What goes up must come down, including Christmas trees.
Last Saturday we deposed ours. My son and I carried the fallen Christmas tree to a municipal mulching site called Camp Small.
There, with a minimum of ceremony, a set of whirling steel blades transformed the once-tall pine into a stream of wood bits. The bits shot toward the sky before eventually coming to rest on a pile of kindred mulch.
Watching this was an emotional experience. I rejoiced that, unlike last year, the dead tree wasn't going to block our driveway until it was carted off in a trash truck.
My kid loved it, mainly because the tree grinding was so violent. "It sounds like World War II," he said, gleefully. I didn't bother to ask how an almost-7-year-old knew anything about the Big War. I liked the metaphor.
This practice of chewing Christmas trees into bits is generally referred to as recycling and generally thought to be a good thing because it saves space in municipal landfills. As far as I can tell, there is some truth in such statements. But I am certain that watching your Christmas tree get mulched is a satisfying, if muddy, form of family entertainment.
Traditionally in our house, sparks fly over the question of when to depose the tree. The kids want to keep the tree up and glowing for another month. There is some sentiment to honor the religious practice of keeping the tree up until after the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. As chief pallbearer of the fallen pine, I have always tried to coordinate the fall of the tree with the arrival of the trash truck. In previous years my goal has been to haul the tree into the alley the night before the Christmas tree truck cometh.
Timing is important. If the tree carcass arrives in the alley too early, it lingers. The sight of a dried-out Christmas tree is a bummer. If the tree gets there too late, it must wait for the Christmas tree truck to pass its way again. That too, is a bummer.
Moreover, experience has taught me that if a single Christmas tree sits verylong in the alley, it soon becomes a forest. Other old Christmas trees join it, at night when no one is looking.
And so, last Saturday afternoon, as my wife removed the last ornaments from this year's tree, I made a snap decision. Instead of waiting in the alley, this tree was going to the grinder.
As I wheeled the car around to the front of the house, I had second thoughts. It was raining, not great tree-toting weather. Secondly, it was 1:30 in the afternoon, the mulching site closed at 2 p.m. and I wasn't exactly sure I could find the place.
And as I pushed the tree carcass into the car trunk, about one thousand pine needles took up residence on the trunk floor. Getting the needles out of the trunk was going to be big job. A job for next spring.
The trip was slow. As I drove along the Jones Falls Expressway, the tree started coming out of the trunk. I stopped along the side of the road, near a time and temperature sign, and scampered around the car to push the tree back in the trunk.
A big truck whizzed past me. I imagined the worst and the resulting headline: "Man Toting Christmas Tree Is Mulched at 1:40 p.m., 5 degrees Celsius."
I limped along in the slow lane. When I got off the expressway I missed my turn. (Camp Small is a one-time Union Civil War encampment near the Jones Falls. Getting there requires driving over the I-83 overpass on westbound Cold Spring Lane, then turning right at the first driveway past the expressway overpass.) After turning the car around, a none-too-easy maneuver with a Christmas tree in the trunk, I rolled into Camp Small.
It looked more like a compost pile than a camp. It was muddy and full of tree stumps and puddles. But right next to a huge puddle a man was feeding trees into the grinder. I unloaded the tree, and walked back to the car to watch.
My son sat in the back seat of the car, his nose pressed against the window. A few other kids who had accompanied their trees to the grinder also looked on with wonder in their eyes.
As I waited for the tree's transformation, I made two mental notes.
First of all, I saw a familiar-looking dump truck, the kind that last year had carried our tree away from the alley. Later sanitation officials told me that if I had left this year's tree in the alley, it might have ended up on one of these trucks. If it did, the tree would have eventually been ground into mulch.
However, an alley-dwelling tree could also have been picked up by a regular trash truck, the kind with a compactor.
If that had happened to our tree, it would have up gone to rest in the landfill.
By taking our tree to meet its mulcher we had insured its fate. And we got to watch.
The other note I made was that even though I had brought my own bag, I was not going to exercise my right and carry home a bag of Christmas tree remains.
However fragrant the chips might be, they would also be soaking wet.
Instead I was content to let our unclaimed Christmas tree be joined with its fellow wood chips and be used as mulch in city parks.
It is a greater good. It would only be fitting if tree chips reappear in the park named in honor of the Druids.