They lie on the sidewalk, cold and naked. Who knows what rural burg they were taken from; almost certainly they were more beautiful then. But that was before they were cut down and dragged to the city — dispersed, separated from kin, transformed into refugees, and propped up for the delight of others. And then the families that embraced them simply put them out into the cold and the dark. With bare limbs, they wilt and rot by the roadside, slowly fading into sicklier shades until by some mercy a municipal worker brings around the wood chipper, and shoves them in.
It’s a strange sight this time of year, these little patches of discarded forest. Some have been flocked in gold while others are humble, small and sad. They are all dying — needles turning brown and sloughing off. Yet they once brought so much joy and warm sentiment. Is this the Western equivalent of the Tibetan sand mandala: to dress a pine tree in a tangle of lights and ornaments, stuff its undercarriage with gifts delicately wrapped in paper that will be torn to shreds, and then pick it apart again and toss the whole thing out with the trash?
The imagery seems all the weirder here in the District of Columbia, in this seething, sinking swamp. All around it looks like a Lilliputian lumberjack went to town on a pine forest no one knew the city had, leaving his bounty by the stoop. And with temperatures this January that would sooner be fit for Southern California, it’s easy to forget that we even just had Christmas. But the evidence is all down the block, a littering of holiday spirit, now as lifeless as dried sap.
Our tree never was alive. It never felt the breeze winnow through its branches, the cleansing force of a soaking rain, or the freshness of the morning dew. But it never felt the pain of being sawed from its roots either. It never grew. Like an android, it was made by man — pieced together in some Chinese boomtown like Shenzen by people who are probably now scrambling aboard a train to get home for the Lunar New Year. While it stood in our apartment, I noticed an ornament that I didn’t remember either my wife or I picking out: a paper triangle with a “B” on it. It was the product tag. It’s still on there, with the tree that now sleeps beneath our bed.