Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Magic of Christmas

How the Heck are we Going to Get This Thing Home?
Much has been written about the magic at this time of year.  Poets, songwriters and authors have supplied us with endless examples of the wonder of Christmas.  We willingly believe that reindeer fly, Santa Claus can enter and exit through chimneys and that snowmen come alive with the benefit of old felt hats.  Even the true Christmas story has a magical quality involving brightly shining stars, angels talking to shepherds and a baby born to a virgin mother.  But, I believe I have discovered the true magic that is Christmas, and it has to do with one of the symbols of the season…the Christmas tree.
With the advent of warmer weather and new snowfall I was eager to get out and enjoy the world of white.  I suggested to Noel that we snowshoe up by Lake Mary Ronan.  Never to be one to go somewhere without a definite purpose he said, “Well, if we’re going out we might as well look for our Christmas tree.”  So, the backpack was quickly loaded with the essentials:  a thermos of hot chocolate enhanced with peppermint schnapps, toilet paper, a saw and a camera to capture the event.  Did we think to put on our waterproof snow pants?  Of course not, we were concentrating on the important stuff.  When I saw some sort of rope and handle contraption go into the pack I kind of wondered what it was, but figured its purpose would be eventually revealed, which it was.
We are lucky to live near all sorts of forest land, so we knew we would have our pick of thousands of potential trees.  We were confident that we could find just the one.  Well, the higher we got the more snow we encountered and the berms on either side of the road grew pretty high.  Noel finally pulled up in front of a locked gate crossing a logging road and said, “Let’s try our luck up here.”  I figured I was already pretty lucky that the gate was closed and locked and that we were leaving our four-wheel drive Rodeo on the outside of the gate as Noel has a habit of not giving much credence to “Road Closed” signs. 
I wasn’t daunted by the depth of the snow because I was sure that my handy dandy LL Bean snowshoes would keep me safely on top of the mounds.  In fact, I was feeling pretty perky as I snaked my way between the strands of barbed wire, up and over a small hill and back down to the road.  At least the road was down there somewhere about three feet below the snow I was standing on.  I was also feeling pretty smug because I hadn’t fallen down and I turned back to give Noel some helpful advice on how to get through the fence and side step down the hill.  Even though he didn’t say so, I’m sure he was grateful for my hints.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have made it without my help. 
Anyway, off we trudged up the road.  I must admit that it was slow going.  We kept stopping to look at first one tree and then another.  It was pretty tough to see what they really looked like under pillows of snow so it was necessary to knock the snow off the branches to truly get an idea of the tree’s shape.  My method of hitting each branch individually with my mittened hand was a bit slow so Noel took to diving in and heartily shaking the trunk of the tree to knock off the snow.  I tried this method once, but succeeded only in dumping snow past my coat collar and down my back.  I decided that Noel was much better at that technique so I graciously gave that job to him, politely ignoring the wet spot developing down the back of his jacket.
I wasn’t sure why Noel was sticking so close to the road because the good trees had probably all been cut down by the road.  I preferred spying trees up the mountainside, bounding up the hill (well, maybe I wasn’t bounding, but it sounds good) and then calling to Noel, “I think I found it!”  I couldn’t understand why he was so slow to come up the hill, but he eventually would make his way up to me.  But, in the time it took for him to climb up to me, the tree would have developed a crook in the trunk or it was actually two trees growing very close together, or it had one side that was practically bare.   I couldn’t understand how this happened again and again.  I’d find the perfect tree, and magically in the time it took Noel to climb up to it, the tree had changed.  Oh well.  I kept at it for a good hour, going further and further up the road.  For some reason, Noel kept saying that he liked this one tree we’d seen on our way up, and he started extolling its virtues.  It wasn’t too big, it was full at the top and it was the perfect color of green.  But, just then I did find the perfect tree up the mountain.  I said, “This will be easy.  Look it’s way up here.  We can cut it down and it will have lots of momentum and will roll down the hill.”  And again, Noel started listing the virtues of the other tree back down the road.  He finally ended the litany with “and Shelley, it’s right on the road.”
I replied, “Okay.  I’ve got it…let’s take both of them.  Then when we get home we can decide which one is best and the other one can be used for boughs.”  I thought he looked a little incredulous at my suggestion but I might have been mistaken.  He began again, rather patiently, as if he were talking to a child.  “Shelley, this tree is about eighteen feet tall and I don’t think it’s just going to roll down the hill.”
“But, we have that really high ceiling this year and it’s the first year we can have a really tall tree,” I said as visions of its decorated glory stretching up to the ceiling beams filled my eyes.  But then, my vision cleared enough to see Noel making his way back down the hill.  What could I do but follow?  He had the saw. 
Disappointed, but determined not to show it, I started down the path back to the first tree.  I turned to say something to Noel, but realized that he was not right by my side.  I turned and looked just in time to see him tumbling down the hill.  I’ve heard of this maneuver being called “a__ over teakettle” before.  I’m sure you get the idea.  It seems that he’d caught the toe of his snowshoe under a fallen tree and his forward momentum sent him…well, like I said, I think you get the idea.  I was reaching for my camera but wasn’t able to get a picture before he was up and dusting himself off.  Worse the luck.
Well, we backtracked down the path we’d taken which was a little above but parallel to the logging road.  I hadn’t realized how far we’d come and I kept thinking that the first tree that Noel was talking about was just ahead around the corner.  It really was quite a distance and I realized that maybe dragging the eighteen foot tree in three feet of snow for almost a mile would have been a bit too much.  But then, it really was a great tree.
Eventually we got back to the tree that I had started to think of as “Noel’s choice.”  It would do, I suppose but was quite a bit smaller.  I was hoping he would say, “Oh, I guess this is a bit small….let’s look around.”  But all he did was take out his saw and crawl underneath it.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “It’s perfect,” came the muffled reply. 

Me and the puny tree
Well, it took a while to cut through the trunk and I couldn’t understand why because it looked so puny.  But, by the grunts and groans coming from underneath the bottom branches I understood that it may be puny, but it wasn’t giving up without a fight.  And all the while I helpfully stood and balanced the top so it wouldn’t fall over and hurt Noel.  Finally, he gave one last grunt and said, “You can let it go now” and the tree fell over, revealing Noel crouched in the snow in soggy jeans.  “Well, that was fun,” was all he said.  So, I proceeded to drag the thing up to the trail that we had come down.  And that’s when the magic happened again.  That scrappy little tree had grown in height and in weight just during the time it took Noel to cut it down.  I dug in my snow shoes, set my arms and legs, gave a gigantic tug up toward the trail and…the tree did not budge.  Noel stood there watching and quietly said, “I think we should take it down the hill to the road.”  I looked down and didn’t see any way between the trees.  I started to argue, but knew that he probably wouldn’t help drag it up even if it was shorter, and there was no way I could do it by myself.  So, I grabbed the top, put my whole back into it and rotated it around.  And down we went by fits and starts until Noel’s snowshoe got caught under a fallen tree again and he did another somersault down the hill. The tree was on top of him, which I figure was a good thing because at least he didn’t roll as far this time.Well, after he dug himself out as I held the top of the tree we managed to get it down the road.  Noel fished in the pack and out came the rope and handle affair I’d seen earlier.  “I use this hunting when I have to drag the game,” he said as he looped the end over the butt of the tree.  I figured that now that we were down on the level road and with his handy gadget the whole operation would get a lot easier.  So, as he tugged it toward the Rodeo I reached for my camera thinking that I would walk a few feet in front of him leading the way and taking pictures every so often to mark his progress.  I was already thinking about writing an essay about the joys of Christmas tree hunting when Noel cut into my reverie.  “I really think we should two-person this.”  Well, I tucked my camera away and grabbed one side of the handle. 
That’s when I was reminded yet again of the true magic of Christmas.  By the time we got that tree down the hill it had grown even heavier and the rope handle contraption didn’t seem to help at all.  And then, to make matters worse, the logging road had magically gotten longer, the snow deeper and the Rodeo further away.  Finally, we rounded the last corner only to remember the locked gate.  “How the heck are we going to get this thing over?”  Well, somehow with a lot of grunting and groaning we got the thing heaved over the gate and then we sort of climbed up on the Rodeo to haul it up on the roof.  Several branches stuck on the roof rack and I heard a loud crack as Noel gave one final push to get it all the way to the front.  “I guess those branches will have to go by the wall,” I thought.
When we were finally standing on the ground again and the thing was tied to the roof I gave Noel a huge victory hug.  But, instead of hugging me back he just sort of toppled over in the snow bank with me on top.  I don’t know…his balance just isn’t what it used to be.  His jeans were really wet now, but I wisely decided not to remind him that he forgot his snow pants at home.  Instead, I looked up to the roof to admire our work.  This thing really did grow after it was cut down.  It covered the entire roof of the Rodeo.  I was surveying this huge mass of green branches when Noel said, “Gee I wish we’d cut down the other one too so that we’d have an extra for boughs.”  I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic, but I didn’t say anything because I realized that he understood the magic of Christmas better than I did…that trees can grow after they’re cut down, that roads become longer in direct proportion to the weight of the burden and that going downhill is a bit easier than going the other way.  But, I may understand a bit more that he thinks I do.  Because, I know that with a thermos of hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps I can get him to do pretty much anything.

Merry, Merry Christmas all!

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