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The Tell-Tale Tree

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Photo by Kamila Turton Photo by Kamila Turton

Sometimes, getting your Christmas tree can be more difficult than you bargained for.

As it got closer to Christmas, I started trimming my options of all the trees I considered possible candidates for gracing our living room during the holidays; some because the snow was getting too deep, others for the fact that they looked better where they were at. Still others because they simply weren’t mine.

I finally settled on one in that no man’s land called a right-of-way.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s I picked on the Bayview Road just inside the Kootenai County line for its magnificent stand of well developed, 10’ firs growing out of the ditch and starting to crowd the road. Then I read where it was illegal to do such a dastardly, underhanded thing so I decided to start looking closer to home. That summer they had those trees mowed down, presumably to keep me from enjoying such a convenience anyways.

So I keep an eye on my roadside trees as they develop, year by year, into possible choices themselves. I prefer to have a tangible reason for cutting down a nice healthy conifer other’n to decorate my living room for a few weeks in December. If I can show ‘just cause’ then my guilt trip is a short one. If not, then I feel pretty silly starting the new year out by offering one of my very best trees to the “Goddess of Slash Piles and Forest Management Theories.”

Lately, I couldn’t help droolin’ over several particularly nice blue spruce crowding each other and the ditch not too very far from my front door. It’s a veritable hedge of 10-foot to 15-foot spruce trees so close together one could easily bleed to death trying to harvest the beer cans that sprout up every spring along our road. I determined one of those roadside beauties had to be invited up to our place for the holidays.

My plan relied heavily on the cover of darkness. This was to be a clandestine operation, for in ‘broad daylight’ I’d be subjected to queries, comments, hand gestures, full or partial moons and even some hairy eyeballs. There’s also enough lead flyin’ around here on any given afternoon without me stirring things up.

On Friday, a week before Christmas, after work, chores, dinner and dishes, I put on my boots, gloves, hat and a light jacket. Eight-thirty, overcast and almost as dark as the inside of a cow, I grabbed my light saber and pruning saw and headed down my drive. I also figured everyone should be snug in their homes by that hour and I’d have our road pretty much to myself. Just me and the ‘nocturnals.’

Just over a half mile away stood my prize intended. An easy walk to be sure as I had thought to bolster my astute woodsman abilities with four or five hot brandies. Confidence was high. So was I.

My wife said, “Good luck. I’ll leave the light on for ya.”

With that, I headed out through a couple inches of fresh powder.

“Crap! When did this start?” I wasn’t counting on leaving a trail. “If you hurry, the snow will fill it in,” the brandy intoned. “You betcha!” I replied.

Halfway there I noticed headlights making the corner aglow. Not wanting to have to explain what the hell I was doing out in the dark with a pruning saw and cheap Star Wars memorabilia, I wedged myself into a thicket of jack pine, unloading a canopy of snow in the process. Now, being almost identical to the snow bank in front of me, I feared not detection. I did, however, consider the chance of frostbite as one of my nipples was on its tippytoes tryin’ to get out of the fresh powder cascading down my collar and under my thermal, v-neck shirt.

I heard a rig rumble past but couldn’t see it through all the snow pack between my glasses and my noggin. 

Back out on the road, I shook off and staggered in a westerly direction until I got my specs cleared and noticed the corner glowing again. I already had snowmelt in my ears and navel as well as a tributary running down the small of my back, making my butt muscles do involuntary gestures. I had to force myself back into the trees this time but had the presence of mind to give a mighty kick to their trunks first. Initially this seemed like a wise idea, but the wind direction played a bigger role than anticipated and I got camouflaged again. Did I mention I had previously bolstered my woodsman-like abilities?

I finally made it to the corner but not before I took a few more trips into the trees and realized the whole neighborhood could be out Christmas shopping.

Standing in the intersection, I de-iced my glasses again and squinted around for my soon-to-be-ornamented blue spruce. And there it was, hugging its relatives and trying to look inconspicuous.

I got the bright idea to jump the ditch so as to avoid making obvious tracks and get any passerby to think it was just another alien abduction, which would be nothing out of the ordinary for this neighborhood. Sorta like the Bermuda Triangle, but us locals like to call it “Ring Around the Athol.” I backed up a couple paces, trotted forward like any confident broad jumper would and made a perfect ‘snow angel’ on the side of the road. Now I was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. There was even ringing in my ears!

I found my pruning saw twenty feet back the way I’d come but my light was (and still is) playing hide ‘n’ seek. “Hell, I could do this blindfolded anyway!” So for sport, I pulled my stocking cap down over my face and crawled in under the object of my yuletide desire.

Right off I noticed a tingling in my ears and realized it wasn’t snow or even brandy, but cold, sharp needles caressing some of the tenderest skin I own and confiscating my hat at the same time.

I also noticed the size of the trunk and concluded it might be a long way back to my living room! Both my hernia and lower back agreed and began lobbying for a Buddhist conversion. Ten minutes of furious grunting produced a lot of sweat and a little sawdust, not to mention a bound up saw, so I sat down, took in enough oxygen to hopefully finish what I was doin’, put a boot against the tree and let off enough gas to heat Cocolalla for a week. I laid back listening to the echo and waited for dissipation.

Five minutes and several choice words later the tree gave up and fell over into the road. That’s when I heard voices and they weren’t comin’ from my conscience. I sat up from my brief happiness and tried to get bearings on this approaching conversation. I could barely see the road in front of me, let alone any details beyond that and for some reason there weren’t any cars running around for night lights. The voices were in ‘un-Doppler’ mode. Company was coming! I thanked my lucky stars.

It was all I could do to limit my verbal excitement to whimpering uncontrollably through clenched teeth as I reached out and pulled a 200 pound spruce over me in the ditch. To pass the time I replayed what I could remember of the last scene in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which didn’t help much. What did come in handy was having glasses on, for any exposed skin with less than four layers became one large pin cushion. The feel of a spruce hug is now indelibly etched upon my mind. A little old fashioned karma coming down on me, you might say.

I was in the process of repenting when laughter broke my concentration. I looked for some humor but found only irony. More laughter and this time I recognized it as belonging to my neighbor and fellow member of the North Idaho Nail Bender’s Guild, Vic, with his wife Linda, out for a quiet evening stroll.

“Great! If they see me pinned under this tree, I’ll never hear the end of it,” I muttered between whimpers.

I could hear the light padding of boots going by, then stopping. Linda said, “What’s wrong?” (I could hear sniffing, deep and analytical.) “Do you smell that?” Vic muttered. It’s either a gut-shot moose or our septic is acting up again!” I almost offered a third possibility, but held on to it for obvious reasons.

I took a short nap and waited for them to get home. Endorphins were making me giddy.

Once I managed to get free of my burden, the process of delivery became a little clearer. I stood up and pulled the butt of my tree into the road and realized more traffic was probably a safe wager. I decided to set goals (something I normally don’t do) and picked out a break in the snow bank about 50 feet away where I could conceal myself if need be.

Roughly 2,000 calories and a host of “Ouch!” es later, I concluded the first of many goals.

Headlights again illuminated the area so I stood up my Christmas ‘cactus’ and backing into the snow bank, redefined the notion of a ‘live’ tree.

My next goal was a considerable distance away, which might entail the burning off of some belly fat, and for once in my life I was glad to have some handy.

I’d noticed my trail was painfully obvious in the headlights that had just gone by so I tried walking the tree upright. This was obviously painful, prompting me to give up on concealing my tracks and just get on home before I managed to ‘bleed out’ completely.

Lights again appeared around the corner, now far enough away that I wasn’t all lit up (like a Christmas tree), so I climbed the berm and with Herculean effort pulled the tree up with me. I was ecstatic for the opportunity to reactivate an old hernia or maybe create a new one. That is, until a small but formidable twig went directly up a startled but well-chilled nostril, which retreated like a bare ass from a hot stove, taking most of my available balance along as witness.

“Once again, Ollie, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten me into!” An old line but useful in my predicament.

As I lay there behind the snowbank, half encased in powder and with the other half in pain, I could hear a truck turn and go up Lazy Spade Lane, leaving me in the dark with my thoughts of joyful holiday magic.

It was a good thing I’d brought along my laptop (I strap it to my midsection to keep my belly warm and also to deflect stray bullets)! So I peeled it off my belly, typed up this confessionary nonsense and emailed it all to Trish, who has probably added a few typographical errors before sending it off to be published herein.

Having said all that, will some kindly dear reader come ‘n get me out from under this tree? Anybody! I’m really thirsty and need to go pee something fierce!

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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humor, Christmas, Christmas tree

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