We put up our Christmas tree over the weekend. When you step back and think about it, that custom is kind of crazy. A bunch of us who enjoy trees — which has to be most of us — are nevertheless willing to pony up close to $40 to have someone cut one down for us. We haul it home and bring it in the house and watch it slowly dry up for three weeks. Then we chuck it.
But at our house, we wouldn’t have Christmas with out a tree, and a real one at that.
"I love coming downstairs in the morning and smelling it," our son said.
I’m with him. Ours happens to be a balsam fir this year, a species that seems far from endangered in the North Woods. And no species of tree smells better than a balsam fir. Yes, you’re going to get your hands sappy putting it in the stand and getting it to stand straight. But that’s well worth it for a few weeks of that sweet mint aroma wafting about the living room.
Scientists say nothing takes you back to the past like the sense of smell, and I’m a firm believer. When I catch a whiff of fir as I sit in the living room reading, I’m hauled all the way back to the Christmases of my youth. I’m there with brother Jimmy and sister Nancy and baby Bill. We didn’t have much money, but there were always presents under the tree, and the anticipation was almost too much to bear.
That scent also takes me back not quite so far to some camps I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in. One was a deer camp near Ely, on county land where the gathering of a few boughs was permitted. The group I camped with had lined the floor of its wall tent with the boughs of balsam fir. Just walking into that tent was worth the whole hunt. The pungence of balsam fir easily displaced the various scents associated with a group of deer hunters who had no plans to shower for a few days. And swinging your stocking feet from a sleeping bag onto that soft mat of fir in the morning was a pleasant way to start the day.
Throw in the complementary aroma of the woodstove that heated the tent, and you had a mingling of earthy scents that made you never want to leave.
All of those memories come swimming back through the years when I catch a waft of our Christmas tree. I hope yours evokes the same kind of memories.