Another day had almost escaped us. The sun was growing tired as we finally dragged heavy feet through our front door with our 7 week old boy in tow, but it was almost Christmas. I wanted a tree. Somewhere out there I knew one waited, just hoping to come home with us like a stray dog – but sweet heavens, I’d never known a weariness that went so bone deep. Still, we’d put on our coats and walked out into the cold without a real plan and started the car in the fading light.
We took one of the first turns off of the main road at the small painted sign for the plant nursery. We both must have seen it a hundred times hiding there amidst the trees, though neither one of us had ever taken the turn.
I looked out of the backseat window as we drove down the long gravel driveway. Three little dogs trailed our car, barking and biting at the tires. A hundred species of trees watched with veiled eyes as we drove down the rough lane until we reached the small home hidden behind the trees, and a hardy old woman emerged from the branches in an oversized sweatshirt and rubber shoes. “Pull forward!” she yelled at us, then down at the dogs surrounding my little red Ford.
My husband’s eyes met mine in the mirror, one eyebrow raised. I shrugged my shoulders and pulled my beanie down over my ears. We might as well take a look around. I began to unbuckle the sleeping bundle beside me and snuggled him into the carrier on my chest. I stepped into the icy wind as the dogs began yapping at my booted feet.
“Down! Down!” The gruff voice was beside me now. “They won’t bite, they just want a look.” A cloud of curly gray hair was peering around my pink coat at the top of our boy’s tiny beanie. “Aaah, that’s a new one you’ve got there.”
“7 weeks…” I responded, “…and here to look for his very first Christmas tree. We love Christmas.”
“Well come on,” she motioned for us to follow her, and took off at a surprising pace into the wild.
I hugged my tiny bundle and walked behind them, glimpsing row after row of trees. I looked past them into the valley, and past that to the snow dusted foothills and mountains beyond. I took a deep breath of the pure, cold air. It felt like waking up.
The past 2 months of our story had been such a blur. I’d thought that 20 plus years of wanting to be a mother and then 9 actual months of planning to be one would have prepared me for it, but it hadn’t, not truly. He was tiny, perfect and loved with an overwhelming completeness that thrilled and terrified me. Yet my head and my slow, scarred body still felt like one big battlefield.
A tiny hand poked out of the wrap on my chest, and I pushed it back down into the warmth. A quiet, contented sigh escaped from somewhere near my collarbone and I smiled. I’d never known a joy more simple and more complex.
We came to rest at the end of a row of small potted fir trees overlooking the valley. I raised my eyes to the perfect view. “What a beautiful piece of land,” I breathed.
“This farm has been in my family since 1896. My brothers and sisters used to live here beside me. My best friend lived across the street and my brother’s best friend lived next door. We used to know the names of everyone out here, and it was wonderful. This place was wonderful. But things have changed.” Her bare face turned to the mountains and the dogs grew quiet around her feet as they listened to her deep voice.
“My sister sold her piece of the land. My parents passed away. My best friend moved away. She came back 40 years later, but everything was different.” She put her dirt stained hands on her hips and looked back at us with practical eyes. “I don’t know many people around here anymore.”
She leaned down to scratch a dog behind his ear. “Change is hard. But…we keep going.”
We wandered towards a group of small, blue tinged Arizona Firs. She raised a finger and pointed to the trees lining the valley floor below, her voice softening. “Do you see those? The tallest trees below? That’s the corner of a 5 acre cemetery. That’s where my parents are.”
My eyes moved at her words until they found the spot. “I planted their last Christmas tree between their headstones so that it would grow over them always. They loved Christmas too.”
I wanted to know the whole beautiful story, but my voice capsized and sank into my tightening throat. I so badly wanted to hear it all. So many different people, years, and lives, weaving together on a December afternoon. So many memories, details and moments that made up the days that mattered to them. It was all just a part of their story.
Now they were a tiny part of ours.
An hour ago, all I’d been thinking about was how tired I was. I looked down and heard the tiniest snore.
It felt like waking up.
“We’ll take this one.”
We loaded the small tree into the front seat as she pointed out where all of the cherry trees used to be when her parents were alive. “Come back in the spring,” she said, patting the back of our bundled up sleeper. “It’s changed, but it’s still beautiful.”
I buckled our sleeping boy in next to the fresh dog paw prints on our seat and smiled.
The woman with the trees was right – change can be tough. Sometimes it takes 40 years to notice, and sometimes your world is rocked in 9 months. But the story continues. The story is beautiful. The story is everything.
The New Year will come, and when it does we’ll get on our knees, part the soil, bury this chapter and let it take root. We’ll plant our son’s first Christmas tree in this place where we’re building our own stories, this place we now call home. We’ll watch it grow each year as he does, and each year we’ll plant another.
One day we’ll tend the trees together, elbow deep in our earthy chapter book. One day we’ll watch our boy run through his Christmas forest – and it will become a part of our story.
Maybe one day we’ll be standing on the edge of the property, telling strangers about the people we knew and loved and the things that we did.
Maybe one day our son will be telling our stories.
Maybe one day someone will look out at our forest and the trees will tell a tale.