Let Nothing You Dismay: The Joys, Miseries and Other Adventures of Cutting Christmas Trees
- Category: Adventures
- on Wed Dec 18, 2013
- by Mark Stephens on Wed Dec 18, 2013 - (1) Comments
To hear my wife tell it, I present no shortage of difficulty when it comes to Christmas trees. She's probably right. Before our second Christmas I barnstormed with fury that we forget a tree and get a cactus instead, because that was something we could plant in the yard after making a spectacle of it. Well, that unfestive suggestion grew no wings and did not fly. We still found ourselves at a tree lot, looking for something perfectly triangular and uniform and just tall enough and something more or less out of a storybook and everything else that just doesn't come naturally to things that are, well, natural.
We bought one. Probably for 60 bucks. The whole experience left me dissatisfied. My wife thinks it's just because I like to be a pain in the hind end, but, true or not, if I'm going to cut down a tree for our sheer entertainment, I don't want to be a steamroller. As in, I'm not interested in forcing a tree to be something that it's not, which is perfect and uniform. As we examined it more, I really enjoyed having a tree. My personal taste simply made me long for one that grew up shaped only by the elements of the natural world rather than one that spent its formative years on a tree farm. It's just taste, nothing more.
Things took a turn for the better when our friends invited us to go with them to cut our own tree from the forest the following year. We acquired the permits and made a weekend of it by driving out on a Friday night, staying the night in a cabin, getting up the next morning and setting out with hiking boots and a saw. Trained by nearly 30 years of expeditions to a tree lot, we still wandered the forest in hunt of a tree with perfect uniformity. Didn't happen. We settled on something short, fat, and with several barren spots. We cut it, spent 20 minutes dragging it back to the truck, tied it down, and our friends unscrewed the cap on a fine a bottle of peppermint Schnapps from which we all took a tug and celebrated.
We've been doing it every year ever since, and the annual event has forged solid memories. Cutting the tree might be the main event, but it's also just the excuse we use to spend a weekend with some friends. It was the second year we went when both Brooke and Jenny were pregnant. Jenny was due in 6 weeks and you can imagine her baby belly at that stage. She let us feel little McKenzie's feet kicking around inside. That was the first time I'd ever felt the anxious motions of a baby from the opposite side of the wall. The following year we skipped. Chloe was 6 months old and so we left town to visit Brooke's family over Christmas proper — Brooke let me have my ocotillo that year since we weren't going to be home anyway. I planted it in the front yard and now it's dead.
You love what you tame, so we're told by St. Exupery in The Little Prince. Being careful here not to sentimentalize the act of assuming responsibility for a tree we seek out and pluck from the forest under our own power, there is an element of truth to St. Exupery's conclusion. We rent a cabin and cook big meals and play games and drink a little too heavy and then Brian and I get around to pulling out the guitars after the kids are in bed. We wander the forest looking for a tree to cut down and then drag it back to the truck. Don't be fooled: the kids cry a lot because they get wet and cold. And since we adults are on a mission to find a tree worthy of our tradition, we're in no state of mind to parent. Okay sweetie, while you stand there and cry, I'll go check that tree over there real quick. Be right back!
Not that this ever happens to me, ahem, but sometimes your wife wanders off into the woods and you can hear her calling out to come take a look and you're going in circles yelling to the sky and in every direction, "Where the hell'd you go?!" Yes, while a child clings to your leg hollering to be picked up because she's cold and wet and tired and hungry and wants juice and wants to play hide-and-seek and do anything other than looking for a Christmas tree deep in a snowy wood.
I don't know if anyone else would call that an adventure. But I'm satisfied. Here's a look at some of those moments over the years.