The Gift of Snow and the Exaltation of Trees
It’s a dark 6:00am and it’s raining. I’m walking Shaman, my Collie, who’s picking up routine scents like a morning roll call. We come across the old Noble Fir on our path – it’s literally in the path of the sidewalk, which by mason’s design has been respectfully curved around its massive trunk. This tree is more than 150 years old, as old as Oregon itself. Shaman stops abrupt, a sesquicentennial of squirrel tracks and critter squats punctuating the scent. The rain on his back is now a smattering of snow flakes and I whistle him back to our walk.
The morning’s drive to Forest Grove, West of Portland, is awash in white. Raised a Midwestern urbanite, I like to think I know snow. I’ve driven through blizzards and shoveled once, twice, three times in a day. As a kid, I remember holing up in blanket caves during chilly power outages, making snow angels and castles out of four-foot drifts, and praying for snow days with plotting abandon. The temporality of snow was my prairie child’s wish, and my city girl’s chore.
But this is no Midwestern scene. With the next curve of the road, blue sky breaks the hills’ foggy flurry. Up top, Douglas firs sparkle, freshly powdered. Ahead in the sunshine, the frost melts back to green grass and evergreen…a reminder of the temporality of snow, and winter itself.
This fluffy stuff must make skiers itch to carve their legacies into it. I imagine the exhilaration, but never really enjoyed activities that involved strapping things to my feet. Still, admiring elegant rows of snow-swathed pine, my own paws itch for a magical snowshoe hike under the cathedral timbers.
I remember one wintry hike in Iowa when my folks and I walked for “miles” (to a kid) to find the perfect Christmas tree. Rounding field after field, it seemed it would never reveal itself. Finally, we located one good enough, cut it, and dragged it back to my granddad’s pickup. At home, it was just two feet too tall of perfection, so Dad had to cut it again. That was the first and last time we cut our own tree.
Decades later, my family has followed me to Oregon. I warned Dad about the rain in the Willamette Valley, but he says—like we all say now—”at least it isn’t snow.” At Thanksgiving, though, he had to ask: “really, Michelle, does it always rain like this?” No…not really. But it sure makes today’s snowfall a refreshing twist on a theme.
On the road to Forest Grove, the foothills are populated with the symmetry of Noble firs made flawlessly “holiday” by the accent of snow. Some are in Christmas tree farm rows waiting to be shipped to modern Midwestern children; some are dotted here and there among the Dougs. But none is as stalwartly as that sesquicentenarian on my dog’s walking path. I think the Noble Fir is to trees what Oregon truffles are to food… a pearl of a species shaped by the patience of time and the gentlest of conditions only Oregon can provide. Those conditions work on people too, promoting a rare human condition that inspires kindly folk to redirect sidewalks around exalted trees.
I will get a Noble Fir for our home Christmas tree this year. I’m an Oregonian now, so I won’t have to walk for miles, scrape a windshield or shovel a driveway to get it. In Oregon, the ancient nobility of trees is plentiful and protected, and the temporal trauma of snow, sparse. Today we have snow in perfect measure, alighting the fir branches. But, like that, the flakes will melt as if landing in the warm fur of a Collie’s back.
This gift of snow that kids pray for, skiers dream of, and Midwestern girls wax poetic on, with a hush and a twinkle, launches my holiday spirit.
At least it isn’t rain.