Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tree trimming day

Well, we didn't actually trim it yet...but at least I assembled it.  Wasn't there a poem about "Only God can make a tree?"   I don't remember that it said nothing about assembling. 

Yes, we have reached the point in life where we have an artificial tree.  I remember, as a child, the joy of going out in my grandparent's woods and finding and cutting a tree of our own.  And later, of driving around picking out a tree.  But after doing this over 6o times, it began to lose its excitement. 

So I bring in the all the pieces from the shed and begin the process of straightening little metal twigs with plastic cedar shaped pine needles.   They get bent in storage so each one must be adjusted by hand.  A long process, but whenever I begin to become impatient, I remember the Christmas in the mountains of Virginia fifteen years ago. 

It was the year we decided to get a really "live tree" and then replant it.  Protecting the environment and all that. 

The tree farm was run by a 90-year-old minister who was a mountain of a physical speciman and drove Karen, me, and 8-year-old Brian out on his tractor into a wilderness below his house.

Did I mention it was sleeting heavily and the tractor pushed through mud and ice?  But we found our tree eventually.  Bigger than we had planned.  But we loved it.  I would have loved anything that could get me home and out of the bombardment of ice pellets. 

Having identified it, the nice lumberjack preacher handed me a shovel, a pick, an axe and turned to Brian and Karen and said, "You two must be soaked!  My wife has some hot cocoa up at the house. 

I'll never forget the first time I pushed the shovel into the ground near the tree, listening to the distant sounds of the tractor disappearing into the darkness.  The shovel went less than an inch into the ground before striking a root.  So that was what the axe was for.  But the advice had been, "try to cut as few roots as possible so the tree will have a better chance of living."

I backed up.  I tried to the left.  I tried to the right.  The sleet came down harder.  I was standing in mud.  My feet went deeper into the earth than the shovel. 

Periodically, I would rest to catch my breath and look up at the house.  There was a brightly lit warm window from the kitchen that overlooked the valley.  In the window, I could see Karen and Brian drinking cocoa.  Sometimes they waved at me.  

Eventually I decided that cutting a couple of the roots couldn't hurt the tree too much.  It was becoming a matter of survival.  Mine, not the tree's.  

After another hour, frankly, I didn't really care if the tree made it or not!  I hacked, dug, yanked, levered, pushed, pulled, hacked again. 

In the end, I'm not sure if I actually dug up the tree or whether the rain and sleet turned the ground so soft the tree just fell over on its own.  I waved at the window for them to bring the tractor.  

They waved back.

I waved furiously, jumping up and down and flailing my arms. 

They waved back. 

I don't remember much after that.  Somewhere in the haze a tractor appeared.  Later I was driving home and Karen and Brian were laughing about how much fun it had been and how we should do this every Christmas. 

It wasn't too many years later that I bought this tree where I can sit on the couch for hours and straighten branches and watch football.  

Oh -- I should mention the step ladder that shows up in the last shot.  I wrote a poem about my stepladder a couple of years ago that I'll post here at risk of making the blog too long. 

Stepladder’s Christmas

Not only for the Claxton fruitcake,
the Messiah on the CD, and eggnog in the glass,
tree-trimming day is special for being the time
the stepladder receives its annual invitation
to the livingroom, and out of the shed where it spends its days
leaning against unpainted walls with the shovels.

It even consents to have its broken red plastic feet
washed so it won’t soil the sanctity of the oriental rug
as it stands, like a farmer, out of place in the company
of plush embroidered Victorian sofas, antique bureaus
in a room that’s polished often and used seldom.

The ladder knows its place and stands quiet
and humble, but structure firm,
never trying to hide its rust from stares
of family portraits (whose eyes follow it everywhere).
Paint stained, dented, twisted legs, and missing rivets,
It knows my feet better than any Persian,
knows my hands better than any polished knob.
It has held me in storms and sun, to repair windows,
to rescue kites from tree limbs, supported me
for hours while painting and caulking the house to keep
this assemblage of holy furniture from mildew.

In front of them now, it knows itself,
despite the host of crystal coasters that rattle
protecting their pristine veneer
and takes me, willingly, like a dancing partner
to the top of the tree where we place the star.

It has sufficient time each year
to calculate the value of the living room crowd
and is always content to slip back out the door,
competent, of course, to never scratch the molding,
on its way back to its home in oil and dirt.


Oh yes...when we eventually moved from Roanoke, the tree was still alive in the back yard.  


  1. Can't wait to see it decorated! I'm here catching up on my blog reading. Happy Sunday!

  2. Sorry, but I have two remarks to make here:
    1/ It's too early for a Xmas tree.
    2/ It should be a real one, already for the smell!

    Once more, sorry! :-)

  3. We bought a real tree two years ago, and have treated it more poorly than it deserves, and now it has very few needles left.

    This year, I'm trying to decide whether it's better to get another live one or an artificial one - but although I've heard of realistic-looking artificial trees, I've yet to see one in the shops here.

  4. we have solved our christmas tree dilemma by going to Paris for Christmas. I have done both the artificial and the 'real' tree. my preference is the artificial one, but it should be replaced every so often. first the real ones show up in the stores/garden centers before thanksgiving suggesting that they were cut a month ago. by two weeks before christmas they are already dropping needles everywhere. (sorry to Peter also - but when dry like that there is now smell) by the day after christmas you have a 'h...' of a time taking it down and dragging it through the house leaving a mess behind. When I did it - I liked to put up the tree two week before christmas and take it down on new years day....
    I look forward to seeing it fully dressed - daylight and after dark shots (remember one of our shootouts is my town dressed for Christmas...)

  5. Loved your story and your poem... Don't you Americans have enormous Christmas trees!!!

    We have artificial mainly because in the heat the real ones lean over and die pretty quickly.

    We don't put it up until December though. xx

  6. The tree is coming along just fine, it looks. Now for the pretty things. I have also had both kinds. Last few years had small ones with lights. This year I found Norfolk Island Pine plant. It is in a large pot and smells good. We stopped doing a huge trees when all the grands got big. This one is real, but small and I can keep it all year, I hope.

  7. We have an artificial tree because I have an allergy to pine trees in the house. I love how they look and smell but my histamines don't. Next week we will bring it out and decorate it. Yours is beautiful and I really enjoyed your ladder poem! Your experience digging up a tree and replanting it, could never happen here. The ground is frozen solid. Thanks for the great post., Mark. I read it while I sipped some hot chocolate. =D

  8. Thanks for sharing all your hard work with us. Due to my schedule and the fact that we are going to our son's house for Christmas this year, we decided to leave the big tree in the box and bring out one medium sized tree and two very small trees.

    Looks like the cat was staking out the territory. Hard to keep a nice tree with cats around. One year, when we were living in our old house that had three levels (you could actually stand on the top level and look down to the first level) we had our tree on the third level and somehow the little critters send it crashing to the Italian-tiled foyer. Our best ornaments were in a million pieces. No one fessed up.

    Nice poem.

    And no there is nothing like a fresh tree, especially when it comes to cats, though I really liked those pink trees they came out with in the fifties.

  9. I had never seen a ladder through such loving eyes...hmmm. We have also had both real and artificial. Our main challenge now is to find the 7 (8?) plugs and connectors so that the entire tree lights up instead of every other branch!

  10. Adorable! So many of your writings bring forth my own memories. This time, your tree cutting story reminded me of years ago, when we bought a short, fat tree that was too fat to get through the door. My husband and son had to get a running start. ANd sap...always sap. You're a fantastic writer!

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