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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

To Tree or not to Tree: the Search for Perfection in the Valley…

The fun begins

“Christmas is just a hardship on a body,”my paternal Grandpa Mike used to grouch this time of the year. That sentiment was lost upon his grandchildren because we were children after all and Christmas to us was all glory, excitement, anticipation. It was our kid’s day of entitlement; our birthdays paled in comparison. 

When my wife and I were first married and lived in Seattle, we thought Grandpa Mike needed a little Christmas in his life and brought him and Grandma a small tree, table-top sized. Our intentions and the tree were noble enough, but in the years since we’ve discussed the likelihood that our holiday gesture probably was tossed in the trash by the time we returned to our apartment that evening. Short of a visitation by a ghost and three spirits in the night, you just can’t force Christmas “on a body.”

And I’ll have to admit that as the Christmas pasts pile up, the holiday has lost some of its glitter for me as well. I have often thought about Grandpa Mike’s December antagonism and wondered how it came to pass. My bet is a large part of it was rooted in that Christmas icon, the family Christmas tree.

When you see tree after tree whiz by on the tops of cars (this year I saw the first green victim the day before Thanksgiving), the pressure is on and mounts by the day. There’s no way around it. December is here. Best get it done.

Perhaps it’s the decision making I dread: select a cut tree or fell one yourself? Head for Freddie’s or a tree farm? Tradition in our household has so far precluded the decision on“real or plastic.”(I see Jim Werkhoven has made his decision. As I pedaled past his place the other day, I noticed a nice looking aluminum tree in the window.  Just wonderin,’ Jim, do you have one of those revolving color wheels for nighttime illumination?) And the same holds true for the variety of tree. What fir fer us? Douglas, always. It’s a fair weather day, so I head for Reiners’ tree farm at the south-east end of the Lewis Street Bridge. One decision down.

Dale Reiner has propagated Christmas trees on the site for a number of years. I meet up with him at the sales center which consists of a trailer and a refreshments tent. Mr. ChristmasMy task this year is finding a house-sized tree. Two years ago when I was here, most of the trees in the north lot were too large. When you select a tree, you also need to factor in the “wide open spaces”effect: out in nature a tree looks smaller than it really is. Nothing like a living room space to take the full measure of a tree. I ask Dale about the younger lot south of the road. “Well, we didn’t shear them this year,” he says, “Didn’t think we could market them, so we spared the expense. But you can find a good tree out there. I’m selling ‘em for ten bucks apiece unshorn.” More decision-making: sheared or natural? This one’s a bit trickier. Our last “au natural” tree came from Kurt’s Vegetable Stand and proved to be a disaster in fir clothing. Its trunk, we discovered when we went to set it in the stand, was shaped like a lightning bolt. Our scoliosis tree we called it, and so a merry scoliosis Christmas it was. Do I want to revisit that scenario? But ten bucks a tree…hmmm. Guess where I’m headed!

And it’s a jungle out there, those unshorn fir, and I’mSo many trees! supposed to choose a winner from this forest? This is the most critical time in the process: selecting just the perfect tree from an entire woods. As if there weren’t enough variables to consider, there’s the paramount one: the approval of the Missus of the house. Here’s where the male of the household is most vulnerable: aesthetics and symmetry seem beyond the masculine jurisdiction. A friend of mine, caught up in the spirit of the season and being a husband of magnanimity in a moment of weakness went out unassisted, chose a tree, purchased it, and carried it home in triumph. His efforts were rewarded by his wife’s terse comments (not verbatim, but you get the idea): “Out, out, out with it! I’m not having that ugly brute in this house!!!” And out it went post haste and my friend hit the Christmas tree trail once again—this time his wife was leading the way.Thus was born a long standing family joke. “Could we come over and see the ‘tree of the week?’” Yes, every year it must be the perfect tree. Anything less and Christmas is in jeopardy. In Truman Capote’s heartwarming memoir “The Christmas Story” young Capote (Buddy) and his Aunt Sook go to the woods and select the perfect tree. On their way home a couple of uppity women in a fine car pull along side and offer them twenty-five Depression era cents for their tree. Miss Sook replies, “Why I wouldn’t take a dollar for this tree!” “A dollar!” the woman exclaims, “fifty cents, my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one.” Miss Sook’s response: “I doubt it. There’s never two of anything.”

Miss Sook was right. I wander through the tree lot, trying to avoid the craters left from trees removed for landscaping (I don’t always succeed) and each tree is different. Hmmmmmm...The sun is low on the horizon, and if I walk south, the trees are just silhouettes; I have to backtrack through the lot, sun at my back, to see each prospect clearly. It’s a sun dazed one dimensional perspective, at best. Too skinnyThat old phrase, “Can’t see the trees for the forest,” must have been coined in exasperation by a Christmas tree hunter.


I wander back and forth through the lot, scour row after row.   Too bushy






I don't think soThis one, perhaps

In the center of the lot I am swallowed up by  the heady fragrance of the fir; I’m just a stranger lost in the forest. After an hour or so of threading my way through the trees, some begin to look familiar: “You again?” they seem to say.

At last from the forest a tree speaks to me. This may be the one. Dare I hope? Looks good from the other side, too, don’t you think? Ah, HaSuccess of the season turns on my decision, so I circle the tree two or three times—clockwisAin't she a beaute—push aside the branches and this time peer in at the trunk to check for any curvatures of the spine. Counterclockwise two or three times, and finally to seal the deal, shear off the prize with the complimentary Reiner Tree Farms buck saw.


I drag my green trophy to the truck and wrestle it into the bed. Don’t know…looks pretty big.Loaded for ChristmasThat’s a whole lot of tree for ten bucks, I think, and head to the “sales department” to settle up with Dale. “What do I owe you?” I asked. The size of the tree may have ramped up the price. But Dale proves true to his word: “Ten bucks”is the firm quote. But I have another idea. Whenever we meet—one businessman to another-- Dale asks me how the honey business is. “Would you take a quart of honey for the tree?” I offer. “You got yourself a deal,” he smiles. A great barter is one that satisfies both parties. 

 The Barter paid

If you’re in the market for fresh tree, I encourage you to visit the Reiner tree farm. Not only are Dale’s prices reasonable; they’re probably the best deal in the Valley. (Most certainly if you have something to barter.) A jaunt to Reiner’s tree loReiner amenitiest is a great way to enjoy the fresh Valley air, get some exercise, and either continue a family tradition or begin one. After you’ve honed your decision-making skills afield, stop by the refreshments tent for refreshments and help yourselves: hot coffee for you; hot cocoa and cookies for the kiddos. Not bad, not bad at all Now when the house cools at night, the tree’s woodsy fragrance greets us in the morning. So much nicer than the smell of an aluminum pie tin or the non smell of a plastic tree. Fir or plastic: what’s the decision there? The best Christmas tree ever, in my opinion, glows warmly in our living room. And I found it myself—unassisted—the most perfect tree in the whole of Reiners’ lot, in the world perhaps. Perfect, yes indeed… for you know, there’s never two of anything.

Christmas 2010




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