Monday, January 17, 2011

1.10 Why Am I Wasting a Tree?

This year I’m wondering why there are all those six-foot evergreens suddenly sticking up in the roadside snow banks. Oh, right. We’re throwing them out.
Does this make sense?
It doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m one of the people who’s doing it.
We’ve always had live Christmas trees. When I was growing up, my parents had live trees until the kids grew up, and then my mother didn’t want the bother of vacuuming up the fallen needles so they switched to an artificial tree. Not me. We’ve had the “real thing” for 30 years. Now I’m realizing that following the natural path means that I’m artificially shortening the life of a healthy tree. Isn’t there something wrong with throwing away trees?
My response to this ah-ha moment is a strong desire to dig a hole in the frozen earth of the garden, stick the sawn-off trunk in the ground and make believe it will grow. But then I have a tendency to respond to real problems with fantasy solutions.
Okay, assuming we don’t want to give up the pagan custom of decorating a living tree inside our homes as a Christmas holiday ritual, let’s pretend for real. The ritual might be better with a druid to preside and a small party of dancing elves to liven up the ceremony, but I like the tradition of digging out the old boxes of “ornaments” which are not used to “ornament” anything else in the house at any other time of year, but for a few weeks every year must dangle shiningly from the many branches of an adolescent evergreen which believed it was still just putting down roots, branching out, and reaching for the stars. Well, no, the star was our department too.
Still, despite cutting short the natural aspirations of a perfectly good tree, we like the whole business and don’t want to give it up. So how to make the best of it? Assuming the custom came from Northern European cultures which abounded in forests of evergreens, how did these people dispose of their winter solstice holiday ritual trees? I have to believe the trunk ended up in the firewood pile, even if they waited a year for the wood to dry before they threw it in the fireplace.
Maybe they also knew which of their plants benefited from the acidic foliage of the leaves and chopped off the branches with an edged tool – stone, if they didn’t have a metal edge – and tossed them on the berry plants.
I suppose we can follow suit…
But I have social engineering fantasies too. We’re supposed to be planting trees, aren’t we, to take some of that excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Why doesn’t each municipality designate the planting field that could use some trees to hold the soil, slow erosion, soak up flood waters and serve as a wind break? Why don’t we all buy our trees dug up, instead of cut down, with a wrapped root ball below the trunk which we would insert into our suitably large Christmas tree planter – instead of a stand? And then, when the season is over and we want our living rooms back, why not remove the tree with its still-wrapped root ball, and carry it out to the DPW back-loader jammed with a neighborhood’s Christmas trees and ride down to the site to help plant them in the designated planting area?
Why not, as it were, “borrow” our Christmas trees instead of executing them?
Do I think this is likely to happen? No, I don’t, for all the usual reasons, including the inconvenient truth that we almost always choose short-term comfort and convenience over long-term investment and effort. On these grounds, I would probably go for chopping off the branches for the blueberries and saving the trunk for a putative fence post.
But it would be nice if we could think of Christmas trees as living things rather than consumer products. The habit might grow until it extended to other trees, other plants, and then the earth we live on.
But not this year… When the post-holiday clean-up came, we put our tree out for the trash.