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Rural Roots - Rural Roots is a column by Fred Jones
2012-12-14 at 10:50

Christmas tree traditions abound

First some business:  I write these musings on Mondays or Tuesday mornings since my deadline is noon on Tuesdays. 

So, when I refer to the weather here at the farm, inclement or otherwise, I am usually describing conditions as they appear at that time.  Conditions change, sometimes overnight, like this week.  Jack Frost, who I thought was delayed from doing his job because of some spell in some lush, tropical clime, has arrived.  Good on you, Ol’ Man Winter; you answered my plea.

We are quickly approaching that sacred time of year, Christmas, sacred even before Christianity.  And even before Christmas, the tree played an important part of that celebration especially in the Nordic countries. 

Each year, it has become a tradition for us as a family to go and fetch a likely candidate from our back field, once ploughed and tilled for the growing of grain, I’m told.  Most of the history of our property I learned from the late Sulo Hakala, a wonderful gent with whom I had conversations far too infrequently before he got his wings. 

The land was farmed first by the Sweeps and then by the Hakalas.  But in the years since the land was no longer being farmed, those fields have grown in with pine trees – white pine, jack pine, and where the Hakalas planted in the 1960’s, scotch and red pine. 

Spruce popped out of the ground, self-seeded from the surrounding bush and it is those specimens from which we have selected our Christmas tree 

Well, not this year. 

This year all of the Yuletide candidates are brown.  Why?  Recall that in March we had an unseasonably warm spell that tricked the trees into thinking that it was spring and that they could now send their sap coursing up truck and into branch.  Then in April it froze. 

The needles on the trees turned brown.  The forest looked dead.  Oh no!  What will the birdies do?  Will the trees die and will all of that bush become tinder dry and a real forest fire threat?  Does this mean that I have cut them all down?  What will the land look like?  My anxiety was all for naught.

Soon the tips of conifer branches began to sport new growth – beautiful, green needles.  Whew!  The trees had not succumbed; they would live to recover over time.

But the only spruce or balsam trees that had survived the freeze, whose needles had not turned brown, were way too big to fit into our living room.

So, this year, I take my son, Doug, with me to town to a tree lot, just like my Dad did with me each year from age seven to thirteen.  I only remember one winter about a week before Christmas, driving with Dad at night to a Christmas tree lot to purchase a scotch pine.  It was gently snowing; it was a vacant lot that had become a forest with strings of lights allowing us to see the prospective specimens. It was magic.

I remember getting out of our station wagon and walking through this forest, the snow – large fluffy flakes – descending on me, on my father, on everything.  And the smell – rich and spicy of pine assaulting my nostrils as I threaded my way between the rows.

We selected a bushy scotch pine; Dad paid the proprietor; the tree was fastened to the roof rack of our car; and home we drove.  I remember seeing other vehicles, their roofs similarly festooned with bushy, dark green candidates for decorating.

We arrived home and removed the tree from atop the car to haul it around to the back veranda where dad wielded his handsaw to prepare the tree for a stand.  In those days, the stand consisted of two pieces of two-by-four nailed into the tree’s bottom. 

A corner of the living room had been cleared by Mum and once set up, the decorating took place that, once finished, only awaited the prezzies to be placed under.  Beautiful.

So this year my son and I will troop to town to select a scotch pine, bring it home, and set it up in our living room.  We will do this deed during the day and not at night since we live way out in the country.  But I fully intend to breathe in the piney aromas of the tree lot, think fondly of my late Pappa, and hope that Doug is also absorbing the experience to recall perhaps after I’ve got my wings.



You can contact Rural Roots by e-mail: fbljones@hotmail.com or by writing to Rural Roots, P. O. Box 402, South Gillies, Ont. P0T 2V0.

 

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