Ah, the weather outside is frightful… Really. Freezing. Cold. As in, “There’s no way my fish are still alive under all that ice on top of the pond” cold. As in, “My pool is now a 10,000 gallon ice cube” cold.
But, lo, there is relief, as it’s also time to cozy up to a warm fire, a piping hot cup of cider and the redolent fragrance of pine from the holiday tree.
Wait, though – for that piney fragrance is not truly pine, but Douglas fir, and much to my inevitable disappointment.
You see, I grew up where your holiday tree was nearly always a pine tree. Sure, there were those years where we cut a few dollars off the holiday tab and went out behind my uncle’s house to chop down a moderately-sized cedar tree – only to immediately regret it when we came away from decorating the thing with prickles all over our hands and arms.
But, no – the holiday tree in my mind must always be a white pine: long, soft needles that fill the spaces between the branches, leaving just enough room to twine them with twinkling lights and accent them with a few dozen carefully placed ornaments. And a uniquely piney fragrance that filled the house. You even got a whiff of it as you walked up the steps to the front porch, for the garland that draped our front railing was also made of pine.
Now, don’t get me wrong – a Douglas fir, a blue spruce – they’re not shabby, by any means. But they are a different animal entirely. For all that they resemble that full, fluffy triangular “Christmas tree” shape in my mind, they might as well be one of those tiny Norfolk Island pines – perfect for what they’re useful for, but not as the holiday tree in my pine-loving home.
So, when I first moved full-time to the Delaware shore, I naturally sought out a white pine (or a pine of any variety, failing that). And I did so with no success.
Nowhere in coastal Delaware did any vendor of holiday trees offer a white pine. You might find a live one, at a hefty cost, but where to plant it on Jan. 1? And, assuming you had such a spot, how many more would you have left in the years to come, to grow that tree’s successors?
You can be sure I asked all those tree vendors if they would be getting in any white pines, and then why not, when they inevitably said they wouldn’t.
The bottom line, they said, “Around here, people don’t use pines as Christmas trees.”
What? Surely you jest. Those long, soft needles can’t be considered inferior to the short, pokey ones you find on a spruce. The bare spots between the branches of a fir can’t be preferred to that full spread of piney green…
And it’s not like white pines don’t grow around here. I had two right in the front yard of my now-former home in Ocean View – too big to decorate, let alone bring inside – but they obviously grow (and grow well) around here.
And forget about an artificial tree. They’re surely convenient – however, they lack not only the feel and smell of a real tree but also the simple tradition of hauling an evergreen back into your home to symbolize the eternal life of the green needles and the warmth that branch-retaining Yule log derivative would provide from the hearth.
I can settle for something a little closer to my beloved pine than plastic and metal, as I’ve been forced to do for the last 11 years – finding the fullest, softest Douglas or Frasier fir on the tree lot.
But never have I helped hoist that tree onto the top of my car without a twinge of regret, because it is settling – right at the time of year when the granting of wishes and the fantasies of holiday decorating perfection are most present in one’s mind.
I can busy myself with the chore of making the second-choice conifer of the season look as spiffy as I can, taking pride in the decoration process, if not the overall look of the thing. And, surely, the season becomes no less in its real meaning and joy just because the tree isn’t quite right.
But, with a sigh, each year I give up on finding that perfect tree – simply because I know it doesn’t exist anywhere I’ve looked. Maybe in another 10 years, I’ll have adapted enough to consider a fir to be a real holiday tree. Maybe. Probably not. But maybe.
Or maybe I’ll have acquired a collection of young white pines on the edge of the soccer field that is my new back yard, growing up amidst the holly, cedar, bayberry and maple – and under the oddity that is the bald cypress (a deciduous conifer, of all things!).
But if you’re a seller of holiday trees, and someone asks you one year if you ever get in white pines, you can expect that it’s probably me, as hope always prevails. And if you want to grant one holiday wish, you can surely count on a lifetime customer if you’ll just find me one solitary, perfect white pine.