Our tree this year has a definite bitter-sweet flavour to it. About ten years ago (maybe more?) we bought a lovely blue spruce tree in a pot as our Christmas tree. It was small and bushy and blue and kind of cute. It was stocky and short-limbed, which meant it was perfect for a modest number of weighty decorations. Not that we had a lot of baubles made of stone or solid gold, but had we possessed such items the tree could have handled them without a problem.
After the season was over, we removed the single string of lights (short, stubby tree = minimal lighting requirements) and then hauled the tree, still in its pot, outside. There it happily stayed until the following year. In its second year it was a bit bigger, but not horribly so, and we were able to bring it back inside and repeat the process. In year two we added a second string of lights and noticed that the branches were a bit longer and so could hang a few more sparkly balls and some of the painted wooden decorations we have had for many, many years.After Year Two was over, we took the tree back outside, but when spring came, it put out a lot of new bright blue-green growth at the ends of its branches and really looked like a tree that was straining to get out of its pot. We debated whether or not to find a bigger pot and continue to drag it back and forth, but then we decided that we would find the blue spruce a permanent home.
The middle of the front lawn seemed like a good idea at the time and the blue spruce eventually came around and agreed. After a full year of standing there considering its options, it decided to be happy and grow. This it did with great enthusiasm. For the next several years we dressed it up outside in outdoor lights and shared its festive loveliness with the neighoburhood.
The blue spruce got happier and happier and grew and grew until it was over 20 feet tall and strong enough to climb. (I know this because last year we climbed it to install a video camera pointed at the house so various relatives around the world could monitor the progress of our major house renovation.)
The house renovation was no small project. We gutted our low, dark bungalow, ripped the roof off, and built a two storey extension. The formerly low, wood-panelled living room became an airy, open space with a cathedral ceiling. For a while, when the place was basically not much more than the foundation covered with a tarp, we all had to move and I found myself watching the renovation progress via that camera in the blue spruce while I was holed up in a lofty suite in a neighbourhood barn.
As we approached our first Christmas back in the house this year, we realized two things. First, we couldn’t really put a tiny tree in that new open space with the soaring ceiling. We were going to need a big tree. The second thing we realized was the blue spruce was no longer in the middle of the front lawn but in the middle of the planned parking area outside the new front entrance to the house.
We looked at each other and then at the blue spruce and then T. trotted off to find a chainsaw.
When you have a special bond with a tree it feels nearly as awful to chop it down as it does to have a favourite cat put to sleep. On the less tragic side, it was quite lovely to think that our little potted tree was now magnificent enough to fill the space in the new house. It was certainly a more glamourous final farewell than sending it unceremoniously through the chipper.
With considerable effort, the now huge tree was dragged trunk first into the house and set up in the place of honour in front of the big picture windows. It took a very tall guy on a big ladder to get the lights up to the top. One or two strings of light were not going to be adequate – 800 lights later, it looked pretty sparkly. And decorations? Fortunately future son-in-law came along with boxes of tree goodies and between what he had and what we had and some new shiny baubles, we somehow managed to fill that tree.
Despite the fact it has an odd jog in the trunk toward the top this is both the mostly lovely tree we have ever had — and the saddest. Whenever I see it I send it a thought bubble that says, “I’m planting two more out there for you…”
When the blue spruce comes down for the last time, we will chip the smaller branches and use the chippings as mulch in the garden beds or add it to the compost pile. The trunk will provide some firewood for our neighbours with a fireplace. And so, the tree will continue to give back, improving the soil and helping our veggies grow and keeping the neighbours warm.
Which was better? The small, potted version or the massive, room-filling vision of Christmas cheer? How could there be a better? It was the same tree, after all. Which, I suppose, serves as a good reminder that change is the only constant and that we are all coming and going and reinventing ourselves as we grow and age. Eventually, if we are lucky, we leave something of ourselves behind to nourish the next generation.