“You can have any tree on the lot for five bucks,” he joked as I backed up to the growing pile of discarded Christmas trees.
“I will take them all,” I said with the same sarcasm, and began loading my van with as many trees as it would hold. I was on my sixth or 16th trip to the community Christmas tree recycle pile and was getting tired of the routine. I would go through the newly added trees and load those with plenty of green needles and without tinsel, fake snow or urine smell.
A few years ago I discovered that my wife’s goat herd loved Christmas trees. I threw our used tree on a burn pile only to watch it disappear in a feeding frenzy. After that I retrieved used trees from friends, neighbors, and the recycle pile. At first I was particular about the size, species and cultivation of a tree. A fresh, large and naturally grown fir tree with no signs of chemicals was preferred. But as trips mounted I would load any tree with needles that would stay on long enough for the trip home.
I began to develop an insight into the life of a Christmas tree. Like a Fourth of July bomb, it goes from valuable to worthless overnight. I began my tree gathering at the recycle pile when it was convenient for me but found it best to collect them with no onlookers. Most people, other than the mentioned salesman, would ask why I was “doing the opposite of everybody.”
Used trees leave their host differently. Once an older couple pleaded with me to take theirs. First they unshrouded it and then began telling me about how wonderful it was, after which I felt like I was carting away their favorite pet. Other used trees had various attachments, including ornaments that were found only after the goats were done. My favorite tree had lights and stand still attached. I could only imagine somebody saying, “Christmas is over, and get this tree out of here right now!”
Goats welcome used trees with the same enthusiasm children have for decorating new ones. They dance around and maneuver with an attack strategy. They cooperate like workmen, even rolling trees over so they do not have to eat off the ground. They take short breaks sitting upon the ready-to-eat tree pile then move in like piranhas or the cartoon character “Sylvester the cat,” eating a fish and finishing with a bright shiny skeleton. They indiscriminately eat all trees and I do not know their favorite species. I always thought about their reaction to an artificial one. Affecting goats with a treated tree occurred to me, but then I realize that most trees are meant to be inside with people.
I am not sure of the origin of Christmas trees. I wish that we could decorate our lives with them throughout the year. But I have prolonged their beauty and usefulness by providing entertainment and food. The last lyric in the famous song “O Christmas Tree” when sung at our house will always be: “… How tasty are your branches.”
Wes Stonecypher is a Umatilla resident.