death of a tree

This year we decided that we would kill our own Christmas tree, for the first time ever.

Anthony wanted a freshly killed tree in the house. He hypothesized that it will keep longer than a previously-killed-and-shipped tree, and it won’t drop as many needles. Also less nascent mold, so less fear of allergies.

That all makes sense, but thoughts of cutting down our own tree kept making me think of Hans Christian Anderson’s poor Christmas tree. That stupid self-aware tree, full of dreams of grandeur and pageantry. He just wanted to be a f**ing Christmas tree, decorated to the nines, instead of a sorry feral-pine-in-the-woods. But after being chopped down and prettied up for a couple weeks, and all that hubris and grandness, he was thrown in a closet and forgotten and then turned into firewood. What a sorry, horrifying end.

I still remember reading that story as a little girl and bawling in shock. I think I was eight or nine. My Dad and I were at the book store, and this collection of “fairy tales” caught my eye. Mom and Dad always bought me any book I asked for. They never said no. I took the book home and got really, really sad. That stupid Christmas tree; in the end everything went wrong for it.

And that poor poor little mermaid. What was she thinking?? I knew nothing about metaphors and virginity. I just remember thinking how horrifying it was that she suffered such pain from turning her fishy tail bottom into human legs, and then it all went wrong, everything went wrong and the prince rejected her despite her legs and broke her mermaid heart. That sucked so bad. It was so unfair.

Also the sad, sad little match girl. Her story haunted me as I lay awake at night listening to the rats of Seoul scratch at the walls of my bedroom (honest), because I pictured her about my age. She was so destitute! She was so alone! What was she doing on a street by herself, such a little girl? Where did she get the matches she sold? Why didn’t any grown up help her? Why didn’t anyone help her? And she froze to death while having fantasies that never came true! Horrible!

Fairy tales? More like fairy nightmares. I don’t remember any fairies from reading Hans’s miserable tales, just desperate and sad beings who don’t get anything good in life.

Why am I going on and on about Hans Christian Anderson? I don’t think I meant to be telling you about that. What was I talking about?

Oh, right, our Christmas tree this year. Despite my obsessive thoughts about creepy Hans’s stories, I decided Anthony was right. And he reminded of the obvious: the tree is dead whether we cut it down or someone else does it.

We found a location where we could hunt fresh trees, still alive and healthy and well-fed. We knew the hunt wouldn’t actually be fair or wild, that the tree we decided to kill would never have a real chance of escape, having been raised in captivity just off Granville Road.

I told the kids excitedly of our decision this morning. “Kids, it’s time to go kill our Christmas tree!”

For some reason, this troubled them, and they seemed kind of gloomy and unhappy about it when we arrived at the tree ranch.



It’s possible that my occasional chanting — “Kill the beast! Kill the beast!” — didn’t help.

My family posed for pre-hunt shots, behind a wall that displayed the sort  of hunter regalia they should have been wearing while killing a tree. Nick seems to have some sort of Ninja mask on. Anthony looks way too happy about the looming death of a tree. Jesse looks like she’s farting.


We wandered through fields of trees, tree-killing fields. We were only allowed to attack those trees marked for death with a red christmas tree tag. It didn’t take long for the kids to settle on their mark. They didn’t seem to relish the hunt — they just wanted to find a victim and get it over with. Frankly, I appreciated this quality in them. First they eyed some huge trees, 10 feet tall, far too large for our home to digest. After we explained the problem of ceiling height, the kids found this medium-sized beauty.


A perfect size, plump and healthy, and you can see how happy they were.

We brought our own weapon to the site, a vicious curved Japanese pruning and cutting blade on a wood handle. Anthony refused to let me bring an axe. We would make the kill with our own devices and hands, not with any borrowed, dull saw.

I don’t have a picture of the saw, because I don’t have a weapons fetish. Nor do I have a photo of the kill; some images are sacred. Anthony lay flat on his side on the ground as he put saw to tree, and I held the tree up to keep it from falling on his head. It took no more than a minute or two for us to kill that tree. The brief event felt almost sacrificial (probably mostly because we’ve been binge-watching History Channel’s “Vikings” series off Amazon).

The kids were a little morose, a little sullen, as we marched the fallen tree to the sales hut. The nice man there put the corpse on a shaker device, where it shook wildly for 20 seconds to remove loose and dead needles and pine cones. Then he dragged it over to the wrapping station, where they shoved it aggressively through a narrow portal. It went in one end a loose and floppy dead tree. It came out the other end bound and gagged into a narrow package, and then we tied the carcass to the top of our car.


We’re going to decorate that thing tomorrow in our living room. To help us celebrate the clean kill, I made mince pies tonight.


We’ll eat these cloying, fat-laden treats while we decorate the tree, covering it with lights and bits of plastic and ceramics and glass and fabric and various fetishes. I’m sure at some point I’ll remember how much I love our Christmas decorations and the memories they bring to mind, and we’ll decide, as we do every year, that it’s the most beautiful Christmas tree we’ve ever had.

But tonight, I’ll grieve a little for the beautiful little tree that met its demise for us today. When we’re done with it, some time in early January, Anthony will drag it out into our back yard, into the woods. He’ll dump it unceremoniously with the nine or ten other Christmas trees back there, or at least, what’s left of them among the woodlands decay.  It won’t be chopped up and burned, like Hans’s poor tree. It’ll just hang out in our woods, slowly rotting away and providing nutrients and life to whatever decides to eat it, live in or beneath it, or grow on it. So I suppose, in a way, it’ll always be alive and with us.

Meanwhile, after reading what I just wrote, I think I better work on improving my outlook and mood for the remainder of the holidays.