O Christmas Tree!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.
Your bright green leaves with festive cheer,
Give hope and strength throughout the year.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.

                                ~ George Strait

Tales of sacred plants — and their keepers and desecraters — are among the oldest living stories, from Gilgamesh in the Cedar Forest to the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree.

                                ~ Jared Farmer

It was stuck on the top shelf of the closet on top of some empty boxes I had saved for some future need. I clumsily tried to slip it out from between the bigger boxes of lights and ornaments and retain my balance on the footstool. Of course, I saved myself from falling by grabbing the closet door, but engendered a cascade of empty boxes in the process.

Merry Christmas.

With no children in the house, we usually keep the Christmas decorating to a minimum. I did get up some outside lights, maybe so we wouldn’t be too shown up by our more industrious neighbors. Our tree, if you could call it that, is plastic, about three feet high, and comes in a box in two pieces with a cheap stand. It sits on a table, and we can add some lights and ornaments, but it is festive and joyful, anyway.

Some people in our neighborhood decorate their outdoor fir trees with lights, and the city does the same in the park a block away. It’s been a while since we had a real tree for Christmas, but maybe we’ll do it again someday.

As kids, the days after Christmas were a treasure hunt in the alleys to find the things people tossed out, knowingly or not. There were always the used Christmas trees and we could often find ornaments missed in their take down, but the real treasure was the tree itself. We could salvage the trees to erect our ‘tree fort’ for protection from the neighborhood kids. Competition for the trees was pretty hot, and the bigger, more desirable trees were the first to go, even though the smaller were easier to transport.

The Christmas school holidays started by Christmas eve and lasted over a week, depending on where the weekends fell. In those days, trash was trash and there was little focus on recycling or waste segregation. Some put their trees out in the alley before New Year’s Eve, but most went a day or so after. I suspect we were a little less savvy about keeping the tree moist, since most started dropping leaves by Christmas and could be pretty scratchy by the time they were tossed.

Of course, the inside of the fort was better with fresher trees, but the really scratchy ones worked well defensively on the outside. As time went on, the interior of the fort became less habitable, and crawling in and out became a pain. That’s about the time our dad declared the fort ‘conquered’ and we had to haul all the trees out to the alley for the trash men.

I always envied kids in the north, as I envisioned that their ‘tree forts’ were clad with snow and attacks by rival kids included snowball fights. In Texas with no snow, we had neither snow forts nor snowball fights, although one kid liked to throw dog poop at the fort, but ceased when my brother caught him and helped him to appreciate the error of his ways…

These days most Christmas trees are grown on tree plantations and don’t live too many years before harvesting. We recycle them when done and create mulch for composting and more growth. Dr. Jared Farmer notes, “Although Earth’s ‘tree cover’ — three trillion plants covering roughly 30 percent of all land — has expanded of late, the canopy increasingly consists of trees planted for timber, paper pulp and cooking oil and for services such as protecting soil from wind erosion and offsetting carbon emissions. It’s young stuff. Old-growth communities are scarce and getting scarcer… Old trees are in big trouble.”

Old trees provide a variety of benefits. Farmer notes, “Old trees are necessary for sustaining the rich communities of species in forests. They drop seeds and litter eaten and used by animals on the ground; up high, they host epiphytes and birds… Trees share nutrients through mycorrhizae, the symbiotic association between fungi and plants at the root level… Each ancient tree is also a precious genetic repository… As bridges between pasts and possible futures, these plants contribute genetic resilience to the population.”

“Of all their gifts, the greatest are temporal and ethical. They inspire long-term thinking and encourage us to be sapient. They engage our deepest faculties: to revere, analyze and meditate.”

” Among plants, there are ephemerals, annuals, biennials, perennials — and beyond them all a category I call “perdurables.” Perdurance is resilience over time. Humans can recultivate this attribute by caring for old trees and the old-to-be. Sustaining long-term relationships with long-lived plants is a rejection of The End, an affirmation that there will be — must be — tomorrow. That is a gift.”

May your tree forts be safe and not scratchy! Merry Christmas!

Additional information:

Jared Farmer, What the World Will Lose if Ancient Trees Die Out, Oct. 20, 2022, New York Times

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