Thursday, January 5, 2017

Oh Christmas Tree Oh....

   I loved my parents for a lot of reasons.
   Truthfully, I didn't love them for more, but that's my fault.
   I loved, that to my mom and dad, the animals came first. The dog didn't live outside and you didn't hit him, the cats could eat your food, the snake didn't get into trouble if he bit you, the gerbils weren't used as toys.
   They had their lives. They walked around according to their odd little mammalian (and reptilian) orders. Neither of my parents expected them to act like people. If the cat wanted to come in. And then five minutes later wanted to go out. And then ten minutes later was pulling at the screen because he wanted to come back in, well that's just how he was wired. Dad might bitch, but he didn't accuse. He didn't judge.
  I always admired that in him.
  My mom might not want a cat on the table at dinner, but at breakfast, big deal.
  My parents gave me the sense to give animals their space, to let them wander and not corral them too much toward human expectation and need.
   My parents gave the animal in me a safe home. To this day, if I'm in a pet store, in a zoo, in a paddock, out on the streets following a stray, the organic lope of a cat or the hop and skip of a crow or the joyous canter of a horse make more sense to me than waiting by a crosswalk for the signal to say go.
   The other thing I'll always love about my parents is they never took down the Christmas tree in my presence.
   Some folks remember or fetishize the days that mom and dad didn't let them see the presents go under the tree, IE how long they kept Santa Claus alive.
    Wasn't a big deal to me. I had much older brothers and at a young age I knew "he" was a construct. A metaphor for generosity, and I think, when I found out the truth, I was more impressed that everyone on earth (on the Christian earth I imagined universal back then) exchanged presents on the same day than some guy ran around the planet handing them out.
    My family chose, put the tree up, and decorated it together, my brothers and I and both parents taking messy turns hanging the ornaments. An aesthetic family stew. A collaborative art work.
    But it came down in secret. My mom waited until sometime in mid January, she was a stickler for observing the Epiphany, and one afternoon I'd come home from school and the tree and the ornament case would be gone. The quiet labor of mystery.
    The Xmas tree became as important if not moreso than the gifts to come, than Xmas dinner, than gathering around dad's chair to read Clement Clarke Moore. And as I got older and bought more gifts than I got, which is really the rubicon of adulthood, the Christmas tree became for me the hot center of the holiday.
  Home from college coming home late at night both parents asleep and the house silent but for the padding mew of the cats I loved to see the tree coloring the window as I turned up our street. I loved the prismatic splash it made on the ceiling of our dark living room. How the living thing and the electric lights co-operated to make a seasonal sculpture. A totem thousands of years old standing in the corner of the first floor of a tiny Dutch colonial in East Pittsburgh.
   I say all this to explain an odd habit of mine.
   I do this ....thing.... now. I've done it for awhile.
   I used to look around and see if anyone was watching me or coming my way but now I don't care.
   When the streets and the sidewalks start to fill with abandoned xmas trees, tossed out, piled, plopped onto the corner to await the garbage men I take more frequent walks.
    And whatever tree I pass I touch, or if I have the time I stop and take a few needles from a branch and I taste them, or I fold them and rub them into my hands until I can feel and smell each trees scent, its way, its particular life.
   Some are dry as plastic but if you bend the needles in half that sharp pine smell still emerges, half nectar half urine, with varieties of taste as wide as Turkish sherbet, and one of those scents like blood or sex or shit or bread that fixes itself in your desirous reptilian brain. A vibrant arboreal boy come in from playing in the forest.
    Consider each tree, its body, would I have bought it? Is it still alive? If stood back up and sunk into a bucket would it breath a few more days?
     They're almost corporeal, pine trees. They have a sort of figure. Hips and a torso and a graceful peak. I'll admit it I find some of them sensual. Maybe it's more accurate to say they have a volume to them, a skirting, that speaks of life. Little pyramidal universes, ecosystems, minor metaphors for community, for the arboreal genius and wealth of stasis. This mystery we bring into our homes. We decorate and praise them.
   And then almost as one we toss them to the curb.
   Why we don't burn them in a deliberate ritual to end Christmas, a Twelfth Night bonfire, or bury them en masse to enrich or protect the spring harvest I don't know. There's a lot about "us" and what we throw away without a second thought that I do not and never will understand.
   You'll find me in the dog run.


  1. I love remembering long ago when my parents were still here. The wonderful memories will never go away.

    Thanks for the memories you brought to me today.

  2. David Thank You. You have brought back the wonder of Christmas that I had as a child and greatly miss.

  3. Thanks Dave. I was taking a walk during lunch break and stumbled across some abandoned Christmas trees. It made me smile as I pictured you grabbing some needles in order to smell the tree's scent. Thanks for this.

  4. Vivid, heartfelt, and perfectly timed piece, Dave. Thank you. Wednesday evening was the first time in my adult life that I disassembled a real tree and hauled it out to the curb. The palpable sense of reluctance and gentle sadness kind of amazed me.The Japanese call it Mono No Aware. Anyway, it was a good tree. Beautiful and it smelled ah-maz-ing the first few days before it faded into our normal house smell. I got one last fleeting noseful of Fraser Fir as I shoved it out the door. I stood there gasping inward until it was gone. Scent is a powerful thing and I once bought a sweater because it smelled like the inside of my families Christmas ornament storage box. Thanks again.

  5. Je comprends ce sentiment mais je trouve triste de voir ces arbres dehors, après avoir été mis en lumiere , on les laisse se dessécher...tandis qu'un sapin dans sa forêt, sans plus d ornements que ce qu'il a déjà, vivant ....

  6. I just turned 45 years old and me and my 5 siblings, of which I'm in the middle, still get Christmas gifts from Santa. We still get presents from "Mom and Dad" even though Dad is as magical as Santa now. I miss him so much. Our Christmas tree was small this year it made the mound of presents seem enormous, the magic of Christmas is real and will always be real. Thankfully.

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  8. It's all about childhood memories that make our inner child safe ... this warm feeling of family , of a happy childhood ... sort of nostalgic feeling ...

  9. .....How lovely are your branches. Mum bought a very scappy looking thing this christmas. barley four foot tall. To be honest we did not have the time to get something decent. But that was fine as my mum had everyone around . 10 children and 11 adults all squished into my mums' very small front room. The space was needed. How scrappy did the tree look before decorating? very very scrappy, and looking worse by the minute.
    But it was my mums decision. Old fashoined ancient tinsel was entwined in the branches and lights of every colour adorned it. Like the lights from my childhood. Even though not as sophisticated and sleek as some trees nowadys which are more uniform in colour and less free ,. The tinsel and the lights that drowned the poor tree. reminded me of a warm christmas, safe and magical.

  10. As an Australian, I have always found the American tradition of buying cut trees every year fascinating. In Australia, Christmas is in summer, so trees probably wouldn't survive long after being cut, so we have plastic trees. That, however, brings its own memories of Christmas in shorts and having to wait until 9 pm to enjoy the Xmas lights. Food is usually colder, like prawns and ham with salad, roast if you're lucky for someone to cook it with the ac on. New Year with a Scottish heritage always meant the tree came down before you welcome the New Year in. Memories are so evocative.

  11. Edgewood did (or does...not sure) burn many on the field. Used to go but haven't for awhile. Kind of a cool ending for them.

  12. Thank you for sharing this story. My sister and I have just recently put down (some *wink*) our Christmas decorations including our Christmas Tree. I don't know but we were just so in love with our tree this year. I guess how we decorated her reminds us so much of our childhood. Found myself saying goodbye to our tree the other night and just basking under her warm glow, of course I made sure that everyone else was asleep.

  13. Very lovely story. Have always felt the Christmas pine tree to be like a guardian , or rather the embodiment of the secular Christmas spirit. Almost like the branches of the tree are enveloping, spreading and welcoming the Christmas hopes and good wishes. Your habit of touching the discarded trees, is like touching and feeling the vibrations of the Christmas spirits of its previous owners. I believe good feelings travel like waves.

  14. Wonderful memories. My favorite thing to do as a child and still is to turn off all the lights, except the tree, and watch the old black and white Christmas movies I watched as a child with my mom and dad. Of course, it's never really Christmas if you don't watch Peanuts, Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa Claus.

  15. Impressive..both your writing, and your respect for life..even if it's "just a tree". The town I live in asks for Tree donations to be fish habitats in various water ways, which I love to visit. I love hiking (and sometimes detour off the beaten path thru the woods).
    This particular blog got my interest as my best friend, Clint, made sure he got a live Tree this past Christmas, as it was to be his sister's last. Tess was the life of the parties wherever she went, right up to her last days.
    Tess and Clint got me thinking of you, as they told me that they, and a few of their family, believed that Tess' twin (who died as a baby) reincarnated in Clint. Those 2 were SO close, they'd even finish each other's sentences, and knew when the other was hurting. Tess and Clint had a saying..Clint would tell her "I love you much" and she'd reply "I love you Mucher", and then Clint would come back "I live you Muchest". Today was Tess' funeral. She died of cirrhosis. She had willed him her truck. In the glove box was a note to him. It read "I love you Mucher little Brother".
    She knew she was going, and the 2 of them made the arrangements. Even though Clint was dying inside, he stayed strong. When they were picking songs, she told him she wanted everyone to be dancing (which made me think of the funeral scene of Ghost Whisperer). I've done what I could. I hope I've helped some. I've been worried about him, as he, too, was a drinker. He's been sober 5 yrs. I was afraid this would cause him to go off the wagon. At least until the dream I had early this morning.
    I was in a very large area that was ALL white. And there was a long line of women (as far as the eye could see).and each were waiting to give me a hug. At the front of the line was Tess. I knew at that moment (some how) that the message was to know that everything was going to be OK! I told this to Clint. I think it helped. At least I hope it did.
    Sorry for the long post, but I had to share this...please don't ever loose your passion for writing, animals, and whatever floats your boat, as it makes for interesting reads��. Stay safe!

  16. Beautiful writing and such sweet sentiments.

  17. Christmas is a very important time for me each year because they are tradition in our family. Most families have traditions. As I was growing up in the small town of Lenoir, NC, which I moved back home in 2012, the Friday after Thanksgiving Mom and the family would always put the Christmas Spirit on and put up the tree with it tassles and bells and everything else we could think of. Then as the Christmas holidays got closer, we would start sliding presents under the tree, but mainly because of the dog and cat she had. The cat, Snowball, would like to get under the tree and play with the ribbon and tear the tree down. So, anyway, Christmas Eve, we, all eight of us, would paul up into the small Geo we had, which by the way is still in the family until this day, and we go down to Grandma Lois house for a huge Christmas feast. It was a special time of year. Then the next morning we go where our presents were waiting and open our gifts after we would eat Ham biscuits. Did not always like to eat them because they were salty but mom learned to fix them better over the years. Well the tradition lives all in my mother children and grandchildren.