Back of Squak Mountain off of May Valley Road, over on the east side of the lake, there is a newish development of expensive homes nestled among tall native Douglas firs, and at the back of that development, there is a driveway leading steeply up into a thickly wooded hillside, where yet more modern homesteads have been carved out of the forest, and at the top of the hill the road ends at Trinity Tree Farm. We discovered it last year at the recommendation of close friends. Last Sunday we returned for a second year to wander the rolling hills looking for the perfect Christmas tree.
Yes, we’re Christians, so we kill trees at the onset of winter. Actually, I’ve gotten over my guilt about this annual slaughter of gymnosperms. I know some folks for whom the cutting down of a tree for Christmas is a grievous crime against the universe, and others who simply prefer an artificial tree to tromping around looking for one to cut and drag out of a muddy field, or buying a pre-cut one on a lot somewhere and gambling on whether or not it will dry up in a week, and then trying to vaccuum up all the fir needles out of the carpet. I actually love the little ritual that Angela and I have started with Mara, and I hold that Christmas tree farms are a sustainable practice. The trees are grown for the purpose, just like canteloupe for eatin’.
True, real living trees are cut down, the lives of all those trees terminated, and not for food or shelter or heat but just for hanging baubles on for a week or two, and then discarded, whole. No pith of the tree eaten, no bark used for canoes or mocassins. The entire tree just dumped out on the planting strip. That’s the part that always bugs me, is seeing something that we’ve sundered from its life-giving root system so it can play a symbolically holy part in our Christmas pageantry, then stripped of its ornaments and tossed out with the recycling and garbage. I feel sheepish enough about it that I usually clip the branches of our tree off and put them in the yard waste, and saw up the trunk to add to the firewood stack. Of course, this action has a whiff of suburban guilt clinging to it, as though I was Raymond Burr in Rear Window trying to get rid of the body, and it does not change the fate of the tree. It just — preserves the illusion that we are not unthinking people. It’s silly. Human activity, even our sacred activity, is mostly destructive to the planet. What’s important for us is that we teach our daughter not to take things for granted. For this reason we always say a quick prayer of gratitude around the tree before we lay, as t’were, the axe to the root.
We like nobles. It is one of the many happy instances of commonality between my spouse and me that both of us grew up with, and strongly prefer, the sparse, open habit of Abies procera for a Christmas tree because the whorled aspect (“layered”, as we call it) particularly suits hanging lots of ornaments. When I was a kid our neighbors always got a grand fir that was sheared into a perfect cone, and while it smelled as only Abies grandis can — that citrusy Christmas tree smell — you could neither see into its interior nor hang much on it. They managed to append a few colored ball ornaments to the outside wall of their tree, but mainly they wrapped it in long strands of gold-colored garland.
There are sections of the farm for each kind of fir tree — grands, Dougs, nobles and Frasers, and we always look through the whole noble section, because even the nobles are not often layered in the way we prefer. When we settle on one, we circle the tree holding hands and say a quick prayer thanking God for the tree and thanking the tree for giving its life up for our celebration. Then I climb under it with one of the bow saws they hand you when you arrive.
We usually avail ourselves of the free apple cider and hot chocolate that Trinity Farm sets out, and there’s an antique fire engine for kids to climb on. An open bonfire is kept burning beside which families warm themselves after roaming the fields. There is a kiddie train ride ($3.00 per ticket), and Santa visits on weekends and invites children to sit on his lap in the cider shed. (Note to self: the espresso cart serves really anemic lattes, which was true last year too but I had forgotten so am now twice bitten. Next year, bring a thermos of hot water and some Sanka crystals.)
Mara and Angela rode the train together, and I ran alongside trying to get a good picture. Mara wasn’t comfortable sitting on Santa’s lap (“I don’t know him,” was the reason she gave), but that’s because the man with the fake cotton beard does not jibe with her concept of the saint Nicholas, the thought of whom she genuinely reveres. Santa could see she was hanging back and didn’t try to coax her, though he was loudly invitational with other kids who were more eager to get at the old elf.
Last year, one of the magic things that happened was that when we were putting the stockings away a week or so after Christmas, an extra little something had appeared in the toe of her stocking that had definitely not been there on Christmas morning. It was “Salty” from the Thomas the Tank Engine line. We told her it must have been a gift that Santa initially forgot to leave and then found in his sack later. Last week, when we were decorating the tree, Mara saw a gingerbread house ornament that was also “from Santa” and gleefully reminded us that Santa had come back a second time last year to leave the engine for her. “I love that Santa,” she reflected out loud, almost to herself.
“Santa loves you, too,” Angela said.
Mara thought for a moment, scrunched up her brow and said, “The other day when we were at the tree farm he didn’t even look at me.”
I thought quickly, then said, “Sometimes he’s kinda shy.”