Now that we’re far enough past Thanksgiving that all the leftover turkey is gone, I think it’s time for yet another heart-warming Christmas story here on ye olde blogge. This time nobody shoots Santa, but another regular feature of Christmas threatens to be the death of yours truly.
Ten years ago, we lived in a house in California that had an eighteen-foot vaulted ceiling in one room. We called this room the “den”. It’s where we hung out most of the time, and it naturally made a great spot for the annual Christmas tree.
We always got a pretty large tree, but on this particular year our daughter was 16 months old and my wife wanted to get the biggest one yet — reaching all the way up to the ceiling.
We rented a U-HAUL truck, gathered my wife’s two brothers, and drove up US 50 to Pollock Pines in the Sierras, where there was a cut-it-yourself tree farm known for its large firs. They charged by the foot, but anything over twelve feet was the same price, so that seemed ideal to our purposes.
When you have a young child along, everything takes longer than you think it will, so we arrived there late in the afternoon. I knew from the start that meant trouble.
The tree farm covered many, many acres. If you didn’t take note of your path as you entered it, you could get lost there for days. My wife naturally wanted to examine every tree of the requisite height before deciding on “the one.” Complicating this procedure was the fact that we didn’t have anything capable of measuring an 18-foot tree while it was still attached to its roots, so at each tree my wife asked, “Do you think this one’s big enough?”
It didn’t matter what I answered.
“No, I don’t think so,” was her inevitable conclusion, and on we would continue with our search.
I found one that I was certain was large enough, and shapely, too. But I couldn’t convince her that it was “the one.”
Finally, just as it was beginning to get dark, my wife decided on a tree that would do (after much consternation over whether it was big enough). By this time, our daughter was tired and cranky, so my wife took her back to the car and left her brothers and me to cut this tree down and drag it out of the forest. But not before she asked a few more times, “do you really think it’s big enough?” followed by our numerous assurances that it was, indeed, sufficiently enormous.
We three took turns sawing, making a diagonal cut as well as a horizontal one to insure that the tree fell in the right direction and didn’t kick back. When we finally got through the trunk, we gave it a push and yelled “timber!” as the big fir tree crashed down onto the forest floor.
Then we reached down to lift the trunk and drag it out of the woods. It wouldn’t budge. We couldn’t move it a millimeter. By now it was almost completely dark, and we looked at each other and imagined the confusion on each other’s faces. We not only wondered how on earth we were going to get this tree out of the forest, but we were also becoming increasingly concerned about getting ourselves out as well.
Fortunately, the owners of the tree farm shared our concern. The headlights of their four-wheel-drive vehicle announced their arrival on the scene. Maybe we weren’t the first customers to find ourselves in that type of situation, because they came well prepared: four men, flashlights, saws, and even a tape measure.
After we described our situation, they suggested we measure eighteen feet and cut off whatever was left over from the bottom, to make the job lighter. The tree, which my wife had worried might not be big enough, turned out to measure 32 feet. So they cut the lower 14 feet off, and all seven of us dragged it onto their 4WD and we held onto it as we rode back to their office. There we loaded it into our truck, paid for it, drove home, dragged it out onto the lawn, and opened numerous alcoholic beverages. We laughed and recounted our adventure, each of us not saying what we all knew to be true: that yet another adventure awaited us the next day, when we would be expected to erect this monster inside the house.
Though we tried our best not to let it, the next day came as scheduled in the morning. With 14 feet less mass, we were just able to drag the arboreal behemoth to the back sliding-glass door that led into the den, only to realize that it wouldn’t fit through that opening. We took all the glass panels off, and then it would just make it through trunk first, bending its branches inward and scraping the wall as they flung back open on the other side.
We dragged the bottom of the trunk all the way to the opposite wall, and then realized that the top still wasn’t clear of the door. But at least it was down to the part that was flexible enough to bend it through, scraping the wall even more as we did so.
The upper floor had a look-out window over the den, so one of my wife’s brothers and I went up there, while the other brother remained downstairs with the tree. We had purchased two very large eye hooks, which we screwed into the wall beside the look-out. Through these we passed two stout ropes and threw one end of each down to the other brother, who tied them to the upper part of the tree’s trunk. Then we two pulled with all our might on each of the ropes, lifting the tree up while our brother below guided the base of the trunk towards the stand.
The folks at the tree farm must have mismeasured, or else they wanted to be careful not to take off more tree than we asked, because the top of the tree hit the ceiling long before it reached a fully vertical posture. We weren’t about to try to drag the tree back outside to lop off a foot or so, so we just rammed the crest up into the angle of the vaulted ceiling and let it curl over to one side.
Then when our brother yelled up that the trunk was over the stand, we let it down — and broke the stand. We didn’t have another one, nor did we feel like going out to get one. With the top lodged in the ceiling, we just left the ropes attached and tied them off at the eye hooks. Good enough! More alcoholic beverages.
It did turn out to be a beautiful tree, though. An adult could stand by the trunk within the branches, so we decorated it inside and out with red bows, gold silk balls, and hand-painted wooden ornaments. Besides using a very tall ladder, we also reached over from the look-out with a long pruning-hook to grab each high branch, pull it over, decorate it, and then carefully ease it back into place. Seeing the look on my daughter’s face as she would gaze up through the ornamented branches, it was worth all the effort.
How did we dispose of this Christmas Colossus after the holidays? Let’s just say that was the first and only time I have ever witnessed a chain saw being operated inside a house — by the elder brother. It took days to vacuum up all the sawdust.