As I decorate the Christmas tree in the family room, I am suddenly struck by the process. Coming off of a semester that was a roller coaster ride of depths and heights, accompanied by occasional screams of fear and exhilaration, I finally have time to return to quiet moments and friendly celebrations. A little weary, but still smiling, I turn to welcome the rituals of the season.
As if I were doing this for the first time, I had to ask myself how to dress the tree – where to start? how to proceed? Oh, of course, start with the lights. Take time to test each strand and then drape it through the tree boughs. As I was tying in the strings of tiny white lights, they reminded me of pattering percussion – suddenly I realized that decorating a Christmas tree was really about the art of layering. And the art of layering has been an aesthetic pursuit in my garden, my music, and my everyday life.
The coffee table held the treasures, shiny and dull, textured and glossy, a cornucopia of collected bits and pieces that state a theme, a color palette, and my own take on how they fit together. I have thought more than once that my deep affection for Christmas and the decorations that go with it are really the deep need of the gardener deprived of her living palette, finding winter surcease in filling the house with faint echoes of summer’s bounty.
This particular tree has a woodland theme, all green and brown and copper. The tree itself is a firm structure with a defined shape, a good starting place from which to build. The lights spread throughout it to form the first layer, carefully distributed throughout the green branches. The next layer is the shiny reflective surfaces of simple round balls, hung deep inside the branches to reflect the light without drawing undue attention to themselves.
Now the stars come on stage – those collected whimsies of fuzzy bears and raccoons, glass owls and foxes, ceramic and feathered birds, copper birdhouses, and benevolent woodland Santas. They get first pick on advantageous branches that showcase their unique appearance. The supporting cast comes next, dark metal dragonflies, hammered stars, dried mushrooms and pinecones, to fill in the open places like the lower brass of the orchestra with their deep hum and supporting presence. The final layers spiral around the tree in the winding lengths of feather and glitter garlands, topped in the end by a metal Moravian star, perched like the cherry on a sundae. I step back, seeing each layer contribute to the whole, a panoply of rich muted color, texture, and shine – a gestalt of glitter and gladness.
I think of how often I create music and gardens in much the same way – starting with the permanent anchors that give structure, painting soft washes of color around them, then playing and experimenting with shifting points of colors, texture, and sparkle, layering combinations that spiral into a larger whole. It evolves into a creation that is bigger than the sum of its parts but which is still composed of all those little parts nonetheless.
As I begin to celebrate the season, I reflect that this is just one more lesson to learn, one more construct to understand. I step back and look on the tree, now fully dressed in its finery, and realize that it is an expression of a love of layers and the magical way in which they hide and reveal themselves when seen from various points of view. Perhaps the crowded and seemingly chaotic past few months in my life will reveal this same spiral of layers, hiding and unveiling new beauty and new insights if I can step back far enough to see the whole structure. For today, I am simply inspired by a tree of lights and color and content to enjoy the coming weeks of joy and celebration. Peace.