I usually get my Christmas Tree in the parking lot of the bagel store near my house. The Boy Scouts set up shop there every year, and for $30 I get a lovely tree, no questions asked. Then I transport the tree to my house, about four minutes away. My children go insane. It’s always a satisfying experience.
Still, a few years back I found myself questioning my satisfaction. Was I really as happy with my tree as I thought I was? All of this questioning I finally reduced to the mental shorthand I use to solve knotty New England questions: WWWD – What Would Willem Do?
In this case, I had to think that Willem Lang would drive out alone into the woods with a bunch of tools, tramp through the snow and drag his own tree back to his house in East Montpelier. Of course, that was out of the question for me. I mean, if you don’t own woods, how do you know which woods are usable woods? Even Robert Frost didn’t know for sure, which was why he wrote, "Whose woods these are I think I know."
But of course there was an answer: a cut-it-yourself tree farm. Now, I should have realized that the phrase "Cut It Yourself" has more than a little bit of attitude to it, but I didn’t. I drove down thirty minutes on the highway, and then down a long dirt road, where an older woman in a lime-green parka standing by a little shack gave me a hand saw and pointed me out into the snow and up over a big ridge.
Trudging through the snow, I passed hundreds of Christmas tree stumps, but it never dawned on me that of course these trees were taken first because they were nearest the shack. When I finally found the one I wanted, I started sawing, but the first few pulls told me all I needed to know: the saw was dull as dishwater. But it was a long walk back to the shed, so I pulled extra hard, for twice as long as Willem would have needed to pull.
When the tree finally fell, I had to lay down in the snow for a few minutes, but it was Christmas time, so I eventually got back up, only to realize that if the shed was too far to walk for a sharper saw, it was way too far to drag a tree through two feet of snow.
But when I finally manhandled the thing up to the side of my car, the woman in the lime-green parka nodded at the size of it. "Thirty dollars," she said.
Now, it struck me as unfair that I’d pay the same for cutting my own as I would for a pre-cut tree at the bagel store, but I smiled and handed over the cash. "Where’s your twine," I asked.
"Twine?" she asked.
"Twine," I repeated.
"Ran out yesterday," the woman said, a little defensively.
"But I’m not going to be able to buy it without twine. I’m not going to be able to get it home. "
"Well, this is self-serve, you know," she said, turning grimly back to the shed, "and there’s no refunds after you cut."
And that was that. So I did the only thing I could: I used my belt and the shoe laces from a pair of sneakers in the trunk, and I fastened the thing to the roof as best I could. But just as I was about to pull out, the woman darted over to my window and handed me back a five-dollar bill. "For the twine," she said.
And then I did what I like to think Willem would have done: I told her Merry Christmas. And when the tree blew off on the Interstate somewhere just below Hinesburg, I did what I would have done: I never even slowed down, until I got to the parking lot at the bagel store, where they know me, and no questions are ever asked.