Yesterday was the day for that annual holiday ritual, “Bringing Home the Christmas Tree.” For many decades—and long before we moved to our present riverside abode—that meant driving to a certain local tree farm, inspecting available trees, making a selection, then cutting the chosen tree down and hauling it home. One of those beloved Norman Rockwell scenarios that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy while giving you a jones for mugs of hot chocolate.
The devil, as they say, is in the details.
Let’s begin with the fact that Christmas, and therefore the acquiring of a Christmas tree, occurs in December. December, as you might recall, is a winter month—ergo, a cold month. (No, I’m not going to entertain the argument that two-thirds of the month is technically still autumn; when it’s eighteen degrees outside, it’s winter regardless of what the calendar claims.)
As I was saying, a smart person would remember from one year to the next that Christmas tree procurement takes place in winter and that winter is cold. Since we’re not talking about smart people here, but rather about me, let’s just say that my memory has a quirky habit of failing to remind me of the occasional pertinent fact.
I would also like to point out most Christmas tree farms grow and sell trees in the 5 to 10 foot range, mostly because these are what the average customer seeks and can fit into their average-sized living room or family room with its average-height ceiling. Otherwise, the tree farm’s customers would be either elves or require the services of a lumberjack, the latter of which might involve liability issues —though who really knows the trouble an elf might make should they become provoked? Besides, isn’t this the busy season for elves?
Now, you might imagine a vast planting of cute little evergreens would at least furnish cozy shelter from December’s razor-toothed winds. Your imagination would be in error. Especially if your chosen tree farm lies atop a hidden plain, invisible to the eye, but perfectly situated to catch every breath of artic air coming into southwestern Ohio by way of Lake Michigan, North Dakota, Canada, and quite possibly the Beaufort Sea.
I’m not even going to get into chill factors.
Neither does it help that our thoughtful pine tree farmer has ideally sited his rows of insufficient little windblocks so that this heart-numbing wind can whistle at you unimpeded, whereupon it cuts through insulated overalls, multiple layers of wool, flannel, Polar Fleece, and an L.L. Bean goosedown-stuffed parka.
The effects of such cold are, of course, that you can’t concentrate on the task at hand—finding your Christmas tree—because your eyes are watering, your nose is running, and you’re shivering and shaking so bad you expect your spine to snap. You’d share the news of this personal discomfort with your companions, except that your teeth are chattering well beyond any possibility of meaningful conversation, and anyway, you hearing’s no good due to all that interior clattering.
During those odd moments when your brain thaws sufficiently to permit rational thought, you find yourself dreaming of becoming an Ice Road Trucker or else keeping a yard full of dogs and becoming an Iditarod legend. Both seem like easier tasks.
Now let’s consider the tree farm in terms of acreage…which is big, sprawling, and located on both sides of a major highway. Naturally, one must look at all the trees, which means risking life and limb to hobble over and back, and perhaps again if you’re prone to look at every tree once and the good ones at least an additional time or two. Running (well, hobbling) this death-defying gauntlet is certainly made no simpler on those frozen stumps you’re now using for legs.
You do, however, gain meaningful insight into the possible final thoughts of a possum as it stares upon the grill of on onrushing eighteen-wheeler.
I did mention that all serious tree seekers always entertain the belief their one special perfect tree awaits them somewhere…somewhere…among the many of their almost-but-not-quite-good-enough kindred brethren, all of whom are scattered over several back forties. And take it from one who knows, you can bet this tree will remain hidden from view until you’re close enough to touch its prickly green branches.
And so, to find this ideal tree, you trudge and freeze and trudge some more. The morning sun climbs ever higher into the sky, but brings no increase in warmth. You trudge some more. You play dodge-um across the highway. You trudge over vast new forties. You trip repeatedly over last year’s stumps. The sun reaches its zenith.
Still, the One True Tree chooses not to reveal itself…not yet, not until you’ve trudged and dodged and tripped and suffered a bit more.
Good Christmas trees are like that—they make you work for ‘em.
When you do finally located that will-o-the-wisp tree—the perfect one in a dark healthy green and not a sickly yellow-lime hue which seriously clashes with most ornaments, a tree with a single trunk (yup, them double-trunked jobs are impossible to fit in the tree stand, and the worst ones occasionally subdivide into ugly pieces), and a tree whose single trunk is straight-growing, and will thus save you from needing to invoke carpentry geometrics to keep it upright once you get it home—please keep in mind you not only have to cut it down, but you have to haul it out to the parking lot. There you must have it shook so only the best needles make it home to fall on the carpet. It must also be bagged, which makes your fat tree look skinny and a little goofy, but is well worth whatever the tree farm wants to charge.
After you pay for the tree, including shaking and bagging (it will always cost more than last year) you lug it out to the parking lot and wrestle your hard-won prize onto the roof of the car/truck/SUV. I suggest you then say a small prayer that it remains up there long enough to make it home and not causing you to incur the lurking road rage of fellow motorists.
In closing, here are a few final tips:
Need I say that any saw you borrow from a tree farm is apt to be duller than last year’s office party?
Or that since your perfect tree is always found hiding at the farthest boundary of the most distant field, you must be prepared to drag your tree on it’s cart (you did come to the tree farm during a weekday when their limited supply of carts wasn’t an issue—right?) for however many miles necessary, over terrain so rugged a humvee would falter?
And do expect that no matter what direction you walk, it will always be facing into the wind (which increases that chill factor business we didn’t mention a while back).
Finally, when you do get your chosen tree to the front of the farm—having for one more year, and somewhat to your astonishment, escaped a coronary incident—you’ll find everyone who got to the vast windswept tree farm before and after you somehow already has their tree and is in now front of you on the paying, shaking machine, and bagging lines; their kin, meanwhile, are hogging all the heat from the big fireplace in the barn.
The hot chocolate stand is, of course, closed except on the weekends.
Remember…Christmas spirit. Holiday cheer. Comfort and joy.
As I said at the beginning of this little dissertation…that was yesterday. Today, tonight, in scarcely an hour hence, comes that even more joyous little seasonal ceremony, “Decorating the Tree.” Our perfect Christmas tree will be removed from its bucket of water where it has been taking a long night’s drink. It will be summarily freed from it’s mesh wrap. Brought into the living room. Placed in a tree stand and induced to remain upright and more or less vertical. And subsequently and beautifully decorated.
All accomplished with only minimal fighting, screaming, sulking, bleeding, or gnashing of teeth.
Wish me luck. Say a prayer.
May the force be with us!