Just about every year the day after Thanksgiving, my wife asks me the same question:
“Do you want to get an artificial Christmas tree? It’ll make things a lot easier.”
And every year after she asks it, I give her the same answer:
“Are you drunk?”
I must admit, I’ve been tempted a year or two to surrender and go faux. Instead of emptying my wallet for a fresh cut tree from Oregon or Montana every year and straining my back lifting it (more like dragging it) into the living room, I would just blow the dust off the artificial tree’s storage bag in the basement, easily carry it upstairs, and — Shazam! — pop it open like an umbrella.
Even better, I wouldn’t have to worry about faithfully watering it twice a day to make sure it doesn’t turn into a Tiki torch and burn down the house. And when it comes to putting away the fake tree on New Year’s Day, there would be no more deep trails of dry, stiff pine needles across the living room carpet to pierce through my socks and draw blood.
Or make the vacuum cleaner run and hide.
But despite all the convenience fake Christmas trees provide, I just can’t do it. And it’s not because of the initial big cost with the hope of living long enough to make sure it has paid for itself.
Perhaps like you, I continue to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree every year because I enjoy draining my wallet and wincing from muscle spasms in my back. Well, I do have a few more positive reasons to share.
I love pine trees and have ever since I was a kid. My affection for them began at my childhood home on a high bluff that looked west and over Lake Michigan. My father planted several six-foot high spruces around the property not long after our home was built in the 1960s. But those puny spruces aren’t what did it for me; what did was the row of ancient, 40-foot-high Red Pines that grew behind our home.
Unlike spruces, which usually look alike, Red Pines, or Norway Pines as they’re also known, are unique. While spruces have orderly, tightly-packed branches thick with needles that often hide the tree’s inner architecture, Red Pines mostly have long limbs that randomly extend from the trunk. Near the end of each limb the tree’s smaller branches and long needles push outward in a large cluster like a cumulus cloud. And unlike the spruce tree’s often smooth, gray bark, the bark of a mature Red Pine is thick, corrugated, rough as barnacles, and colored with its namesake red streaked with brown and gray.
There were more than a dozen of these trees behind our home, running in a straight row from east to west along neighboring property lines to the edge of the bluff. Each had its own unique pattern and profile that commanded respect and awe. But there was one in particular that beckoned me.
It was the last tree on the western end of the row that grew only a few feet away from the edge of the bluff. At first, what interested me most about it was not its stature, nor its old age, nor its fierce resilience to powerful storms that blew in from the lake and assailed it with wind, rain and snow. It would be years before I would hold those attributes with reverence. Instead, it was a limb near the top that featured a large, tight clump of branches and needles that looked like a nest for a bird the size of a man. It was so dense you couldn’t see through it.
Like most little boys whose curiosity gets the better of them, I decided one day to climb the tree and get a closer look at the clump. Because the old tree’s lowest limbs were more than 10 feet off the ground, I had to prop a ladder against the trunk to get started. Minutes later I was more than 30 feet in the air, and a fall would have certainly killed me. Yet, I was determined to reach the top and end the clump’s mystery.
While climbing from limb to limb, my hands became coated with sticky sap and the scent of pine grew stronger. Although I was high off the ground, I stayed close to the trunk as I climbed and its presence made me feel safe. I got to the top, exalted at my accomplishment, and while hanging precariously on a limb 40 feet above the ground, I nervously looked over the clump’s rim.
I had expected to see piles of feathers and egg shells on its inside, or maybe an enormous sleeping squirrel. But all that was there was a bigger knot of branches and needles. I was surprised and disappointed that the mystery was really no mystery at all. But before I began to descend, I looked up and out. The new perspective I saw from the top of that Red Pine of my home and beach below, and Lake Michigan’s endless horizon to the west, I’ll never forget. Although a foolish venture for a 10-year-old kid, the climb taught me I can do things, and without risk there are no possibilities.
Although both of my parents are gone and the family home on the bluff was sold years ago, it comforts me to know that big old tree is still there.
Every year when I buy a live Christmas tree, I make sure it’s one of the most fragrant in the lot. The sticky sap I usually get on my gloves and saw, I don’t mind at all. And after it’s decorated with lights and ornaments, and trying to quiet myself from the holiday season’s hectic rush, I love to sit in the dark quiet and let this living tree help bring forth in me a living Christmas spirit that refreshes my faith in God’s fulfilled promise.
Yes, I love pine trees. And Merry Christmas to all.