1. Know what you’re looking for.
My parents have a tradition.
The day after Thanksgiving, they go to a local Christmas tree farm and select a live tree for the family room. For the last two years, I have gotten one for myself as well.
There are a few rules about these trees. They must have strong branches to hold heavy ornaments. They should have at least one hole in the branches for large ornaments. One side should be flat to go against the wall. Preference is given to trees with short, soft needles, such as Fraser Firs.
Also, we always look for Cob trees.
(What is a Cob tree? In 1995 or so my family got to visit my uncle in Switzerland. One of Mom’s strongest memories is of walking through a pine woods in the Alps a bit behind the rest of us. She was enjoying the quiet – the wind in the trees, the birds singing, the smell of the needles. Then my brother came running back.
“Mom! Mom! Uncle Graig says these pines are all Cob trees! Do you know why?”
The moment was lost. She looked at my brother. “No, why?”
“Well, can’t you see the cone on the Cob?”)
So these are our many criteria for the perfect Christmas tree. As you can imagine, it can be a bit of an ordeal to find one.
2. Equip yourself with the resources you need for your decision.
We call this process “hunting.”
You see, unlike artificial or pre-cut trees, these are alive. And that makes them feisty, and more likely to run. You leave one tree to look at another, and the first is likely to slip away while you’re not looking.
On the day after Thanksgiving, while Mom was running an errand, Dad and I made preparations.
“Traps?” I asked.
“Extra gas for the saw?” (The farm provides manual bow saws, for the record.)
“I’ll grab it when we leave.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dad said. “Those are too big. They’d destroy the tree.”
Having gone through the checklist, I stood up. “Well, I should go take my shower. You know, wash off all of the human scent.”
“Did you know the best way to mask your scent is to rub turkey on yourself?” Dad asked. “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.”
(You can trust that statement! After all, you just now read it on the Internet yourself via this very blog post, and the Internet wouldn’t lie.)
Mom still hadn’t returned by the time I was done getting ready. “You know, Dad,” I said, “the makeup Mom and I wear is like camouflage. It makes us look like harmless city slickers, not experienced hunters.”
We sat down and stared at a large park area (complete with mini-swamp and woods) behind the house. Dad pointed out the turkey buzzards circling over the park. “Must be a deer dying or something,” he said.
“Or they know we’ll be home with a fresh kill from the tree hunt,” I replied. “By the way, did you remember to pack the bait?”
“They love rabbit. You’ve seen rabbits with big, massive pine trees hovering menacingly over them, right?”
I thought for a minute. “You know how ‘coney’ is an archaic word for ‘rabbit’? I bet that’s how Cob trees get so big…from all the coneys.”
“Good thing we’re not taking the dog with us. She’d just eat the rabbit, and that would make her a coney dog.”
“At least she has a good layer of fur, so she won’t become a chili dog.”
“No, but with all the running and chasing trees, she might become a hot dog.”
Mom got home. “Ready to go?” we asked.
“No, I have to change my boots and coat.”
She was wearing clean, white boots and a nice white coat at the time. “Good call,” I told her. “It’s not snowing out. It’s not nearly good enough camouflage. The trees will spot you a mile away.”
Mom rolled her eyes and switched her coat.
3. Don’t be afraid to reconsider before you commit.
On the road, Dad kept an eye out for returning tree hunters. He pointed at a car with a tree strapped to its roof. “When you see something like that, it means they just ran over the tree with their car. It tipped right over and they strapped it down.”
“Kind of like when a deer jumps in front of your car?” I asked.
“Yep. That’s the cheater’s way, though.”
We got to the tree farm and headed off to look at trees. The first one to strike my fancy was a beautifully-shaped Fraser Fir. It was even a genuine Cob tree. Unfortunately, my parents also pointed out that it had a double trunk. Not too far from that, though, were two other lovely trees very close to each other. Both were about perfect for my apartment. The top of one was covered in tiny cones – it had obviously eaten a lot of rabbits. The other had a better shape overall and slightly stronger branches, but no cones.
4. Know what compromises to make.
We kept looking, but it was getting colder, and I kept mentally returning to those two trees. Finally, while my parents kept looking for themselves, I made my way back to find them.
Cob or not Cob?
It was a surprisingly rough decision. If the non-Cob had at least one cone, it would have almost certainly won. But the top of the Cob tree was prettier, and it was a genuine Cob tree.
When Mom and Dad wandered back, their own (alleged) Cob tree in tow, I told them, “I really wish I could have the top of the Cob tree and the rest of the other.”
Dad raised the saw and waved it in front of the Cob tree in an offer to cut off the top for me.
My father is a helpful man.
In the end, I chose the non-Cob. It was a better tree, and as Mom pointed out, I have pine cone ornaments. So, in fact, I have a live artificial Cob this year.
5. Don’t be surprised when conditions change.
We headed back to the entrance with both trees in tow. By this point, the snowflakes were swirling.
“See?” Mom said. “I should have worn my white coat after all.”