Faie & Kobald

While I was busy snapping photographs of the many different species of butterflies during our zoo trip to Butterfly Hollow, Elle was the one seeking out and successfully finding all the little fairy houses hidden in the gardens. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed them as I was too busy trying to follow fluttering butterflies and keep a couple of little boys from squashing the Buckeyes with their stompy bug-killing boyshoes. Good grief, where is your mother?

Some of the littlest ones got a big kick out of spotting these woodland homes, a few of them resting on top of small tree stumps and others carefully covered by the leaves of small bushes and palms. And it wasn’t just the girls.  Boys of a certain age were just as enamored.  I’m sure a few of them went home totally believing that fairies lived inside those miniature structures.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Elle fully enjoyed herself, since she kind of made it her job for the day to document all the fairy houses in the Hollow. Being the kind of kid who walks up and down the neighborhood picking up other people’s trash and recyclables, Elle was also the one to notice the Glass Bottle Trees.  Remember the painted glass jar habitat she designed for my garden? She was inspired by what she saw at Butterfly Hollow. Yeah, I think I have a budding environmentalist on my hands.

Giving credit where credit is due – all photos in this blog post are courtesy of Elle (good job, kiddo!):

  kid-crafted handmade house

There is actually a history attached to these Bottle Trees. I had no knowledge of such a thing until I decided to do a search for other Bottle Trees (surely, these two at the zoo can’t be the only ones!) and…wow! It’s quite fascinating.

According to some cultures, Bottle Trees are meant to ward of bad spirits. In others, they are meant to help capture them and trap them forever (such as genies “in a bottle”…get it?). Blue is the most common color used to decorate one’s Bottle Tree. The word cobalt was pulled from the Saxony region of Germany where kobald was the name given to pesky gnomes that lived in the silver mines and made miners sick.

From Eudora Welty’s Livvie:

“Out front was a clean dirt yard with every vestige of grass patiently uprooted and the ground scarred in deep whorls from the strike of Livvie’s broom. Rose bushes with tiny blood-red roses blooming every month grew in threes on either side of the steps. On one side was a peach tree, on the other a pomegranate.

Then coming around up the path from the deep cut of the Natchez Trace below was a line of bare crape-myrtle trees with every branch of them ending in a colored bottle, green or blue.

There was no word that fell from Solomon’s lips to say what they were for, but Livvie knew that there could be a spell put in trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house – by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again.

Solomon had made the bottle trees with his own hands over the nine years, in labor amounting to about a tree a year, and without a sign that he had any uneasiness in his heart, for he took as much pride in his precautions against spirits coming in the house as he took in the house, and sometimes in the sun the bottle trees looked prettier than the house did…”

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About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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2 Responses to Faie & Kobald

  1. I’ve only seen bottle trees in the south. It’s definitely a part of the culture there. If someone created one here, they’d be reported to the HOA, who would swoop down like the SS and demand it be removed. Your daughter sounds like a cool kid. 🙂

    • Dena says:

      Thanks, she IS a cool kid! Very artsy and creative and all those good things! I’d never even seen a Bottle Tree until this adventure in the zoo exhibit. Another thing I’ve only recently seen: bare-branched trees draped in colorful birdhouses. I LOVE IT! I’m half-tempted to ask the guy down the road if I can take some photographs of his tree (with tiny birdhouses hanging from it), but I’m sure that would be considered a bit strange.

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