This is NOT the Charlie Browniest Tree

A dozen or so years ago, when we were newly married, my wife and I bought a spectacular Christmas tree from a tony local nursery. Wildly expensive, even for the time, I trimmed its twelve-foot height to fit our ten-foot ceiling, performed a surgical shearing of two sides so it would tuck nicely in the corner, and–using the waste branches I had clipped–implanted ‘corrections’ to what few shortcomings in symmetry the tree had. A robust specimen, even in its cosmetically customized form it weighed 150, maybe 175 pounds as younger me shouldered it into the house. It took hours to string lights out to each branch tip across the regular planes of its branch structure, and hours again to decorate it with the appropriately tasteful collection of fake birds and silk flowers we wanted to impress our holidays guests with; and as we stood back to admire our aesthetic labors, the massive tree tilted slowly about eight degrees out of vertical. Laying face down on the floor, wedged under the tree, I struggled to lift the sagging side and shim it up. I tore a stomach muscle, then spent the next four weeks bravely wassailing from a hunched-over and painful position. The day after Christmas I purchased a display-quality

Fake tree! Fake snow! Fake birds! Real child, and real, realy easy...Christmas 2008

Fake tree! Fake snow! Fake birds! Real child, and real, real easy…Christmas 2008

flocked, fake tree prelighted with a thousand white lights. It goes up in five sections and takes a half-hour of painless and profanity-free effort to make the magic happen.

But with the enthusiasm of a seven-year old and pressure from my wife for ‘a tree that goes closer to the ceiling,’ I once again found myself at a Christmas tree lot. My wife had seen one with ‘a lot of tall, skinny trees,’ and so we went back…just to see. I already knew it was a foregone conclusion.

The lot DID have a lot of tall, skinny trees. Very unusual tall skinny trees, with needles held upright on branches of irregular but somehow symmetrically spaced sprays. I asked the owner what kind they were; he replied ‘Alpine Fir.’ When I confirmed, ‘Abies lasiocarpa?’ first, the double-take; then the bromance began. He told me of his Forest Service permit, and how he snowshoed in at 5000 feet elevation and selectively harvested tagged trees, and then hauled them back out on a long, toboggan-like sled.

Now, going to the U-cut Christmas tree field to get a tree sounds a bit to me like going fishing at the trout farm. Not very sporting. But hiking into the high-mountain backcountry to capture a wild tree like some kind of holiday Jeremiah Johnson? I’M SO THERE. Still, as I own neither snowshoes nor tree toboggan, as well as having a number of other time commitments, I will have to keep sending my tree-lot friend to harvest my Christmas tree, should I elect to continue with the natural kind.

I told him I’d never seen Alpine (frequently called Subalpine) Fir used as a Christmas tree, and as it happened I had quite a number of the same tree growing in my “backyard.” We got to talking about other types of trees from the alpine zone, the propagation and use of native mosses, native plants in the landscape, and the blending of native and non-native plants in our region and their impact on the edges of the natural landscape. He gave me a brochure for his landscaping business, and I realized that he was not just a cool guy with a cool Christmas tree lot, he was also my identical landscape twin. My identical landscape twin, that is, if I had a Bobcat and a backhoe, employed a number of talented landscape leads, and had a troop of manual laborers for the really big stuff. Which I don’t. I’d hire him in a heartbeat if it weren’t illegal for me to have such a landscape, and also for my continued woeful failure to win the MegaMillion.

O, Tannenbaum, how lovely are thy branches! Especially when they do not injure me.

O, Tannenbaum, how lovely are thy branches! Especially when they do not injure me.

The tree, with a light trim on the trunk and a little nip off the leader, is just about twelve feet tall, stopping just an inch or so shy of the ceiling. Its slim, four-footish diameter near the bottom made it easy to move to the center of the room to hang our birds and glittery pinecones even on the side facing the rear window, because Sasquatch says ‘me want see shiny tree too.’ In daylight, looking beyond our somewhat twisted and slightly irregular tree to the smaller, even more krummholz-y trees beyond, makes it seem as though the forest extends all the way into the living room. I’m bringing the outdoors in! I am living a magazine cliche!

I remain a bit conflicted about the tree. On the small disc I cut from the bottom of the four-inch-thick trunk, I counted 82 tightly spaced rings. For 82 growth seasons, the tree had battled wind and frigid mountain temperatures, terrible soil and heavy snow loads to become, essentially, a sapling. To spend a month in our living room and then become firewood is a rather ignominious end to this grizzled mountain survivor. I think about this a great deal as I raise my glass of cheer in the evenings…I can’t make this The Giving Tree, there is really so little to it; but perhaps, with enough thought, I can give this tree George Nakashima’s second life beyond its lighted holiday glory. I do love a thought experiment and also a project.

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18 Responses to This is NOT the Charlie Browniest Tree

  1. Mario says:

    I love a profanity-free tree! It looks really nice Calvin.

  2. Deirdre says:

    I can’t wait to see what you do with the tree after Christmas. I love subalpine firs as Christmas trees. The widely spaced branches are great for displaying ornaments. We’re ornament junkies in my family.

    • calvincaley says:

      The trunk is so thin, unfortunately I won’t be able to make a furniture component out of it. I don’t want to make birdfeeders or anything too artsy/craftsy/macaroni-gluey…I want to make something craftsmanlike, or at least utilitarian. I am getting kind of excited about it, even though I am not yet sure wha direction I’ll go. So far it is a great tree–no needle drop at all. Not much scent though.

  3. Chad B says:

    It does seem like a shame to harvest a tree that worked so hard to achieve such a humble size but I think it would be cool to honor that tree by making something cool from it. On the other hand, I think it’s good to financially support people like your doppleganger – people who do things that we think make the world a more enjoyable place to live in.

    • calvincaley says:

      I have to believe that the NFS has a reason it tags certain trees for harvest, otherwise it might bother me a lot more (if I didn’t know about his permit and see the tag on the tree, it would make him much less cool, too). As it is, the guy had to work pretty hard to stock his lot with the dozen or so NFS trees he had. I felt very good giving him my money–and it was surprisingly much, much less than a farmed tree. I might, after the New Year, solicit suggestions for Objets d’Tree. I have some ideas, but suggestions might up the cool factor.

      • Deirdre says:

        It was cheaper than a farmed tree??????? They normally cost an arm and a leg.

      • calvincaley says:

        Certainly as a live tree they are costly on a foot-by-foot basis; but out where I live, Noel Tree Farm has a stand in every strip mall and grocery lot, selling almost exclusively Noble Fir. My tree was about half of what Noel was asking for a farmed Noble.

      • Deirdre says:

        You’re probably way toocool and sophisticated for this idea, but……..a bottle tree.

      • calvincaley says:

        As the father of a seven year old, I can truthfully say there is nothing I am too cool or sophisticated for.

    • Chad B says:

      I know you already mentioned them, but if the trunk is the right size, I think coasters would be cool because they would show off the 82 rings you counted. And, as a bonus, that would probably still leave you with a good length of wood to create something else with.

      • calvincaley says:

        Definitely, Chad. As my plan begins to crystallize, I am thinking I will hold an open-idea forum in early January, reserving napkin rings, candleholder(s), and coasters as ‘taken’ ideas. Whoever has the best idea that COULD be made (not necessarily by me, because tools, skills, inclination, and time will dictate what actually gets made) will be the winner of my very subjective sweepstakes. The winner will receive a one of a kind, collectible, A Thistle in my Sensitive Area ‘thing.’ Whatever that thing is. Probably coasters.

  4. rainyleaf says:

    82 years??? It hurts to think about it and it makes me glad that there are so many farmed Noble firs out there! I feel better knowing you will create something beautiful from this beautiful tree.

  5. Pingback: The Second Life Contest | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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