too many words by laura lemay

they're heeeeeere

The tree people are here. They come with big cars and fear and poor load securing skills. Every year we hope for early winter storms to keep them from coming or to drive them away. Every year the weather is nice and they come up from the flatlands in droves. We stay at home and we seethe. Or we get stuck behind them and we seethe. It is a month-long seethe. We are the seethers.

In New England they call them “tree peepers,” the tourists who flock up to the country to see the leaves turning colors in the fall. They come out from the cities and they drive badly on the country highways. They stop randomly in the middle of the road to admire the views (“look! trees!”) and are generally a nuisance to the people who actually live there and have places to be.

We don’t have tree peepers; our trees are California trees and the colors are kind of boring (yellow, brown). What we do have in abundance is choose-and-cut-your-own Christmas tree farms. It is a similar phenomenon.

The mountains are kind of known for Christmas tree farms, and our road, being the first exit out of town, is tree farm central. It seems that anyone who ever grew up in the Valley within driving distance of my road has harvested a tree here. I have been in the eastern sierra, in Arizona, and in New Hampshire, and I have met people who know the Christmas tree farms on my road. It is kind of like living in Disneyland.

Starting the day after Thanksgiving and sometimes even before then the people from the Valley get into big cars or trucks and drive up the hill to our road. But these are flatlanders who are used to 6-lane freeways and big wide straight suburban streets. They don’t see a lot of narrow twisty roads with a sheer dropoff on one side. It scares them. So they drive in the middle of the road, at about 10 miles per hour. Woe betide you if you are used to driving the road and you get stuck behind a convoy of white-knuckled minivans. You’ll be there all day. And on the way back down again: tree people do not understand that you should not lean on your brakes for the better part of three miles down the hill. Christmas in the mountains smells a lot like a brake pad crying out in pain.

Then there’s the indecision. Admittedly, there are a lot of tree farms on the road, and it’s hard to get an idea of what a good farm is from one small sign on a gate by the road. But a lot of tree people will drive up the main road, stop in front of a farm, and then have a family discussion whether or not to go into that farm. This can take the better part of two or three minutes. If you are behind the discussion, you might as well put it in park and have a sandwich. But I also suggest leaving a fair amount of room between you and any vehicle that comes to a sudden stop in the middle of the road, because there is about a 50/50 chance that the driver will decide, no, let’s go to that farm we just passed, and abruptly put the car into reverse and back up into you. Yes, this has happened. Yes, more than once.

Once the tree people have actually found a farm and found a tree there is the securing the tree to the car problem. The tree farms charge $30-$40 for a tree regardless of size, which is a great deal if you’re looking for a Rockefeller Center-style tree to put in your three-story foyer, but they charge extra for something to actually tie it to your car. You can tell that a lot of people get really stingy on this. I usually see one of a number of tree securing methods:

  • The Gravity Method: You have purchased a tree that is bigger than your car. In fact you no longer actually own a car; you are now driving a 4WD douglas fir. That tree will probably permanently remain on top of your car, because it took a team of ten to put it there. Good luck getting into the car. Note that the gravity method usually only works while driving down the hill; once you reach the bottom of the hill and merge onto the freeway the increased speed and wind pressure usually sucks the tree right off the roof and flings it into oncoming traffic. There’s no team of ten to help you reload your firmobile down there.
  • The Thousand Hands Method: If you roll down all the windows and you and all your children reach out of the car and just HOLD ON REAL TIGHT, then the tree will remain on top of the car. If you are really fortunate when you reach the bottom of the road and merge onto the freeway and the tree gets sucked off the roof and flung into oncoming traffic, it will not suck your children out of the windows with it. Buckle up.
  • The Hope For the Best Method: The tree farm only charges $1 for a little bit of twine. How secure is a tree going to be attached to the top of the roof if it’s tied with a little bit a twine? Not very. But maybe if we hope for the best it’ll be OK. Until you get to the bottom of the road and merge onto the freeway and then the twine will probably snap immediately when the tree gets sucked off the roof.
  • The It’s a Truck Method: It’s a truck! Just put the tree into the bed! This is what pickups are for! No need to invest in anything to tie down the tree! This method works spectacularly until you reach the bottom of the road and merge onto the freeway, at which point the tree is sucked right up out of the bed and flings it into oncoming traffic.
  • The Enormous Pupae Method: Some sensible people believe that something horrible is going to happen to their chosen tree on the way home, and so they invest in the complete tree securage package. The tree is wrapped completely in some sort of white plastic netting from head to foot so that not even a single needle will escape the trip, and then the bundle is tied tightly to the roof of the vehicle. The car is no longer merely transporting a Christmas tree, but now looks more as if a giant insect were gestating on top of it. This tree is going nowhere. Not even in the merge onto the freeway, as trees are getting sucked off cars all around your. This is absolutely a reliable tree securage method, it just looks really funny and is thus still worthy of mock.

From this description you may be thinking that the onramp to the freeway at the bottom of my road is just littered with devehicled Christmas trees. I perhaps exaggerate a tad. But it is not unusual to listen to the traffic report around this time of year and hear that “there is a backup on Highway 17 because of a Christmas tree in the road.”

The best part of Christmas tree season, however, is that it ends. After Christmas the roads return to quiet and the flatlanders remain on the flats. At least until wine tasting and wedding season starts. Then we get the drunk flatlanders, but that is another essay for another time.

(Christmas Tree Farm photo from Carol Fernandez on flickr (original; CC licensed))