We were not always so prosperous to order our trees from L.L. Bean. Six years ago, we had a somewhat traumatic tree-hunting expedition that typifies the absurd predicaments Jon and I find ourselves in. Our children at the time were 9, 8, 5, & 2.
It started with a budget crisis...
...I remembered that Ashlawn-Highland, the home of former US president James Monroe, was giving out FREE trees. We grabbed the tree saw, and headed down route 53. Jon drove ahead in his truck, and when the kids and I spilled out of the Volvo, we saw a young couple dragging a perfect Christmas tree toward their car. When questioned, they told us that the best trees were in the vicinity of the sheep. I popped into the gift shop to make sure we understood the rules of this venture, and was told we were free to cut down any cedar tree, and that donations to Ashlawn, in any amount, were gratefully accepted. Fair enough, although I kept to myself the fact that I didn't know what a cedar tree looked like.
Our first challenge was climbing the fence into a large field with woods at its edge. There were no suitable trees in sight, and there was a disconcerting lack of sheep. But what these woods lacked in sheep and Christmas trees, they made up in other organic matter, for the area had recently been occupied by a large herd of cows. After a long and dreary walk, we stumbled on a barbed-wire fence. The trees are always more Christmas-y on the other side of the barbed wire. Boosting four small children over the barbed wire fence was considerably more difficult than climbing the first fence, but we managed it, and were deep in a wood of enormous trees of one species that I assumed was cedar. They were all much too tall, and just as we were about to give up, we spotted the sheep and a tree that appeared suitable, or at least, diminutive compared to its neighbors. There was a long stretch of trunk before the branches began, but we were confident that once trimmed down, this tree would be perfect. Jon set to work with the saw, the tree fell with a resounding Whump!, and it became horribly clear that this tree was HUGE, and that we didn't have a chance of even dragging it to the car, let alone fitting it into our living room. What also became clear was that we had committed a crime. Our first impulse was to hide the evidence. Jon quickly began sawing the tree into smaller chunks, much as an axe-murderer chops his victims into pieces that will fit into a briefcase. The kids and I dragged the amputated tree bits to another fence nearby and tossed them over. Even two year old Mr. McP was scurrying to and fro with small branches. We were just in sight of the house and Jon alternated between bellowing at us to hurry up and hissing at us to be quiet. It was at this point that I remarked that our donation had better be in cash. And so we floundered through the muck--for the cows had been here too--frantically disposing of the tree, while ducking and dodging in order to remain invisible. The sheep, curiously, seemed oblivious to the sudden burst of activity in their pasture.
Once we'd hidden the evidence of our crime, we began our search anew. We now realized that our sense of perspective was somewhat skewed but when we found a second tree, we were at least able to judge that it was much smaller than the first one. As Jon started sawing, the three youngest children started to cry. "I don't want a Christmas tree!" sobbed Drama Queen. This tree, however, turned out to be easily portable. Even better, we discovered a broad stile over which we surmounted the fence with ease. Jon put the tree into his truck and headed home, while I stopped by the gift shop, gave them $10, and left in a hurry.
When I got home, there stood Jon, holding the tree up against the house. It was several feet taller than the front porch roof. We did, however, cram that whole tree, every bit, into our stairwell, where its top nearly reached the second floor ceiling and its branches bulged through the banisters and almost completely blocked the hall.
The really amazing thing is that the following year we returned to Ashlawn for another tree.
This year's mantle, artfully arranged by Drama Queen.