The ritual of the tree

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It’s true. I adore Christmas trees. Truth be told, I adore trees. And while I did grow up in a (albeit, liberal) Christian Church and sang in the choir with the best of them, I admit my devotion to the season is more. I’ll ignore, for now, paradoxical contradictions of religion. Instead, decorated trees awaken in me memories of coniferous boughs, deeply etched melodies, spicy gingerbread and family. Mountains peak above a fog-covered valley, the Willamette winding somewhere below: and, in those moments, my heart fills with hope.

Willamette Valley Oregonians know Christmas trees, even as our population bursts at some seams. And while Oregon grows more Christmas trees than any other state, even supplying one to the White House lawn this year, climate change is making its mark – a topic I’ll save for another day. As kids in Wilsonville, we donned mucky boots and wandered across the street into the woods to cut the fragrant selection for the year, fully cognizant of seedlings bursting through the soil, and the speedy growing habits of douglas fir. Were we even a bit gluttonous some of those years, brother Michael and I, cutting down our own small tree to erect in our shared bedroom? In the evenings I would lie on the floor next to our family’s fully decorated tree, year after year, tree lights illuminating an otherwise dark room, carols streaming from the turntable. I felt peace: loved, blessed and fortunate.

I didn’t notice till I was an adult how my parents didn’t share the same tree selection criteria: Dad was easily and quickly satisfied while Mom needed to browse a bit longer. They figured it out in their own way, perhaps with Dad keeping his fingers crossed each year that Mom would tire faster than on the previous year’s hunt.

I am fairly easily satisfied in my tree search – for after all, isn’t each noble or grand or any other conifer perfect in its own way? Yet, I did marry a guy with a keen eye to detail, and higher particular expectations than I. Alas, we have in fact created our own ritual for finding the Perfect Tree. Every year.

This ritual may have scarred one daughter – she first told us at 20 or so how she really didn’t mind missing the family annual tree quest. “No really,” she insisted. “Go ahead without me, I don’t mind.” (She probably texted a smile emoji to her older sister.) When our kids were younger on tree hunts with my parents at our friends’ Parrett Mountain tree farm, this kid banked on the fact that her grandparents would find the tree first, ingratiating them with her request to tag along, knowing full well she would enter the warm, dry multi-generational party sometimes a full hour before her sister and parents as we continued to seek the Perfect Tree. (This kid is also happy to miss the job of putting ornaments away. Just saying. We love her anyway)

As it turns out, we have the perfect test for any future partners of our daughters. Maybe not so much a test of acceptance as one of survival: if they can make it through this, they can know the rest will be cake. It goes a little like this.

Instructions to pass the Search for the Perfect Tree (P.T.).

  • Make sure to arrive at the appointed time for departure, a few minutes early is always better. Whether early, on time, or late, you will be reminded: A) it gets dark early this time of year; B) Sometimes farms close early; C) it gets dark early this time of year, and, D) it gets dark early this time of year.
  • Be ready to participate in multiple conversations in the car with Christmas music in the background. It doesn’t matter to us whether you are Christian or not. We just like the music.
  • Pack a rain parka (even if there is no rain in the forecast) and boots for the field. No, you cannot wear tennis shoes. You just can’t. It’s really not worth asking again.
  • Yes, really it could take half of the day. It probably won’t but we need to hurry and leave on time in case it does. If you suffer from low blood sugar bring snacks.
  • Be ready to stop at multiple farms to compare and contrast trees.  Expect to get back in the car and return to certain farms if the first farms don’t have the P.T. It is always possible that an earlier-in-the-afternoon specimen not achieving P.T. Status on first viewing may comply on the second trip. Yes, we will probably get the tree at the farm we always do, anyway. But you never know.
  • If you suffer from a poor sense of direction, especially in tree orchards, stay close to a family member.
  • Extra points are awarded for pointing out possible P.T.’s, but try to avoid making silly recommendations. (Hint: Remember the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”)
  • If you have a sudden urge to pee while you’re in the field, no worries – peeing outside is fully supported by this family. Most don’t worry much about privacy.
  • If you don’t know how to identify a noble fir, read up the night before so you can distinguish it from a grand, douglas, or, heaven help you, spruce.  It’s good to make yourself some crib notes to bring if you’re not sure of yourself.
  • Shearing is an abomination. It just is.
  • Once the P.T. is finally discovered, you can begin to breathe a sigh of relief, although keep in mind it isn’t over till it’s over. Be prepared to confirm verbally numerous times that the tree truly is a P.T.
  • Oh, and, knot tying is fancied so don’t offer to help tie knots to keep the tree on the car roof unless you are ready to produce those that are sea-worthy, but it’s fine to continue to admire the tree. Out loud.

There you have it! How much simpler could it be, really? You say you just remembered you have plans and can’t join us? We will truly miss you. Of course, there is always next year. (We hope!)

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