One of the perks of moving back to the woods has been that I no longer have to put up a Fake Real Christmas Tree.
You know the ones I’m talking about? Those trees that start appearing in Kmart parking lots the week after Halloween? They are grown in captivity. In rows. Thousands of them are harvested and sold to stubborn souls like me who refuse to walk INTO the KMart to plunk down cash to buy a Real Fake Christmas Tree.
When I lived on the vast tundra….um….prairie to the west, the closest forest was two hours away. Some of the trees I bought over the years from parking lots were okay. Some were pretty awful. One, purchased at a General Store/Machine Shop in 2003 smelled like snowmobile exhaust the entire holiday season. Pretty sure that even if that tree hadn’t been cut down, it would have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. And then there was the Crime Scene tree of 1999. It had been tinted green. I didn’t know this until it began to thaw out in the house and bleed green dye. Drip. Drip. Drip. On my living room rug, which thankfully, was also green. I put a shower curtain where the tree skirt was supposed to go. It could have starred in its own CSI special.
Each tree I bought during those years had exactly the same shape. Apparently, tree farmers do not know what trees that grow up naturally actually look like. A lot of tip sheared trees have no soul; they are symmetrical and perfect and boring. This makes them look kind of embarrassed when they are naked, and self conscious once they are dressed with whozits and whatzits and baubles and strings of popcorn. The worst of my live fake trees through the years looked a lot like Las Vegas women of ill repute – conspicuous, made up, tawdry, and overdressed.
However, we moved “up north” two years ago. To the land of lots and lots of trees. Now, rather than paying about 80 bucks for two weeks of penance with the rotund holiday Hooker in my living room, I can purchase a five dollar permit from the US Forest Service that allows me to go into the forest, find a real tree, cut it down, and bring it home.
I do not look for perfect trees because I want those to remain where God and the red squirrels planted them. I want them to grow taller and stronger and more beautiful with each passing season. Instead, I look for the tree that looks like it is being crowded or stunted by the other, stronger trees around it. I choose the imperfect one in the group. Sometimes, that means that there are bare branches that need to be pushed toward the wall. Sometimes, the trunks are crooked and make for holidays with a Christmas tree listing to the left or the right.
And while Martha might not agree, I think my imperfect trees are very good things. Their long branches hold all the construction paper ornaments made by small hands of two children now grown, and the tarnished strands of tinsel garland saved for years by a grandmother who remembered trees in a log cabin on her parents’ homestead nestled in that same forest. My imperfect trees perfume the air on Christmas Eve with that wonderful aroma that no candle company has ever been able to reproduce: a pine grove after a thunderstorm.
Choosing a tree to cut from a forest makes one feel omnipotent. Who lives? Who dies? And for what purpose? It is heady stuff. When I am standing in a silent cathedral of trees on a cold December afternoon by myself, I am mindful of this and I try to choose well. And right before I begin to saw, I always apologize to the tree. And thank it for the joy it will bring to me and to the people I love who have been blessed with one more year together.
In this season of manic consumption and glittery nonsense, the trees remind me that Christmas isn’t really about any of that no matter what that skinny blonde twit in the red track suit in the Target ads says. It never was.
It is about miracles in an imperfect world….simple gifts….silent, holy nights. An angel. A star. A manger.
And a tiny, perfect Boy.