The young pine tree stood holding his branches out as if in supplication. Indeed, he was soundlessly praying, if a tree can be said to do so, to whatever gods or druids or faeries to which a pine tree would pray. He was praying the harvesters would reach his rank and row today, tomorrow at the latest.
For it is the week before Christmas, and unless he is taken quickly, he will be too late for this season. Perhaps he might have too propitious a Spring and Summer, with much sun and rain and life-giving humus. Then he might grow too large to be considered quite suitable for a Christmas tree. His pith sank at the thought, and he pushed it away and continued his matins to the pine tree Jesus, or Buddha, or Allah- to whatever the wood-folk present their heart-wood’s desire.
The birds had first explained to him, along with the other saplings in his row, the story of trees that are perfectly shaped and suited. They must be full of foliage and graceful of bough, then chosen, and finally taken into a snug warm home. There they were decorated with streamers and pop-corn and tinsel and beautiful lights and fragile glass ornaments, until they were quite breath-taking in their splendor.
Later, when the children were asleep, a red-suited elf would pile treats and presents high beneath the pinetree’s benevolent limbs, awaiting the wide eyes and squeals of delight of the good boys and girls come morning.
The happy Christmas tree would hold forth while the children screamed for joy and surprise at each gift. Mamma and Papa would tenderly exchange packages, amid tears from Mamma and hurrumphs and throat-clearing from overcome Papa, too manly to cry aloud, but with a tear in the corner of his eye for the presents his little boy and girl have made for him with their own hand.
For at least a week after that, there would be jolly games and fun as the children, home from school on Christmas vacation, made merry with their new toys. And over all this the lucky Christmas tree would preside, bearing silent but proud witness to the festive season.
At first the little pine could hardly believe these tales, thinking the jack-daws and crows were mocking the poor wooden-headed infants. But the stately owl, and even some of the does who came to feed in the misty dawn, confirmed all the wonderful stories as quite being true.
The pine tree could not imagine a more wonderful fate than to be chosen for a Christmas tree. He pined (no pun intended.) for a chance to be Sir Tannenbaum, and he was sure he would be a very merry tree indeed, if only given the chance.
From that day on, he strove to grow symmetrically and straight, full on all sides, with no holes in his even raiment. He kept his bark tight and clean, and his needles combed neatly, row on row. He even attempted to taper to a fine point, perfect for a Christmas angel or star.
Now it was December 23rd, and time grew short. The harvesters were far from his rank, and many trees from his row. If only they were not too late. But it did indeed look hopeless. And the poor tree had concentrated all his efforts on peaking in his best condition this year. He was heartsore and hopeless of ever attaining his fondest dream.
Late that afternoon the foreman of the harvesters, an axeman and an older, well dressed gentleman, came walking among the rows. They were talking quietly, considering tree after tree. As they neared, the little pine could hear their murmurs clarify into words.
“I need a very straight, perfect and true tree. No other will do. My little girl is my light and my soul, and I will settle for none but the best for her,” said the grey-haired man, whom the pine recognized as the grove owner himself.
The foreman scrutinized each tree for defect, found fault with many, laid hands questioningly on those he found ‘up to snuff’, but to each candidate the owner shook his head.
“This is no ordinary pine I seek,” he snapped, presented with what he considered a most unsuitably twisted conifer. “I need a tree with heart enough to stand guard over my darling, watching over her sleep, overseeing her entire garden of memories. No common Christmas fir will do. I seek a much nobl’er grain of wood than that.”
They were on his rank now, and very near his row. The tree drew himself up as straight and proud as he could. He held his limbs gracefully aloft and furrowed his brow to the most pyramidal point, and hoped with all his heart-wood.
“Yes, perhaps,” murmured the old gentleman, “let me see the back, nice straight trunk, perfect clean limbs, no diseases, beetles or blights…”
“This one will be the tree for my child,” he said, walking on quickly, leaving the axeman to his work.
The foreman nodded to the axeman, who began to chop at the foot of the young tree, and the chips flew as the burly chopper swung mightily.
The tree felt no pain, but a sad kind of regret as the axe hewed his trunk. He knew that in realizing his dream he must be parted from the Earth, his mother, to grow no more, and eventually wither and die and be discarded. But the honor was so great it transcended the melancholy of his lost vitality.
The axeman finished severing the pine from his life-sustaining roots. The young pine waved his needles in silent farewell to the friends with which he had grown his entire life. They waved back, saddened at his passing but glad for the reflected honor of one of their own chosen for the owner’s own child.
The pine was laid in the back of a lorry, and began his trip to his final destination. To a tree who had never moved from one spot in his life, the world flying by in a rush was quite exciting and disorienting. He knew not where he went, careening through the night.
At last they pulled up to and into a large, dark building. In quiet reflection, the pine wondered if he would be decorated that night or Christmas Eve. The axeman lifted him from the bed of the lorry and took him into the building and he was blinded by the lights within. He was laid on a moving table, and after a few seconds all went blank and the little pine knew no more.
“And verily, though the Lord has seen fit in his wisdom, to send his pestilent fever to take his favored child, Rebecca, into his bosom, we the bereft must take consolation that she goes to a better place,” intoned the churchman. Mourners in files around the new, raw grave, sobbed silently, cried aloud, stood grim or stern and silent, as was each one’s wont and character.
“And although Christmas is a time of rebirth, we are reminded that in the midst of life we are in death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Man that is born of woman is destined to return to the clay from whenst he came,” concluded the churchman.
Most of the mourners turned away, but the owner of the pine grove watched as the workmen cranked the winch, lowering the cable on which swayed the newly milled, bright white wood of the small pine coffin of his only child.