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  • I always feel odd buying a Christmas tree.

    It feels like something I ought to be able to do just by grabbing a hacksaw and stepping outside.

    But I'd feel like I was committing a crime if I just took one I hadn't planted myself. And growing my own in the yard just to cut it down feels pathologically murderous to me.

    I'm also too lazy. If I go through the hassle of planting an evergreen, I want it to stand up on its own for a lifetime. I want to be done with it. It's bad enough I have to mow the lawn once in awhile.

    So I buy trees instead. We usually go out of our way to find "Charlie Brown" trees. The kind that people neglect, because trees need to be conspicuous in their decor, and have enough girth to hold heavy ornaments and tons of glitter rope.

    We don't play that game. There's grace in a small tree. Humility. Even a sense of rescue.

    And a bonus: they're always cheap.

    I kind of enjoy the way tree markets spontaneously break out on roadsides around here come Black Friday. It's like the lumberjack business goes guerrilla.

    I spent very little time picking mine yesterday. Look for the smallest, cheapest, and most neglected in the lot.

    The man dragged the tree I chose across the lot and to the baler the way someone drags a dead animal. His wife, working alongside him, apologized for his behavior. "It's easier to drag without muss in the snow," she said.

    Though it shouldn't, the baler fascinates me. I love the tidy look of a fresh-baled tree. All the promise of Christmas, bundled like a gift. Nature tamed, tucked into a tight-fitting dress.

    I'm always afraid to strap a tree to the top of the car. For one thing, I don't tie knots well. For another, drooping dead over the roof, it looks like fresh venison during hunting season. For a third, I don't want to scratch the car's paint. But this means shoving the tree into a limited space in the back of my car -- which no doubt damages tree and car both -- and also results every time in needles on the carpet -- needles in the shag -- needles underfoot all year long, green and brown and gray.

    While ringing me up, the seller and I chatted about how late I was getting my tree this year. I asked if business died down as Christmas approached, as I tucked a tip into a nearby jar. They said the world is full of procrastinators, and they're no exception.

    When I asked what that meant, they shared with me that they don't put their own tree up till they close down the shop for the season.

    And that they pick their own tree from the leftovers.
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