The trees for the forest
Turns out, starting your own Christmas tree forest isn't for sissies

The trees for the forest
Zach Hively - 12/14/2023

When I was a younger man, I had a grand vision for my future: I would buy (or otherwise acquire) some land, and with this land I would grow a Christmas forest, planting a pine tree each year to create homes for woodland creatures until enough of them became my friends that I could dispense with human interaction altogether.

I have grown and matured though, and so has the vision. Namely, I am less certain that the forest is a Christmas one. I might more honestly call it a solstice forest. Or a Thanksgiving forest, since that is closer to when I buy the trees. Or a January forest, because that is when I plant them. Or, perhaps most accurately, I could call it a money pit. 

Regardless of cost, this is one dream coming true. I may not be a world-famous paleontologist ballplayer with a pilot’s license (yet), but by Jiminy Christmas, I have a forest. It is 5 feet tall, four trees large, and counting. 

Mostly it seems to be counting up. It almost counted down last year, when one of the trees developed an infestation of some kind – not the type of woodland creature I hoped to befriend – that made me abandon, with prejudice, my no-chemical kumbaya approach to winter forest management. 

This tree also had a comorbidity, a second infestation, that I could not identify despite my four years’ experience in forest stewardship. I showed a picture to a man at the nursery. “Looks like bird vomit,” he said. In hindsight, I question if he actually worked there.

These are the difficulties that confound my annual tradition. You see, growing a magical EOY forest is less simple than picking up a tree from a lot and strapping it to the roof of any ol’ car. It is predicated on several factors, chief among them that picking up living trees is really, really hard. Living trees require dirt. Dirt is heavy. It is also notoriously difficult to strap to the roof. 

If we are perfectly frank – and why shouldn’t we be? – half the reason I keep the registration current on my thirtysomething pickup is so that, once a year, I can drive it to my tree dealer, and he can direct two much-younger men to hoist the tree into the bed, and I can drive it home where I unload it by my much older self.

This is relatively easy to do; I have the advantage of gravity. The real trick is sliding this half-ton or so of wood and soil from 3 feet high to ground level without seriously injuring the tree, or myself, or my pride.

If we are still perfectly frank – why stop now? – this moment, usually taking place in dwindling daylight and encroaching cold, when I must navigate this living being and its dirt to the earth without the aid of an advanced pulley system, this is the moment I use to assess the state of my physical health. In short, it is my annual exam.

When getting the piñon to the ground goes well, I am also doing well. When it is a struggle, or I throw out my back, or I wonder legitimately at any point if I will be spending the night pinned under a root ball, this motivates my exercise regimen for the next 12 months. 

I say this in earnest: other people train for beach bods or lower cholesterol. I look at a pull-up bar in May and think, “Better try to jump and touch that – I got a tree to unload this winter.”

This is ludicrous. I know it. The tree knows it. The woodland creatures know it. But I can make myself think that I can indeed transform my body and my physical capabilities from one winter to the next. It sure seems much more plausible than transforming my body in a month, which is about how long I have to enjoy the tree, festooned with white twinkle lights outside my living room window, before I need to put it in the ground.

This requires an even greater feat of strength than dragging the tree out of my pickup truck. Because I cannot get the tree back into the pickup truck, I have nothing but my wits and my muscles – mostly my wits – to walk the tree, all while battling friction and pine needles to my face, from my living room window to the Yuletide forest and the too-shallow hole I tried to dig after the ground had frozen.

Still, somehow, I have survived this odyssey every year, and so have the trees. We will more likely than not survive it this year, too. The forest will not be any taller, but it will be one tree bigger, and I will swell with pride every time I gaze upon it instead of doing a workout. In the spirit of frankness – in for a penny, in for a pound – I sure hope the birds don’t hurl on it.

– Zach Hively

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