This Christmas tree wasn't worth the hassle
I know people who go out each December and cut a Christmas tree, but the only time I tried that, I nearly died on the river bluffs.
I was in the fourth or fifth grade, just the age for foolishness. I wonder what my mom was thinking, letting me wander into the wilderness. In her defense, I didn’t tell her exactly where I was going, just that I’d be playing with a couple of friends.
Besides, blame it all on the church. We got the idea while practicing for a Christmas pageant. The three of us were cast as poor but honest workers dragging a Yule log home from the forest to burn during the holidays. Apparently, there was a time when people brought a log into the house, stuck one end in the fireplace and just pushed the rest of the trunk into the blaze all through the Christmas season.
We didn’t know much about that tradition, my friends and I. We knew our role in the pageant involved dragging a tree trunk across the floor of the church basement, acting cold and tired all the while, and then breaking into a Christmas carol, the way any group of poor but honest laborers would do. I can’t recall the song. Maybe it was “O Christmas Tree?’’ The whole episode embarrassed the Dickens (Dickens, get it?) out of us. In those days kids did embarrassing things to please adults during the holidays.
Embarrassed we may have been, but after our first rehearsal, the three of us decided it would be quite the lark to take an axe and venture into the river breaks to chop down a tree and haul it back to town. Although we were from three separate families, it’s my recollection that we only ever intended bag one tree. I have no idea which of us was supposed to show up at our doorstep with the prize. Just as well. The ill-formed plan didn’t hang together that long.
Dressed in snow pants, boots, thick mittens and parkas, we set out, axe in hand. We crossed the railroad tracks east of the baseball field, crawled through a barbed-wire fence and struck off along a ridge line, surveying the heavy growths of cedar trees along the slopes and down in the valleys. We wasted considerable daylight arguing over each potential Yule prize. We argued so long that by the time we had settled on a well-shaped 5-footer, afternoon was fading, snow was falling and the breeze had picked up.
Do you have any idea how long it takes three chilled, sweating boys to chop down even a 5-foot cedar tree with one axe? I don’t either, but it was long enough for the cold to sneak through our boots and mittens and for one of the guys — not me — to start complaining about being cold and hungry.
After too much wasted motion, we felled the tree. I lost the argument over who’d be the first to drag the thing. We started back. That’s when we realized we hadn’t a clue which of many deep gulches we had descended to find the tree. While we’d been chopping away, the snow had picked up. Our boot prints had become covered. We panicked, not knowing which direction would lead to town.
Well, we made it home. We meandered up and down and around, staggering in circles and figure-eights. At some point, we left the tree in the snow. At a later point, we dropped the axe. Tired, cold and frightened, we scolded each other, laying blame as if we hadn’t together made the decision to be foolish boys.
Quite by chance as we fought and stumbled, we bumped into the barbed-wire fence and spotted the railroad tracks. We followed the track until we saw the ball field fence, and we knew we were safe.
I’m sure our parents were glad to see us. They hid it pretty well, though, yelling and shaking fingers and issuing ultimatums. After that, I never really had the urge to go out in the woods and chop down my own Christmas tree.