Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Family Tree, Part 2 (Being A Series Of Random Anecdotes)

All photos copyright 2004 by www.aeternus.com
The idea to go find a Christmas tree was mine, but I knew as soon as I said it that the same thought had been running through my dad's mind all morning, endlessly, like the teeth of a chainsaw. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than he was in his lumbering togs: snow boots, denims, sweatshirt, and his beloved red plaid L.L. Bean XXL wool hunting jacket. This jacket is older than I am; almost older than Dad is--an inheritance from my grandfather. So too are the 120 acres of timberland that my father now owns, the last unspoiled remnant of a land grant that has been in my family since the 1600s. This is where we'll go to find the tree.

"I remember the year we were hard up for some spending money at Christmas, and we went up on the hill to farm out some trees. You musta been about five or six," he says, as I struggle into mittens and a old cap with a ridiculously long peak that droops down the side of my face--a foolscap if ever there was. My mother knitted this for me when I was five. Because she always made everything too big when we were kids, it now fits almost perfectly, 20 years later.

"Yessuh," my dad continues. "We musta cut 30 or so trees, and slid em down the hill on that frozen brook. We sold them for five dollars apiece. And on Christmas Eve, I gave away the last three to folks who stopped by."

"We are not getting 30 trees today," say, flipping the peak out of my eyes.

"Nope," agrees my dad, as he grabs his gloves and steps out the door. "I reckon we'll keep it to 10 or 12."

In an hour, we are deep in the woods on one of the hills surrounding the village where my family lives. The air is still, except for my labored breathing. The snow makes it hard to walk, and I have to step carefully so as not to fall and gut myself on the axe I'm carrying. Just ahead, Dad moves effortlessly through the snow--and he's carrying 20 pounds of chainsaw on his shoulder.

Suddenly, he stops. Every so often my dad will do this--stop and cock his ear, shush me. In these moments, with his great, bulbous nose and his bushy beard, he looks like a wood gnome, ready to duck from sight and disappear into myth.

"What?" I hiss.

"Shhhusssssshhhh!" he hisses, a great cloud of steam jetting from between his teeth. "Lisssen!"

I listen.

A moment later, he straightens up, grinning from ear to ear. "That was a moose, just off to our left." Then he trudges on, the chainsaw bobbing on his shoulder, leaving me knee-deep in snow, straining to hear. I console myself that he's kidding, but my dad has always had a special sense for that which the land conceals. He says it's his Abenaki blood. But he must have kept all of it--I can't hear a damn thing...


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