Lucie Amundsen, a Duluth writer and graduate student, is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.
When it comes to everyday life skills, my husband Jason and I are remedial adults. As nebulous knowledge workers, we haven't been building, fixing or making anything of value with our hands. While I've been more or less content with my lack of handiness, Jason has actually been doing something about his. Last summer he built a slightly off-kilter chicken coop, and now he keeps five hens. He has mastered baking his own bread. A couple of weeks ago, he started making cheese.
This quest for knowing where things come from has now extended to Christmas trees. While the kids and I have always been happy with that treasured holiday tradition of going to a big-box parking lot, last weekend we found ourselves 18 miles north of Duluth, somewhere within the 18,000 acres of the Boulder Lake Management Area.
There we were issued a bough of balsam fir (to keep us from cutting down the wrong species of tree) and a plastic sled, and pointed down a trail. Jason had the giant tree saw, a tool I had teased him about buying, and we set out.
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The snow-dusted trails were eternally beautiful and quiet. Occasionally we'd happen upon another family looking for the perfect tree. And when we'd selected a tree we thought we could picture in our living room, the saw blade immediately popped out of its frame and refused to go back in. Holding it gingerly with our fingertips, we managed — eventually — to claim our tree, too. Though it took too long for us to partake in the hot chocolate or bonfire we had promised our children, we did manage to strap the tree to our minivan and make our way home without incident.
After setting up our stand, we dragged our little piece of nature inside — and realized that trees that look small in the Great Northwoods do not necessarily remain so in one's living room. In fact, the tree is our living room. The branches, never pruned into classic Christmas tree submission, flop wildly open and despite our trimmings look rather naked, wild and only barely in control of themselves. Like a spring breaker in Miami.
Despite the rocks we piled on the tree stand, our holiday decoration is listing to port this morning. Jason, a bit defeated, asked if I wanted to display our monstrous tree in a snow bank and go buy one at Menards.
"Nah," I said. We're under enough pressure to pretend that our imperfect lives are capable of producing perfect holidays. I'd rather have a tree that looks like us: moderately presentable. More comfortable outdoors than in. And maybe it never learned to do things right, but it tries hard. It means well.