The quest for a real Christmas tree

Michael Petryk

Winter is here again.  Snow fell across parts of the country months ago, and even warmer climates in the south have been touched with the bristles of that white brush.  I hastily strung my Christmas lights with (moderate amounts) of care and dug out the warped wreath, adding some painted pine cones like I saw on Pinterest.  Next, I turned my sights on Christmas cards – I should have finished them before that Groupon expired.  Finally, I rearranged the living room for that pinnacle of yuletide anxiety: the Christmas tree.  I insist it isn’t a big deal, but choosing the right tree has become a monument of important decisions gone by.   I left it too late four years running, but this year I was determined to take care of it early!

Last year, I forgot to water the tree and still remember the sound of the needles as they showered down after Uncle Dave careened sideways into it, chasing the dog after one too many pints of chocolate Christmas stout.  I swore then I was going to buy a fake tree – enough with the odd shapes, the falling needles and the stress of cutting down a real one.  Softly though, like something out of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a voice whispered to me, or maybe it was another TV special on overflowing dumps, climate change and peak oil? I tried to tune it out, but whatever it was, it spoke to me, and reminded me that the true meaning of Christmas is the trees! Real trees! Tree sap and all! 

Ahhh, tree sap – that life-giving stuff moves carbon from the air to the solid lumber of the tree, locking it in there for the life of the tree and beyond.  It moves nutrients up from the soil, and takes the pollutants filtered out by the leaves to store it in the trees cells or converts them and makes them useable by microorganisms.  Thanks to sap, trees are the epitome of Christmas giving.  What did that solid hunk of steel and plastic do before transforming into that perfect tree? Not a heck of a lot! 

So, there I am, convinced by my little ghost-of-fake-trees-passed, that a real tree is the only way to go!  Time to pack up the family and head to the local tree farm.  Uncle Dave (the same from last year) knows a guy, who met a fella, whose sister-in-law works the cash at a local tree farm.  She gets the job every year at Christmas and uses the extra money for her heavy equipment operators course (or maybe it was to pay for some landscaping? Either way, there were big machines in there somewhere!)  Regardless, I know the people and community who benefit from my tree purchase – from the tree farm owner to the janitor. I was even surprised to find out that I even knew the property where the trees grow and didn’t realize it was a tree farm until Dave mentioned it. Surrounded by managed forest, with trails open to skiers and hikers, the owners use the funds to help support their woodlot and keep it operating year-round, allowing the surrounding areas to benefit from all the ecological values that trees provide. 

With success, I get two out of three kids in the car (the eldest can manage on their own).  Even though there is a spot in town, where the farm brings the trees in, I want the full experience.  (While this is another option if you are pressed for time and money, the trees brought in travel a lot of extra miles, and while everyone takes great effort, they can still potentially move forest-damaging insects from coast to coast.) Visiting the farm also gives me something else to do with a three-year-old on a Saturday morning. (It was either that or PAW Patrol, and one more episode and I would be the one needing a rescue.) We finally get away after surviving tantrums over what qualifies as hot chocolate (apparently it is best served cold), and another over stale coffee (ok, that one was mine). 

Crunching into the parking lot, wondering if that rattling noise is a problem with my wheel bearings or the result of intrepid squirrels hiding nuts in my car frame again, we arrived at the farm.  While making time for chasing barn cats and trying some maple syrup from last year’s harvest, we get to the business of picking a tree.  While my son wanted a tree like that “really, really, really old cartoon about the bald little boy”, I succeeded in convincing him there are more places to hang candy canes on the full boughs of a properly trimmed Douglas or balsam fir.  I wanted a tree that was about six feet tall, keeping my eyes on the “leader” or topmost, sun-reaching, middle branch of the tree.  Even the most honest of growers likes to let the tree sprout in the last year of harvest, adding one to two feet of growth at the top, which I just lop off to make space for our battle-worn, macaroni star.  We finally decided upon a fir tree that was decently full (that gap at the back can go in the corner), but didn’t have an overly large leading branch. 

After pulling kid number two out from under a dead spruce (she says she’s a purple cat now, and that she lives here), we headed over to pay, wrap up the tree, and hit the more muddy than dusty trail.  Exhausted, but brimming with the effort of our success, we dragged our tree off the car and into the house across the tile and hardwood.  While those flat and supple fir leaves are more delicate than spruce, the odd one that fell and poked through my well-worn, wool socks didn’t as much hurt as tickle.  After supplying hot, cold, and spiked chocolate as ordered, we plunked down to make the final trim on the tree, cleaning up any lower branches to get the tree to fit in the stand, and pruning back the odd longer tip.  We stepped back, and admired the tree, and absent-mindedly rolled little balls of that glorious sap. 

Thank you, little tree, for what you give and gave, for bringing nature and the great outdoors indoors, for providing us with all the benefits only real trees can.  And most of all, for reminding us what the true meaning of Christmas is.


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