On pines and needles: chopping down the holiday tree

THE REAL DIRT

December 14, 1991|By Mike Klingaman

Over a river and through some woods, to chop down a tree we go. Everything we'll need for this traditional family outing is in the car. I have the saw, the Band-Aids and the checkbook. On a good day, I'll escape with minor cuts, sore feet and a fresh-cut $25 tree. No charge for the sap that ends up in my hair.

I approach this pine-scented pilgrimage with mixed emotions. The kid inside me loves to roam a choose-and-cut farm in search of the perfect Christmas tree. But I loathe playing out the death scene. What harm has this tree done me? The gardener inside me cringes with each cut of the saw.

Driving home with prize in tow, I feel guilty, as if this were an 8-point buck strapped to the car instead of an 8-foot pine.

Only once have I ever left a tree farm happy. That year, I stumbled upon a lovely Douglas fir that had been cut and abandoned in the field by a thoughtless buyer. The resin was still wet; the tree looked as if it had been crying.

I stood it upright and shook it gently. The tree shed no needles.

"What do you think?" I asked my wife.

Meg looked at that tree as she would a stray kitten. Of course, we gave it a good home.

Most years, however, I leave the farm worried that there is a new hole in the ozone, and that it has my name on it. And all because I chopped down a tree.

Buying a live Christmas tree would probably ease my conscience. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 1 percent of the 36 million trees sold this holiday season will be balled or burlapped. Alas, we lack space in our yard to plant a live tree. There are already more than 50 grown trees on our 2/3 -acre lot. One of them, a pretty little blue spruce, has been overshadowed by several taller firs and will probably wind up as next year's Christmas offering.

I don't know if I am man enough to tackle that chopping job. Cutting down one's own tree is like shooting Old Yeller.

Artificial trees are nice -- in someone else's house. They look and feel real. Yet I suspect the manufacture of these artificial trees does far more ecological damage than does my saw. To that end, I vow never to purchase a polysyllabic tree. My Christmas chopping list includes trees made of pine, spruce or fir, not polyvinyl chloride.

Patronize a tree lot? Never! Those trees were axed more than a month ago, Scout's honor. Meanwhile, each acre of live Christmas trees at a choose-and-cut farm provides the daily oxygen requirements for 18 people. That's reason to wait. The longer we delay in cutting the trees, the easier all of us will breathe.

Apparently, this environmental issue does not concern the president, who received his official tree on Nov. 21, one week before Thanksgiving. The tree, an 18 1/2 -foot noble fir, was cut in Oregon and flown to Washington aboard a C-130 Hercules transport plane supplied by the Air National Guard. How much the tree's trip cost taxpayers is anyone's guess.

Our tree will arrive home with notably less fanfare. Katydid, the dog, will greet us at the door, whapping her tail against the tree and sniffing it from tip to bottom. We used to take Katydid with us to the tree farm until one year when she discovered a dead animal in the field, and rolled in it, thus ruining everyone's Christmas spirit, not to mention the seat covers in the car.

Choosing the family tree can be a memorable experience. Everyone scatters in different directions and claims to have found the perfect tree. No one wants to leave their tree to check out the others.

We solved that problem by draping an article of brightly colored clothing atop each of our favorite trees, marking them much as one does a car antenna in a crowded parking lot. Then we survey the best trees and pick a winner. The trick, of course, is to keep strangers from stealing your tree during the voting. Try decorating it with a pair of men's boxer shorts. Shoppers look, but they don't touch.

Once, in a footrace with a stranger for a fine-looking tree, I lost my balance and fell into a stream. The ice broke my fall. I had the flu for a week. When we returned to the farm, all the best trees were gone. We settled for a homely white pine with a gaping hole in the middle.

That's the year we hung the creche scene three feet off the ground.

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