Sunday, December 9, 2007
The closest Christmas tree farm is just over the Wisconsin border. But we choose to drive a few miles farther to the one with donuts and free hot chocolate and the spiffy website.
I'd never cut down a Christmas tree before. We always had an artificial tree when I was a kid - fun to put together, matching the yellow paint smudge on the wire branch to the yellow marked hole, but missing that sharp cut pine smell or the chance of finding an abandoned bird nest as we did last year.
"Watch out for the sap," said Sally.
On the farm's website, Randy and I had researched the needle retention and comparative scent intensity of the different pine, fir and spruce types, but all that knowledge flew away with the fast and brisk wind once we got out of the warm car. "Oof! Let's DO this!" we rallied.
While we were waiting for the tractor to come around and pick us up, we peeked into the giant white tent that held a Narnian world of already cut trees.
"Ooo," said Mia, "It's like a magical forest!"
Oh how very tempting - we wouldn't have to schlep around in the muddy fields, but no, in for a dime, in for a dollar and we are going to have this whole G.D. experience, G.D. it.
"Most with cones for seeds, most with needles for leaves,/C is for Conifers, my kind of trees!" sing They Might Be Giants.
The wagon, if you could call it that, was little more than a long wooden platform with rails for our feet but no sides. We huddled close, gripping the girls in our laps, laughing at the bumps. Randy held the snaggle-toothed saw with one hand, Mia far away with the other.
In the field, the sky was clear and dark blue, the sun restoring us with vitamin D. We had the whole sky and the whole afternoon before us. Only three o'clock and it was already the golden hour, with the light all slanty and beautiful.
Eleanor ran around and hid behind the littlest trees. Mia, wearing a Santa hat and smiling, chased her a little, followed Dad.
I'm happy with every tree I see, cause I know we're going to tart her up with a sparkly makeover. But Randy's all, "That one's too crooked, look at the big hole in the side, not enough room for ornaments, too skimpy." I teased him about the absurdity of being a perfectionist in 32 degree weather, in a field of mud.
We finally agreed on one - a scratchy pine, possibly a Scotch, not too tall. Randy lay on the muddy grass to reach the trunk with his saw.
On the way back to the barn, our tree fell off the bouncy wagon. We yelled at the driver over the engine roar.
The girls watched fascinated, as a vibrating dish shook the dead needles off our tree, then a shivering conveyor belt sucked her into a gin, closing her up like an umbrella and wrapping her in twine.
Inside the noisy warming house we drank the most delicious hot chocolate ever. "It's just Hershey's" said the lady sitting behind the counter.
On the way home, Nora slept and Mia sucked on the thumb she'd pulled out of her mitten and looked contentedly out the window. Randy and I giggled for miles after passing a restaurant called "Bacchus Nibbles." "Satan's Yummies," offered Randy. "Or is it a strip club?" I wondered.
At home, Randy cut off the bottom inch or so of the trunk and we set her up in the front window. She's been drinking gallons of water. The first night, I even woke up around three, anxious, like with a new puppy. In the dark, I found her reservoir empty and filled it, reaching through the scratchy needles.
It's hard to replicate your first experience inside something really new and beautiful. Even our second visit to this farm will be following an inscribed map of memory. "We had the best hot chocolate ever," I will say. "The tree fell off the wagon. Remember?"
Our next visit might be fun and memorable, too, but I will not be as open and receptive to sensation as this first time. I think this tender sensitivity to experiencing the world is how children live every day - it seems any old walk around the block fills their hearts and senses.
When Mia, our first baby, was only a few days old, I tried to explain to my friend Christina what it felt like to have a brand new child in the house.
"The closest feeling I can compare it to is when I was a kid and I got a new bike for Christmas," I told her, wincing because this memory seemed so inadequate compared to the momentous event we'd just gone through. I mean, we went to a hospital and everything!
I tried to go on, get at the heart of this new overwhelming, but slightly familiar feeling. "Um, remember when you were surprised on Christmas morning to get a big present that you really wanted? And you wanted to be near it all the time - like keep the bike in your room overnight?" Yes, Christina remembered.
But it's really not that bad a metaphor. A baby is not a toy, but having children can return you, if you let it, to the time when you were a child yourself. A time when just the pink and shiny surfaces, just being close to this new and wonderful thing was all you needed, was enough, to thrill you and fill you with happiness.