Jim Duke

I looked like a beautiful weekend with my only plan being to cut a Christmas tree. What lucky kids I have to be able to join this greatest of all traditions! Wonder if I should try taking Emma along this year. I took Ellie when she was only 2. Really not fair to let Emma miss out, but then again, be kinda tough handling both of them crossing the river – especially if I swamp the canoe or something.

Meanwhile, Ellie practiced her five years of tact and diplomacy. “Dad, did you know they sell Christmas trees at stores?” she asked. “Sure, why?” I reply. “Well, all my friends get their trees at stores” suggests Ellie. “Most people do.” I explained. “It’s more fun to go out and cut our own.” Ellie lost her composure. “I don’t wanna go cut a tree! I just want to get a tree at a store like everyone else!” I’m devastated. Adding insult to injury, now I’d have to buy a dead tree for ninety bucks.

The next morning the girls and I went shopping for a live tree – the compromise to my quandary. Something to plant next spring. After a few minutes of checking out the larger-than-expected root balls and price tags, I started to question the whole notion. Then Ellie spots some little spruce trees in 1 gallon pots. “Daddy, let’s get a baby tree!”

What a perfect solution! Christmas is just for the kids anyhow so as long as they’re happy…

Back at home in the living room, I couldn’t help but notice the several bushels of ornaments strewn about. A note on the counter informed me of an impromptu tree decorating party planned for that evening. I was running out of time to go get a real tree.

The traffic was getting bad as I headed to the grocery store rumored to have $20 trees. Pulling into the parking lot I encountered an impenetrable wall of cars and people probably all there for the same reason I was. This was ridiculous. I could go cut my own faster than we’d get through these lines. I could maintain tradition by myself!

It was beginning to snow as I sped home spurred by the setting sun. If I really hustled I could get across the river and find a tree before dark. Skidding a tree home after dark with a good mule would be no problem.

As I went out to call Huey in, I remembered that all my saddles and other tack were still at my brother’s from hunting season. No problem. I could just tie some reins on a halter and go bareback. The only rope I could find was a quarter-inch poly rope. I hate that stuff. It’s kinky and tangly and stretchy and yellow. There’s nothing good about it. I start to consider the difficulties of skidding a tree holding a slippery quarter-inch rope riding bareback with nothing to snub to. What the heck, I’m burning daylight and that’s just a detail to deal with later.

Across the river, I followed the railroad tracks down about a half mile where a recent slide had left several nice trees hanging off the edge and not long for the world. The idea of being able to drop one right down to the tracks instead of skidding through the woods in the encroaching darkness made sense.

At the bottom of the slide, I tied Huey to a sapling and found a route to scramble up to the trees. I quickly cut a nice tree and was scrambling back down when I slipped and lost hold of the tree which started rolling across the slope right at Huey.

Huey, never having been attacked by a tree before, spooked and took off down the tracks dragging the sapling he’d been tied to. After a short run, Huey was anxious to return for help, comforting, and the removal of the tree he was still dragging around.

Having now been chased by two trees, Huey wasn’t thrilled about approaching the first one that had attacked him. I calmed him down enough to jump on and wrap the rope around my waist, but when the tree started following him again I had to drop the rope to prevent a runaway.

After a lot of dancing around and almost getting dumped a couple times, it became obvious that it would be easier to just walk home dragging the tree and leading Huey than to continue efforts to reason with him in the darkness of a developing blizzard.

Because Huey wouldn’t get close enough to the tree to allow me to grab it by a branch while holding his makeshift reins, I was forced to pull it by the poly rope and endure the discomfort of the polyurethane rope digging into my shoulder, thus allowing the tree to follow at an acceptable distance while Huey stumbled backward along the tracks ahead of me, walking backwards and sideways to keep his eye on the enemy tree. My spirits were beginning to dampen by the time I reached the river crossing.

Although I could see the warm lights of my living room across the river flickering through the driving snow, this promised to be the longest leg of the journey. I put the Christmas tree in the calm water at the river’s edge planning to grab the rope from mule back on the way by. I coiled the rope and hung it on a handy branch hanging over the river so that I could grab the coil as I passed by. I could then play the rope out so I wouldn't have to pull the tree while Huey was fighting the worst part of the current. Then we would drag the tree across after he got good footing in the shallows on the other side.

Wary of the attack tree lurking in the shallows, Huey covered the first 10 feet in one leap. My effort to grab the coil of rope with frozen hands during this wild leap resulted in sticking my hand through the coil and getting securely tangled on a short leash. This put the tree back on the attack sooner than anticipated, thereby putting Huey on a much more dramatic retreat across the river. Unable to untangle my right hand and being dragged backwards off Huey, I tried to roll off to the side to land on all fours.

That’s when I discovered that my other hand had become tangled in the polyurethane reins. I found myself hanging off the side of Huey sort of pretzel shaped with my left hand between my legs tangled in the reins while my right hand was stretched over my head tangled in the tree tether. In the blink of an eye, I was flipped, dunked, dragged, and dropped off in the shallows on my home shore side of the river.

I hardly noticed the icy water as I tried counting numb fingers with numb fingers in the total darkness. I was just starting to struggle toward shore feeling good that my digits were intact when I felt the poly rope tighten around my ankle (have I mentioned how much I hate that stuff?). I glanced back at the warm lights of my living room a mere 50 yards away through the driving snow as the tree entered the main current dragging me with it. After a brief and futile effort at a backward crab-walk on the slick river cobble, I realized that my only option was to attack. Swimming and scrambling in the general direction the rope had been pulling me through whitewater rapids, I quickly overtook the tree and began wrestling it toward shore.

Our company had shown up in my absence and my friend Jeff, having seen Huey run by in the light from the porch, was just coming out the door to investigate as I came trudging up from the river dragging my tree and a tangle of poly rope. He pretended not to notice my soggy condition as he dryly complimented the tree.

“Sure is a big one. Not quite as nice as the one I just bought, but you did save yourself twenty dollars and the trouble of going to town and all.”

While Kathy likes to string a few lights around, the Dukes now leave their Christmas trees growing outside decorated however nature sees fit. littleasspen@gmail.com