Friday, February 24, 2012



...was the tree in our front room this last Christmas.  It was one of five I bought to decorate the stage for my Holiday concerts.  It’s completely fake.  100 percent artificial, with a metal trunk and bushy metal branches that can be twisted and manipulated.  It’s perfectly symmetric; it tapers precisely as if it followed a plumb line to the ceiling and back. It looked great on stage, and it looks delightfully sparkly in our living room at night, those thousand points of light reflecting off the bell shaped windows cupped around it in the copper covered bay where my marble Eastlake table usually sits.  I dipped into the living room every night before bed just to look at the reflection of light, that thousand turning to 4,000 in a flash. It’s a dandy tree if you squint your eyes. Made for the night.

But you wouldn’t want to look close. It had not a single ornament. You wouldn’t want to do much more than glance in that direction as you moved toward the front door.  It’s all show.  That tree is full of itself and has little substance beyond that first glance stuff.

The real tree was in the family room, back by the rock fireplace, in front of the roman shades that are drawn to keep the sunlight from drying it out. The real tree is a real tree, selected with real intent on a freezing winter’s night down on Fort Lane in Layton where the Robinson Tree Farm has landed their truck and old RV for the last twenty plus Christmases.  Maybe thirty.  Maybe more.  I don’t know if we’ve ever bought a tree from anyone else since we moved to Utah, but sometimes I can’t remember very well that far back.  We pull up in our van, Gram at shotgun, and tuck our chilled hands into our pockets as we step between the aromatic rows of spruce, we look up and the children look down, picking up fragrant discs of trimmed trunks. They slip them into the muffs of their hoodies. We inhale the perfume of fresh cut pine and burning boughs that chug their smoke through that long stovepipe that rises from the trash can fire the Robinsons have burning up by the trailer. 

“How much for the wreaths?” I ask, knowing they are always on the other side of affordable in my head; knowing I will not bring myself to spend that much on something I can make myself.  And I always do…make them myself, with pine roping, but they’re never quite as pretty.  When David has lifted the selected tree off its thin metal base and carried it out to the van for Gram’s approval, we pay with cold green cash and tie the beauty to the roof.  There’s something magical about a vehicle with a Christmas tree tied atop.  Like a young woman pregnant…all hope and anticipation and potential.

We park our pregnant car in the driveway and David frees the tree, trims the branches, and carries it through the French doors on the back deck to the designated corner in our family room.  We toy, every year, with trying it in some other place, but alas, it winds up there where it was destined from the day this house was created.  David lies on the floor turning the screws on the red metal stand as I hold the trunk upright, stepping back now and again to check its straightness.  Last year straight was not in the design, for the inside didn’t quite match the outside and though the outline of the thing was somewhat balanced in the form of a triangle, the trunk was…shall we say…suffering from scoliosis.  No matter. Once the colored lights and strings of beads and shiny glass ornaments and real tin icicles were added, no one noticed the trunk.

Yes, the real tree was in the family room, where you could turn out all the overhead lights, get a blaze going in the fireplace, and lie on the old red couch with your head cradled in one of the green velvet pillows filled with soft goose down.  You could lie there and gaze for hours at the reflection of light on those glass ornaments; the old ones from World War II that have paper tops instead of metal because metal was used for war machinery.  You could make out the form of antique shapes in mercury glass, and little blue mittens worn by our children who outgrew them before their first birthdays.  You could search for little leather baby shoes strung by shoelaces thin as spider webs.  If you had good youthful vision you could look deep and find tickets to important events, like plays and concerts, and a backstage pass signed by Chris LeDoux when he first sang my song at the Delta Center.  The bubble lights would mesmerize until you drifted off to sleep, awaking to the whisper of the fire and the sparkle of tree light, the clock singing its longest song of the day, striking twelve times at the end of its tune.  You’d then rise from your warm nest and out the fire, then with a pinch of pause go ahead and click the button at the bottom of the tree that douses the light, thinking responsibly about the dangers of old true colored Christmas lights against wooden branches.  You’d turn your back to all of this and tiptoe to bed, trying with all your might to save the magic and not wake up too much before you crawled under the covers.

You had to move deep into the house to get to the real tree.  The one for show was easy to get to.  It sparkled all white and predictable-like there in the windows.  You could see it from the road and you would think,”Now that’s a fine elegant looking place”. 

But like I said, it is just a show and when the lights on that tree go out there is no warm cozy to take to bed, no trace of fragrance left in the nostrils.  Just a quick sigh of pretty, that’s all.  It sure likes itself in the mirrors of glass, though.

I have a theory about reflections, about light, and glass. It came to me one brilliant autumn evening when I stood long enough at the back windows to see the sun disappear.  Once the light was gone a strange shape began to appear in the window: bulbous and rather curious.  There against the backdrop of darkness all I saw was myself. 

But, oh my, with the proper light, the view out over the lake is breathtaking.  Gotta have light. 

Unless all you want to see is your own beauty.  Then you can go ahead and find your spot in the front room, where the fake tree sits at Christmas time, and you can gaze all you want, hoping that someone might stop in for a snip of a moment to take in your charms. 

You’d be better off in the real place, back by the fire, where good and happy people nestle into the soft leather couch and gaze at your strange beauty against the music of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, until sleep overcomes them.

I appreciate sparkle.  Truly, I’m a girl who loves glitter.  But sparkle only goes so deep.

Put me, instead, back by the fire.


  1. You do Christmas the best! And I've always loved and remind myself often of your mirror analogy. Light is good. So are you.

  2. I love that we do Christmas in the same way. Sparkly tree out front, but home-spun tree where it counts. Thank you for making so many wonderful Christmases for us as we grew up. You still do! I'm so grateful we live here now and can enjoy your Christmas every year. Love you!

  3. We used to have a real tree. But when you put 2500 lights on a real tree, it doesn't live long. Then the heat of the lights against moribund branches becomes the focus instead of a different kind of warmth and flame. So our real tree turned fake, the very year Cam left on his mission. Gin would be married the next year and after a very short time, here we are, with no one to help set up any kind of tree and us growing older each year. The fake tree is lovely, though - not perfect, and very real looking even in full daylight. But no smell. And that is the tragedy. I buy wreaths, myself - but they are never made of the right stuff, and what scent they have seems only to be invoked as they get too hot to live. On the front door. Too close to the fireplace. Our house is too small for two trees. So we have to make do with all parts of the metaphor in one tree.

    Our tree is a mass of ornaments, most handmade. Made first by me, then by my parents (who caught the habit from me) and my sister (ditto), then by my children and my friends - musicians, mothers, photographers, librarians, writers, cooks, vinyl fence salesmen of great carving talent, singers, professors of chemistry, teachers, fishermen, horse people - over thirty two years, many friends, many ornaments. This year some came in from Australia and from the French Alps and from the mountains of West Virginia.

    The tree is in the only corner of the house that can be seen from most of the downstairs rooms. Not in a cozy, perfect place like yours is. But still seeable from several cozy couches. And the main room - it's surrounded on the outside by wildly criss-crossing strings of colored lights (leds now, because of the cost of running them) on all sides. Windows and lights - all sides, and those reflections also criss crossing, jumping from window to window, multiplying themselves - points of light giving birth to other points of light till our gathering room is simply ablaze with magic, and I never want to close the blinds. The tree, blazing up in its corner, is the lynchpin - the hearth, the center of all, its own lights reflected in every window.

    There are metaphors here, too. Quiet little clay and wood and glass and fabric ornaments that do not shine outright, but are symbols each of love, imagination, gratitude - the human exchange of light that may not throw highlights, but certainly make a room glow. And the tiny acts of light that bounce back and forth against the night's dark and bring hope in the depth of winter.

    I want to come to your house to see yours. They are all one.

  4. You have such a way of highlighting the subtle beauty in the world that would otherwise go un-noticed. Thank you for that - it helps many of us who would otherwise live dull lives to see it with your positive eyes and energy.
    You may have missed an important level of symbolism in this story though.
    A simple lesson in physics... while the external light provided by the sun is indeed what allowed you to see the lake, it is also light quite literally radiating from your body (okay reflecting) that allowed you to see your reflection in the glass.
    The views from the outside - of the lake and of the "sparkling" fake tree, were captivating and beautiful, but fleeting and temporary.
    Meanwhile, there was also light on the inside of your home... you had to wait for the more powerful and dazzling sunlight to fade in order to notice it, but these rays of light found their way from the bulbs on the misshapen tree, to your "real" body, and then to the glass which reflected them back to start the cycle again. If you had kept looking, you would have seen reflections everywhere - reflections in the ornaments, the glossy body of your guitar, and the picture frames that hold your family memories. Every object in the room was glowing with the warmth and the radiance of "real" life and the beauty of imperfection.
    Some things are beautiful from a distance and under the intensity of bright, artificial light. But real beauty, in trees, bodies, people and life comes from the warm glow of reflection which can only be seen from up close.