the day before Christmas Eve

blue spruce with raindrops

I typically enjoy the December holidays: strings of lights glowing at the darkest part of the year, people generally acting a shade nicer than usual, the holiday providing an excuse to eat homemade fudge and imported panettone and buy myself a little something special—because who else but me can know exactly what I want? But this year, I feel low on Christmas-solstice spirit.

The house is still overcrowded with items to sell and things I want to keep but haven't yet figured out where or how to store. So my desire for yet more stuff is at an all-time low (though I did pick up some free Herm├Ęs perfume samples from Nordstrom and treated myself to a few used books by way of a gift certificate from my summer birthday).

Then on top of the regular mess, my housemate slipped the other night on a slick floor and dumped a boiling pot of minestrone soup (that he was making for me) onto his bare legs and one arm, giving himself a spiral of second-degree burns; two days on, his left leg looks half-cooked, popped blisters in a range of sizes—small, medium, large—revealing raw red skin dotting extra-tanned, taut skin all the way from ankle to mid-thigh. (The doctor wasn't worried. It could have been worse.) And then I had to clean up the soup-splattered kitchen the following morning, scooping up peas, carrots, zucchini, and potatoes off the floor into my cupped palms and flushing all the cooked vegetables in homemade broth with homemade pesto down the garbage disposal, which wasn't fun but preferable to being the one whose appendages got poached. It's the most wonderful time of the year. As a result, in between fetching bandages, I've been binge-watching Game of Thrones because at least I don't have to worry about being shot with arrows by giants or poisoned by my queen sister.

evergreen shrub

So we have no Christmas tree, no lights, no ornaments, no stockings, no holiday tchotchkes. Our holiday trees are the ones standing outside in the rain year-round, rooted to the ground, nature's yard ornaments. I sent my family a box of my own household castoffs, small things they each might use, because I couldn't bear the thought of shopping, buying anything. It seems I've lost my taste for thrifting, or at least for acquiring.

I did, though, end up tagging along with Jeff (right before his accident) to a couple Goodwill stores and found myself in line at the cash register, watching a reindeer toy in sunglasses dancing on the counter to a pop song I'm too old to know, thinking once again about all the multitudinous crap made for Americans in China and the question of who's to blame, the drug pusher or the drug user? We buy it because it's made, or it's made because we buy it? Who would waste even a fraction of their income on a dancing plush-toy reindeer in sunglasses? Many people, obviously. And then today I ran across a Guardian article about the town where cheap Christmas decorations are made in southern China; the photo of the migrant factory worker in a Santa hat splattered from head to toe with toxic red paint alongside a table with rows of inverted red polystyrene boots should be enough to dampen the holiday spirit of more than just me.

holly berries with raindrops

But then there was the story of the monkey in India who essentially beat, like a rag doll, his or her mate (pal? relative?) for twenty minutes back to consciousness after the other got electrocuted on a wire at a train station. Now that's a resurrection worth talking about.


timber (or, the wind in the pines)

CL screenshot: timber tree on roof

Thankfully, I sat out the big windstorm on Thursday, which offered some of Portland's biggest gusts since the Columbus Day Storm of October 1962. I've been sick for a week and missed three days of work, despite a flu shot in September, so I happened to be home safe for this particular extratropical cyclone. Even indoors, the winds did howl. The light that afternoon was eerie, more golden than usual for December. We set high-temperature records that day, the wind blowing south-to-north up the coast—so no wonder it hadn't seemed that cold when I'd opened my window to air out my sickroom. My housemate was rushing to transfer some scrap wood and furniture from his trailer out of the storm into the garage; he kept coming back into the house saying, "It's crazy out there." He said he'd swept the driveway clear of pine needles earlier but now you couldn't even tell, so many more had dropped. We gathered candles, matches, an oil lamp, and flashlights and turned up the heat, certain the power would be going out, but it flickered just once.

Other parts of the metro area weren't so lucky. While we were watching a movie for distraction, people across the city were waiting for the lights to come back on from over 100,000 outages or else wrestling with downed trees, pieces fallen off buildings, canceled or delayed flights, disrupted MAX lines. A few people were trapped in elevators. Tragically, a middle-school boy died and his mother was seriously injured after a dead cedar fell onto their car in transit. Farther south where the storm hit first, a homeless man also died and his dog was injured from a falling tree while camping with his equally homeless son in the mountains down near Ashland. Nature doesn't play nice, something easy to forget in the age of international space stations and Mars rovers. But it will become increasingly harder to forget as global warming effects heighten in coming years.

CL screenshot: fallen hardwood in yard

The day after the storm, Jeff came into my room, saying, "Guess what's the most common item in the Craigslist free piles today?" I looked out the window at the neighbor's old garage for a few seconds, thinking, "Roof shingles?" before focusing on the huge pine tree behind the garage in the yard next door and saying, "Wood!"

CL screenshot: tree in driveway

CL screenshot: trees down

CL screenshot: tree lost to the wind

CL screenshot: fallen tree in street

CL screenshot: free firewood from a fallen tree

CL screenshot: free wood from two trees

CL screenshot: Western red cedar

He later found out a downed tree at his aunt and uncle's house in Milwaukie had taken out their back deck and quipped to his mother on the phone that surely, with her brother being a retired insurance claims adjuster, the uncle and aunt must be well covered. Such storms should be reminders to us all to prepare or refresh our 72-hour emergency kits.

CL screenshot: downed pine branches with pine cones

Few tend to think of trees as living things but more like giant toothpicks-with-leaves stuck into the ground, carbon banked for later use—as furniture, toilet paper, firewood—instead of beneficial living organisms that clean our water, restore and cool our air, regulate our rainfall, fix our topsoil, and keep whole mountainsides from sliding away. So while I love the sentimental look and feel of a sparkly, brightly lit Christmas tree scenting a home at holiday time, the unnecessary massacre of so many pine trees each holiday season, even if farmed expressly for this purpose, is not worth its price, especially when as much carbon should be re-sequestered from the air back into the ground as fast as humans with their hack-and-slash lumberjack brains can figure out how.

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