatures seeing their creations as truly unique. which is why, to me, mass-fabricated bottle trees are so sh*tty looking.” Felder Rushing
The other day, I parked outside the liquor store waiting for the digital clock to move out of the elevens and into the twelves signalling the start of a new retail day. They were about 30-seconds late. My garden-tending disheveledness spoke volumes of untruths so I drowned out those thoughts by speaking loudly about my need for colorful bottles for “A BLOG I AM WRITING ABOUT BOTTLE TREES. THIS IS ALL RESEARCH FOR MY BLOG!”
People have been doing things with emptied bottles for ages: sending messages, building ships inside them, growing pears, using them for target practice, candle sticks and weapons. Only recently, when I visited the American South (aka Mississippi), did I realize the depth of the fanaticism surrounding that new/old cult icon, Bottle Trees.
Bottle Trees at first glance seem like an environmentalist’s dream (all those bottles kept out of the landfill), and a neighbor’s nightmare I called “junk on a stump” masquerading as art.
But why are people hanging recyclables on trees?
Doesn’t it take the DPW guy way too much time to remove them one at a time from the branches compared to just tipping them out of the recycling bin?
With the gracious assistance of Felder Rushing (THE authority on Southern Gardens and the stuff that festoons them), and a variety of other sources, I’ve learned that the bottle tree originally was created to trap evil spirits. Spirits chase the twinkling light reflecting on glass and so are drawn inside (like a moth to the flame), and then cannot get out. Some say the morning light kills them. So in days of old, bottles were strung like Christmas ornaments on trees near the entrance to a home. All in all, not a bad way to kill evil spirits, if you find it necessary to do so. Many sources say this tradition started in Africa and was brought to the Southern US during slave trading days, but not Felder; he says it started much earlier. He hints at a European origin.
The origin is beside the point (though elitist New Englanders are more likely to attribute tastefulness to something of European descent than they are to things Southern).
The question remains– why are modern people who know nothing of evil spirits displaying their trash?
As of today, bottle trees haven’t really caught on in a big way in New England, and I can guess why. New Englanders see the leaves, not the trees, much less the forest, and would be evaluating each other based on refuse. If the Smith’s have a really big tree, we’d start planning an intervention to get them off the hooch. Don’t ever eat at the Jones’ house, they go through hundreds of bottles of Milk of Magnesia as evidenced by their cobalt tree. Gee, Suzie, perhaps you’re putting on weight because you’re drinking 18 glass bottles worth of milk and cream every week.
You may say “what’s the harm in this display?” to which I reply “plenty”.
1. I would have to buy a better (read more expensive) caliber of wine knowing it would be on display, see ya Two Buck Chuck.
2. Next up, a need for a wider assortment of liquor for the colors: Skye Vodka, a lot of Rieslings, and Luna de Luna Chardonnay for cobalt. And if I wanted to add shade variations, I’d need Bombay Sapphire or that terrifically awful whipped cream vodka. There is a price to pay, bottle trees arborists. You will ultimately drink too much, or waste too much, and I don’t like waste.
3. As bad as it would be for me personally, I would posit bottle trees are not good for the environment either, as some people kill perfectly healthy, beautifully limbed trees to adorn with artificial glass foliage – or are the bottles the flowers? In any event, glass trees don’t intake carbon dioxide or release oxygen. It is deforestation for the purpose of evil spirit entrapment.
NOTE: I STAND CORRECTED, MOST PEOPLE DO NOT HARM TREES IN THEIR CONVERSION FROM DEADWOOD TO BOTTLE TREES, OR DON’T USE “TREES” AT ALL!
4. As people strive to create increasingly elaborate visions in glass and sticks, they no longer look to their recycling bins, that’s too limiting. Bottles are created now for the sole purpose of Bottle Tree Adornment, and can cost up to $10 per empty, unused bottle in the right color. Apparently cobalt is the favored color, though Felder likes the subtlety (?) of all green. I would want red (and maybe some orange) in my bottle tree, were I to indulge. But companies don’t make red bottles because the ingredients are too expensive. Guess that’s good for the hummingbirds who would otherwise be knocking themselves unconscious by crashing into empty red bottles trying to get a drink, then waking up, head throbbing in the mouth of a lazy cat thinking, “man that must have been some crazy sugar-water party yesterday.”
5. While I, with my artistic eye, might make a stunning collection of glass and branches, what if my neighbor doesn’t share my talent and merely sticks a bunch of Buds on shish kabob sticks? I don’t want to see that all year. We cannot allow every person to create a bottle tree. There must be bottle tree certification, regulation, and licensing classes.
…However… if you surround yourself with the unusual long enough, it starts to feel normal, and I confess to picking up a few nips at the liquor store to test out my mini indoor bottle tree skills. I’m crossing over into the dark, make that the bright, side. Slippery slope alert!
First draft thoughts: maybe it will be easier once I’ve emptied the bottles of their contents, but based on what I’ve created, I’d say, my neighbors should probably start the ball rolling on a supplemental open container law. This one would prohibit the display of open alcohol containers in public for both drinking AND display purposes.
BRILLIANT MARKETING IDEA – FREE!! Anyone producing a liquid that will be placed in a glass bottle – pay the extra bucks to come up with a novel color, esp. red. Bottle trees are a booming, if not a blooming, business. Collectors gladly pay extra for uniquely colored bottles enabling you to charge more for your product, and they’ll buy it, whether they like your product or not.
For more images of bottle trees check out: http://www.flickr.com/groups/bottletree/pool/
*Special thanks to Felder Rushing for patiently and humorously answering all my questions and sharing his bottle tree photographs, some of which were taken (gasp!) in New England and the New England Flower Show.
For more info on Felder Rushing or Bottle Trees, visit his delightfully mind- bending website at: http://www.felderrushing.net
©2012 by Alison B. Colby-Campbell