free holiday tree

vintage red ball ornament on bare branch

A few Saturdays ago on my way to the post office, I noticed a couple of branches fallen after a storm off the old ginkgoes in one of the parks, but the branches were too large and there were only two. So after my errand, I headed back uphill, when around the perimeter of a parking lot I noticed some smaller branches fallen on the ground. I picked up a couple and then a few more, and then began seeing them everywhere, not only on the ground under the big trees but fallen onto the trimmed, interspaced bushes underneath the trees. I kept collecting, gleaning branch after branch of unknown tree limb—tree fingers, really—until I had a large armful, ignoring the glances from passersby who I'm sure were wondering why this clean woman in a wool cap and poncho was gathering kindling in the AAA parking lot.

I carried them over the mushroom stand at the farmers market, which was fortunately at the lower edge of the relatively uncrowded market (it being chilly), and then toted them up to my apartment without too much doorway wrangling. The hard part became arranging them in my big round glass vase with the narrow bottom, without its tipping over. It was a messy process, the branches full of yellow lichen and green moss, shedding dirt, so after I was done, a good vacuum pass was required. And while I preferred the look of the branches in the glass vase, I couldn't keep it from tipping and so finally stuck the whole thing inside one of my large baskets, after dumping out the knitting supplies.

reflection in glass teardrop ornament

Jeff later had the bright idea of finding some white sand to anchor the glass vase, and that would look lovely, but I haven't yet gone searching for white sand and probably won't bother. In any case, my "tree" was free.

vintage red ball ornaments on gleaned branches

Thanksgiving weekend, on the one precious day all to myself, I pulled out my grandmother's red ball ornaments I remember hanging off her green artificial tree each year, and hung them from these bare tree branches, adding some glass raindrop ornaments I've had for years—minimal, elegant, and unexpected. The table arrangement takes up half my main room, but since I don't yet have chairs and can't use the table for dining, so what? My holiday tree looks best at night, lit by candles and vintage lamps, but even at midday on the coldest day of the year, it brings good cheer.

 tree branch arrangement with glass teardrop and red ball ornaments

However, for those who don't feel like gathering fallen tree branches this frigid December, free Christmas trees can be found on Craigslist. Checking the free section occasionally for kicks, I've seen two different free-pine-tree posts for the Portland area in the last couple weeks: one, a guy who was giving away scores of real, thinned forest trees he was calling "Charlie Brown trees" like the ones my family would cut with a permit in the southeastern Oregon mountains decades ago, and the other, someone who had bought a large Douglas fir but really had wanted a noble fir. Ever a theme on this blog, someone's surplus (or indecision) could become another's gain when that person thinks outside the Christmas-tree lot.


  1. Thanks for the reminder. I have had a Christmas stick for years, sitting on a top shelf in the kitchen, gathering dust and cobwebs. It's small, only room for about five ornaments. But I got it down and put it on the TV. Very festive. Happy holidays, Brooke!

  2. "A Christmas stick"—I like it. :)


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