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Getting the Right Tree

Austin – The most sensible idea I ever had was to go out into the hills in autumn and find the perfect Christmas tree, before the snow falls. I figured I could tie a 2-foot streamer of ribbon to the top so I’d be able to find it the weekend after Thanksgiving, which is when we always get our tree.

Never happened, though.

The most immediate obstacle to pre-marking a tree would, of course, be my wife. The trees I’m drawn to are practical and have character, easily fitting on top of a card table while displaying a bit of individualism in the way of, say, holes. Val’s idea of a Christmas tree, on the other hand, is more on the scale of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, with a little trigonometry thrown in. I follow her around the forest saying, “It’s too big! Too tall! Too wide!,” to which she nods in agreement, consults with our daughter, and keeps walking, keeps looking, keeps shopping, keeps getting farther and farther away from the truck.

Perhaps she doesn’t remember that someone has to drag it back up that hill, through that snow. I remember though, and at some point find myself galloping around, fruitlessly pointing out tree after tree. I’m desperate when she finally stops, and sensibility goes out the window and we chop down her and her daughter’s tree. It’s too big, too tall, too wide, and it’s reminiscent of shooting a four-point buck that rolls all the way to the bottom of the canyon just at dusk.

It’s usually dark by the time we get home - though it wouldn’t be if we’d taken my tree – so it’s too cold to do anything but unload it and lean it against the house for the night.

The next day it looks even bigger. I have to recut the bottom so it’s straight enough to mount on the stand, and I whack an extra foot off when my wife’s not looking.

The first 20 years or so, the tree stand was my Waterloo, and I could never fasten the tree solid enough that it wouldn’t work loose and begin leaning long before Christmas arrived, especially with the help of the cats. Well, I finally whipped the Christmas tree stand, and for those who haven’t, here’s the secret; use two 5-inch lag screws up through the bottom, and tighten them with a ratchet. I always say if it’ll hold the mast on a schooner, it’ll hold one of Val’s trees.

We bring the tree inside through a sliding glass door because that’s the biggest opening into the house. We have to take it in stand-end first, so the branches will fold up as we go in. This knocks some needles off and loosens several hundred more that go flying when the branches snap back on the other side. Pine needles get really sharp when they dry out, and in spite of repeated vacuuming we’ll find plenty of stowaways in the carpet when we’re running around barefoot next summer.

The stand has four legs that lie flat on the floor, but no matter how square the mount, the tree always has to be leveled by placing stacks of magazines under two, sometimes three, of the legs. Because of that, it’s going to seem a little wobbly, and that’s a good thing; the shakiness sometimes scares the cats off.

Another plus is that the tree is so large it usually bows against the ceiling, so we haven’t had to wrestle an angel to the top for years, and therefore nobody’s fallen into the tree for at least that long.

When they get the decorations and lights on – I usually supervise this part – I have to admit it looks pretty darn good. Maybe even better than the one I had picked out.

But I still have my 2-foot ribbon streamer, and next year I’m using it.


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