Turning tree into mulch ends holiday

January 06, 2001|By Rob Kasper

I TRIED to take the Christmas tree down the other night, but couldn't do it. I hauled out the stepladder and placed it next to the tree. I fetched the thick cardboard boxes, the ones that hold ornaments and lights, from the upstairs closet. Then I attempted to rally the troops, to round up a work crew that would take on this unpleasant task. I flopped.

I stood before my family, like a general addressing his soldiers, and tried to spur them into action. My family was less than inspired by my plea. My wife, glancing up from a crossword puzzle, gave me one of those "not now" looks. The elder son did what college kids who are home for the holidays do so well, he disappeared into the night. The younger son, freshly returned to the rigors of high school, complained of heavy homework load, despite the fact that the noise coming from his computer sounded more like something generated by Napster than by English class.

Faced with this reluctant corps, I retreated, vowing to battle the tree another day. Beneath my do-it-now exterior, I too was somewhat unwilling. Putting up the Christmas tree is like getting ready for a gala, it signals good times ahead. But taking the tree down is like cleaning up after a roaring party. It is dreary, unpleasant work, a bummer.

Maybe that is why, when it comes time to take down the decorations, procrastination rules. Baltimore is a town where some folks believe that you don't remove holiday wreaths until they wilt, sometime from the heat of spring sunshine. There must be something in the water that engenders this sentiment. I used to be a fanatic about removing the Christmas decorations; they always came down by New Year's day, sometimes earlier. But after spending over two decades in this area, my attitude toward the decorations is let 'em linger.

For instance, last Monday when mention was first made of taking the tree down, no action was taken. No one unplugged the lights, or took the angel from its perch on the summit, or volunteered to be a "tree lugger," the guy who carries the bristling, wet, sticky pine tree out of the house to its final resting spot.

So the tree got a reprieve of several days.

But this weekend Baltimore City's tree chipper, the pulverizer of pines, is scheduled to grind away at the Polytechnic Institute parking lot, 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days. That will inspire action. (Surrounding suburban communities are also firing up their tree-grinding and curbside pick-up operations this week.)

Hauling the tree to the grinder, and watching it reduced to wood chips is another family tradition. We could just toss the tree in the alley and wait for it to be carried away by the trash crews, but space is tight in the alley. Moreover, I have learned that when a single spent Christmas tree is planted in an alley, the place soon becomes a forest. Put one Christmas tree behind your house, and before you can say "Get that license plate number," groves of dead trees from all over town will join it.

So instead of having a dried-out pine - a reminder of death and a cruel winter - rolling around behind the house, I choose to tie the tree to the top of the car and carry it to the municipal chipper.

Over the years I have followed the chipper around town to its various temporary locations. One year, the kids and I took the tree to Camp Small, a former Union Civil War encampment located near what is now the Jones Falls Expressway and Cold Spring Lane. Another year, we hauled the tree to a parking lot on 33rd Street, across from Memorial Stadium. But for the past few years, the tree has been pulverized at Poly.

Parts of this ritual remain constant. The tree, usually unhappy about leaving the house, takes a swipe at a lamp as it is escorted out of the house. En route to the chipper, the tree tries to escape from the car roof. Always hefty, the tree seems to feel even heavier, when it comes time to carry it from the car to the pile of pines waiting to be fed to the whirling blades.

Fortunately the size of my "tree luggers," my sons, has increased over the years. In the past, I used to be one who had to wrestle the tree into submission. But now I simply supervise my younger, stronger offspring as they carry the yule pine to its demise.

Ashes to ashes dust to dust. Pine needles to mulch. The holidays are over.

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