Thursday, December 07, 2006



Several years ago we stopped putting up real trees at christmas, mostly because after more than 25 years, we had gotten tired of going out into the moose range - just a few miles down the road from us - and harvesting one of our own anymore. We'd spend hours trying to find one that best fit our "image" of a perfect tree, wandering further and further in from the road, and finally selecting our victim "miles" away from our car. By the time we'd cut it down and dragged it back to the car through the deep snow, in the dark, we no longer cared what it looked like; we just took it home and threw as many decorations on it as it could hold. With all the lights and ornaments and tinsel, you could no longer tell which side was flattened out from the long drag out to the road.

Still, we couldn't justify plunking down $100 for a tree trucked to Alaska from a tree farm in Washington state - by the time it gets here it would already be shedding its needles like ... um well, like a dead christmas tree sheds its needles, I guess. Instead, we bought a six-foot plastic tree with built-in lights. So our christmas tree ritual had evolved to hauling the oversized box out of storage and wrestling to unfold the "branches" and fit all the sections together. Then we'd carefully bend all the compressed branches into the approximate shape of a "tree". That was the easy part.

Now, I'm not an electrician, but I did wire my own house when I built it, so I do understand the basics of electricity. Still, I'd spend a considerable amount of time every year lying on the floor under the tree (from that perspective I could imagine I was Alvin scampering among the branches), trying to figure out once again how (and of course why) it was wired so illogically. Each of the sections has several male and female plug fittings, and some have three or four plugs stacked together. Eventually I'd remember that the main power connection was one of the plugs in the middle section (!) not at the base where any sane designer would locate it. But by now, I would have already unplugged and replugged several of these lines, and of course at least half the strings would not light up. By the time I did get the lights sorted out I would usually be pretty disgusted with it all - having exhausted my small reserve of patience and most of my vocabulary of cuss words - so I'd retire from the scene, leaving the rest of the decorating to Y and Z.

This year, though, we just couldn't face putting up that plastic monstrosity again - beside the grief of putting it up, it just felt too phony. With a big box store arriving on the scene a few years ago, the price of imported trees has fallen somewhat. So, we decided to spring for a "live" tree once again. No pine-scent air freshener "ornaments" this year; we're getting the real thing!

To get into the mood for tree shopping, this morning I played several carols on my cello. When I sight-read off the printed music from my teacher, I did OK, but if I just played from memory (once I got the first few notes right) I found I played these simple tunes even better without thinking about the actual notes. I guess I've progressed far enough that my fingers knew where to go without too much conscious direction. So, to add some challenge, I then went back and played a few of the harmony parts.

We ended up selecting a small 4-1/2 foot tree that was carefully sculpted into a perfect cone. Now all I have to do is sort out all the light tangles that have festered in the bottom of one of the christmas cartons these past few years. Somehow, I suspect we'll end up driving to town again this weekend to buy new lights too....

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