Fir crazy

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Long needle pines, fat, tree-farmed firs, even an awkwardly precise and unimaginably full blue spruce, lying there in the pile like a French poodle surrounded by a pack of neighbourhood mongrels.

Look close enough, and some of the bigger trees still have the rip-stop paper tags with their prices attached to lower branches, too much trouble to remove for such a short holiday season.

It’s the remnants of Christmas, all in a huge pile on the side of Quidi Vidi Lake, the air full of the smell of their needles and sap, several hundred of them lying on their sides and waiting for the wood chipper. Some still have desultory tinsel on occasional branches, and others are dry enough that, on the ground beneath and around them, there are silhouettes of needles that look like police chalk outlines for cinematic dead bodies.

There’s a truck parked next to the pile, and, working through the middle of it, a man is picking his way through, collecting up wood that’s large enough to eventually make it into firewood. It’s a strange kind of woodlands harvest, this, but somehow it and the wood chips from the trees and branches are the only things that give the trees passing purpose.

In and gone

There can’t be another creature like us, and farmed Christmas trees are a good example why. Coddled and trimmed for a decade or more, harvested as early as October for easy trucking across North America, neither storable nor edible, and pitched out scant weeks after we buy them, all for the simple purpose of seasonal decoration.

I love a tree in the house, I do. But it always amazes me how short the travel is from the search for the perfect fir to a place at the top of the Quidi Vidi pile.

The other thing that’s amazing is just how many trees there are. It’s close to one a household for much of the province, and that’s thousands upon thousands of trees.

United States Department of Agriculture figures put the size of American farms with Christmas trees in cultivation at 447,006 acres — good enough to produce between 33 million and 36 million trees a year.

Make that number the North American total, and it’s more than a million acres of land in Christmas tree cultivation, an absolutely phenomenal amount of agriculture effort for something that’s neither food nor shelter related — it is, first and foremost, a luxury.

In this province, you can go out and find a tree and bring it

home, complete with the almost-inevitable flat side or uneven branch-load. Fresh-cut, they are astoundingly heavy, and resist the efforts and balance of almost any tree stand. Perhaps that effort will salve your conscience, even after you haul the brittle and dry-needled — much-lighter — tree remains to the pile.

Well off indeed

But it’s something worth thinking about, when you stop to consider just how wealthy we are as a society: we can afford lights and trees and electricity and decorations in abundance, all of them separate and in addition to everything we really need to survive the everyday.

You’re supposed to count your blessings regularly. At Christmas time, we tend to be surrounded by those blessings, from food to family and beyond, and often don’t give the simplest ones even a moment of thought — even when they’re seven feet tall or so, take up a good big corner of the living room, and have been pruned for a better part of a decade so we can enjoy them, wring them dry and then complain about all the needles they’ve left behind.

Heck, some people care little enough that if their trees fly off the roof on the way to the lake, they just keep on driving, leaving bristly roadkill behind.

Think about it outside Christmas: suppose you heard of another culture that brought something to full-grown size over more than 10 years, just to cut it down, decorate it and stare at it for a few weeks before pitching it out.

You’d think they were nuts.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: United States Department of Agriculture, North American

Geographic location: Quidi Vidi Lake, North America

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Recent comments

  • Lucille Ball
    January 27, 2011 - 12:47

    I'm green, so I have an artificial tree. Saves the trees!! I do like to get decorations for Christmas at www.homeseasons.com. They have some really good decorations and they last a long time too :)

  • joejeronimo
    January 26, 2011 - 13:00

    I love Christmas time, but I don't like throwing away trees and cutting them down. That is why I have a fake tree. There's no pine scent which is a minus but they have air fresheners for that now. I got all my decorations from homeseasons.com and it looks great on my "fake" tree :)

  • Graham
    January 18, 2011 - 08:11

    Kind of explains why newspapers are on the way out. The trees take decades to grow, are cut down, turned into paper, decorated (with ink), stared at for a few minutes, and then thrown out. Yeah, it does sound nuts.