Years ago, in another life, a full-size Christmas tree would stand in my living room in late December, hung with lights and ornaments. But sometime in January the tinsel had to come down, and a litter of pine needles had to be cleared away. One year those needles even broke my vacuum cleaner.
Remarried now, and to a man of other holidays and other traditions, I’ve channeled my nostalgia for the Christmas trees of childhood into collecting miniatures. The first came from the Brandywine Valley ten years ago. Since then, they have multiplied during our travels in the United States and abroad. And every December some of them come out to march across the mantelpiece and hearth, the solution to ecumenical Christmas decoration in a mixed household – without the pine needles.
Let me introduce you to a few of my tree friends:
Ravenna is on the northeast coast of Italy, and there the Roman empire made its capital for a short while. But the city is best known for its mosaics and magnificent churches. We visited Ravenna on a tour led by a couple of my graduate school friends. During lunch break we wandered into a shop with mosaic work and found this tree.
For many years the holiday season began with our Thanksgiving visit with friends in Falls Church, Virginia. On the day following the feast, the men would go for a hike, and the women would head to Merrifield Garden Center, transformed into a Christmas palace of trees and flowers and ribbons and ornaments. What a sight! My dear friend Sally and I would prowl the aisles in search of tiny trees, and I always left with at least one.
After a week of theater at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario one summer, we drove west to Lake Huron and a lovely village called Bayfield. How the wind blew along the lakeshore! I always remember that wind when I put this tree out for display.
A train trip from Chicago to Glacier National Park and eight other national parks brought this simple little wooden tree to me. In Yellowstone, where geysers and steaming pools of mud beguile many, many tourists every year, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up mementos. This little tree begged me to take it away. So I did.
Sometimes, in the most unexpected places, a tree will appear and surprise me. This tree, a version of a matryoshka nesting doll, was on a shelf in a shop in St. Petersburg, Russia. We had to pass through the shop to pay for the services of a guide who escorted us expertly around the historical sites of that fabulous city. It was not until I got this little tree home that I heard a rattle inside and discovered the secret Santa and snowman inside!
At this time of year when all of the trees come out, I think of Mary Oliver’s poem “When I Am Among the Trees” and these lines:
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
And call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
With light, and to shine.”
Happy holidays, everyone!
Jane Applegate Belzer, retired professor and Dean of USF’s College of Education, joined OLLI in 2012. She has taken OLLI classes in literature, art, history, lifestyles, nature and technology. Jane is a member of the Hiking SIG and the Faculty Support Team. With Ara Rogers, she teaches A Course is Born: From Concept to Classroom, an OLLI course for prospective instructors.
[Photos by Shelly Belzer and Jane Applegate Belzer]