If You See Bottles Hanging in Kentucky Trees, Here’s Why
As you drive through Kentucky, you could probably play a car game based on the number of quilt patterns you see on barns.
FOLK ART AND FALL
I guess you call that folk art, but whatever its term, those patterns are part of a long tradition. For me, it only enhances an already pleasurable experience. I love backroads.
I love how folks who live in the country decorate their land with items or artwork that, admittedly, don't make immediate sense. That's why you make a mental note or, if someone's riding shotgun, you reference a picture they might take and do a little research of your own.
THE TRADITION OF BOTTLES ON TREES
I expect to see more and more trees with bottles on them in the next couple of months. It is, after all, the beginning of autumn and there's no better time to explore the great outdoors. And that kind of outdoor craftwork--for lack of a better term--seems like a perfect fall activity.
But yes, those bottles, usually blue, are beautiful adornments but they really are more than just decoration. That makes them even more special, in my opinion.
WHY ARE THERE 'BOTTLE TREES'?
And I suppose it's time to stop saying "bottles in trees" because they are called "bottle trees." It's a southern thing--naturally--and their purpose is mystical. And most bottle trees you'll see will feature the bottles placed onto the ends of limbs, but some DO hang them from trees. (Honestly, I think that might be easier.)
But back to the mystic angle. LearnReligions.com tells us the tradition of bottle trees is an ancient tradition. They're hung on trees to ward off evil spirits or bad magic. The website's Patti Wigington explains why we might see them as we travel through Kentucky and what types of bottles make the best good luck charms:
Spend any time at all driving through Appalachia or parts of the American South, especially in rural areas, and you may get a glimpse of the phenomenon known as the bottle tree. Typically made from blue bottles, the bottle tree is said to trap evil spirits and keep them out of your home.
A variety of examples of Wigington's explanation, as well as MULTI-colored trees can be found here:
THE LONG HISTORY OF THE BOTTLE TREE TRADITION
But even if you already feel protected or don't go in for the folklore, they still make very cool decorations for your trees. However, the HISTORY of the bottle tree--which indicates that the American tradition was adapted from the origin--is fascinating enough to merit a tribute. From SouthCarolinaLowCountry.com:
The folk-art legend of the bottle tree began in the Congo during the ninth century. Blue bottles were hung upside down on trees and huts as talismans to ward off evil spirits. Bottles were also tied to trees near important locations such as meeting places or crossroads to trap any spirits that were travelling. The tradition found its way to America when slave trade began in the 17th century. Slaves would place bottles on crepe myrtle trees. This could possibly be tied to the Bible’s Old Testament mention of the tree representing freedom and escape from slavery.
THE BOTTLE TREE RANCH
And if you ever decide to make the trip across Route 66--it's a bucket list item for many a traveler--you'll likely encounter Elmer Long's famed Bottle Tree Ranch in southern California. Come to think of it, a "bottle tree ranch" fits perfectly into the Route 66 vibe.
Well, now I want one. But I also don't know how long it will take me to collect all the bottles. Maybe I should do it over time and not rush a deadline. In the meantime, I'll look forward to finding them on my inevitable travels through the Commonwealth this season.