Friday, December 21, 2012


it all started off a little something like this...

december's nature journaling took us to jacob mini farm, a lovely little secluded place in between davis and winters.  we'd been there before as a family to pick out our very first christmas tree in california.  we had just started moving into our house; the tree was our first thing inside the house, i think, around the winter solstice.  we had not been back since, as we'd gone to pronzini's on other years for a pre-cut tree.

the weather was good, fortunately, sunny and not too cold.  it had been raining off and on, so the ground was still squishy in places, perfect for tromping in boots.

we arrived before our journaling companions, so we spent some time picking out holly, mistletoe, sprays of incense cedar and douglas fir to decorate the house, and beautiful persimmons for our winter nature table.  then we wandered throughout the farm, quiet except for the donkeys who occasionally brayed for a treat.

it was on the way to the barn that she found it - the tree.  the tree of her dreams.  the tree that was perfectly little tree, the one illustrated by deborah ray in the storybook version of e.e. cummings' poem by the same name. she knew it.  she wanted to take it home and care for it and decorate it and dance around it with her brother, singing "noel, noel."

from that moment, diana wondered how she could acquire little tree for her very own.  it was so very small, and we wondered if it was even available for purchase.

all the trees at the farm are self-cut and $35.  every one.  no matter how tall or how small.  no matter the species or the size.  the only rule: you had to leave a sufficient whorl of branches at the base of the tree so it could continue to grow in years to come.  good, strong, hardy branches that could handle the work of taking in the sunlight to nourish the tree for new growth.

the very nice gentleman who sold us the sprays of evergreen and our other nature treats went and got the owner, miss emily, for us to to speak with regarding little tree.

we asked if we could dig up around the tree and take it home in a pot and care for it.  nope.  they don't allow digging here, just responsible cutting.  and, as it turns out, the reason for the one-price-for-each was to encourage people to take the larger, hardier trees rather than the smaller ones just because of the price.

emily came with us to see little tree so she could show us just where we'd need to cut in order to leave sufficient growth to sustain it.  it turns out that little tree was just barely older than a seedling, put in just this year.

she was kind enough to offer diana a deal, to cut a tallish branch off a tree she was planning to prune anyway, and charge her just the amount she usually charges for a spray that size.  diana appreciated the offer, but was still deep in thought about little tree.

she was able to pull herself out of that thought long enough to enjoy her friends for nature journaling, which involved noticing similarities and differences.  each person went off in a different direction to locate three items that looked very similar: pinecones, nuts, leaves, needles.  studying one selection of items closely, the idea was to see if enough differences could be noticed to identify the one taken away by the rest of the group.

there was also the fun of cracking open the pecans.  diana and her friends discovered the joy of placing a nut on the picnic bench and stomping on it just hard enough to crack it open, but not too hard to damage the nutmeat inside.

diana fretted over her decision.  she was in love with little tree but was torn about its prospects for survival should she cut it.  she appreciated the offering of alternatives, and she politely tolerated my intrusion of questioning the financial prudence of such a selection.  in the end, though, she knew it was her decision and that i would support her by ensuring we could come back after the weekend to bring little tree home.  so i gave her have the time and space to decide.

over the weekend, diana counted up the money she had been saving and was relieved to discover that she had sufficient funds to purchase little tree.  she did not appear concerned in the least about the cost; when it comes to such an intense attachment for her, she does not hesitate.  she behaves in a similar way when it comes to charitable donations - her energy is directed towards identifying and connecting with a need, and her attitude towards the monetary aspect reflects a sense of feeling she has enough and wants to share her bounty, rather than approaching it as a purchase.  i'm not certain how she developed that perspective, but i am certainly glad of it.

by sunday night, she had reached a conclusion: we would go back to the farm and ask emily to show us precisely where little tree could be cut.  if that preserved enough of little tree for diana's satisfaction, she would bring it home.  if not, she would accept emily's offer of the clipping from another tree.

so off we went on monday morning, special red envelope with money in hand and hope in her heart.

emily came out to greet us.  i was pleased to see how she worked mostly with diana, recognizing that she was the customer, and i was more or less along for the ride.  what a ride it was, and full of unexpected gems.

as diana led the way to little tree's location, emily told us about the effort required to maintain the farm her parents had started in 1956.  she told us about the massive pump needed to sufficiently irrigate the trees through the long, hot, dry seasons.  about the insurance she needed to carry because people were walking on her land, many of them carrying and using the sharp implements she offered for customers to cut their own trees. about how she had other employment to provide income for the rest of the year, since the farm was open only in the month of december until the 23rd but required year-round tending.  it was not offered by way of describing hardship, but to inform and educate in a manner that generated even more respect for independent farmers than we already had (being participants in a csa).

i think diana knew in her heart that what must be allowed to remain on the slender stem of little tree's trunk would leave her with very little to take home.  the essence of little tree-ness would be lost.  she grew quiet and thoughtful when emily marked off the cut point.  then she shook her head and took a few moments to compose herself before heading to the tree that emily had offered to prune for her.

emily was fantastic. she did not seem to think it was odd that diana was disappointed, or that diana needed time to consider her decision.  after all, emily was quite obviously a lover of trees. she took the time to point out examples of where customers had done well in leaving sufficient growth and lamented over the anticipated demise of other trees where the cutting left little to nothing for the tree to work with.

when i asked about some of the brown tinges i had observed, thinking it was a sign of dehydration at some point, she explained how the trees could be sunburned.  her parents had planted pecan trees to help shade the evergreens from the intense summer sun.  the effect was noticeable when we explored different parts of the farm.

she pointed out the trunks of different trees and had us smell the sap residue, comparing the fragrances that emerge when the life blood of the trees is released and exposed to the air.  diana had already found that the sweet smell of the incense cedar was most prominent when she cut our previously-purchased sprays to create a scent jar.  what a sensory experience for diana, though, to help emily make the pruning cut with the saw and inhale the intoxicating scent from the fresh would.  emily cut an additional slice of the branch for us to add to our nature table.  the sap was wonderfully sticky and beaded up along the edge.

emily explained to us the origin of the concept of "trimming a tree" - that when people would go into a forest and cut down a tree and bring it home, they would trim it by pruning here and there to create the desired shape and overall effect.  it made me think of sculpting using a living medium.  she said it was in later times that the idea of trimming became associated with adding decorations to the christmas tree.

diana carried her new tree back to the car, careful to hold the trunk away from her coat to avoid the sap.  emily carefully wrapped the trunk with newspaper so it would not leak onto the car's interior.  diana happily paid her $2.50 and was excited to get a half-dollar coin as her change.  emily told us she had found a roll of them when she was searching through some stored items and thought it would be fun to offer them as change instead of quarters.  (of course that got us started on a discussion of dollar coins and how diana has a ritual and tradition of acquiring them from her papou.)

we wished each other well and best of luck in the future.  when we told her we would be sad to miss little tree's expected growth over the next year because we would be living across the country, emily assured us that we would have plenty of opportunity to find a tree farm to explore out there.

on the drive home, diana got a little too close to the slice of incense cedar emily had cut, and exclaimed that she had sap on her tongue and teeth! wanting to keep it from spreading into other areas in her mouth, she spoke with great care to move her tongue as little as possible.  it is difficult for her to render herself entirely speechless, though, and in her attempts to talk about her plans for her tree, the sound came out as twee.  and the name stuck as easily as if it were covered in its own sap.

(by the way, emily's suggestion for using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to dissolve the sap on our hands was excellent and effective.)

per emily's suggestion, we found a pot large enough to hold the trunk, filled around it with river rocks for ballast, added water, and trimmed it to a lovely triangular silhouette.  twee should remain green and happy at least through christmas that way.

diana found solace in the knowledge that little tree will be nurtured under emily's tender care, and she is vastly content with twee, excited by every new discovery: its size sufficient to accommodate an entire strand of lights, its strength suitable for holding small ornaments.

and she's delighted to have enough money to buy her brother the perfect christmas gift to fulfill his model rocket enthusiasm.

welcome to our home, twee.

1 comment:

  1. That was lovely, Dawn. I kept thinking about Diana reading this when she is a woman & what a wonderful memory it will be for her. Emily sounds like a very special woman.