Branching Out

Pinch, pull, twist. Pinch, pull, twist.

It sounds like the world’s strangest football chant. Or maybe a post-Thanksgiving exercise routine. (“And PULL and TWIST … c’mon, burn off that stuffing!”) Both wrong, although the second one’s close.

Namely, this was the welcoming ceremony for our new Christmas tree. An exercise in focus, patience and tedium second only to being a Colorado Rockies fan.

Perhaps I should explain.

I’ve been part of the Fake Tree Faction since childhood, when my folks decided that cleaning up pine needles (and dealing with pets who found the ones they missed) was not how they wanted to spend a significant fraction of December and January. The plastic pine they purchased – say THAT five times fast! – became part of family legend. That was partly because it also became a family journal, with each of us writing a short note about the year gone by as we unpacked the tree each winter.

So when Heather and I struck out on our own, a false fir was de rigueur. For a while, it became a pre-lit tree, with the noble intention of saving our none-too-good spinal columns from having to twist a strand of lights from top to bottom. But of course, a pre-lit tree has its own distinct evolutionary pattern:

  • Stage 1: “Oh, how beautiful!”
  • Stage 2: “Honey, I think some of the lights are out.”
  • Stage 3: “Honey! I think some of the lights are actually ON!”

After dealing with too many Stage 3 situations, we surrendered and bought an unlit pine this year. One that came with a warning that we’d need to spend some setup time to make it look right.

Boy, were they NOT kidding.

The branches on each level looked like sheaves of wheat or maybe rolled-up newspapers, tightly bunched around a central limb. Transforming it from “greenish hat-rack” to “fully-formed pine” would require shaping each branch – namely, by pinching the tip of a smaller sub-branch, pulling it free of the mass and then twisting it in the direction you wanted it to go.

Pinch, pull, twist. Over and over. For at least 20 to 30 minutes that felt like an entire presidential administration.

Remember what I said about preventing back pain? Don’t.

As so often happens, the result was worth the effort. When fully fluffed out, the tree stood tall and proud, a sentinel of the season. Especially that part of it called hope.

We use that word a lot this time of year without really thinking about what it needs. It’s not the magical expectation that a tree will leap to life from the box as soon as you cut the tape free. It’s knowing where you want to be and then putting in the effort to get there, no matter how frustrating or difficult it may become.

Hope starts with a vision. But it doesn’t end there. Real hope stays for the long haul, motivating and pushing until you cross the finish line. It’s the knowledge that “You can do this!”, not the illusion that “This will be easy to do!”

This season of the year is often about a culmination of hope, a promise that after a long darkness, light still comes. The waiting and endurance are still real. But so is the glimmer that waits at the end, shining in darkened streets.

Remember that. Hold on. Keep the vision alive and work to make it real.

And if your vision includes a simpler way to shape a plastic pine, I’ll be sending you an invitation to visit for the holidays next year.

Fir sure.

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