More About Trees

Today I happened to be looking out the window when a truck loaded with the drying bodies of small pines, spruces, and firs stopped by our house. A man stepped out of the cab, casually reached into a nondescript mound of snow, plucked out our Christmas tree, and tossed it into his truck. Thus one of the last remainders of this Christmas season has been removed.

Removing the tree from the house at the end of the Jule month has always been a sad event to me. In December we had walked through rows of possible trees looking for just the right one. The supply was limited. Apparently my habit of acquiring the tree as close to Christmas Eve as possible endangered our getting a tree at all this year. But we did find one that suited us, a much taller tree than we had ever had. We spread the work of setting the tree up and decorating it over several days. The final decorations were added during an evening when the whole family could participate.

The reverse of decorating takes less time, and I usually do it alone. It requires a certain amount of fussiness. One doesn’t want to lose an ornament by not noticing that it’s still attached to the tree. Usually the tree’s needles have become dry and brittle, and the tree itself has become much lighter than it was when I put it up. It can be a bit easier to carry the tree out of the house than it was to carry it in, as long as it hasn’t dried out so much that the branches won’t bend to let it through the door. In any case there will be a shower of dry needles as I force it out.

Cleaning up afterwards, or course, requires a great effort to remove every single fallen needle. It’s important to get them all, even though that’s not actually possible. When we took down the bookcases in Austin before our move a year ago we found remnant tree needles that must have fallen from our Christmas trees over several years, in a place where we had stopped standing our tree some years before. But even though we will not get all the needles, it’s important for us to get as many as we can, so that the ones that are missed, that appear as if from nowhere in the course of cleaning over the next few years, are that much more valuable for their holiday memories.

On the 7th of January, the day after Epiphany, I carried our Christmas tree out to the side of our yard next to Hartland Avenue to await the city compost collectors. It has snowed almost continuously since then, so by today the tree was thoroughly covered with snow. It had become a lump of snow in a field of all white, and I wondered if the workers would realize that it was there and thought that it might not be picked up this week. But it seems that enough green showed through to make its presence known, or perhaps the workers have come to recognize the kind of snowy lump that hides a fallen Christmas tree.

I haven’t often looked out at the tree in the yard. A Christmas tree lying in the yard after the holidays seems so sad, so stark, robbed of the bit of magic it held during the weeks it stood in the house. For a time, when we were in Austin, the city sponsored tree collection sites in some of the parks. Instead of simply leaving our tree in the yard for waste workers to remove we loaded it on top of the van, loaded the family into the van, and drove to a collection site. This was a community event, almost a festival of sorts, where lines of cars and trucks arrived decorated with trees and volunteers piled the trees into a huge stack. Broken branches and dropped needles covered the parking lot as the stack grew tree by tree. Some years we sat in line for several minutes while other people’s trees were lifted onto the stack. But other years, when there was no collection site available, we left our tree by the street and let it be picked up as part of the normal yard waste program.

Children’s perspectives of the world can often surprise, and sometimes an observation from a small mouth will stick in one’s memory, affecting later attitudes for years to come. When our children were small they always mourned the tree when we took it down, marking as it did, the end of the holiday. The year Arend was 3 he was particularly saddened when I carried that year’s tree to the street. It was the first Christmas tree that he had really been aware of, and it was obvious that the tree was significant to him. He watched it as it lay by the side of the street every day until the city workers carried it away. But I didn’t realize how attached he had become to having the tree, and attached to the tree itself, until the next December when it came time to get that year’s tree. As we walked to the car to begin our tree quest Arend asked if we were going to get our tree back.

I think this is how I want to see it. We haven’t had a succession of trees; we have just had our tree, the same one we have had every Christmas since 1979. And in December we will go out again and get our tree back for Christmas 2010.

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