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O' Faux Tannenbaum!
By Dave Kiffer


December 11, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - We bought our first fake Christmas tree this year.

I know that somewhere up above (or maybe down below) my father is snorting about how he can't believe an offspring of his would do such a thing. It does seem pretty silly that in the middle of a 17 million acre national forest that one has to make do with a Chinese tannenbaum of plastic or aluminum. And oh the horrors of actually paying for something that you can just go out and cut down for free, well, I'm sure he never heard of such a thing. Welcome to the 21st century, Dad.

jpg Dave Kiffer

It was the cheaper alternative this year. Over the past several years, we have put on the storm jackets, the muskeg boots and the thick gloves and trundled off to...... well, to buy trees at the local tree selling outlets. It appealed to my general sense of personal energy conservation and I justified it by saying it was always for a good cause. But when the price of real trees stretched to more than $50, I could no longer justify it to my spouse - who hated the needles and was always somewhat leery of the dried out, non-native species' anyway.

It's true that I have memories of slogging through local muskegs with my father as we searched for the perfect tree for our living room. I just can't say they were all happy ones. Yes, there was that tingling sense of anticipation and that crunch of snow underfoot and the cool smoke rings we made with our breath in the frosty air. But that was that one year in ten when it was a stereotypical winter day during our tree hunt.

More often than not it was wet, windy and downright unpleasant. And sometimes it lasted for hours as my father looked and looked and looked and looked. Usually, he would find the perfect "Angel Topper". Unfortunately, the tree for our living room usually turned out to be the tippy tip top of a much larger tree. Then the fun, would begin. Either you toppled the whole dang tree (oh boy, extra firewood to chop for the basement stove!!!) or you shinnied up the behemoth like you were auditioning for a lumber jack show (not that we knew what lumberjack shows were back then, but that's another column).

Often the difference between tree topping and tree falling depended on whose land the tree was sitting. Since we were often in the hinterlands around Clover Pass, it was usually less obvious to do a little topping than to drag out the old Husky-varna chainsaw and bring down a full sized tree. That, of course, was in the days when there were fewer houses out that way and you could actually walk between them without blocking someone's satellite TV signal. Now even topping a tree would end with it landing on someone's porch.

These days, it doesn't get much better if you try to find a tree on land that isn't in someone's back yard. Most of the accessible tree farms are either federal, Native corp, or local government land as well and none of those folks are particularly thrilled to part with their timber resources, even in this relatively small way. But, as usual, I digress.

So, this year the family bundled into the SUV and drove down to a local purveyor of artificial trees. Gone were the usual discussions about tree types and whether a certain kind would have less "shedding" than others and whether that fresh tree smell would hold up for the duration of the holidays. Gone was that wonder of just how the tree would really look when the twine was removed and the branches had time to spread out.

But there were still some considerations. What price was reasonable? The range was pretty great and naturally, the best looking trees cost the approximate equivalent of the gross national product of a small African nation.

Other ponderables: Did the branches feel at least sort of realistic? Did they look skookum enough to hold our bigger ornaments? And would the cats be less likely to try to "attack" a fake tree that looked less like a real tree? With or without a special multicolored fiber optic light and fireworks display that wished a joyous holiday season with the full orchestral and choral accompaniment of the "Hallelujah Chorus"?

There were also the usual "negotiations" over the relative "aesthetics" of the different types, sizes and colors of the artificial trees. After a frank airing of viewpoints, a workable framework for a compromise was reached and a tree was bought. It seemed odd to carry a box back to the car and not have to ponder how to fit the "tree" into the car.

The tree is now taking up its place in the living room and - with ornaments - it doesn't look at that bad. The cats quickly lost interest in it. All we need is a little aerosol can of "Eau de bull pine" and we'll be in business.

And guess what? Our relatively inexpensive, yet totally modern space age model artificial tree has a traditional feature. The plastic pine needles fall off! I guess next year we'll be taking out a home equity loan for the special titanium non-shedding version after all.


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Dave Kiffer ©2004

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