More Than One Way To Steal a Tree

SHORTLY before Christmas, this newspaper published some arboreal statistics. Of the 90 million households in the United States, a third of them buy real Christmas trees. A third use artificial trees, and a third do without any Christmas trees at all. Which shows you what statistics are worth.

What about the eight-thirds of householders who come into my wood lot every Yule and steal my trees until half my porcupines have to roost in snowbanks?

I'm referring to other days, before we sold the ancestral acres and became residual citizens with only a figurative fig tree and metaphorical maples.

I used to walk up through my woods with a paper bag for mushrooms about the time of the first frost, and use this excursion to pick out our family Tannenbaum, intending to return the first Sunday in Advent with my Swedish saw and a handsled. Not once did I ever harvest the intended tree; there would be only a stump and a purloiner's sled marks in the snow.

Understand, please, that a balsam fir tree in a Maine farmer's wood lot is not a matter of great price. The balsam fir is more like a weed, and the things will seed themselves in profusion so that a hundred will crowd themselves into failure for every one that flourishes.

The balsam fir makes fair fence posts, and lovely Christmas trees, and if allowed to mature can be put in a pulpwood pile. It is poor fuel, and is splintery if sawn for lumber. So there was never, really, any great monetary value involved in stealing Christmas trees.

When farmers began planting acreage to nursery seedlings and began harvesting for the city markets a difference prevailed. The State of Maine did, long ago, enact a law making it a felony to cut unbidden another's Yuletide assets, but the law made no great provision for catching the culprit in the act. Dust from a handsaw on a snowdrift is poor evidence.

So I never got too much worked up over losing a Christmas tree here and there. Then one year our lad went into the Christmas tree business on his own, and I saw otherwise. It was his second or third year in school, and as Christmas drew on he volunteered to get a tree for the class Christmas party.

"Sure," I said when he broke this news, "I know right where there's a dandy."

ON the appointed Saturday, his little friends came, Mother packed a bushel basket of winter picnic ingredients, I attached the trailer to the tractor, tossed in a bucksaw and some clippers, and off we went, yo-ho-ho, on our happy holiday errand. The stump we found added a poignant disappointment to what previously had been shrugged off as unimportant. We found another tree, all right, and we had the picnic, but....

It was the next year, I think, that the lad got his classroom tree again, and also took orders for others. He and his sister, now toddling along, went together this time, and I agreed to go to the woods later and fetch home their harvest. I did, and the tykes had out a big schoolroom tree and eight smaller ones for sale. I found them neatly piled, butts together, and brought them to the house. Then the lad told me he had no trouble whatever getting orders for Christmas trees - that everybody was glad to pay 10 cents apiece.

There's more than one way to steal Christmas trees.

I had a business conference with my son and was able to convince him the workman is worthy of his hire, and the product supplied should show a profit. The next year he charged 25 cents and sold 30 trees.

Now, 40-odd years later, the lad lives in a distant city, and sends back to Maine to L. L. Bean for a mail-order Christmas tree, the price of which I have not inquired and do not care to know. Rather than have a new-day Christmas tree like that, I would probably go and steal one. However, our retirement home is too small, and we now belong to that third third of the 90 million who have no tree at all.

Why hasn't somebody thought of a way to recycle used Christmas trees and enhance the environment somehow?

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