January 2, 2016

Oh, Useful Christmas Tree

At our old home, trees soared
to fouteen fee
I believe in Christmas trees with a zeal only a convert can possess.  Having grown up in South Florida in an era when the idea of flying in fresh-cut Nova Scotia firs was the stuff of science fiction, my family made do with Scotch pines that had already lost half their needles before they appeared the day after Thanksgiving at the Lions Club lot.
Since migrating to New England some 35 years ago, I have become a connoisseur of fresh-cut trees, able to discuss the particular merits of Frasers and concolor firs, balsams, and spruces.  I believed in soaring trees: for 16 years, our trees rose as high as our cathedral ceiling would allow; some years more than 14 feet.  Whatever their height, our trees fill our home with the wonderful scent that only a Christmas tree can bring.
This year's tree had to fit under an 8'
ceiling, but what it lacked in height
it made up for in girth
This Christmas was our first in our new home.  The vaulted ceiling of our old home has been supplanted by an energy-efficient eight-foot one.  So, naturally, we traded height for girth.  The Fraser fir that came into our home on December 18 had branches that stretched an improbable four feet from the trunk at it base, giving the tree an eye-popping circumference of 25 feet.  It took seven strings - 900 lights - to satisfy Betty that there were no gaps in its brilliance.
Our trees are the history of our lives, from my baby shoes and delicate ornaments from the 1930s handed down from Betty’s family, to a wealth of travel mementos repurposed as decorations.  Boxes bearing tiny bells and crystal icicles still bear the name of long-vanished stores - B. Altmans, Woodward & Lothrop - where they were purchased decades ago at prices that seem to be missing a digit.
But a Christmas tree is an ephemeral visitor.  Some friends, especially those with young children, keep their tree lighted beyond Twelfth Night.  In our home, the tree goes up a week before Christmas and comes down on New Year’s Day.  Regardless of the duration, though, the tree must eventually make its exit.
The lower boughs now protect a
slumbering hosta garden, among
other places
For our trees, those two weeks of glory are just a stage in a longer journey.  On the appointed morning after our tree has been ‘de-consecrated’ of its ornamentation but still in its stand in our home, I bring in a pair of sturdy loppers and begin cutting off those lower branches (an enormous sheet of plastic is a necessity). 
The branches are dispersed to insulate perennials and low-growing shrubs.  They offer a layer of protection from unwanted sun and its resulting harmful freeze-thaw cycles.  They lessen the impact of frost heaves and unwelcome animal visitors.  This year, the lower four feet of our tree yielded some 30 branches that were deployed to all corners of our property.  At our old home, we scavenged trees from up and down our street to cover our extensive perennial beds.  As our new garden grows, so may we return to that tradition.
The upper four feet will provide
an avian wind break and shelter
After the lower boughs were removed there remained another lush four feet of tree with thick branches.  We left those on the still-eight-foot trunk and placed the tree at the edge of the wetlands behind us.  Almost all of the trees in our wetlands are deciduous; the lone evergreens are thin white pines.  Our Christmas tree will serve as a refuge for birds seeking shelter from wind, rain, and snow. 

In April, we will collect the fir boughs and take them to our town’s transfer station where they will be chipped into mulch.  A month later, as the remaining fir loses its needles, that remnant, too, will begin its final journey.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had another beauty, Neal. Unlike you and Betty, I put ours up before Thanksgiving (freshly cut at our local farmer's market) and will take it down tomorrow. It has been a comfort to me during this less-than-stellar holiday season and I will be sad to see it come down.