Out, Out Damn Scot!

As quickly as it came, so it leaves us.

We are now past the week between, so yesterday was time for the temporary arboreal winter guest to move on. Unlike a human guest he didn’t start to smell after three days. Quite the contrary, he’d started to lose his fragrant appeal.

And needles. Boy was he losing needles.

Our tree this year was a somewhat unusual affair, as these things go. Though lovely when seen in a dark room all lit up, by light of day things were less ideal. It was the fullest, loveliest tree of its kind remaining at the Christmas tree forest area of the Peru big box hardware store, to be sure. Still, it’s trunk had grown with an odd, atypical bend to it that started at the base and continued up through to its spire.

Here it is, unlit and undecorated, in the morning following an apparent overnight, feline-based adventure:

Cat victim

For context, that "blanket" piled in the corner on the left side of the picture is the tree skirt, which had been around the base of the tree. One can only imagine the amount of effort the cat spent running in place needed in order to jettison it that far away from the bottom of the tree. It probably took only a few seconds, but I’m sure it seemed a lifetime from the cat’s perspective.

But that’s not really what I wanted to show you. If you look at that picture you get a nice sense of the beginning of arc of the trunk. I’ve illustrated it further below:

Illustrated trunk

This meant that, once it was up and we began to decorate it, MLW took to referring to it as our "drunk" tree. Indeed, like many drunk uncles before it, I did have to go in and offer additional support to get it to remain in some semblance of an upright position (this is why you see the dumbbells there - they aren’t remnants of a workout session).

But its problems persisted, albeit in different form, once it was up and standing. Though we cut a section off of the bottom and watered it regularly, it always seemed a bit dried out. Reaching in to the tree to put on lights or hang up an ornament would result in raised welts on the unprotected forearm. And many of the branches seemed to give way to the weight of even the lightest of ornaments, drooping and dropping at a rate heretofore unseen. It was almost as if this bent little tree had decided to do its own anti-Christmas tree protest, engaging in its own form of civil disobedience. Thoreau would have been proud.

Or, you know, maybe it just wasn’t as healthy as it could have been.

At any rate, come time to remove the tree, one quickly realizes that it’s bigger going out than it was coming in. I think I (sadly) go through this revelation every year as I reach the first doorway and am briefly perplexed at how it is now bigger than the passage. And again this year I have to have MLW remind me that it was netted down when I brought it in. (I would like to think I’m not a dumb person, but then things like this happen...). But the tree has to go out and, while I’ve considered buying one of those contraptions for wrapping the tree at the end of the season, it seems a bit of an extreme purchase for something one would use once a year. Besides, the branches bend towards the top, so as long as you take it out trunk first, the difficulty is minimal.


But this year our disobedient tree protested more than most, and left us gifts. Lots and lots of gifts:

Needles. Lots and lots of needles.

This didn’t stop me. No - that recalcitrant fir (it was a scotch pine - and you know how Scots are)) is now out on the burn pile. But it does leave one wondering for just a moment whether there could be some alternative purpose to which one could put all of those needles. Is there some sort of artisan craftwork, some sort of Etsy store offering that incorporates pine needles? They sell pillows full of barley hulls now, maybe I could offer up pine needle pillows. Granted, they’d be profoundly uncomfortable, but they would be hand-crafted...

Out of the Woods

For a large portion of the past three weeks or so I've been home sick with one ailment or another. When cold and flu season rears its ugly head apparently it can take anyone down, even if he's had a flu shot...

I was finally feeling up to moving about at the end of this week, and fate put me in Rockford with an afternoon largely untethered, so I headed out to Rock Cut State Park. With temps in the 40's for the past couple of days the hiking trails offered an... interesting mix of surfaces for the hiking boot to address. It turns out that the combination of ice and snow plus dirt in temperatures above freezing may not be the ideal recipe for traction.

Fortunately, I only fell on my ass once, and that event did not appear to occur in front of people.

I've made reference to Rock Cut here a couple of times. For a person who spends time in Rockford IL, and is looking for a bit of woodsy nature to take the edge off, it's a reliable port. Taking the opportunity to work one's way back into the deeper part of the woods during a melt does not disappoint, even with the risk of an occasional slip and fall.


I sent the picture above to MLW a few seconds after I took it. She asked if it was a picture from Walden, and I thought, more or less, yes. Rock Cut is not remote - there are few parts of the park in which one cannot hear traffic on nearby streets, even when one seems to be deep in the woods. But then neither was Thoreau's site at Walden Pond. He was within just a few miles of his own home and, if memory serves, living on land owned by a friend. It wasn't an exercise in harsh survivalism, just in retreat to nature.

It illustrates to me the differences that context can make. I've watched the snow and ice melt here at the homestead over the past few days, and mostly what it makes me think of is the mud with which we will be, and are, contending. At home it's a problem to be dealt with. Walking through through the trees at Rock Cut its an inconvenience to be tolerated, and this despite the fact that I'm much less likely to slip and fall at home.

Our homestead is a beautiful place most of the year - we have trees, and open space, and privacy. Still, one of the things the prairie offers very little of is anything that one might truly refer to as woods. There are stands of trees that one can see if one looks off in the distance. However, these are often narrow patches a couple of hundred yards wide, framing a stream of one sort or another - not the sort of thing that allows one to feel truly lost and removed from all else. Besides that, these are typically private property, most notably not mine and, oddly, not everyone is enamored with the idea of strangers marching around on their land.

There are actually similar options in the area. Just south of Mendota is a small, wooded park called Snyder's Grove. This was the site of many scout trips and picnics in my youth. The Little Vermillion River runs through it, and the park has hiking trails. The travel time to this location from my home is similar to the time that it used to take me to wind my way through the traffic and stop lights of greater Rockford to get to Rock Cut. And, of course, given all of that, how many times have I gone there in the nearly seven years that we've lived at the homestead?

That's right: zero