Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh, Christmas tree

When I first started my job here 19 years ago, a friend and I got to go to a summer craft show held on my campus.  My friend and I quickly discovered we had good taste, or at least expensive taste: it seemed like everything we liked cost a lot.  The blue bowl cost $60.  The leather bag cost $300.  We admired; we reeled; we kept walking.  One of the things that I fell in love with was a cast iron tree, meant to be mounted on a wall.  I lingered there longer than usual; it cost $1000.  I reluctantly walked away.

Every summer, my friend and I would go back through that same craft fair, and every year I'd drag her over to the tree-maker's stand so I could gaze adoringly.  Finally, in 1998 I got a "commission" of sorts to go give presentations during a week-long workshop on math and art, up at Dartmouth.  The organizers said they'd pay me $1000.  The workshop started the day after the craft fair, and I decided that was an omen, or permission, or something.

A recent post from Dogs or Dollars reminded me that it's time to decorate the tree.  This year, she's renting a live tree that will eventually go live out its life as a woody guardian to a stream -- I love that idea.  In fact, I checked to see whether our local conservancies have a rent-a-tree program.  (They don't, but I'm going to suggest it to the group I send a yearly check to).

So December is decorating time.  Sometimes we butcher the evergreen bushes in the front yard to bring in some branches that smell good, but mostly we just decorate the cast iron tree with lights, ornaments, and whatever cards our friends send us.  My tree is artificial, of course.  If you amortize the tree over the past dozen years, I've paid something like $80 a year for the tree.  If I hang onto it for, say, 50 years, that's $20 a year.  That's still not cheap, especially if you think of it only as a Christmas tree, which is sort of what it is during this time of year.  But at other times of the year we decorate it with small pumpkins (the Halloween tree) or eggs (the Easter tree).   I pretend it lives the life that Sgt. Joyce Kilmer envisioned in his poem:

     . . .
     I think that I shall never see
     A poem lovely as a tree.

     A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
     Against the sweet earth's flowing breast

     A tree that looks at God all day
     And lifts her leafy arms to pray

     A tree that may in summer wear
     A nest of robins in her hair

     Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
     Who intimately lives with rain.

     Poems are made by fools like me,
     But only God can make a tree.

     . . . 

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