Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fire and Ice

And no one loves a Christmas tree
on March the twenty-fifth.

That's the wrap-up to Shel Silverstein's poem "Merry," and he's right--but off by about two and half months.

By January 3, our tree, picked out so carefully and lovingly in early December (every year the chosen tree is definitely the "prettiest tree we've ever had"), starts becoming something more akin to a Wookie overstaying its welcome. Though well watered, it has started to dry out. Needles tinkle to the floor. Branches begin to droop, and ornaments roll off their tips. It's time to put all the Christmas stuff away, make a clean sweep of the house, and look forward to spring tiptoeing onto the scene over the next few months.

Fortunately, we don't have to feel guilty about putting the stripped tree on the sidewalk for waste pickup, as our city collects trees, mulches and composts them, then sells the compost in local stores. (We don't feel bad buying a real tree either, for that matter, as we've seen the local tree farms and hardworking farmers who raise them.) Other cities have similar programs; I've also heard of them being used to bolster dunes on beaches, create brush piles for wildlife, and even nesting sites for small herons and other birds in wetlands.

I've heard tell of people in Sweden traditionally tossing their trees out windows on January 13 (after holding a "tree plundering" first, in which they enjoy any treats left hanging on its boughs), but I've never seen a defenestrated conifer in flight in our very Scandinavian-influenced city.

(And I've never heard of anybody stuffing an old Christmas tree into the attic and keeping it there until spring, like the people in that weird Hans Christian Andersen story "The Fir Tree.")

A lot of people, though, prefer to send off their trees in a blaze of light by burning them, an urge that would definitely resonate with people in ancient cultures who defied the cold and dark of winter with so many fiery rituals of their own.

We joined some friends on our local beach on a crisp, clear New Year's Day to share in some treats and witness a series of crackly, dry trees go up in flames. And all I can say is: Wow. Those things burn fast.

I'm such a worrywart that I would not even dream of leaving Christmas lights lit on a tree at night or when I leave the house, but actually seeing how fast and furious a tree burns would scare the most witless person into digging a firebreak in the carpet around ye olde Tannenbaum.

(Every year, local television stations like to draw our attention to this video showing how fast a dry tree ignites compared to a well-watered one. You can actually hear the glass bulbs exploding on the dry tree as it's engulfed by flames.)

Just to keep the universe in balance, we also visited western hemlocks and other conifers in their natural habitat this past week by traveling up to Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains, where it was very cold (about 20 degrees), and very snowy (piled up to about 13 feet).

As our toes froze and the energetic, snow-loving kids wearied of sledding and scrambling through drifts and began to look glassy-eyed and chilled, good old Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice" came to mind. (No. Really. It did. I swear. I mean, I didn't, like, stand and recite it, or anything. To tell the truth, all I said was something like, "Hey, there's a poem, isn't there?, something...") (Which you could say about almost any topic, and invent the poet's name, if you wanted to sound all literary, actually.)

Frost definitely said it better. You don't need me to tell you that we're switching from me to him, below.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.