December 13, 2016


Tis’ the season! You know. The season where the wife wants you to get a Christmas tree. Here in Dickinson the college rodeo team sells trees. So it isn’t really that hard to do. And you can buy a pretty nice tree for around $50. And the money helps buy fuel for the team going down the rodeo trail come spring. Well, the $50 might not cover it if I go after the tree. You have to drive buy at least three places that will be celebrating Christmas or playing pinochle and pool. That can greatly add to the cost. But, maybe I’ll try again this afternoon.
You know how on Christmas, at least on TV, the family goes out and cuts a Christmas tree? The Christmas music is playing in the background. There are pretty snowflakes lightly falling. And the snowflakes fall straight down! Snow in the Dakotas doesn’t fall straight down. It comes sideways. And stings when it hits your face. Ask the people protesting the pipeline. The people on TV have on pretty sweaters and stocking caps. They are throwing snow on each other and laughing and go home and set the tree up. It fits in the stand for God’s sake! And then they have a cup of hot chocolate and the gifts are all wrapped and stacked neatly under the tree. Bahh, humbug!
That’s what our family always did. And I hated it. It never worked like it did on TV. First you had to find the chainsaw. We run the only ranch in the world where you could lose a chainsaw. Lots of times. I guess we have a general rule. Leave stuff where you used it last. The trouble is that if the guy who used it last is not around, it’s tough.
Last year it took two days to find the saw. And then you load everyone in the pickup and go down in the beautiful badlands to find a tree. And the kids, who are now in their 20s, hate going with Mom and Dad to cut a tree. Cause they know what has happened every year since they were born.
We spot a perfect tree up on a high clay butte. Mom can see it is perfect. We climb up this slippery hill, pausing often so Dad can catch his breath, and have a smoke. As we near the tree, we see it is actually two trees. Both one-sided. Ugly things with not near enough branches. The Dad swears and starts down the hill.
Most years we spend about $30 in fuel and a half day looking for a tree. Once we find a tree, a tree, not the perfect tree, the fun really begins. By now the gas cap has jiggled off the saw and we are out of gas. Or the rope comes off when you go to start it. Or the chain jumps off when it sees the tree. Eventually the saw ends up in a washout and the tree gets run over by the pickup. Mom and the kids get upset and Dad swears never again.
But this year, thanks to our neighbors, it went smooth. Bill and Ginny live up the road. And we borrow stuff from them. Cause that’s what we do out here. We borrow. See, Bill and Ginny don’t stay all winter. They go south when the last goose flies over the Badlands. Oh, they are Christmas-spirited. They put up a tree. They invite us all up for Christmas supper. We exchange gifts. It is actually the most pleasant Christmas party of the year. We drink fine wine and eat fine food. Life is good.
But, like the wild geese, when the lake freezes over they are out of here. I knew they were gone. I was unloading hay above their house and you could see it was abandoned. I slipped down to see if they left any food in the fridge. They didn’t. And there stood their tree. Abandoned in their living room. It still had the lights on it. It was already cut. It wasn’t at the top of a clay butte. I didn’t need the chainsaw. Oh, I made a little mess. When I drug it out of the house. I spilled a little water on the carpet. Yes, I took the stand too. And I lost a few needles as I hurried through the house. You hate to get caught stealing a tree. But I made it! And it fit just perfect in our dining room!
Merry Christmas Bill and Ginny! And thanks!