O' Christmas Tree

I watched a holiday movie this weekend where the characters stroll through a New York City Christmas tree lot, their fashionable hats jauntily perched atop their perfectly-styled hair, while strings of fairy lights twinkled above them and festive carolers serenaded them. They chose their perfectly-shaped tree, smiled dreamily at each other, and...that was it!


I needed to know more! How did they get their tree home on the crowded streets? Did they need three people- two to hold each end and one to clear the way like the carts in the airport? ("Excuse the tree, please!") Did they have to walk it up the stairs in their building? Or did they try to stuff it into the elevator, and it was too long, and just when they realized it, the door closed and sliced off the top? 

These are the kinds of questions jingle-jangling around in my brain because I've never lived in New York City.

And I've never been to a tree lot.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always had a Christmas tree. And they've always been real. No fakies for me. But we never bought our tree from a lot, we always went straight to the source. The forest.  

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

We’d climb into our magic sleigh (aka SUV), venture onto the road less traveled- then onto no road- in order to find a special tree that would join our family for Christmas.

Our tree adventures may sound like a Norman Rockwell painting, and most truly were, but often a splash of Clark Griswold was tossed onto the canvas. 

For years, we purchased a permit from the US Forest Service. They sell a certain number to help thin the forests for fire mitigation. It’s a win-win for everyone. We get to cut our own tree, and it helps them keep the forests healthy. The permit was usually good for one day, or a weekend, but you had to buy in advance because they sold out pretty quickly.

One year, a blizzard blanketed the forest on the weekend of our permit. The temps were below zero, the wind was howling, but we were determined to get our tree. We bundled up in more clothes than most people own, ventured out into the arctic temps, and because everything was covered in deep snow and it was FREEZING COLD, we chose one of the first trees we saw. We tied it to the roof of our SUV, and headed home. Only to discover that once the trip home had blown off all the snow, our twelve-foot tree had exactly six very scraggly limbs that weren’t even strong enough to hold one partridge in a pear tree, much less two turtle doves and all those ladies dancing.

That was the year most of our ornaments ended up on the fake garland on the fireplace mantle. But we still smile every time we remember that tree, holding one strand of lights and the kids’ paper ornaments as proudly as if it had been on display in Rockefeller Center.

Another year, we strapped our young son into a sled, thrilled to introduce him to the pleasures of our family tradition. Good thing his memories don’t go back that far because that rickety sled dumped him face first into the snow, not once, but twice, before Sparky and I decided maybe we should just carry him.

There were many beautiful moments, too. The year our daughter was strong enough to use the hand saw. Our daughter and son yelling “Timber” in perfect harmony, then hugging our Christmas guest in thanks before we tied it to the roof. Our fluffy dog bouncing through the snow with us. Singing Christmas carols in goofy voices. Snowball fights. Sunny days. Exquisite views. Happy memories.

More recently, we’ve been lovingly cutting our Christmas trees from our own little ranchette. We choose ones that are in a clump and won’t be able to grow any longer. It’s part of fire mitigation for our property now.

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

The views are still breathtaking and strolling out the back door fits perfectly in our busy schedules, but the walk up to the house doesn’t shake off the snow as well as driving down the highway.

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

This year the trees had to do a little sunbathing against the house before we brought them inside.  

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

©2015 Suzanne Nieman Brown

No matter where we go, I love our Christmas tree tradition. I love wandering into the woods, admiring the tall and the short, the scraggly and the full, the beauty of nature. I love the scent of sticky sap on my hands, the thin limbs that cry out for Linus’ magical blanket, and the imperfections of a tree allowed to grow up just the way it wants to.

We never had a squirrel leap out from the center of a tree, but we have frozen our eyelids shut while searching, tied up many an ornament-laden limb, and brought home ones that were just a little (LOT) too big. Someday I would love to go to a tree lot in New York City and have the movie-perfect experience, but I’m always going to love cutting down my Charlie Brown trees. And making perfectly imperfect memories.