My cramping hand clutched desperately for the flimsy limb in the top of a forty-foot pine tree, swaying in the first winter gusts of the year. Hanging on for dear life, I uttered a silent prayer that I would survive—preferably with all limbs and head intact. Of course I already had doubts about my head. After all, what in the hell was an out-of-shape, overweight forty-five-year-old man doing in the top of a giant pine tree anyway?
Bear attack? Wilderness panic? No, my friends, it was something much more insidious and frightening. Christmas spirit.
Those of you who know me are probably already shaking your heads. My reputation as a devoted Scrooge is long and well deserved. People I don’t even know stop me in the store in the middle of August. “Only five more months ‘til Christmas,” they chuckle merrily as my eyes bug out of my head. Everybody knows I hate the holidays. But as I getter older, I also seem to get a little wiser. All this hating is not good for the soul. Hating things you can’t change is pointless and self-destructive. Instead of hating Christmas, maybe like old Ebenezer and the Grinch, I could learn to love it. So after the Great Thanksgiving/Smoked Turkey/ Home Inferno (see earlier blog) I decided I’d actually put up some lights this year.
It had literally been years since I had bothered to put any up lights. I had no idea what worked and what didn’t and the whole mess looked like an octopus eating spaghetti in a string factory. Naturally the few that were easy to untangle where the ones that didn’t work. The ones that worked I managed to drop and shatter many of the bulbs. Hours went by. Finally, through persistence, cannibalism and redneck technology, I was able to cobble together several working strings of lights.
Where to put them? I could decorate the front of the house but we never go out there in the evening. Who was I trying to cheer up? The neighbors? Hell no. Those people wouldn’t even help a guy fight a fire at one in the morning. No I was trying to cheer myself up so I strung them around our back patio. The end result was kind nice, but a little lacking… Then I started to eye the giant pine tree that dominates our backyard. The previous owners had bought a live Christmas tree one year and, when they were done, planted it in the middle of the yard. The thing is now a Sequoia. It’s home to all sorts of critters and birds. I’ve seen whole flocks of birds fly out of it. Rodents, rabbits, stray cats and, I think, a couple spotted owls live in there. We once lost a dog for a week in this tree. El Chupacabra and Bigfoot party in there once and while.
So anyway there I am standing on my back patio holding a string of Christmas lights and eyeing the tallest pine tree in Arizona. The rest I guess is predictable.
I strung together all the remaining lights that still worked, climbed atop the roof of my house and tied a rock to the end of the lights. Thus I made a giant rope of lights and proceeded to attempt to lasso the pine tree. Surprisingly my plan worked. On my second or third toss I managed to snag an upper limb. All that remained was to climb down and carefully wrap the string of lights around and around the tree. Of course this proved more difficult than it seemed. The string of lights kept snagging on lower branches and required careful looping and swinging of the lights to lay them in place. Imagine a giant jump rope. My wife and son came out and helped me for a while—even though I’m quite sure they thought I was absolutely nuts. That’s the kind of sport they are. When someone in your family is borderline deranged, you learn to humor them.
Things were pretty much under control when she went back into the house. I was making progress. Just one remaining snag… I stood on the top of a stepladder to get a better angle, started swinging my jump rope string of lights and made another beautiful loop up into the tree exactly where I wanted. It landed on a large nest in a branch directly above me. It was perfect shot—except the nest it smacked turned out not to be a nest. More of a hive really. A giant beehive. Suddenly there are about four million bees zooming towards my head. Something told me there weren’t going to sing me Christmas carols.
Those who believe that man was never meant to fly has never stood atop a step ladder while being attacked by a swarm of bees. I don’t actually remember jumping from the ladder, but suddenly I was halfway across the yard and I still hadn’t touched the ground. I can honestly say I have never moved faster in my life. I would’ve won Olympic Gold if beehive sprinting were an event. I was halfway down the block before I even slowed down.
Carefully, I slowly crept back into the yard and snuck into the house when the bees weren’t looking. There I waited them out. Then, just before dark, I went back outside and finished the job. With the satisfaction of a job well done, I plugged the lights in and stepped back to view my masterpiece.
The top of tree did not light up.
Unbelievingly, I carefully looked to see if the top string got unplugged. Nope. It was plugged. They just didn’t light up. I couldn’t believe it. After all that work… It was incredibly depressing. I couldn’t go to sleep that night. Then, when I did, I dreamed of exploding lights and laughing bees. The next day I got up and went to work. But all I thought about where those lights. On the way home that night, I bought two more strings of lights, drove directly home and started unwrapping the tree. I pulled down every strand of lights off that @*&%#$ tree and climbed back on the roof with a new lasso.
The problem was, after a day of meat-cutting, my arm sucked. The first toss missed the tree entirely. The lights sailed past and flew to the ground with giant crash. An entire string of lights was smashed. Undaunted I hooked up a new set and tossed it again. Another bad toss. This one went left and low. Way too low. Unfortunately it hooked on the tree good and when I tried to retrieve it, I ended up snapping a string in half. Now I’m angry. In a matter of minutes, not only have completely undid all my work, but I’ve wrecked two strings of lights in the process. I was so mad I briefly considered picking a fight with bees. Instead I went in the house and yelled at the dog.
I brooded on those damn lights until my next day off. It happened to be Arizona’s coldest day in five years but I didn’t care. I went to the dollar store and bought ten more strings of lights. The tree was getting decorated—whether I lived to see it or not. This time, however, I knew I had to throw caution to the wind. This time I was going to climb to the top of the tree myself.
I don’t know what kind of pine tree it is exactly, but the thing is thick. I got out my aluminum extension ladder and found that, fully extended the ladder barely reached from the outside of the tree to the tree trunk—about five feet off the ground. Oh well, that gave me an avenue into the tree. From there I began to climb. There were so many tree branches, however, I had to worm and contort myself upwards. There were massive piles of dry pine needles everywhere—and they infested my hair, my ears, my clothes and even my eyes. Pine sap soon covered my hands and clothes. As I got towards the top of the tree, a cold wind began blowing. My hands started cramping from clutching the branches. The tree began to tilt backwards from my weight.
Actually, it was kind of fun.
Then another gust of wind blew me back further. A bee buzzed around my head. I knew it was time to get the job done and get the hell out of there. Clutching the tree trunk with one hand, I attempted to tie the end of the string of lights around a branch as high as I could reach. Easier said than done. The wind started blowing the top of tree back and forth. I started to get seasick. Three bees buzzed around my head.
Finally I just wrapped the string around a branch three times, knowing full well it wouldn’t hold and shinnied, fell, tumbled down the tree and hacked my way out. Finished, I didn’t even bother turning the damn things on to see if they worked. I just plugged them into the timer and walked away.
Later that night, after the dinner table was cleared and the family was settling down in the living room, I asked my wife to take a little walk with me. It’s freezing out, she said. “Come on just out to the street and back.” We walked out into our cold, dark neighborhood and walked out to the street. “Wow.” The tree was lit up from top to bottom. We stood and admired it for a long time.
“It’s beautiful, “ she said and then turned and uttered the words that sent shivers down my spine. “But it makes the rest of the yard look dark. Maybe you should…”
All across the neighborhood, a terrible scream echoed through the night.