Bring Out Your Dead (Tree, That Is)


I haven’t seen this much green since Ann Romney’s money dance at her wedding in ’69.

The tree pile is growing. I estimate almost one hundred discarded Christmas trees stacked up in the parking lot outside Splash Montana on Bancroft Street. It’s just a couple days into the new year, but by this time next week the mound will be more than ten feet high, twenty feet across, and probably a hundred feet long.

And that’s just here at Playfair Park. Add the piles of trees at Currents, Fort Missoula, and Eko Compost, and we’re talking thousands upon thousands of discarded trees. That’s a lot of trees; that’s a lot of Christmases.

This is one of my favorite holiday events, my existential post-Christmas moment.

Every year, after we’ve undecked the halls and wadded up all the strings of lights, after we’ve squandered all the gift cards and built a traffic-stopping roadside pyramid of garbage bags bulging with redundant packaging waste and empty wine bottles, I strap the carcass of our Christmas tree to the roof of the Grocery Getter and bring it to its ignominious end.

Missoula’s Christmas Ever Green recycling program runs through January 10, and every year thousands of Missoulians participate, creating the monstrous, fragrant mass gravesites of trees that have given their all.

But I don’t just chuck it unceremoniously onto the pile like a hit man dumping a body in a Jersey swamp. I acknowledge the tree. I thank the tree.

Thanks, little Christmas tree.

“No, officer, I was NOT talking to that tree. I don’t even know that tree.”

The story arc of a Christmas tree is not long, and most of the action happens at the end. Wherever this little fella has been growing for the last ten years or so, it’s been quietly biding its time, waiting to be called up to The Show.

Once the tree has been selected at the lot, given a fresh trim, and twined to the roof of a vehicle or laid in the back of a pickup, it is on its way to becoming the central focus of somebody’s Christmas. The tree stands proudly in the rearranged living room, displaying its windings of lights, the ungainly and mismatched collection of handmade and store-bought ornaments, and probably a few candy canes.

The tree’s big moment, of course, comes on Christmas morning, when it is surrounded with all the coveted gifts designed to bring happiness and joy to everyone in the family, even Aunt Elaine who hates everything and everybody and will immediately return all her gifts for cash she can deposit into her secret bank account until she finally has enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale and leave that cheating prick Uncle Ronnie once and for all.

By Christmas night, the tree is a has-been. It gets no more water. All its candy canes have been plucked. The lights and ornaments are eventually stripped from the tree, along with its dignity and thousands of its vacuum-bag-choking needles. The Big Show is over.

And now, here I am with this once-proud sapling, pausing before I add it to the huge pile of trees bound for the wood chipper. I thank the tree aloud, truly grateful for its service to our family. I feel a sharp pang of wistful melancholy as I throw it to the top of the heap.

...Now beat it!

“Thanks for a great Christmas, tree. Now beat it.”

I walk around the pile and look at the other trees, wondering at the story each one carries. How many of these trees saw some children’s dreams come true when they unwrapped that big present from Santa? How many presided over a meager collection of presents that were all Mommy and Daddy could manage due to the struggling economy?

How much laughter did they absorb? How much singing, how much joyful chattering, how many quiet moments between lovers? Were any toppled by a druncle? If only these trees could talk, they’d all have some killer stories to tell.

A few are still festooned with the silver mylar tinsel that was gleefully draped on them by somebody’s kids. Here’s one that was flocked with spray-on “snow,” or as we used to call it, Asbestos In a Can. Do people still do that? You used to see a lot of it way back when the tinsel was still made of lead. No wonder everyone has cancer.

I slurp coffee from my travel mug and squat down to examine a tiny ornament that’s still tied to a branch. It’s an inch-tall scrap of paper bearing a crude drawing of a Christmas tree in blue crayon. It represents one little kid’s excitement and anticipation of the best day of the year.

Lying on the asphalt nearby is a still-wrapped pink lollipop that must have been hidden in the branches when the tree was dragged out of the house. It tastes kind of stale. Must be from last year.

During my reverie, several people come and go, dropping off their Douglas Firs, their Frasers, their Balsams, their Scotch Pines. I sit on the curb away from the pile and watch as some poor bastard gets out the passenger side of his Subaru, slips on the ice, and falls on his ass. With a sheepish laugh, he opens the back hatch and pulls out the skinniest Charlie Brown job I’ve seen all day.

Bring out your dead!

These trees will eventually become the compost that you put on your garden where you grow the cucumbers that you use to make pickles that you’ll give out jars of as Christmas gifts next year. Mind blowing, isn’t it?

He pops the twine, allowing the scrawny tree to fall open. It’s barely two feet in diameter, maybe five feet tall. The guy tosses it onto the pile and gets back into the Subaru and pulls away. The scraggly tree lies with its abandoned brethren, adding to the wonderfully overwhelming forest aroma.

A gleaming white Escalade pulls in with a massive Colorado Blue Spruce lashed to its roof. The dense, manicured tree is nearly as long as the Cadillac. Probably cost more than I spent on all my wife’s gifts this year. And I bought some of the finest merchandise that truck stop had to offer.

The driver’s door opens and a sixtyish guy sporting an impressive head of wiry gray hair emerges, strains of Michael Bublé coming from his Bose stereo system. He uses a Leatherman to snip the twine securing the tree, and it fluffs out to its full, magnificent girth.

A younger dude exits the Escalade to help manhandle this behemoth onto the evergreen mountain. It lands on top of the Charlie Brown tree, dwarfing everything else in the pile.

As the Escalade pulls away I see that their once-glorious symbol of a joyous and spirited holiday season is now just a dried-out, washed-up hunk of Christmas detritus, making its last stop before being chipped into bits and added to the compost dune.

This is when the New Year starts. Not on January first, but on tree day. This huge pile of stories and memories vibrates with happy energy. It perfectly symbolizes the last year for me. It was a good year, full of ups and downs and watershed events, but now it’s time to put it in the rearview.

My coffee has grown cold. I pour the dregs in the gutter and return to the Grocery Getter. Then I give a nod to the pile of Christmases, and drive away into 2013.


   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Bob Wire is medicated and ready to rock.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.