In search of a Christmas tree no one else would harbor
December 11, 2007
After writing a story about the history of Christmas trees, I decided that it was time for me to take advantage of the offer by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to go out and cut my own tree – for just $10.
Plus, it would be a good story, something like the Ugly Duckling story, a real two-handkerchief weeper.
I’m single and live in what was originally designed to be low-cost housing by the city – two bedrooms, a garage and a nifty, noisy patio.
In recent years I’ve eschewed putting up a Christmas tree, although for a year or two I dug out a tiny artificial tree of 18 inches, but that tree eventually fell apart and I sneaked by recently with a string of colored lights around the front window.
But I decided to go green, fork over the $10 to the Forest Service and find a tree for my modest living room. This meant it had to be small, maybe 3 feet maximum height. The more I thought about it, I decided I wanted a tree no one else would want to harbor – an unfortunately gnarled, twisted and unattractive small tree – an ugly duckling of a tree.
So with Forest Service map and permit in hand, a Norwegian saw and a company camera on a strap on my shoulder, I took off for the Forest Service tree cutting area off Highway 50 West at the Spooner Summit. The map showed a dirt road going back into the forest, starting at the parking area where the snowmobiles huddle in the winter.
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I backed into an uphill spot, got the saw and camera and started walking. No trail; it was just thick duff through the trees and up a hill.
Lots of pine trees around, on all sides. Some real beauties, 10 or 15 feet tall, graceful with thick branches that hugged the trunks. Nice colonies of smaller trees propagated by their lofty sires. Using the saw as a hiking stick, I climbed the hill, eyes peeled for my ugly tree.
But something was funny. All the small trees were straight as a teacher’s ruler. Not a warped or bent one to be seen. Our forests can’t be this healthy, I thought. Got to be a loser here someplace.
After an hour I realized that we had indeed a healthy forest.
But I had my plans, so I finally settled on a modest pine, maybe 3 feet tall, with a decidedly un-triangular shape. The lower branches were short, the ones in the middle disproportionally long, the ones on top tight. In short, not the kind of tree you’d pay a tree seller for.
And it was in the midst of a bunch of similar uglies, so cutting it down would be doing the Forest Service a favor by thinning the bunch out. Giving the survivors breathing room, or at least elbow room.
On my knees, I cut the tree at about 2 inches from the ground, ever mindful of forest rangers advising me never to leave any more than a 6-inch stump. Saw, tree and camera in hand, I lurched and stumbled back to the car, stowed the tree and headed for home.
Once home, I discovered that I had no idea of how to get my tree to stand up. I cut an “X” out of old boards, but then how to fix it to the tree? A trip to super markets turned up stands – all designed for big trees.
Never thwarted by poor planning, I took an old wine bucket cooler, put a glass jar on the bottom and shoveled sand in, added water to the jar and stuck the tree in the jar, packing more sand to hold the tree upright. On the living room table the tree was as ugly as ever, but it had a nice sort of indifference to the world it was in.
Yep, stunningly ugly. Not malformed, just ill-proportioned ugly. I loved it.
I had a couple of colored light strings from my window decorating days and I thought about dressing up my tree, but then had second thoughts. What did the tree represent to me? A gaudy tricked out bit of nature, or a symbol, maybe as the ancient Egyptians used to do in December, bring in greenery to suggest a fertile tomorrow.
The Egyptians didn’t doll up their greenery with tinsel and stuff I bet. So no lights.
But my tree looked kind of bare.
Happily, I had one bit of decoration that might work, a hand-blown ornament that would be totally out of proportion for the little tree. My Charlie Brown tree, I came to think of it.
So I dug it out of its fancy box and tried to find a place to hang it. No limb seemed right, so I put in on the sand in the can and made myself a martini.
I sat and stared at the tree and the glass bulb and decided the bulb was just fine just where it was.
No need to try to make the tree beautiful. But then on the other hand, it was beautiful, just as it stood there, probably longing for its forest home. No attempt to make it something it wasn’t. Just something to remind me that there is plenty of green life around me, just waiting to be truly seen.
Merry Christmas, tree. Thanks for being. No tears needed.
• Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.