My buddy Dave and I were driving out from our home town to pick out a live Christmas tree for his family.
Dave was my best friend. He and I had known each other since eighth grade and now, both home from college Christmas break, we were driving through the scenic and very snowy northeastern countryside in search of that perfect tree. Dave had this on his “to do” list every year. His dad had died when Dave was very young so he was the man of the family and he had promised his mom and younger sister that he, along with his good buddy (that’s me), would go out into the hinterland in search of a fresh, nicely shaped pine tree. We would stalk the tree, capture it, tie it to the top of Dave’s mom’s car and bring it back for decorating.
The upstate regions of the northeast have a bountiful supply of woodlands with plenty of “cut your own Xmas tree” signs on farmers’ properties so finding the tree was not a problem. Capturing it and bringing it back? Well, as you’ll see, that was not so simple.
It was a typical December in the northeast BGW (that’s Before Global Warming) so, on December 22nd, there was about a foot and a half of snow on the ground and the back roads, though cleared, still had packed snow on them. It was about 20° F (or -6° C) and the air was crisp with a steady breeze, just enough to make you wish that you had stayed inside. Still in our late teens, we retained the air of invincibility and so we dressed warmly but not warmly enough as it turns out.
It never takes long, even today, to move from the town – technically, a village – to the rural countryside, maybe ten minutes tops. After driving through a few back roads, we came across a sign that said “Xmas trees, cut your own $2.00.” There was an entire hillside filled with dark green pine trees so this seemed straightforward enough and we stopped. We had found our tree’s lair; we just needed to stalk and capture our prey.
The owner gave us the rules. Give him two bucks, climb up the hill with your saw, cut down the tree of your choice, haul it back down the hill, strap it to your car and be on your way. The farmer even offered to straighten the cut-off trunk of the tree with his brush saw.
Off Dave and I marched up the hill and realized, within minutes, that we had failed to estimate the depth of the snow. Dressed in moderately warm jackets, gloves and ankle length boots, we were no match for a northeastern hillside with snow drifts feet deep. Snow crept into our boots, gloves and jackets as we staggered up the hill in search of our Christmas tree. After fifteen minutes, the sweat we generated turned to frosty ice crystals and froze us even more. We finally picked out a tree, about as tall as us, and cut it down with relative ease. Now we had to get back down the hill.
If it had been a clear summer day, two young guys carrying a six-foot tree down a moderately sloped hill would have been a cinch but add a foot and a half of snow and drop the temperature by sixty degrees and that posed a slightly harder problem. We struggled with this tree as though we were attempting to move a minivan. More sweat, more snow up our gloves and feet and more frost around our ears and nose just added to the discomfort as, eventually, we reached the bottom of the hill and Dave’s car. We looked much like two sad frozen rags as we emerged from the side of the hill. The farmer, as promised, trimmed the bottom of the tree squarely and helped us tie it to the top of the car.
As we were leaving, we both noticed the sign again. Beneath the “Xmas trees, cut your own $2.00,” it read “freshly pre-cut trees $3.00.” The fifteen-watt bulbs dimly lit over our heads as Dave turned to me and said “Why didn’t I just buy a pre-cut tree? How would my mom and sis even know where the tree came from?”
You can send a kid to college but you can’t make him learn.