After gathering in the lobby and starting to sweat in our winter warm-wear, we finally escaped the black hole of progress paralysis and herded sixteen people of varying ages (and degrees of interest in the proceedings) to a frigid, wind-swept hilltop. Objective: Pick the best Christmas tree we could find for the Inn lobby.
About 15 steps into the trudge up the hill, a snowball whizzed past me and exploded on a hunched back. After a stunned second, the retaliatory missile flew threw the air and the war was on. Kids ran, as adults took the rare opportunity to pelt them with snow, acting like big kids themselves. I ducked around behind some trees to come out in a different part of the hill, not wanting to join in the battle. I felt cold and Grinch-like, ready to get back to the car. Hoping no one would hit me with a snowball, I also also felt guilty for not joining in. The wind sliced through my scarf, sending snow down my collar. I hunched in and kept moving, hoping they would find a tree soon and put me out of my misery. I didn’t want to be a spoil-sport, but a tree is a tree. If it’s tall enough, it’ll do. So choose one already!
It soon became clear that everyone had their own ideas of what would make the perfect tree. “Here’s one!” “No, that one is flat on one side.” “How about that one?” “Look at the big hole in the branches! Nope.” “This one?” “Too short.” “Here’s a good one!” “Well, maybe….. Let’s keep looking.” I trailed behind, trying not to look too miserable and grumpy. Everyone was looking at each tree from different angles and perspectives, seeing what they wanted to see. For me, a tree is such a transitory thing that as long as it met a few minimal criteria, it was fine. Right height? Enough branches to hang ornaments on? No woodland creatures living in it? Let’s get it and go.
I’m the same when we get our tree for home at the local nursery lot. I’ll wander through the aisles with the girls, giving each of their choices an equal consideration. Truthfully, any of their choices would do, but I want them to feel that proper attention was paid to their contributions to the family tradition of choosing a tree. When a consensus is reached, we load the winner up and cart it home to decorate.
Is it the process or the result that is most important? Does it matter which tree we actually choose? Will it spoil our holiday if we pick the “wrong” tree?
On the hillside, the chainsaw coughs to life. I make my way toward the sound, up the lane through the pines. There it is — the perfect tree. It’s perfect because it is surrounded by my extended family, panting and grinning in the snow. As the saw bites into it’s trunk, I take a picture, trying to catch it at the last moment it stands, and again as it hits the ground. A quick moment of quiet for the tree, and then I grin, knowing that we have found this year’s tree and can drag it back to the trailer and get it to the Inn to be the centerpiece of the holiday season there.
I don’t mind letting others do the choosing, really. A tree is so transient. There will be another to be found next year, in better weather if I’m lucky, and the whole process will be repeated. After all, it’s not the tree itself that’s what is important, but what it stands for and provides that is perfect. And that won’t change, no matter how many flat spots or bald places a tree has.