A second life for my Douglas fir

It’s Christmas in June. That’s how I’m feeling this week since I received a Christmas treasure that will now become an heirloom. And with the heirloom will go the story.

A little background…

Some of you might remember last Christmas when I headed out, sans famille, to carry out what is for me an important Christmas tradition, cutting down the tree. I took along a friend and the event actually produced two miracles. She abandoned her plastic haul-the-tree-out-of-the-bag tradition in favour of a pungent, long-needled pine. About four feet high.

And I soldiered on, not quite satisfied with any tree I saw, “pining” for something significant for the house we’d just moved to. From a distance, a tree beckoned, almost waving its branches at me. Making a long story short, I cut down this fabulous tree with its feathery branches, full and aromatic. And the owner of Gillespie’s Tree Farm (who is likely trimming all 80,000 of his trees right now) expressed real surprise at my selection.

“We’ve been waiting for 10 years to see who’d cut down that tree,” he marvelled as he threw it up on the wagon. Turns out I’d cut down a Douglas Fir, the only one on his 75 acres of trees. Little did I know. And turns out I’m a direct descendant of Sir David Douglas, founder of the Douglas Fir. The story got better and better and as we decorated our Douglas Fir, I felt myself growing so attached, I wondered what I would do at the end of the season.

And that’s where this column begins.

After we tucked away all the decorations, I left the Douglas Fir standing in the living room for a week or so. It was still full and springy and so green! But the time came to let it go.

And so I called Ken Tunnard in late January. Ken owns Tunnard Furniture & Design and from his shop he turns out works of art. I don’t think I’ve seen a single flat edge on any of Ken’s work. He virtually breathes life into his pieces, with curved edges, unusual shapes blending with utilitarian design.

“Ken,” I said. “Here’s the whole tree. Please make me something significant. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to do anything grand. It does have to have enough room for me to print up the Douglas Fir column and slip it inside whatever it is you make. Surprise me!”

And then I left Ken alone to do his magic.

Well, first the tree had to dry. And Ken had to protect this tree from yard waste days and the tendency of people to clean up and clean out.

This week Ken arrived at my office and held out my significant, sentimental, scented piece of art. A cylinder, Ken has gently shaved enough of a lip in the lid for my finger to nudge it open. He’s fashioned invisible hinge pins into end pieces of black walnut. He’s given the fir a coat of wax on its knotted, honeyed surface and protected the dark ends as well. He hollowed out the thickest part of the trunk, edged one side so the box would sit flat.

“I know you’re a big fan of Jimmy McGowan’s,” said Ken, “so I went to his lumber mill and bought some walnut to close in the ends.

It’s beautiful. It’s like silk to the touch, about six inches long, three inches high and deep. It’s small enough to rest easily in my hand, large enough to house a couple of pairs of glasses, or some stamps, pens, candles, trinkets, jewellery… the list is endless.

Right now it’s travelling with me because I want to have it nearby. Right now it’s empty, save for the rolled-up column about its origin.

Part of the thrill of this new lovely thing is that it’s fashioned from a tree that normally dies. But not now… it’s here forever. It reminds me of Ken, who refashioned himself into a marvellous, self employed furniture/artist. Ken’s work will be featured at the waterfront artisan show at Kew Beach Park in Toronto next weekend. This popular art show draws Torontonians from all over to The Beaches for this annual event and Ken’s work will be a wonderful addition.

He’ll also be sharing his creativity at Kempenfest this summer. I might just lend him the Douglas Fir for good luck!

I’m forever grateful to have found someone who didn’t laugh at my notion, who understood why I would want to have something permanent from this very special Christmas tree. What a lovely balance of art and sentiment.

Thanks, Ken.