The professor stared at me, a perplexed look upon his face. ‘Are you wearing pearls…to go get a tree?’ I stared back at him. The pearl necklace had been a last minute ‘touch’ in anticipation of what was sure to be a Christmas-card-worthy family photo of the Johnson 5, standing in a forest beside our freshly cut Christmas tree.
‘Yes.’ I finally replied. My better half shook his head and gathered the last of his tree-cutting essentials. I took a second glance at my reflection, deemed the pearls ‘de trop’ and removed them. Minutes later, we were on our way.
The night before, the professor had asked ‘so, what are we doing about a tree this year.’ And I’d looked at the forecast which speculated the last Sunday of November was going to be warm-ish. We remembered years past; traipsing through the forest, flirting with hypothermia and enduring the unhappiness of blond blue-eyed children. If there was even a small possibility of cutting a tree in above-zero temps, we had to seize it. Even if doing so meant there’d be a tree in our tiny living room for a month.
For once, the weather forecast was accurate. Because when we got up on Sunday morning, it was practically warm. As in, no need to wear a winter coat, warm. Wear tights and a denim skirt, warm. But it was also outrageously windy. Take your breath away, windy. Blow garbage around the outside of the grocery store, windy.
The forecast hadn’t mentioned that possibility. But we’d made our plans and we Johnsons don’t often change our plans. Seeing as it takes us far longer than most to make even the most rudimentary of decisions.
So, early afternoon, we procured our Starbucks beverages of choice, and steered the car-van west along TransCanada Highway 1. The professor had brought along some Christmas music he’d picked up at the library – to get us all in the right frame of mind for our adventure. The boys were singing along and I thought to myself: ‘wow, this is actually fun!’
Save the swaying motions of the car-van as it struggled to stay on the road. And the fact that the crazy winds were generating what appeared to be rain and cold.
Seventy-some kilometres later, just when I’d begun to fret that maybe the URL was outdated and this cut-your-own-tree on a Sunday with a purchased-on-the-spot permit was a thing of the past, we pulled into the soggy gravel parking lot and hopped out of the car-van. A quick scan of the parking lot revealed that I was, in fact, the only person wearing a skirt, tights, and patent-leather flats. Everyone else…was wearing boots, snow pants, winter coats, hats.
Nevertheless, I marched with [feigned] confidence towards the trailer where permits were being sold. As if to say ‘this old sweater? Is it cashmere? It’s my tree-cutting sweater.’ And I bought a $5 permit. ‘How many trees can we cut down,’ I asked the middle school girls in charge of the money. ‘As many as you want,’ they shrugged, ‘but you can only cut down Lodgepole pines and you have to leave at least 12 inches of stump in the ground.’
The Gort, my hall-monitor-in-training, stood by and took note. Lodgepole pines. Only.
As we prepared to head out into the vast expanse of land, a heavyset guy sitting on a log looked up. ‘There are some real pretty trees if you take the trail at the end of the parking lot.’ And he motioned with his hands to indicate ‘real pretty’ trees and all I could think was ‘is he making fun of us because we look so obviously like city folk – what with my boys wearing puffy vests and tennis shoes and me with the skirt?’
So we ventured across the muddy lot into the soggy land. Not that I cared, because I was wearing proper footwear. The professor stopped at a perfect specimen of a [spruce] tree. Paul Bundy Junior barked at him ‘we’re only allowed to cut pines.’ ‘Did they say we can only cut pines,’ the professor called to me for confirmation. .
‘Yes,’ I confirmed, gazing sadly at the perfect spruce, so obviously better than its gnarly pine neighbors. And I found myself wondering ‘if we cut it down, would it really matter? Would anyone even know?’
But we trudged on, in circles.
‘Let’s take a picture here,’ I announced upon seeing a tree stump lying on the ground. The only conceivable place to leave my camera for a self-timed family photo. Because the professor took my tripod – which is supremely useful for family portraits in the forest – to work. Six weeks ago.
I removed my jacket so as to make a soft resting place for the precious camera. And, following a significant amount of eye rolling and teeth clenching and outright whining slash refusal, we ended up with this:
The experience disintegrated from there; the children voicing their displeasure and I, still breezily walking through the forest in my flats, with an unhappy 30-pound, mini-child attached to my hip, ordering the professor to cut down any tree, Now.
After what seemed like an eternity, we got back in the car; three spindly pines resting on the roof rack. I found the second library CD under my seat and slid it into the player. Two seconds later, I turned to our musical curator. ‘What is this, Celtic Christmas?’ ‘I didn’t know,’ he protested. The man who claims nausea at the mere mention of the words: Enya or Orinoco Flow
‘Her name is Loreena McKennitt,’ I stated the facts. ‘And the cover of the CD is dark green with drawings of forest animals on it.’ She also plays the harp.
I’ll take Celtic Christmas CDs for $100, Alex.
Just before dark, we returned to the red house, each of us thoroughly worn out from too much adventure and too much togetherness. Only twenty nine days of Advent to go.