Imperfect Christmas Trees

A big part of our Christmas traditions is getting the tree, which always creates unique memories. We’re fortunate enough to harvest our own in the woods of the Black Hills.

Most years we’ve gathered a pine tree right off our property. A few times I insisted on a spruce, which entailed getting a tree permit and driving 20-30 miles to the nearest Spruce population. If it was bitter cold out and the kids were infants or tots, I allowed my husband the freedom to pick one and surprise me. He usually had a measly little jackpine waiting for me on the porch in twenty minutes.

It seemed like the bigger the kids got, so did the trees we let them pick out. For a few years, our trees were two and three footers; drooping with up to five ornaments per limb. When our son was about eight or nine he insisted on chopping down the tree himself with a small axe. I still laugh over the look of determination and frustration as he laboriously hacked down his first tree.

One year, the kids, my mom, and I got a tree ourselves because my husband wanted to “quick pick” a pine tree off the place and I wanted a spruce. Our son picked one out and did a splendid job I might add, helping manage the forests by finding a cull as our Christmas tree. After tying the trees down on top of my SUV, I was embarrassed to drive anywhere because one limb refused to stay tied down and pointed crookedly toward the sky.

Of all our pathetic looking, tree hunting ventures, my husband and I managed to pick the champion of Charlie Brown-looking trees ourselves for our first Christmas together. He suggested we saddle up the horses and get a cedar he recalled seeing on top of a steep hill not far from the house. With a foot of new snow on the ground, we set out to bring it home the old-fashioned way by dragging it horseback. With a rope and handsaw packed, we rode up to where the lone cedar stood. It was much prettier in my mind and in his memory; shapelier and fuller, but we didn’t intend to leave without it after the effort it took to ride up there. The scene on the way back, of a cowboy on his paint horse dragging a tree behind him through undisturbed glinting snow looked like a Christmas card, despite the physique of our tree.  The experience is still my favorite tree gathering moment.

It’s memories like these that I’ve forgiven myself for not switching to proportionally shaped, artificial or meticulously pruned real trees without holes. Excited kids pulling on my sleeve to show me the tree they found (usually another cull-looking one) is entertaining.  I personally find great satisfaction in smelling pine sap and digging out the kids’ school-made ornaments for them to pile on branches instead of putting fragile store bought ones on myself.

If your tree is a “Charlie Brown” looker, enjoy it. It may hold the kind of memories you talk about for years to come.

This column was originally published December 16-22, 2007


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