Joan Wilder

In the midst of winter I found within me an invincible summer.

Joan Wilder

Joan Wilder
Crested Butte, Colorado,
November 22
Quote in my banner is by Albert Camus. Oil painting by Maggie Galloway.


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DECEMBER 15, 2009 1:03PM

I'm Having A Dr. Seuss Christmas

Rate: 36 Flag

I think we're in for a Dr. Seuss Christmas. 

We've been dumped on again.  Another three feet of dry cornstarch snow and more coming over the weekend.  We're still shoveling the decks and walkways and raking the roof to ward off ice dams in its valleys.

This latest blizzard made us thirsty for things like hot chocolate, "The Nutcracker" ballet, "It's A Wonderful Life," listening to christmas carols, hanging stockings with care, and putting up a Christmas tree. Like the Who's of Who-ville, we like Christmas a lot.

As the snow swirled around our house, my daughter Maguy and her friend Dennis went out into the blizzard and got our christmas tree -- the kind that's the last tree standing in an empty lot surrounded by tracks of pine needles left behind by all the popular trees who found a home.

It's the kind of tree I pass up not giving it a second thought because it's twisted.  Badly twisted.   It has a straight trunk and then, halfway up, makes a big zig with no zag so that the angel on top looks like it's a few yards east or west from the base.   If the trunk could be straightened out it would go from its current six feet tall to at least nine or ten.  I swear.

Like one of the many orphans we've had at our table during the holidays -- kids who come here to work and ski on the mountain and have families far far from here -- we took it in and adopted it wholeheartedly.  (It has nothing to do with the fact it was the last tree in the only lot in Crested Butte.)

I call it a Dr. Seuss tree -- the kind you would expect to find in Who-ville.  The kind of tree the Grinch would steal from little Cindy-Lou Who and hold captive in his lair high up the mountain above the town. 

He'd break the branches and decorate it with worms, not tinsel, garlic for bulbs, toe corns instead of pop, wrapped with a cord of sullen, dark lights 'cause one little light is missing, carelessly slung empty, smelly, rusty tin cans for ornaments, a fallen angel hanging precariously at the top, and presents under the tree made of chunks of sooty coal wrapped in old, yellowed newspapers.

Anyway, we wrestled with that orphan tree for hours. I swear it had a life of its own and enjoyed the game.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

First, Maguy got it into our home by dragging it through the downstairs and up our zig zag staircase and across one of our Persian rugs into a corner of the living room spreading not joy but pine needles, sap and snow along her way.  We had to get it onto the terra cotta floor tiles to let the snow on it melt off and roll up corners of large, heavy rugs so they wouldn't get wet and rot. 

Once it was dry, we tried tilting the trunk to make the top appear above the base rather than way off course, and finally, after calculating its latitude and longitude, figured out the trunk part had to go in straight no matter what.  And the darn thing kept falling over anyway time after time after time.

We kept screwing into the trunk and unscrewing out eight 6-inch long screws while lying under the tree battling sap droppings and getting pine needles and pinecone dust in our eyes -- well, at least I did. 

I always dive head first into a project and think I can fix it.  Not this one!

All sweaty and dreadlocked with sappy, needley, disintegrating rug pad rust dust, we got it placed.  And when we stood back to admire our efforts discovered it was full of large holes -- the kind a Grinch would punch into it for fun.  They looked painful like cavities.

So I had an ingenious idea.  A Christmas first.  I tied the branches close together with turkey trussing string to close the gaps and stuffed the tree, like a turkey, with fake pine branches I decorate the banister with, and filled in that doggone Green Eggs And Ham tree and made it almost  handsome. We filled the stand with water to appease its thirst.

Satisfied and pooped, we went to different rooms to scrub off the sap, brush off the needles, and take a nap.  We would decorate it later.

I was just exhaling on my bed when I heard a loud whoosh - like the snow shedding off the roof.  I ran into the living room and there was The Tree -- splayed out across the living room playing dead with water seeping out from under it, like blood, into the Persian rug that runs the length and breadth of our living room.  The rug that can't be picked up and aired out.

Suffice it to say I cleaned up what I could, shoved a resisting couch out of the way to roll back the ungainly rug as far as I could manage to dry it out and tried to right this wrong tree and couldn't and then leaned it against the wall. The zig in its trunk faced so far forward it kept falling over anyway like a drunk. 

I finally wrestled it into a position I thought trustworthy and turned my back on it and quickly spun around to catch it in the act.   It stared back at me perfectly and annoyingly still.  I could have sworn it smirked at me.

With a great exhale, I called on the troops and once again we all struggled to stabilize it in our tree stand and failed. 

Finally a tiny light bulb went off in my head like a teeny christmas tree light.  The base of the tree was not hitting the bottom of our tree stand.  Instead it was floating on four thick, low branches, teetering this way and that to keep its balance like a high wire act.  H-E-L-L-O.

We needed a saw so Maguy volunteered to make the arduous journey out to the garage to get a hold of one  -- a long round trip wading through snow above her knees.  She came back upstairs with it, legs covered in snow like fleece and sporting great red splotched cheeks from the cold. 

Dennis grabbed that dull, rusty saw with a bloodthirst and gnawed his way through the four stubborn branches, adding sawdust to the pad dust, needles and slush.  And sap.  Oh bubble bubble, toil and trouble.

And then!  The Miracle on Elk Avenue!  The damn Cat In The Hat tree's trunk actually settled all the way down into the bottom of the stand!  And after doing the annual tilting the tree this way and that according to Maguy's instructions from ten feet away and a face-plant-to-the- floor half hour screw job under the tree , the Who-Villian tree stood firmly and solidly in place, albeit still twisted like the hunchback atop Notre Dame.

We replaced the fake pine hole fillers with the fresh sawed off branches which was brilliant because after we finally put the all lights and ornaments on the dead branches they will probably turn grey tomorrow and drop off and we won't be able to fix it because of all the stuff we swaddled the tree in like a straightjacket.

We still haven't decorated it yet.  We're afraid to.  Now every time I go into the living room I sneak in on tiptoes expecting to catch it doing something.  I trust that tree as far as I can throw it.

Truly this tree would make even a Grinch smile.  For after all, like the Grinch says, "maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store.  Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more."

smiling grinch

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One of my cardinal rules for tree selection is "it MUST have a reasonably straight trunk". We have a stand that can accommodate a very large tree - we've put an eight footer in it and not had a problem. But those trees with scoliosis? Nuh-uh. I would rather put up a fake tree, less work.
I think that you'll find, even with all the struggles and tribulations, that Christmas will come anyway.
I'll even bet that you'll find the strength of ten grinches, plus two. :-D

Who-ville lives! Delightful post....xox
I like pine sap and twisted trunks and trees that go splunk. And when seeking a saw in the snow, my instincts get lost but my toes do know. ~R~
"And they'll play noisy games like zoozit and kazay, a rollerskate type of lacrosse and croquet!"- How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I just had to add that....xox
This tree is obviously crooked in every sense of the word. Don't trust it.

I once brought home a tree that was kind of a Charlie Brown tree, thinking there would be more room for ornaments if I didn't have to bother with full, thick branches. The trunk was so skinny that the screws in the tree stand didn't even touch it when they were screwed all the way in, as far as they would go. I forget exactly how the boyfriend resolved this, but I remember much hissing and spitting and swearing went into the effort. Nothing says Christmas like a garland of four-letter words.
It might need an exorcism.. just sayin :)
What a grand Dr. Seuss adventure! I loved your story and your excellent write and descriptive phases made me feel like I was right there with you huffing and puffing away. I loved this, "I ran into the living room and there was The Tree -- splayed out across the living room playing dead with water seeping out from under it, like blood, into the Persian rug that runs the length and breadth of our living room." So well said! I also loved when you said you trusted that tree as far as you could throw it. A delightful tale for children and adults alike. Merry merry. Rated. And congrats for a well deserved EP.
I loved the Who-Villiness of this! We're into Suess big-time during the holidays, even though the little ones are long grown and gone.

It brought back memories of the year I had to pound a nail into the corner to anchor the twine I tied around the trunk to get the damn tree from falling over for the tenth time. I never took that nail out of the wall. I figured I may need to use it at some point, again.
you've triumphed!! in the tree/woman contest, the woman won! whoo hoo. or who?who? great story. gotta love those Whos!
Oh this was lovely. I can't think of anything more intelligent to say. Just it was a story, what a story! And so beautifully told. I wanted to snuggle down under the covers and go to sleep. With a Grinch grin all over my face and that's just silly because I'm cowering under the flourescent lighting in my office.
And yes indeed you live a full, rich, numinous and oh so nutty life! I get comfort from looking out at the mountains and imagining you in them.
"...the kind a Grinch would punch into it for fun."
I loved this--great description!
Short comment before....darn it!

Joan: you have a gift..a sort of undefinable spark with your writing, that makes it jump off of the page; and into minds and hearts.
It is not easy to learn, and for some, it is simply there or it is not.
For you, it is very much there.

So enjoy your EP, and understand something. With an EP comes responsibility.
You must continue to share your gift with OS. (I am sure you signed that agreement when you penned your contract to write here....remember?)
And from all of us in Whs-ville...yes...even little Johnny....a very merry Seuss Christmas to you too, little one.
I love that you have a grinch-tree!!! They have so much more character than the usual . . . and this one yielded an excellent story on top of it all!
Great story and I bet the tree is just lovely.. Congrats on the EP and cover..
Wow!! What a well written piece, and a very funny story!
Well done, Joan!
My favorite movie of the whole Christmas Season!!! ; )

All I have to say after reading this very savvy story is, "sista' of a different mutha." Love to you!
Very different than the plastic trees my family always puts up, and you write it so very well. I especially love the links to the good Dr.!!!
Bill S: Wow an eight footer! We had a tall one like that -- about ten-twelve feet for our two and a half story great room. We went into the wilderness and cut it down our second year in the mountains. But it was tall and wiry and you could blow it down with a feather. We finally gave up and bought a regular tree. This crooked tree is a first for us and most likely a last as well.

Dearest Robin: I always love seeing your face. You delight by simply appearing. Yes, Who-ville is alive and well.

Chuck: How do you do it!??? You rhyme real fine.

Robin: Will you teach me to play zoozit and kazay? I want to play kazay. I want to play kazay today!

Susanmihalic: You are hysterical. We too had a tall skinny one once and will never cut one down again. And I love your garland idea. I'm going to make one. Our daughters are old enough now.

Trig: This thing is stronger than holy water! Now it's leaning like the Tower of Pisa!

Mary: Thanks for your generous praise! And I didn't know what you meant by EP until Trig told me. Me thinks I'm the bulb that went out on the Grinch's tree!

Ina: Great nail story! And love to hear from fellow Seussians.

Femme Forte: Thanks! Me Jane. I give tree to Tarzan to play with.

Gail: Poor you and those fluorescent lights. Get home and enjoy your inner Grinch. Thanks for your cudos.

Robin: I don't get it. I was a cover girl once before - a Pointer Pick. West Point picked me as their cover girl for April. But it was a scam. The Firsty just wanted to point his "pick" at me. Yuck.

Kathy: I certainly think so.

Gail: Geeze, Gail. Thanks. I'm surprised you read my long, complicated bio. And yes, it's rich and numinous and scary sometimes. The tree just moved again. I swear!

Spotted_mind: You are very kind. Glad you "got a kick" out of it.

Aftershock: Thanks for the semi-colon.

Aftershock: I'm lapping your comments up like this thirsty tree. You are very very lavish and magnanimous. You are ego-inflating! And thanks again for all your frowny faces and bullying. This EP think is all your doing. And I want o lip from you about that! ;-)

Owl: Yeah. I'm beginning to love it too. Obviously, it inspires! Thanks.

Fireeyes24: Thanks for appearing here. I'm still dazed and delighted about the EP and cover thing. I don't get it but I'll take it!
My daughter and I once put hooks in the wall and then tied the tree to them! It was all that We could do to get it to stand up. I love how you told this and yes I love those trees!
God bless Maguy, but...never...ever...let her go fetch the tree again!!! Good luck with this one! Hope it stays in place for you through the holidays! We haven't gotten a tree yet and this story will have me far better prepared when selecting one this weekend!

Joan, congrats on your well deserved EP and for sharing your terrific story telling gift that had me hanging on to each and every word! Can't tell you what a saint you are to have put up with this tree as you did?! The sap on the Persian rug would have put me right over the edge, gotten a chain saw and cut that tree up into little tooth picks!!! Whoosh into the fireplace and bye, bye tree!!!
Damn, talking about serious Christmas spirit...suffering and all. They should put you in charge of fixing the US budget. Finish the job and decorate the hell out of it.

Great story of Christmas spirit, go team Joan!
Love it! Trees can be feisty little buggers. But why no pictures? I want to see this strong-willed who-ville tree!
Lunchlady2: Thanks for the love and the hooks are brilliant. That's what we should have done the year of our fresh cut 12 foot tall skinny tree.

Just Cathy: Yeah, what's up with me? I love your brilliant chain saw idea. I may have to borrow one yet --we could use some toothpicks. I still have not gotten to the tree decorating yet. And this tree is like the plant in Litle Shop of Horrors. I can't feed it water fast enough. It slurps it up like through a straw! And I think it wants my blood! Hey and if it weren't for Maguy I'd probably have never found out what EP means! Thanks for your splendid compliments. xoxoxo

Kyle: I've been putting off the fake tree thing because I love the adventure of bring home a tree and its aroma. And when we had that skinny 12-foot tree, our cats laid it flat three times -- breaking most of our ornaments -- the keepsake ones, the precious ones. And the cats didn't climb it like your polite cats. Ours lept onto it from the balcony overlooking the great room. Naughty naughty kitties! Thanks for the rating.

Thoth: Yeah, I have stick-to-it-ive-ness. However, I think that's got more to do with the sap than my character! Thanks for coming by. I almost lost you!!! Again, I'm not only a computer klutz but an OS one as well! ;-)
Love the Theodorian twist my dear... Happy you didn't have to break out the bailing wire and wall anchors...De-light-fully RRR, I hope!
My kid just asked for a xmas tree (he's 4) and my wife started to explain to him why its wrong to cut down a living tree (especially just to throw it away in 2 weeks) and she finished with "Remember the Lorax?" There's your Dr. Suess xmas.
Patrick Daniels: Thanks for noticing! And for dropping by as always!

FilthyHarry: I have to admit I missed "Remember the Lorax," and I'm a rabid environmentalist. You are so right to teach your boy about not cutting down a live tree. We would never ever have done so until we found out there are areas in our West Elk Wilderness where locals are encouraged to do cut trees in specially designated areas particularly vulnerable to fires and protecting certain aspen groves. I don't get the Aspen protection thing because every l00 years the Aspens take over and then the other hundred the pine trees take over. But it was a carefully considered cut and the dead tree finally disintegrated and helped fertilize the wildflowers in the meadow. We are on the same page, I hope. Thanks for speaking up.
Once again, Joan, you've written a lyrical, beautifully crafted story that makes me feel like I am in your living room with you. I couldn't help hearing the narrator from the Grinch movie throughout the piece--his voice replaced my own in my head. You are a terrific writer and I enjoyed every word of this!
That's too much work for me! :)
Please send some of that cold weather down my way. I live in Florida and I've been waiting for it to cool down. Happy Holidays
I certainly respect your view, and the right to state it here in OS,..but I also note that Joan explained that the tree was harvested under very special circumstances that benefitted the surrounding area. I am certainly fine with that,..I hope you are too, and perhaps you just missed that in the above comments.
Also..this celebration may not be pointless to her. It is certainly not pointless to me. I respect your right to celebrate what and how you see fit and appropriate, and hope you feel the same way with Joan and I and perhaps others.
@tomreedtoon: And of course giant aluminum trees also cost money, also destroy the environment, and like as not employ near-slave labour conditions in their making. I guess you won't be happy until every person on this site is as miserable and negative as you are 100 per cent of the time in your comments. And save your oft-trotted out spiel about me disagreeing with you because I'm rich and you're not. You haven't got a clue about me or anybody else here as far as I can tell, although you clearly think that you do. It's dangerous to make assumptions.
Tom : You are right that there is often chaos and ad lib associated for many on this holiday. It often requires effort to pull off, and stress is frequently an outcome. Tradition often drive this tense combination.
All ths shopping and rush to get things done can be tough.

What we have to remember it what Joan mentions above: "maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more."

For whatever it mean to you, I hope yours is wonderful.
Who-Sillian Tree

Badly twisted and halfway up
makes a big zig with no zag,
and the topper angel with her hag face
stares a few yards east or west from the base.
If the trunk could get a straighten-roo
it would go from six feet to seven times two.

Broken branches decorated with worms, not tinsel,
garlic for bulbs, toe corns, wrapped with a cord of sullen,
carelessly slung empty, smelly, rusty tin cans and insoles.

To trump room for sooty coal lumps under
said tree, we screwed that nubby wood erect
We screwed till we could screw no more
battling the turkey trussed trunk asunder
oh the sap droppings, the pinecone ploppings…

With a loud whoosh –
splayed fir played dead, that cur, we all sweaty
and dreadlocked with sappy, needley crust
watching it disintegrate into rug pad rust dust,
while we stood back to admire the confetti
of our doggone Green Eggs And Ham tree.

Now, scrub off the sap, brush off the needles, and go take a nap.

*** I loved your story and just had to flarf it ~ seasons greetings ***
I'm not allowed to have a real tree because of fire codes. So I've got a white pre-lit fake one. Tres tacky. I'm still trying to figure out how to make the light-up star topper stay on straight (it's too heavy for the wire branches.) Latest plan involves a dowel rod painted white and fastened to the central pole somehow. That may wait till next year, as it would have been SO much easier to do when the tree was not decorated and on the floor instead of on top of my sewing machine table (it's only a 4 footer).

Put enough lights on it and cross your eyes and every Christmas tree becomes beautiful.

Oh, and tomreedtoon, "real" Christmas trees aren't cut from virgin forests except in very rare circumstances. The ones you buy from tree lots are raised as a crop, usually on family farms and in ground that won't support other crops due to rockiness, bad soil, etc. After Christmas, in Louisiana they're put in submerged cages in the wetlands and used to help prevent erosion.
Leandra: Whew! Didn't know about the submerged cages. Really? Your tree sounds finicky and precious too. Happy happy days to you!

Old article, but they still collect trees every year after Christmas for this.
Leandra: Thanks for the information. And your awareness.
Karin: I'm so happy you enjoyed this. I would love to have you in our living room any time.

Patricia K: That never occurred. Looking back on this, I must be insane! I'm going to check this out with a shrink. I love your relaxed, reclined position as your icon. When I get all tied up in knots again, I'm going to go to you and look at your stress relieving photo and just breathe. Thank you!

Trudge164: Whoosh!! I'm trying to blow cold air down your way but since I'm full of hot air you may need to name the tropical storm I send you, "Joan." Happy happy to you too!

JD Smith: You are a great friend and I am grateful for your viewpoints.

Emma Peel: I love your spirit and grit. And thanks for saving me for having to write an opus on aluminum trees.

NOVAcatmando: WOW!! I'm saving your great piece of prosetry and making it part of our chrishannaka story collection. You are so funny and talented. Flarf me any old time you like. I want more of you!
Charming post, Joan. And a Merry -- non-grinchy-- Christmas!
30hoursinaday! I just realized I accidentally skipped over you when replying to comments. I hate it when that happens.

Yes! I should have taken a picture.

The Grinch was the first picture I've put on a blog. I'm pretty new here (since November) and didn't know how at first. Now I would rather write my pictures if I can. I love pics in other blogs though -- makes them look like magazine articles.

Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. Can you believe we still haven't decorated it?! I swear it's still moving -- not left or right -- but to different locations in the house. It leaves sap tracks behind. It can't fool me! I'm onto it!
I'm being a Grinch for the holidays!! WHOOO!! :-)

I loved this, even though I'm whoafully late to the trough. Nothing like an uncooperative, cantankerous tree to deal with. Kind of like that drunken uncle that visits during the holidays.

For my decorations, I like to find a nice tree on the internet, print a copy and tape it to my refrigerator.
love this piece, joan picturesque! reminds me of a somewhat similar escapade in hawaii...nailing trees to a deck...well, had to be there...still had their tiny blossoms attached...merry christmas to you, rated and enjoyed. blessings,
Tinkerertink69: Best you are having fun. Whoo-hoo!

Michael: Love your drunken uncle -- so true. And the tree idea is brilliant. You have me, as always, in stitches!

Professor: Thanks so much. Really happy to meet you.

Gypsy Girl: Wish I had been there. Ah, to get out of the mountains for a while. Wanna do a house swap?
Joan - I can't believe I missed this post but I'm so glad I found it today. It's absolutely magical and I can always use a little magic to get me through the day. This is pure genius and I loved reading it. I have a vision of you twirling around to catch the tree doing something dreadful and as you twirl, the tree freezes in mid-act.
Wonderful stuff, this is!
Super late to the party. Check out my latest to see why. But good golly miss Joan... you can WRITE, girl. What a gripping tale. I so want to be in your shoes (well... without the heels.) I love the mountains and the fresh air and the snow.

I raised both daughters on Dr Seuss and the Grinch is our all-time favourite Christmas show (the original cartoon one)(well... it's tied with Charlie Brown's Christmas, which pretty much portrays your tree, by the sounds of it.)

Hearty congrats on wrestling the monster into submission. You should all be proud. Hope Santa didn't knock it over.

Happy New Year!
Terrific article.
PS: I am doing a large painting of a Christmas tree for next year so we don't have to be responsible for a tree being chopped down.
Tomreedtoon: Thank you for expressing your concerns. I hope you read my comment to FilthyHarry. I've killed one tree in my life - the one we cut in an overgrowth area to help the forest.

In its place I've personally planted 100 times more trees than the one I murdered, saved acres of rainforest from destruction, and, when we built our log home here, used "junk" wood -- wood naturally dead and of no value to the lumber industry -- rather than timbered and milled. I have contributed thousands of hours to save the Elk Wilderness from becoming a sludge pond for a proposed Molybdenum mine here, another mountain from becoming an expansion of our ski area with massive development, keeping open space open here and promoting thoughtful development and affordable housing, saving our wetlands and forests from development.

And, now that I think of it, we had better pray hard to protect tree farms. They have not been paved and developed. Simply having them with or without trees as open space keeps the carbon footprint of our environment positive. The healthiest carbon rating is open space -- the worst is any development covering that space.

That's only part of my commitment to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I have a special needs daughter and have spent her life, especially the past ten years, trying to save her life and help her get the supports to become independent. I am an advocate for housing for high functioning people, The Brain Injury Association, The Epilepsy Foundation, and Special Olympics. I have spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours with my daughter in hospitals six hours away from here.

The only disagreement I have with you is veering off the issue and getting personal about my ego and your assumption I am a person who kills the Earth. I hope I DO have an ego large enough to believe my efforts are making a difference and helping to save our precious habitat rather than harming it.