We needed a Christmas tree for our small family, but with little money to buy one, we weren’t sure what to do. In our family we always had a live tree and going out to hunt for one in a snow covered field always made the experience special. Back then there were numerous tree farms where one could pay $10 to $15 for just such a chance. But even that small amount of money seemed impossible this year, yet with hope against hope we piled into our old yellow van and headed out for a drive to see what we could see.
The day was gray and overcast. Tatters of clouds drifted over the sky. I don’t know what prompted us to head towards Willimantic, but we did. The roads of New England wind up and down and around hills. Around each new corner another picturesque scene is revealed. Though the scenes may have a similar New England flavor, they are never the same. The topography of the land prohibits repetition. So, while one old white farm house may set on a hill with a red barn nearby, the next one down the road will be slightly different, with a varied arrangement to the house and barn, perhaps with different trees or a stone wall defining the driveway, or cows in nearby pasture, grazing on winter brown grass.
Today the air had the edge of ice in it as we drove past a bog on the right. Across the road a pasture widened out and beyond it a small farm house sat on a knoll. At the far edge of the pasture a wide ribbon of evergreen caught our eyes. We slowed the van, then pulled off the road and opened the doors. Though this was not a Christmas Tree Farm, a stand of white pines of just the right size called to us from across the snow covered field. We wondered if the farmer would let us cut just one to bring home as our Christmas tree. A door opened on the farm house and a man walked out. We jumped back into the van and drove forward, pulling into the driveway. Gus hopped out and held a brief conversation with the farmer. I saw him offer the man the few dollars that we had, then I saw the farmer shake his head, declining the proffered money. With the farmer’s approval we drove our vehicle just a short way back towards the trees, pulled as far off the road as we could, and got out.
The smoky gray clouds drifted overhead and I heard the honking of Canadian geese calling from beyond the clouds. The wild call stirred something inside me, a prevalent longing for something else. I wanted to mount on wings myself and fly away to someplace wild with the flock. The clouds briefly parted revealing the black, gray and white arrow formation flying through the leaden skies. Just then a snow flurry passed over making the air sparkle with wonder.
We trudged across the snow covered grasses towards the evergreen edge. The trees were much larger than they looked from the road, and now the challenge became finding one small enough to fit in the van and the house. The long flexible limbs of the white pines brushed against us as we finally choose our tree. Gus lay down in the snow to get at the trunk and sawed through in short order. As the saw broke through the tender flesh the scent of pine and sawdust filled the silver air.
Though the tree was bulky, it was also lightweight. We dragged it to the van, opened up the back, and pulled it inside. Our two young boys giggled with delight as the tree filled the interior of the van. This tree would fill our living room with its four foot girth of bows. I’d be hard pressed to find enough ornaments to cover the branches, but that mattered little now, for the tree had already produced the best gift of all, the memory of finding it in a snow covered pasture, the kindness of the farmer who let us cut it down, and the wild geese flying overhead serenading the season in wild tones.