The very early morning sky is awash in vibrant violet and still sequined in strands of stars. They shiver and twinkle like silver tinsel above us as we head out into the incredible cold, our noses already dripping, our bones beginning to ache.
We walk the logging road that winds through the woods for miles. We walk in silence through the tangled arms of grey birches locked in intricate embrace and the heavily burdened branches of cedars and tamaracks. Around a sharp bend the road emerges into a smooth and snowy white field over which a huge moon, the color of a tangerine, is setting in the face of the rising sun.
I take in a frosty breath, letting it out in a sigh. What a beautiful beginning to this very special day! Because today is the day we will find the Christmas tree, the tree I have been dreaming about for most of the autumn.
I am like the kid in the proverbial candy store as we move to the field's edge where the younger trees huddle in the drifts, a long parade of conifers decorated in the diamonds of ice-encrusted cones. The white dog and I are running now among the trees, wind whirling round us in a shimmery spray as we romp in the snow.
My mother taught me how to appreciate a tree and so I begin to sort out the stiff and elegant spruces from the white pines with their long soft needles, the straight and lacy hemlocks from the deeply dusky firs. I am always amazed at how many shades of green there are! The air is redolent with their menthol scent as I caress each one, cleaning away some snow, the dog licking sap from my hands.
We are here for what seems like hours, searching, evaluating, comparing. We pour hot coffee into our cups, stirring it with candy canes and follow some tracks down to a stream. A barred owl swoops over us in a velvety shadow, a fox has passed this way so recently his scat still steams in the frigid air. I stand very still, thinking I can surely hear him breathing somewhere close by, feeling as excited as a fan in the company of a celebrity.
And then magically it materializes right there in front of us. As I turn I see it, THE tree, a small sturdy fir, smokey green with cantilevered branches perfect for the placement of lights and ornaments. It grows before me, just my size, five feet tall and with a bird's nest lined in snakeskin nestled in its heart.
I look over at my friend, my breath coming very hard, my hand over my own heart. "This is the one! This is the one I want!" I cannot believe I will have this tree, that it will be mine, bringing into the house all its mystery and enchantment, years of thunder and lightning storms, starlight, rain and sleet, wind and heat, all part of its story. I think of other years and other birds nesting there, of rabbits seeking shelter at its roots, of butterfly chrysalises suspended from its twigs, a fawn hiding camouflaged in its shade.
I see in my mind's eye the sapphire lights I bought at the store, the golden garlands and the pine cones I dipped in gilt and bronze, the stems of scarlet holly berries I will so carefully tuck into its arms. And as I watch my friend kneel to place the silvery saw against the small trunk, its jagged teeth gleaming in the sun, I begin to tremble. I find myself suddenly flinging out my hand to stop him before the metal bites the wood.
"Please don't. I can't," is all I can say. He looks up at me and slowly lowers the saw. He gets to his feet and puts his arm around my shoulder and kisses me on the cheek.
And on the long journey home, after being bereft for half the way, I watch my friend and the white dog walking in front of me and I smile. Because I know we'll be back again this very afternoon with tins of bird seed and slices of orange, ribbons made from apple skins, popcorn and purple raisins rolled in peanut butter, our pockets heavy with handfuls of crimson cranberries. My perfect Christmas tree will not be in my house this year but forever in my heart.