Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Perfect Christmas Tree

The snowflakes drifted down from the pinkish gray skies, lingering long enough on my red snowsuit for me to marvel at the intricate fractals. They were the kind of snowflakes that prompted me to throw my head back and catch them on my tongue, and made me dizzy when I stared upwards into the endless passageway to the enchantment of winter.

I held on tightly to the sides of the wooden Speedway sled, jerking with each tug as my father trudged through the deep snow, into the woods beyond the old covered bridge that led to my Uncle’s cabin. Every time we approached Durgin Bridge, my father told us to close our eyes and make a wish and then he would toot the horn of his 1958 Buick.

My father spoke sternly to my two older sisters as they wandered dangerously close to the banks of the raging waters of Cold River. I focused on their brightly colored stocking caps – like our mittens and socks, knit by our mother – bouncing along behind them. Their laughter blended with the melodic rushing river, resonating throughout the otherwise silent woods. A part of me longed to frolic with them, but even back then I was wise enough to know that the snow was unmanageable.

We had a ways to go until we reached my Uncle’s land. My father – a true woodsman in his customary red and black checked wool coat with his tree saw slung over his shoulder – blazed a clear path through the virgin snow. For an instant, I let go of the sled for a taste of snow mixed with wool from the tip of my mitten, but quickly grabbed the edge of the sled again when almost toppling over the side.

We stopped abruptly when we reached the top of the knoll and pondered the possibilities sprawled before us. Black-capped Chickadees and Nuthatches flit excitedly in and out of the nearby woodland garden of Evergreens and abundant Winterberries.

My sisters climbed onto the sled and my father gave us a push. We sped down the hill, narrowly missing saplings and rocks, finally stopping at the edge of a cluster of burdocks and managing to get a few stuck hopelessly on hats and mittens.

My shiny red boots quickly filled with snow as I followed my sisters rushing from one tree to the next while my father explained his reasoning for why we could not take each one home. He taught us to leave the trees that had hopes of flourishing and growing to be healthy amongst the others in the woods. It was vital to find a tree that would not thrive and that cutting it down would help not hurt the future of the grove.

We finally decided upon a charming, wildly imperfect, Balsam Fir. It struggled courageously, wedged between another heartier pine tree and enormous rock. I stood by examining a pitch covered pine cone as my father sawed the tree and my sisters made snow angels and repeatedly sang Jingle Bells.

The snowfall increased greatly and the wind blew hard. My father held the tree with one hand and pulled the rope on the sled with the other and we headed back to the car. My sisters walked beside me, teaching me the words to Silent Night and trying to pull the deeply embedded burdocks from their mittens.

The light of day was quickly fading as my father tied the tree onto the top of the car. Shivering and with reddened cheeks, we climbed into the car, eager to bring the tree home to our mother who we were sure was waiting with hot chocolate and fresh baked cookies.

Without our father’s prompting, we closed our eyes and made a wish while he did the traditional toot of the horn and we crossed Durgin Bridge with our Christmas tree tied firmly to the roof.

I didn’t realize until many years later that when we crossed Durgin Bridge, it wasn’t really about wishes, but to warn possible approaching vehicles. However, to this day, I continue to toot the horn when I approach the bridge and I tell my own children to make a wish.

** Historical Note

“The current bridge is the fourth one on this site, the others being washed away in 1844, 1865 and 1869. In 1869, the freshet was so violent that iron bolts used to connect the great bed pieces of the middle pier to a large rock were twisted and broken. The iron bolts were two inches in diameter. The existing bridge was built by Jacob Berry of North Conway. Berry claimed that the bridge was so strong that it could be filled with wood without causing it to fail. There is no evidence that anyone ever attempted to prove his theory. The bridge is named for James Holmes Durgin who ran a grist mill nearby. The bridge was also a link in the underground slave railroad from Sandwich to North Conway. Milton Graton and his son Arnold repaired and strengthened the structure in 1967-1968. It was rehabilitated in 1983 at a cost of $48,000. The Durgin Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
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