A fake ending to a real Christmas
December 22, 2006
There is something about winter that brings out the primal urges in people. For some, it’s the need to make fire to warm their houses, even if it costs more than running the furnace. For others, it’s the urge to go hunt for food for the table that is easier and cheaper to buy at the grocery store.
For our family this year, it was the compulsion to hack down our own Christmas tree.
I had never been a big fan of cut Christmas trees. It’s not that the Christmas tree trade was going to deforest the planet or cause global warming and kill polar bears. There is just something wasteful about chopping down young trees for a few weeks of celebration, and then throwing them away.
Then again, it’s a tradition, and traditions aren’t always logical or frugal. With our daughter Mira turning 4 a couple of weeks ago, it’s an important holiday for her, and will be for 10 years or so until teenage rebellion strikes.
Besides, my wife Tracy wouldn’t hear of having a fake tree. Her mother was a real tree woman, so we had to have the real thing.
By contrast, my mother long ago ditched the real trees in favor of fake. At first, she preferred real, perhaps out of avoidance of the horrible fake trees of the time. My thoughts are still haunted by my grandmother’s ancient tinsel-tinged wire abomination that was an affront to all living things. That thing will probably survive us all to be used by post-apocalyptic civilizations that don’t remember what real trees look like.
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Tracy secured the proper permit for $5, and we packed up Mira and the two dogs and headed out east of town to the designated cutting area, into the sagebrush hills dotted with piñon pines. We ran into other people along the rock-strewn road who were headed back with their prizes tied atop their vehicles amid the waning late-afternoon light. I worried that we were too late, that we would struggle to find a tree in the coming winter darkness.
I was wrong. It didn’t take long at all to find a suitable-sized tree close to the road. A few minutes later it was cut and packed away in the truck, not even long enough for the dogs to get a good run. Gee, I thought to myself as we made our way out of the canyon and back home, maybe this Christmas tree thing isn’t so bad after all.
It was too easy.
There are several problems with using a piñon pine as a Christmas tree. They grow more like a bush, so they are almost as wide at the bottom as they are tall. We really didn’t notice this until we tried to fit it into the too-small space in our living room. It wasn’t going to work.
Problem Two, you can’t trim a piñon pine too much without making it look worse than anything Charlie Brown would bring home.
Problem Three, piñon pines don’t have a straight, solid trunk in the center like other conifers. Combine this with the fact that they grow on hillsides, and what you end up with is a tree that is lopsided. We didn’t think this was really a problem, as we would just hide the lesser side in the back. But Christmas tree stands are not made to take that kind of uneven weight distribution. Not only couldn’t we get the tree to stand up, we broke two stands in the process.
And if this wasn’t enough, we found out the hard way that piñon pines produce an enormous amount of nasty, sticky sap. It was on the carpet, the furniture, the door handles, everywhere, a sticky plague invading our house.
There, trapped under the fallen tree, covered in sap and hopelessly fumbling with the second broken tree stand, I longed for my grandmother’s nuclear-bomb-proof monstrosity.
A trip to the local store found only one suitable fake tree left. For some unexplained reason that I’m sure we will pay for later, the tree was perfect, almost life-like. Tracy bragged that it may take her mother hours before she figures out it’s not real.
If she wants real, I’ll point her to the backyard, where a certain piñon pine tree has taken up temporary residence, the last vestige of real-tree Christmas for this family. And if I am overtaken again by a primal winter urge, I’ll cut it up for firewood.
• Kirk Caraway is editor of http;//nevadapolitics.com, and also writes a blog on national issues at http://kirkcaraway.com.
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