As a kid in Manhatten, the hunt for our family Christmas Tree consisted of a trek three blocks over from where we lived to where someone from Maine had set up to sell trees. My sister and I would eye every tree in the lot until our father that, great urban forest ranger, would select one, stomp it on the pavement, watch how many needles fell off, and pronounce the choice sound.
Later on, I got introduced to much less urban hunts that led to woodlots. Through I would still stomp them onto rocks to see how many needles fall off. Old habits die hard.
I remarried in the 1980s, and we soon started a family. The kids accompanied us to the local wood lots on sleighs as soon as possible; before they could walk. We have four children, but this story features our oldest Nick and our youngest, Louis,
It had been a very snowy early December in Central Massachusetts that year, and the snow was deep on the high slopes of the woodlot in which we were tree hunting. We had been coming to this tree farm for years, and our children already knew the routine which brought them the most joy:
- Run around.
- Check out every single tree.
- Walk up as high as the farthest meadow and tree copse.
- Finally, pick a tree in the most inaccessible location.
- Cut it and have dad put on the sleigh.
That year there was a hitch in the plan. Louis, junior, our youngest, had pretty much reached the limits of his endurance. He would have to ride the sleigh back down the hills, and dad would have to carry the tree by himself. Mom would have her hands full, shepherding our twin girls. Nick, the oldest, was detailed to pull the sleigh with Louis on it. We started back towards the bright red barn with everyone assigned their job. The goal was to get down the hill to where the hot cider and free candy canes were. With the winter light failing and the snow deep, we had a harder slog of it than we had expected. At the rear of the convoy, Nick was fuming about pulling Louis.
At last, we hit the high spot from which we could see our destination. We were standing on the brow of a high ridge. There are two ways down. The trail to the right snakes gradually down, or the steep descent straight ahead. The steep slope is not a safe way down, so we turned to the trail after a short break. Everyone except Nick and Louis, As I turned to make sure that everyone was following, I saw a gleam in Nick’s eye. He gently put his foot on the back of the sleigh, and before I could say anything, he softly pushed the sled down the steep slope. I heard my wife yell as she realized that her baby was hurtling towards the bottom of the hill. There was a small satisfied grin on Nick’s face Until he realized that only a snowbank separated his brother’s path at the bottom from a road. By now, we had hurled ourselves after the sled. We reached the base after the sled had slammed into the snowbank. We had to dig to extract Louis because all that was exposed was the sled’s back tip. Luckily the snow was fresh and soft. He was shocked, had massive amounts of snow all over him and in his clothes, but was unharmed. Louis was in better shape than Nick, whose look of panic suggested that he got much more from his impulse than expected.
The story became memorable in the family, and luckily the two brothers are close friends.