Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oh Tannen-bomb! Oh Tannen-bomb! How lethal are thy branches!

I hail from a fierce tradition of "cut-your-own Christmas trees" that hasn't lessened it's grip on me through the years. And I'm not even a celebrator of "real" Christmas. To me it's all Solstice and cultural Christmas, a central piece of which is THE TREE.

1994. Petersburg, Alaska. For Thanksgiving, my brother came to visit me and my child-groom (I was an Alaskan child-bride myself at the time).  Barely 19 and married nearly a year, it was firmly lodged in my young mind that one MUST get one's Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  It was a very early Thanksgiving that year, but that did not compute into the holiday equation in my head.  According to TRADITION, we would cut our own tree.  Poor, wee little Petersburg had no tree farms.  Not to worry!  We'd find a wild one here on this vast Alaskan Island in the midst of glorious clear cuts.  Having no concept of a permit other than one for driving, permit-less, we drove my adorable '72 Ford Bronco down the road a piece.  And deep in the muskeg, I spotted a vision of Christmas tree beauty no human mortal could resist.  Muskeg, if you don't know, is Alaskan for crazy-ass swamp complete with giant sink holes known to swallow entire snowmobiles and moose, never to be seen again.  So, of course, I stepped in two of them and was successfully dragged out by the menfolk.  Soon enough, we nabbed that precious, likely 1000 year old, swamp tree and dragged it home.  Here it demanded water incessantly.  Water! WATER! WATER!! I watered it by the gallons, hourly, but to no avail.  Within two weeks it was as brown as our carpet and had transformed from "Christmas Vision of Glory" to "Tree of Shame," three weeks before Christmas.  By Christmas Eve there was not a single needled left on the tree, only ornaments and lights with a festive skirt of brown needles being ground in to our brown carpet, assimilating as camouflaged ninja assassins. So after sunset on Christmas Eve, around 1 pm, I "snuck" the tree to the curb and bought one of the last pathetic little, over-priced (as compared to free-poached) trees left in the grocery store lot.  We redecorated and I celebrated my first of only a handful of Christmases as Sarajoy Johnson.

"Bronco Sarajoy" to the tune of "Mustang Sally"
These days, the Palmer family cuts a tree from a farm about a mile down the road.  Time was, we'd pick up a permit (I am teachable) and head to the hinterlands for a wild-caught tree.  But the last year we did that, we ended up on a cliff-side logging road, in the snow, with trucks barreling down on us.  We've also had a holly tree for Christmas: ouch.  And a potted Norfolk Island Pine which looked soggy and weak and succumbed to a dosing of cat piss. We're all about farm-raised trees now.

2010. Our first year to Swenson's, our local tree farm, all the trees were too small and all the wrong type.  We wandered around the property marveling: Ponderosas?  What the fuck?  Thick with foreshadowing, I noted the abundance of baby Blue Spruce, a weapon of a tree with razor sharp needles that come in Hanukkah blue.  Picea Pungens is it's scientific name, meaning "pine of sharp points", seriously. That year, we gave up on cutting our own, circled back to the travel trailer and picked up a pre-cut, Idaho import called the Frasier Fir and I will forever be a Frasier Fir (F.F.) fan.  They are the world's most perfect Christmas tree.

While Huck settled up with the man, the kids and I mosied over to the "field"/mud yard to check out the live reindeer.  They too were remarkably small and few so that the One stood out.  We'll call her "Blitzen."  Blitzen had one fabulous antler.  Where the other should have been, Blitzen had blood pouring out of her head and down her face.  It was a very cozy and festive time.  Hot cocoa in our hands, gazing in wonder and delight at Santa's little spark plugs.  Oh wait... no... not wonder and delight.  HORROR AND WAILING from the wee ones clinging to my legs.

We go back every year.

We buy imported F.F.'s because the planted trees are all, still, the wrong variety.  Last year I was too out of it to go, so it was nice to be back this year.  The reindeer were all healthy but of little interest now to my tweens.  And the trees had all grown into respectable Saturnalia Tree size which is good because the Idaho tree exporters were out of F.F.'s.  Greater than my love for F.F.'s is my laziness.  I wasn't going to go lot-hopping in search of anything.  So we traipsed into the short and truncated woods.  And the Blue Spruce was the only tree that looked right.  The rest were Seussian nightmares or overly pruned, still short Douglas Firs.  Certainly the kids were old enough to handle the dagger-like needles of a Blue Spruce, right?  But Coyote wanted bushy and round, not the light, airy looked of the Spruce.  Diplomatically, Blue found a Blue Spruce, bushy AND round.

It was difficult for Huck to get in close to the trunk for cutting without getting his face sliced open by the Spruce needles. But after 30 minutes and a team effort, we felled our tree.  On it's side now, it revealed some of it's bonus features: a birds nest and an interior 2' radius of dead needles.  But you can't uncut a tree, can you?
The chubby tree
Once it was standing tall in the living room, we noticed another of it's features: it takes up 1/2 of the living room and that's with the backside smooshed up against the front window which make shutting the curtains really unappealing and no one is doing it - this means that you can look through the front window directly at anyone on the toilet, if they forgot to shut the door.  Okay, Technically, maybe it hogs only a 1/3 of the living room, but with weaponized branches, you give it its personal space and that space is 1/2 the living room.  Once up, the first thing it did was drop 400,000,000 pre-dead interior needles on the carpet.  The needles/razors get in your socks and only reveal themselves after you've been wearing shoes for an hour or two.  You are walking through the store and suddenly pain shoots through your feet and you collapse, screaming, in the aisles.  Christmas Cheer.

Then we decorated, wearing leather gloves.  Despite the precautions, my hands were bloody by the end.  They are still tingling.  And they PTSD tingled every time I look at it, even from a safe distance.

This is the worst, cruelest, meanest, least possible "peace on earth, good will to 'man'" fucking tree I could ever imagine.  I'm just waiting for it to start lobbing grenades at us.  I may end up burning it in spring with all of my childhood ornaments still on. I keep passive-aggressively forgetting to water it, which I know will just make the needle drop worse.  But it's hard to make myself go near it, army crawling under nature's concertina wire with a jug of water.  Every nerve in my body screams, "Get the hell out of here! Run! RUN!!"
Coyote's ice-crystal cave-in-a-tree

The other festive thing is that because I was so out of it last year, I had no idea where I put the outdoor Christmas lights.  When it was time to take those down (or rather, a few months after it was time to take them down) I was still stuffing lunch boxes with tools and hardware like it made sense.  What might I have done with tangles of Christmas lights?  Lunch boxes? Garbage? Goodwill? Underwear drawers?  Things are misplaced all over in this house still and nobody even notices any more.  Eventually, I found them in a garbage bag in the attic. Triumphant at last after weeks of worry and searching, I brought them to the dining room.  Later, still not being of sound mind even as I write, I brought the bag to the garbage can in the garage and just before tossing them in, I remembered they were my long lost holiday lights. Phew.

But who's going to put them up? Huck's reconstructed knee is misbehaving and I still don't have a head for ladders.  Blue volunteered but she now has a cold and a huge project due at school.  So maybe we'll just celebrate the dark this year, instead of keeping it a bay. We'll let the dark have its day and let the universe have it's balance, axial tilt and all. Happy whatever-the-heck you celebrate!

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