I think the sight bothers everybody, at least a little bit. It happens every year, and yet this is the first year that I remembered beforehand and began to expect it.
On every city street, and on every corner, there are discarded Christmas trees, waiting for pick-up. At least the city recycles them now. Last year they were turned into mulch and spread over city parks. This year they are being hauled up to Tracy, where they will still be turned into mulch. When I moved here 13 years ago, I was appalled to discover in the weeks after the holidays, trees in plastic garbage bags all over town. My housemate at the time did a wonderful photo series of them, taken at night. On film they transformed into ghostly phantasms, haunting and sad.
Growing up, we hauled our dried trees to a corner of our property. Over the years a collection grew and was simply known as “the brush pile”, which we only dared to burn once because of the high fire hazard in Northern California. I also knew it to be the epicenter for Interesting Wildlife Encounters, since the ground squirrels found it to be ample protection for their front doors, and there were always birds perched on the twiggy bones.
It’s telling about our relationship with nature, if you consider how the tradition of holiday trees has evolved. As an oversimplified explanation, originally the evergreen tree symbolized the steadfastness of life and light, even on the darkest night of winter, a beacon of spirit undiminished in a landscape of frozen earth and bare deciduous. Deeper still, trees brought indoors or decorated outside were representations of The World Tree, and served as a sacred centerpiece. Now, as a friend recently put it, the holidays are all about “mass tree death”.
I haven’t had a chopped xmas tree since I left home, opting to decorate trees outside (that are still in the ground) and to bring fallen boughs and cones indoors for “that smell”. However, on December 22 of this past year, I broke that cycle.
I was driving past a huge mansion on Alamo Square when I saw a sign in their window, “Free Christmas Trees”. I had only to wonder for a second before I drove past the surrounding sidewalk that was covered with at least 40 trees. Beautiful, full trees that would have cost at least $50 on a lot. Turns out, the owner of the house also owned a tree lot that closed early, so he just decided to give the rest away.
I went home and told Jeff and we debated…we were getting ready to leave for So Cal, we didn’t have a tree stand, we weren’t sure where to put it, it would, in short, be A Total Pain in the Ass. But the clincher was that we knew our beloved housemate Cleo was going to be staying at the house, alone, for the holidays. She has been such a wonderful friend to us, and especially to Fern, and with the prospect of surprising her, we got it in gear.
The stand we bought at Walgreens didn’t fit the bottom, so Jeff had to whittle away the trunk. With a hatchet. In my room. I used every possible trimming available, including all my vintage lace, and necklaces, window crystals, doilies that a friend gave me, etc. It was kinda shabby chic, maybe without the chic, and since I had to decorate it in secret in my room, all the decorations fell off when we moved it down the hall. There was a bit of swearing and cursing and bumping into corners. We had to rope it to the wall to get it to stand up straight.
And it was wonderful. Cleo loved it. Fern L.O.V.E.D. it and wanted me to sing “Oh Christmas Tree” 8,000 times a day. It was such an honor to have this being in our home. It stayed fresh and green all through, and still is. Yesterday we took off the decorations, and tonight it goes out to the street to begin the last bit of its journey. Several times I have whispered into its boughs Thank you for being here. I’m so sorry you were chopped down, but since you were, I am so glad and honored we got to spend this time together. Thank you.
It’s more than the scent of the needles, the glittering lights, the pretty decorations. It’s the presence. I know you know what I mean.
Bye tree. You made our holidays complete, and we love you.