“It’s the weekend to cut the tree,” I announced a fortnight ago. Husband, father-in-law, and remaining at-home daughter all ducked their heads, instantly invisible.
“Aren’t you keen to climb onto Gillespie’s sleigh, listen to the bells, watch the steam lift from the backs of the horses, and enjoy a few hours finding the perfect tree for our “new” house?” It wasn’t exactly a question.
“I’d rather go to No Frills and get it from the lot,” said remaining at-home daughter, banishing all notions of things child-like, including Christmas tradition. “Out of town,” mumbled spouse. “Too old,” retorted father-in-law.
Now comes the defining moment. Do I capitulate or do I care enough about the sheer enjoyment of cutting our own tree that’s it’s worth doing just for myself. After all, it’s Christmas and there are literally dozens of things to do, including cards.
I went downstairs to retrieve the swede saw and tried to bundle my winter clothes into the car without seeming like I was in a pout. “Bye!”
I called my good friend to see if I could cajole one other person into making the trek to Oro Township with me. “How long will it take?” she asked. Not exactly the response of eager anticipation I was hoping for. But then, “I guess I could come along for the ride, but I don’t want to take all afternoon.”
And now, please join me for the magical transformation that is the 2001 Christmas story. Surely, because the tradition mattered enough to maintain it, surely because it involved friendship and commitment this story had a magical ending. Two magical endings, actually.
Out we went to the ninth line of Oro, turning west off the Old Barrie Rd and parking in the busy lot of Gillespie’s Tree Farm. Our family has cut our tree at Gillespie’s most Christmases since we moved to Barrie in 1971. It’s comfortable climbing on the wagon which is usually equipped with runners and pulled by horses. But this year, grass greets us and Les Gillespie himself is driving the tractor that’s pulling the wagon.
We climb aboard, jumping off when we get to the Scotch Pine section of Gillespie’s 100 acre-tree-lot. Lots of choice here and we’re not dragging ourselves through waist high snow, either. The dog, an enthusiastic retrieving black lab, goes crazy with the smells and the space.
Now I have to preface all this by telling you that my friend’s idea of an enthusiastic Christmas is to strip the plastic bag off her already-decorated, never-undecorated, artificial tree, plunk it on her coffee table and plug it in with a flourish.
So, here we are, tromping among the pines and she decides that this adorable, interesting four-foot high tree must come home with her. “T-i-m-b-e-r,” we call out and down comes her little pine. A real tree. Not in a plastic bag.
Miracle Number One.
I can’t find a tree I like. We need a shorter tree this year because we’re no longer in an old home with 10 foot ceilings. None of them seems right at all–a gap here, a stubborn trunk there. We leave Miracle Number One laying near the pathway for the wagon and venture over a hill or two as I move from tree to tree and she calls out “this one looks okay to me!”
And then I see it. Down another hill, over by a fence, all by itself, isolated, full, tall enough, from a distance it looks pretty good. I head over. I’ve never seen a tree like this. Ever. Its branches are feather-like, with various shades of green. It feels soft. It’s full. Its trunk is straight. I hug it. It hugs back. T-i-m-b-e-r!
We drag it to join Miracle Number One and wait for Les Gillespie to swing by and pick us up. As he pulls up, I lift the tree onto the wagon. Les gets off the tractor and comes over, peering from under his cap to look at me. “I’ve been wondering for a long time who would be the person who’d select this tree,” he says.
“Hmmm,” I think. “I didn’t select this tree. This tree selected me,” I answer, explaining how the tree seemed to beckon from far away. “And why did you wonder who’d select it?”
“Well…” he took his time. “We have 75 acres of Christmas trees planted here [the rest is hardwood bush], about 900 trees per acre. We have Scotch Pine, White Pine, Balsam, Spruce and Blue Spruce, nearly 70,000 trees. We have only one Douglas Fir.”
I stare at him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I didn’t know I shouldn’t cut it,” I apologize. He’s quick to assure me it was a tree to be cut. “It’s our only one; we just wondered who would choose it, that’s all.”
At this point the coincidence of it all hits home. And I tell him the Douglas Fir has gone to a Douglas.
Miracle Number Two.
My friend and I make short work of getting our trees onto the car, dog in the back and make the trek into Barrie, still marvelling over “my” Douglas Fir.
Later that evening I called my Mom, anxious to share a story that I know she’ll enjoy. I finish it with a flourish.
“Donna,” says Mom. “Don’t you know you’re a direct descendant of David Douglas, the horticulturalist who’s credited with the discovery of the Douglas Fir?” Obviously not. David Douglas, of the Clan of Scotland’s James Douglas, was born in Perthshire in 1798 and worked at the Botanical Gardens at Glasgow; in 1823 on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society of Scotland, he attended the US. and Canada and during a visit to Fort Vancouver, discovered many new plants, several species of pine, one of which continues to bear his name. He died in 1834, at age 36 but not before making a notable achievement.
Les Gillespie chuckled when I told him this. He said that Miracle Number Two was planted quite by accident, slipping through some Scotch Pine seedlings left over from a massive planting at Gillespie’s second location on the 12th line of Oro Medonte in the north half of the township. Les planted the 9th line property in 1950, having been introduced to trees during a summer and Easter Vacation job at the Midhurst Tree Farms. They “borrowed” the property from their father Ken, a well known Oro reeve, councillor, good roads committee member etc. When Les and his brother, Ardel, planted their second property in 1978, they planted a number of Douglas Fir. They’re really big trees now because they’re 23 years old. In fact, a Douglas Fir, at 200 feet tall, holds 4,500 gallons of water.
But Miracle Number Two, though planted among some Scotch Pine seedlings (long since cut down) didn’t germinate until 10 years ago, when much to the surprise of the Gillespie Christmas Tree folks, up it came, determinedly at the bottom of the hill in a gully, until this year when it called out to come home.
The Gillespie team all smiled as I hauled my tree over to the cash register. I smiled as I looked at my friend with her real, live Christmas tree. Two miracles.
I’ll never be able to part with this tree now. I’m taking suggestions for how I can preserve it when Christmas is over.
Thanks, Les, for appreciating the connection. Thanks, Barb for sharing the miracle. Thanks, Mom for pulling it all together.