Oh, the Shame, the Shame, the Shame Of It All

November 27, 2010

Christmas trees are a Caring Gardener’s Waterloo. There is no good answer.

Buy a real tree, or even cut one down yourself and you’re killing a live plant, contributing to erosion and encouraging deforestation. Get an artificial tree and become forever banned from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservatory – a permanent place on the Blacklist. Nothing gets an environmentalist so upset as a wire and plastic electric “tree.” They are an environmental disaster to make and then – god forbid – to dispose.

For many years, we sinned the lesser of the two evils. When Tony and I first got married, we went to Marmion Academy in Batavia to select and cut our tree all by ourselves. The grounds are covered with trees, different firs and pines. They plant the kinds that grow quickly but not attractively, the descendants of Charlie Brown’s tree. That first year, we passed a field of trees only a foot or so high and talked about how someday we’d come back with children and cut a tree, now grown, from that field. And sure enough, we did. That was also the last year we went to Marmion.

(Much) closer to our house, we started deforesting the Crete Christmas Tree Farm. We four would trudge around in the mud, looking for the perfect shape, fullness and color. When we finally selected the “perfect” tree (or really just gave in to Eliza who had made up her mind and wouldn’t look at anything else – compromise is not really in this child’s vocabulary), Tony and  Dominic would scootch under the tree, saw it down and drag it back to the Shaker which would, well, shake it so all (or at least some) of the dead needles fell off.

And then in 2003, we went completely over to – da, da, da, dum – The DARK SIDE.

We bought an artificial, pre-lit tree. The reason for this horror was time – there was none. We sat down with sports and rehearsal schedules and realized that we didn’t have 4 hours of daylight together until the week before Christmas. Unless we pulled the kids out of school for the day, a tree-cutting morning or afternoon just couldn’t happen. Now, while I was solidly in the “oh, what the heck, let’s do it, they’re not learning brain surgery” camp, Tony was most assuredly not.

And we considered an artificial tree. We swore to each other up and down that it would only be for one year and we’d go back to a real tree.

We went to American Sales and bought ourselves a wire and plastic electric tree. Which took me all of 15 minutes to assemble. Which meant we could just hang ornaments instead of fight with lights. Which meant that I finished all the decorating in one day instead of two and a half. Which meant I had less stress, less mess and more fun that weekend. Weeks later, it meant a quick, easy clean up.

Which meant that the death knell had rung for a real tree in our house.

This year, that tree pooped out. Caught in several inches of water when the sump pump went out late last winter, it smelled of mildew and refused to completely – or even mostly – light.

We didn’t even consider a real tree. I just got in the car and bought another environmental horror – a clean, easy, already-strung, convenient, perfectly shaped environmental horror.

Yes, I felt ashamed. Yes, I felt horribly guilty as Tony took the old tree to the recycling center (we’re trying!). Yes, I beat myself up over the plastic and wire and electric.

And then I put that new tree together in just 10 minutes and started hanging ornaments.

Eliza and Griffey with the Environmental Disaster - isn't it beautiful??

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