The first bottle tree I ever saw grew on the highway between my grandmother’s house near Colquitt, Ga., and the neighboring town of Blakely. I loved it. Sun shining through blue glass gets the attention of a fanciful 10-year-old every time.
The bottles were all empty Milk of Magnesia ones, cobalt in color, their former contents no doubt used up by the family that lived in the shack behind the tree. They tilted bottoms-up on a dead cedar tree with lots of knobs from vanished branches. I thought it mesmerizingly beautiful.
This was at least 50 years before bottle trees became stylish with middle-class matrons, so stylish that I recently swore off the whole idea. Nothing ruins a good thing like the Southern Living stamp of approval.
Today there are bought-ready-made bottle trees, solar-lighted bottle trees, even trees shaped like peacocks with tail feathers made of bottles. People even buy trees already loaded with bottles, which seems somehow immoral.
I have what I believe was the first bottle tree in Tishomingo County, though there are plenty of others now. My friend Barbara Moore has the best-looking one, with bottles of all kinds and colors, which she buys on the cheap in junk emporiums or digs out of the earth in ravines.
I patterned my last Tishomingo tree after a version I saw in the movie “Because of Winn-Dixie,” the one the Cicely Tyson character called her “mistake tree.” Why? Because, she said, she drank what came in every one of those bottles, and each one was a mistake.
The small, A-frame cottage I bought here on the Coast has a nice, wooded front yard, but the cruel winter has painted it drab and sad. It needed something, and quickly. So I backed off my pledge not to have another bottle tree and started trying to think outside the bottle tree box.
I settled on slumped bottles, those being wine bottles melted to a flat distorted shape in a kiln and often used as cheese trays. I also like the name. Slumped. They look the way that sounds: tired and defeated.
You can make them yourself, if you have a kiln, or buy them on eBay. I searched online for bottles I could afford. You’d be surprised how much a defeated blue bottle can cost.
When the bottles arrived, I dangled them with art wire from a double-trunked tree in the yard. The effect was nice, and I congratulated myself on creating something a little different in an ultra-competitive field. Then one night we had a wind storm, and I awoke to find all my slumped bottles dead on the ground.
I almost gave up on the idea – too popular, anyhow, I reminded myself – but the brown yard and bleak landscape gave me a second wind. I rehung them, this time on fishing line, and now they swirl in the wind as if motorized.
I’m not sure if evil spirits can be captured in slumped bottles the way the legend goes, but blue bottles twirling in the wind can sure lift your spirits. I spend hours each day admiring my novel tree.
And I congratulate myself on using recycled bottles where somebody else made the mistakes.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.