Hello again everyone. Thank you for your patience during our entirely unintentional hiatus. I hope you are all staying warm during the holidays and experiencing more joy with friends and family than stress over figuring out what to buy them.
(And if you don’t celebrate the traditional capitalistic interpretation of Christmas, please tell me about your life. I would like to know a] what the holidays are like without the holiday madness, and b] how you get through the ceaseless cold and dark without the lure of presents to kick the season off)
So, without further ado, the story:
It started with the usual tradition of a Christmas tree.
My family had the tradition of going either to a plant nursery to select a pre-cut tree or, as has been our norm over the past several years, to actually go to a Christmas tree farm and cut one ourselves. Whichever route we took, there was always the uninhibited child-like joy of racing through the aisles of greenery, petting many trees, declaring that THIS ONE was obviously the best, nay, this one ’round the corner, eventually determining that all the trees are good trees and going with one that we spotted at the beginning of our hunt. Merm was often following along behind, laughing at us and saying that we were just going to get the first one we saw. We would fetch our congratulatory cups of hot chocolate, and the day would conclude with us hauling the tree away in her Tahoe for installation and decoration as evening fell.
Even when I was living in Cincinnati, I set up my own tree AND drove home to partake in the tree-picking with my family. The tree is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. The holiday music I would gladly forego, but the tree…the tree is the centerpiece, the foreground, and the initiating ceremony of Christmas.
My beloved comes from a family with a fake tree, and he really doesn’t see the point in going outside, cutting a tree down, and putting it inside for a couple of weeks. In his words, it was like a macabre celebration of the tree’s slow death and that a fake tree was, in the long run, more environmentally friendly (Reduce, Reuse, Recyle? Can you recycle a fake tree?)
After some cursory research, it seems like it really depends on where you live, but for the most part, no. They are made of too many different materials, including lead and PVC. For plastic trees to recoup some of their environmental cost, they have to be used at least 5-6 times (which is fairly normal from what I hear of families using fake trees). For a real tree to be considered “environmentally friendly”, it should be sourced locally to avoid the cost of fuel/transport. Real trees harvested from farms are considered a crop, like corn or beans, and new trees are seeded once the old are harvested. They also serve to fix carbon into the soil and help prevent erosion! Furthermore, it uses farmland that cannot often be used for more traditional fields (too hilly), which means farmers can still use that land to support their business! I’ll put sources at the end of this post.
Okay, for real this time, on with the story!:
This is our first Christmas with our roommates, Ben and Jess, and we didn’t have a set approach on the tree. Ben comes from a strictly real-tree family, and Jess liked the idea of a real tree, but her family uses a fake tree, so that was her norm. We decided to explore our options. In the process, we discovered that you can buy PRE-DUG Christmas trees. As in, trees that still have their root ball attached.
You can buy a Christmas tree that can be replanted, and it will live as an outside Christmas tree, instead of being cut down, used once, then discarded.
It’s a whole new world folks.
We decided to go with Ben and his parents on their tree excursion at the Davidson Christmas Tree Farm. We started the day off by meeting the parents for breakfast at an amazing diner-type place, sort of like a tiny, local Cracker Barrel. Then we all piled into the car, all five of us and the family dog for the trip to northern Maryland.
The place was busy, crawling with people out for their holiday tree-fix. So many families, so many dogs in sweaters. It was appropriately cold, but the sun was shining, and we had a great time wandering the fields to help the parents find their tree. We also found the pre-dug trees near the checkout booth. It turned out they had exactly the kind of tree we were looking for (a blue spruce), and it was a lovely tree. Not “perfect,” but perfect. It was extra spiny, extra fluffy, and about five feet tall, so not overly large or intimidating, though the root ball and is position on top of a tire made it closer to six.
Our first problem came when the workers told us we wouldn’t be able to load the tree on top of the car because of the root ball. It was just too awkward and heavy.
Not to worry though! The lovely Megan had just called, asking to meet up. As I was only twenty minutes from her, she agreed to meet us at the tree farm, where she would pick me up, and we’d go for coffee. And, as luck would have it, Megan drives a larger vehicle with a cargo mat and plenty of space once the back seats are folded down…
Megan arrived, we directed her to the pickup/loading zone for trees, and that’s when the workers brought out the forklift.
Which honestly should have been our first clue…
They loaded the tree, root ball first. It took the forklift and about three other guys positioned around Megan’s car to pull the tree into the back. Dirt and pine needles immediately began building a nice carpet, the cargo mat began to bunch, and the top of the tree was hanging out the back. We weren’t able to close the hatch, so the workers tied it with twine. It was not tidy or neat or confidence-inspiring.
But we got in the car anyway, and Megan began to drive toward the road, which began with a semi-steep hill. Whereupon, the tree immediately began to slide, taking the cargo mat with it on it’s inevitable descent back toward mother earth.
We decided to return to the start point and try again. Out came the forklift and the helpful employees (thank you so much, you amazing folks, for your strength and patience). It was around this point that I learned the forklift was a necessary part of the process, not just a convenience, since the root ball was around 250 pounds. It was also, coincidentally, around this point that my hard-fought, albeit nervous optimism, changed to internal screaming.
We loaded the tree for the second-time, top first. It fit much better this time, though it did mean that the tree’s especially pointy top was perched right between our faces in the front seat. We closed the hatch, hopped in the car, and off we went! I braced my elbow near Megan’s headrest to prevent the tree from stabbing her as we drove around corners. Once we got off the back roads with all their twisty turns, that helped a lot. I was especially grateful for my thick jacket’s protective shell against the tiny needles trying to thread themselves into my skin.
We got some dinner, which was nice, took some time to decompress from the day. We arrived back at the house, but it turned out that everyone else was still out. We were alone with the tree. In Megan’s car. The 250+ pound tree.
And it was getting dark.
But people did arrive, including both roommates and Bradley and a bevy of friends. We grabbed a tarp to give the tree a place to land, and other people moved inside to start debating where we were going to put the tree. Our original plan was no longer feasible, because the tree *cough root ball*, and the tub we would need to put it in, was too big for the space. So we were hurriedly searching for a new, better place to put said tub and tree, while Bradley and Ben departed once again, t off in search of an appropriate tub.
Chaos. Utter. Chaos. We got the tree out. With the help of the tarp, we were able to lift/roll the tree over the curb and onto the lawn. This was my first time feeling the weight of this tree, and I swear, it was like that tree was magnetized to the earth. There is nothing so humbling as setting all of your possible strength against something and feeling it absorb everything and move not at all. Humbling and horrible. Nothing like the cruel reality of gravity to remind us of the literal weight of our decision-making that day. We were so hopeful. And so naive.
I set to vacuuming Megan’s car to make the tree but a pleasantly lingering pine aroma, for her at least. We only had to re-park twice for the vacuum’s cord to reach everything. But the needles and dirt were removed! Megan departed, and other roommate and I decided we’d have to do some furniture rearranging, which meant removing a lot of displayed tea pots. Endless mountains of fragile teapots and associated other items.
A friend arrived, to help with our labor of holiday love!
We moved the sideboard to it’s new home, wiped it down, re-set the teapots, realized the teapots may be in danger since the sideboard was near the path of the oncoming storm–I mean tree. Took away the teapots again. More friends arrived! Purportedly to help, but also to laugh. Ah, friendship.
With our reinforcements though, we were able to pull the entarped tree closer to the door, to get it into position for the great heaving up the steps and into the house.
It was determined that we should take the front door off to make it easier to get the tree inside. Jess and friends set about to that task. Bradley and Ben had been gone for a while, so I decided to call to get a status update on their mission. That was when I noticed I’d had several missed calls and a few text messages. None of which said, “we found a tub!”
Turns out, there were none to be had. None were big enough to fit the magnitude of our reasonably-sized tree’s unreasonably sized root ball. If they were wide enough, they weren’t deep enough. If they were deep enough, they weren’t wide enough. Anything that had the right width and depth weren’t solid enough to support the weight or made out of waterproof material. Bradley even contemplated shearing away the sides of two plastic containers and fusing them together somehow. The clerk at Lowe’s postulated we could use a large cardboard box outfitted with a trash bag. But all these possibilities were too weak and too risky, especially considering the potential damage that could be done if our solution didn’t work flawlessly.
For all our struggles and eventual victories, our improvisations, our ingenuity, our determination and passion and force of will, we had finally hit the obstacle that defeated us.
It was the bleakest point of the night.
The End Result
Our generous and good-natured friends helped us restore our home to pre-chaos levels. We dragged the tree over to the side of the house where it would be out of the way and out of the elements until we decided with our landlord where it could be planted. The door was rehung. The sideboard was restored to it’s original position and the teapots reset. By the time Bradley and Ben arrived home, things were largely back to normal. Ben, Jess, and friends departed for a prearranged dinner out. It was like a flock of birds, a flurry of activity and energy disappearing into the dark horizon. Bradley and I stayed behind, worn out from the day’s adventure.
Just us…and the tree.
Before leaving Lowe’s, Bradley grabbed a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), a potted coniferous tree (though not actually a pine tree and not one that will grow much indoors) that sort of looks like a baby Christmas tree. We would have two Christmas trees, one inside and one outside. We planted the tree from the farm in our front yard the following evening, in the wet and cold and dark. The ground is a little churned up from all the activity, but we strung up some lights to make it festive. The baby tree is also adorned with light ornaments, bells, and garland.
It wasn’t what we envisioned for the holiday. It certainly had its share of unanticipated challenges. But the trees make for a pretty picture and quite the story. The best part – both trees will still be around for next Christmas.
References for fake vs. real trees, as well as some nifty ideas for re-purposing fake trees:
- Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Which Is the Greener Choice?
- What to do with Christmas Trees
- How to Recycle your Artificial Christmas Tree
- 8 Ways to Recycle Your Real and Fake Christmas Trees
- How to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree