There’s a room in my house we call, “The Quiet Room”. I use this room for massage therapy, yoga when I feel inclined, the treadmill once in a while. This room is painted a soft mauve. Décor is minimal – a deep blue sofa, a pine desk, a few black and white photos on the wall. And a painting of a stand of snow-covered trees. The tree painting reminds me of my mother’s backyard and triggers both love and longing.
I grew up in Northern Ontario, a rugged place where individualism is prized and the outdoors is as important as the in. The trees are mostly evergreens – pine, spruce, fir – mixed with poplar and birch. There’s a reason so many Finns (my heritage on my dad’s side) relocated there – it feels like home. The trees are still abundant, except for those expanding places still hidden from sight where loggers have bared the landscape.
I spent my childhood living in these trees. Playing in the woods from dawn till dark, building forts in summer, using them as cover in winter games of hide and seek. I didn’t realize it then but the trees marked for me the passage of time. Budding in spring, full leaf by summer, the fiery colour of fall, then blanketed with snow. Child, youth, adult, elder. Except, of course, for the evergreens. They just grew taller, thicker, until December when my dad would load up us kids and head out to cut one down to do duty for Christmas.
As much as I love a real tree at Christmas, it always makes me sad. Each year, I take this living thing into my home, decorate it with now several decades’ worth of treasures, light it up, admire it, water it, then strip it bare and toss it away for the garbage collector. I have been known to shed a few tears when the tree is kicked to the curb, a strand or two of tinsel a reminder of our indulgence.
Each day when I pause in the Quiet Room and contemplate the painting, I appreciate the beauty of an untouched, snow-covered stand. I breathe deeply. I sigh. I am flooded with memories. I am at peace. And each December, in that moment, I feel regret. Regret that is tied up in myriad emotions, abandoned Christmas trees meshing with memories and the passage of time. The stages of life that exist around me in family and friends, the stages I am moving through at what seems like an exponentially accelerating pace. Child, youth, adult, elder.
I rest my hand on the painting. And I breathe.
This is the third in a series of titles given to me by family and friends, challenging me to write about whatever fiendish idea they send my way. I struggled with “Trees”, at first tying it to a story that I will save for another time, then trying not to write the obvious and being pushed to dig a little deeper than my second shallow trees effort. Third time, better I think. Thank you, Baby Sister.
- The Royal Roots of the American Christmas Tree (history.com)
- What Are You Going To Do With That Christmas Tree? (livegreenbegreen.com)