Here’s my final gift to you for the season: the story about my little brother cutting down his first Christmas tree.
The Funny Thing About Evergreens
I have many memories of Christmas. They run riot through my head as I decorate my own tree, and try to convince my children to believe in Santa one more year — just one more year for old time’s sake. But this is one of my favourites. And I’ll never let my brother forget it.
We lived on a farm, and some of what we got to do was amazing. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was. We howled with the coyotes (and if you’ve never done it, I wish you the chance — nothing is more shivery delicious), and watched the stars. We got to watch such a multitude of stars as we were going out to do the chores, I’m surprised we could even figure out how to look down. We sang to the cattle, and rode a sled off the roof of the barn. And every year we went out into the woods with Dad to cut down the Christmas tree.
For me, this was the high point of the year. Unfortunately, we got older, and got busy with life, so we started buying trees. By that time, most of us had already moved away from home, and it just seemed easier to pick up a tree for Mom and Dad than to try to find the time to plough through the woods to find a tree. However, there was one of us who felt fairly ripped off. That someone was my little brother.
He decided that he did not think it was right that the family tree be purchased. He felt it was important that tradition be restored, and that it be cut down from the woods. And since he couldn’t talk anyone of us into helping him — we, in fact, thought it was a retarded idea — he decided he would go and get it himself. He had decided, in fact, to show us all how it should be done. He sharpened the saw and walked to the ravine at the back of our property, to cut down a tree. All by himself.
The day he chose was picture perfect. The sun was shining, catching the ice crystals in the frigid air, and making them shimmer and dance. It was probably well below -40 degrees F, but there was no wind, so it was OK. He thought so, anyhow. And he only had about half a mile to walk. No big deal. Not really.
By the time he got to the ravine, the sun was beginning to set. Remember, we lived in the north, and the days were short. But he still felt good. He had enough time, he was sure of it, to find the perfect tree and get home before it got too dark. So he scanned the woods at the ravine, and there it was. In the increasing gloom, he saw the perfect tree.
Unfortunately, it was perched at the very top of a huge old pine which towered at least forty feet above the ground. However, in spite of the fact that his fingers and toes were quickly losing all feeling, and his breath was forming ice crystals all through his hair, and in spite of the fact that the sun was now diving ever closer to the edge of the earth, my brother climbed that tree so that he could cut off the top six feet of perfection.
Anyone who has ever tried to put Christmas lights on an evergreen taller than themselves has an inkling of what he was up against. Poplars invite you to climb, with long sweeping branches that hold you gently as you find a hand hold on the limb above, but evergreens fight you every inch of the way. And if they don’t dislodge you, they will maim you for life. Now, drop the temperature by a bunch, and do it in the dark. Yeah, that’s right. My brother had managed to find his own personal hell. But he was stubborn. He made it all the way to the top, with the saw , miraculously, still in his possession. He estimated six feet and cut through the trunk. And then he held it out, away from the tree, and let it go.
He watched as it plummeted gracefully to earth. It never touched another tree. It did not even rebound off the lower branches of the tree to which it had so recently been attached. In fact, nothing broke its fall. Except the frozen ground, of course.
That’s the funny thing about evergreens. Even though the sap still runs, when it gets really cold, as bitterly cold as it was the day my brother tried for the perfect tree, the limbs will snap off like glass if you aren’t careful. If you, for example, drop it thirty-five feet or so onto the rock hard frozen ground. My brother had the honour of watching his perfect tree explode in a shower of limbs and needles. His prize, his great and glorious Christmas tree, was nothing more than a stick, lying on the floor of the woods.
To add insult to injury, the rest of us nearly killed ourselves laughing when he fell through the back door, badly mauled by the climb up the tree, and nearly frozen by the bitter cold.
After we thawed him out, we took him with us to buy a tree. And we even let him pick it out. It was the least we could do.