The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

The First Christmas Tree

I never intended to call my first car pretty, until I learned how pretty $700 of your fathers money can make a car. Seven Hundred parentally-sponsored dollars makes a car beautiful. I drove it like it was the love of my life. But of course, it was not. It did, however, carry the love of my life well. And so I loved this car, because soon after I acquired it, the true love of my life and I were married, and this car drove us off into the sunset.

A few months later, on a beautiful winter’s morning, in our beautiful car, with my beautiful new wife, we headed out together towards the beautiful hills. The hills were beautiful not because of how they looked, but because of what they held. Somewhere up there, secreted away in a location we did not yet know, sleeping quietly in the snow, was our First Christmas Tree. The saw, the rope, the permit, all had been packed the night before. The hot chocolate was poured into the thermos, lunch was packed into the basket, and I invited my wife outside to board the carriage with a flourish. My beautiful wife raised a beautiful eyebrow at the skis now tied to the top of the car. Seven months of gestation will cause that kind of doubt in a woman. I hastily assured her she wouldn’t be wearing the skis, nor would she be expected to follow, should they become necessary. Her eyebrow was lowered, slowly, and the honeymoon glow returned to her face. It was all beautiful again.

We drove into the hills until a small paper sign on a roadside post matched the code on our forest service map and permit, and we turned onto a snow-packed side road. Soon it ended in a widened area, and we prepared ourselves for the Big Event. She reached over and squeezed my hand.

We glanced at each other before getting out of the car, and again as we stood, looking over the little Bug at each other, bubbling like children in anticipation. I surveyed the tree line for the easy candidates, and they met my expectations – picked-over shrubs that would be suitable for nothing more than potted side-table ornaments. We would have to hike in. We were not small, feeble denizens of safety. We were of robust pioneer stock, and a robust tree was the only kind that would do.

The service road led us through shin-deep snow a short ways to another clearing, and we decided to work the perimeter of the clearing, to look up close at the specimens. I carried my rope over my shoulder and under one arm, swashbuckling style, and brandished my tree-saw at the underbrush as we left the road. I took one step off the road and sank waist-deep into the snow. My wife looked down from the road, now three feet taller than I, momentarily debating laughter. She then elected silence, without a word turning back towards the car.

“No, I have a plan!” I slung the words like a snaring net, hoping to capture her interest back to me. We were only a few months into this marriage, and she still believed I had common sense. She stopped, and waited for an explanation on how a seven-month-pregnant woman should be expected to wade through three feet of snow. I flopped on my back, away from her.

When I sat back up, a six-foot trail had been prepared for her. I thought about the story of the chivalrous duke casting his cloak over a puddle before the lady wanting to get into the carriage, a story I couldn’t remember in detail, but felt that surely I was worthy of copying. I hurled myself back again, making a snow path, until I had cleared about 15 feet. It seemed like a good idea, but five minutes later with snow in every crevice of my body it seemed impractical even to me. So I began to stomp.

And stomp I did, for a full hour. At the end of that hour, my wife was more worn out from laughing at my insanity than from walking through the trench behind me. It was a fine trench, but a finer insanity. She cast her royal gaze across the clearing, and summarily proclaimed that it held no decent Christmas tree candidates. I had to agree, though speaking was difficult by this time. We stumbled back to the car. The short walk down the service road was enough for me to regain my youthful idiocy – I mean, energy, and by the time we arrived at the car I had a new plan. I opened the door for my wife, sat her down, covered her with a blanket we’d brought along, poured her hot chocolate out of the thermos she had brought, and pulled my skis off the car’s top. “Now”, I thought, “we can do this Man-style”.

I headed up the road for about an eighth of a mile. Each time I stopped to look around, the only sound was the sound of wind, open and easy, blowing across the mountain. I let my gaze span the wide landscape, opening up to the mountainside, the vastness of the woods, and to the valley below that stretched to the horizon. And then, just to the left of me, ahead by 50 yards, The Tree got tired of waiting. It shook off some snow, the sudden muffled whump of snow hitting the ground bringing me back to the moment, and to the Tree itself.

It was just the right height, from where I stood. It was just the right shape, full, well-formed, perfect in every way. I slid up to it with an easy swish, the skis stopping of their own accord, as if carrying me to a destination they already knew. This was without a doubt the Chosen Tree. All I had to do was bring it down, carry it back, and drive it home. Easy.

As I knelt in the snow, and unloaded my equipment, I realized I needed to dig for myself a spot to get at the tree with the saw. I dug down into the snow, scooping it out in armfuls. I realized there was another layer of branches actually buried in the snow, and freed them. They were as equally well-formed as the rest, so I decided to include them. More digging. Eventually, with more effort than I intended, I was ready to cut.

It took a moment to realize that my difficulty in cutting was the size of the trunk. I hadn’t realized how big around it was when I first surveyed the tree. But youthful determination being what it was, I persisted, and eventually the tree dropped.

It didn’t drop with the light swooshing sound I expected from my years with my dad cutting down trees for our family. It cracked and groaned, and went down like a mighty warrior, hitting the ground like a punishment. The violence of it’s demise caught me by surprise, brought me around to an awareness of my situation that had been missing. I surveyed my tree again. It was no mere sapling. I looked back at the hollow I had dug for myself, and realized I had dug down nearly 6 feet. Then I saw that the six feet I had dug was merely from the already hollowed out base of the tree. From the average snow line was more like ten feet. I had not cut a christmas tree – I had felled timber. I thought about the exact wording of my permit.

But still, the trophy was mine, and by golly, it was going to be gotten back to be viewed, approved, and adored by my mate. I hauled and huffed, twisted and grunted, and got the tree turned around and lined up to be dragged back to the car. It took about fifteen minutes to turn the tree, stumbling through the snow crust with the extra weight of the tree trunk in my arms, but eventually it began to move in the direction of the car. Thirty minutes later, exhausted, bruised, scratched, and covered with sticky, aromatic pitch, I broke free into the clearing where our car was. I had conquered the beast. I dropped the tree as soon as its entirety was within the vague circle of the clearing area, like a fresh bleeding boar just killed, and stood proudly over it on my skis, exalting in my manhood. My wife rose out of the car, gawking. Yes…I was The Man. I waited for her to say it.

“What on earth?” Were the first words.

“What are you…?” Was the second phrase

“We can’t take that back home.”, came third, as a pronouncement of final doom and disdain.

I realized at this critical moment that presentation was everything, so I lifted the tree as upright as I could, “But look how perfect it is”, I struggled to maintain my dignity as the tree sank suddenly and heavily into the snow, whipping a large branch menacingly up between my skis, stopping short of causing any life-altering damage.

As I twisted desperately aside she collapsed back into the seat of the car, and laughed.

Realizing that my manly pride was at risk from an acute attack of common sense, I changed tactics, defending my choice by reminding her how great the car was. She rolled her eyes. I swore to her I could get it onto the car. She shook her head and laughed some more. And so with the strength of a man whose dignity is called into question, I wrestled it to the top of the car while she stood by. It took a full fifteen minutes to get it there, and another to work the ropes until I felt it was safe for the road. In the end, we had a tree tied to a car, ready to go. Intestinal fortitude had triumphed over common sense.

I opened the door with a flourish, to beckon her into the waiting carriage. Well, I would have opened it, but the realization that the doors were tied shut with rope through the open windows transmitted itself to me through the sudden, painful, violent resistance in my shoulder. She didn’t exactly laugh this time. What she did do can only be described as hysterics. I’ve heard women with child will do this from time to time. In my prideful hurt, I reminded her of the Lamaze breathing training, and reminded her as any new father should that I was her coach. And I walked her through a breathing set. I did all this outside of arms reach of course. It was some time before her laughter became audible, but leaning against the side of the car, eventually she started to breath again and howls of laughter burst forth, echoing through the clearing.

When she was recovered, I announced with as much dignity as I had left that I had a plan. Her eyebrow raised again. And with that, I scooped her up bodily, and placed her feet inside the window, and indicated I expected the rest of her to follow. She protested, then slid awkwardly toward the passenger seat. She demanded I swear I would never tell what she looked like at the point where both mother and child were entering the car. I told her my dignity had affected my hearing, and could she please repeat that. And then we both laughed as she and our yet-unborn daughter settled into their seat.

I lashed the skis to the sides of the tree, and slid myself into the driver’s side, like a race driver. I felt the car move as if it were a whole new vehicle as we began down the road. The tree extended in front to the very edge of the bumper, and in back was actually two feet longer than the Beetle itself. But with fifty feet of rope wrapped around it, the Bug was going to follow that tree to its final destination long before they would become separated. And so we eased ourselves onto the icy mountain highway.

A 1966 VW bug is not, shall we say, the most aerodynamic of vehicles even on the best of days. When augmented by timber on its way to the mill it operates more like a hang glider than a motor car. And so we eased down the road at a top speed of about 45mph, feeling our way through gentle breezes, the patches of ice on the road, and our own mirth at our youthful idiocy. A large station wagon overtook us in the other lane, suddenly swerving and braking hard when they came up beside us, apparently not realizing until the last moment that they were overtaking an actual car, and not debris on the highway. People gawked as I nursed strained muscles and broken skin in the parking lot of the department store where we stopped to pick up a christmas tree stand. When we arrived home, I cut the ropes, and freed my wife. I had offered to slide her out the door the way she got in, I forget the exact response, but I remember something about God’s green earth.

I contemplated the unfettered tree still perched on top of the car for several minutes, before deciding to cut it in half. The top barely fit inside the house. My wife made wreaths to give away to family and friends with the rest. And in the end, that mighty little car was forever etched in my mind as the Greatest Car Ever.


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “The First Christmas Tree”


    Knowing laughs, amused groans, and big smile here.
    Don’t let it go to your head but you spin a good yarn, that they’re true makes them better, methinks the mighty viking has an Irish heart…

    • gkeller says:

      Well, you DO know what happened to all the best Vikings, right? Scotland and Ireland. Thanks though, I’ll do my best to maintain my humble disposition.

  2. Taryn says:

    I laughed until I cried! This story could have been my parents’. I feel like I know you! Thank you for making my day!

  3. Fred Roesener says:

    Are you trying to imply that this was an unusual occurrence.

  4. Jodie says:

    Straight out of a Grizwold christmas adventure, great memory for you guys

  5. Daniel says:

    This is amazing…. Utterly amazing! Why do I have this feeling that I would have done this as well?!! Bravo!

Leave a Reply