A week or two before Christmas the woods come alive. Everywhere I look small tableaus of wood and plant, leaf and stone, shape and color seem to be readying themselves for transport. I want to drag it all inside: the earthy smell, moss, bits of orphaned bark with or without lichen, small dried up mushrooms, and of course the balsam that lures me on from one tree to the next, for I can’t recognize them readily, trying to find the real thing. Rather roughly, I feel up one tree after another, sniffing deeply to gauge how much scent I may have unleashed, trying to imagine this tree in my house.
Where in other years I have futilely tried to find ways to bring the sparkle and shine of ice into a house heated by a wood stove, or to replicate in miniature the charm of a wet and mossy stone wall, this year ‘s leisurely onset of winter brings me back to the holiday decorating of my childhood in a temperate zone — greens, cones, and berries vie for pride of place in a small basket with a candle. I wish I could stick my 24 acres into a basket with a candle. Instead, I take photos and walk on, trying to simply become one with this cool freshen goodness and have it always be part of me so I can stop longing for once.
Dragging a tree into the house in the middle of the winter makes eminent sense: preserving the life of the woods just when you really can’t smell or feel it any longer outside. Bringing greens inside is a longstanding habit in households as removed from us as those of the ancient Egyptians and Romans. It involves keeping evil away, chasing the darkness back whence it came, bridling hope for a greener time.
Pine boughs and pine trees hold a special place in that ritual: not only are they green, they smell clean and freshen things up in the dark and miserable hovels of most of humanity. It’s why Glade and Pine Sol are so dear to our hearts.
In Nordic mythology the spirits of the trees ward off evil but they need to be appeased, too. Getting a tree for the house conveniently chops down two necessary rituals with one axe. We still do it: in construction the workers affix a small tree, bough if necessary, in the skeleton of a house or building when the highest point is reached — it’s called “topping out” and it’s a hint that amounts to blackmail. It wards off bad luck from the place and it allows the boss to appease the spirits of nature in the guise of the workers by giving them a couple of beers along with it. Prehistoric labor relations. Solve and you’re done.
Obviously, I am driven by something deep inside to find green and natural things to freshen up my miserable hovel. It’s species memory: not only do I have strong good feelings remembering getting a tree with my mother and hanging all our tools into it to bend the branches down so they would readily receive baubles, but I am ensuring that the light will return and while I am at it that the evil that seems to be hanging over things lately gets warded off.
Check out the photos.