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O Christmas tree

November 27, 2011

Most of the Christmases I remember from my childhood and teen years involved my family piling into a station wagon and driving to a tree farm to hunt and gather our own Christmas tree.  The procedure was predictable: pile out of car, tromp all over acres of snowy and muddy half-frozen ground, argue a bit about tree selection, and then go back to the first tree we liked and cut it down.  My mom always had final say in the tree selection.  She would examine the tree for oddities such as a crooked trunk or a double top or the ever-present “bad side” that has to go against a wall, and eventually she’d deem one suitable for our holiday celebrations.  She did a good job.  We always had pretty trees.

When Mr. Sparky and I got married, he was accustomed to the captive trees that spring up in droves in parking lots during this time of year.   At my insistence we began our own hunt and gather tradition, one Mr. Sparky eagerly embraced.  We hunted and gathered in Ohio…and Michigan…and California…and South Dakota…and Nebraska…but when we got to FL, we stopped because we couldn’t imagine how far we’d have to drive in order to find a tree farm.   And so we’ve spent the last decade+ buying captive trees, except for last year when I scored a HUGE free one.  They’ve mostly been beautiful Fraser firs, fragrant and green and well-shaped, but there’s something about a captive tree that just isn’t the same.  Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve been hanging out in the parking lot, long separated from their roots and their native dirt.  Maybe it’s the fact that it always feels like cheating.

But this year I really started getting the bug to hunt and gather again.  I began wondering how far I’d have to go.  Would it be unreasonable to drive three hours north to hunt and gather a tree?  Turns out I don’t have to.  There are  few farms within an hour or so of us.  This could seriously happen!

I’m not sure about tree selection, though.  Over and over I’m finding that most farms offer three basic varieties of Christmas trees for hunting and gathering: Virginia pine, Leyland cypress, and red cedar.  The cedar and cypress would definitely be very different for us.  Do they smell good in the house?  Do they drop needles?  Do they hold up ornaments without drooping?  I already know they don’t look like the sort of firs and pines we’re used to.  And what about Virginia pine?  All of the same questions apply, and then I wonder if it’s sharp and bristly.    I am unfamiliar with these varieties of trees, and I wonder just how spoiled we are by our years of prissy captive trees.

When we choose a Christmas tree, I, like my mother, usually get the final say before the tree is harvested.  I check for crooked trunks and double tops and the bad side that has to go against the wall.  I’ve developed a preference for trees that are tall and fairly skinny because they take up less floor space without giving up their grandeur.  I leave it to Mr. Sparky and the eldest Sparkette to approve the smell before I give the final ok, because that’s as important to them as the appearance is to me.  We always have pretty trees.

Or at least interesting ones.

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