They blew the cedar branches out of the storm drains and Charlotte said it reminded her of Christmas, the smell. We were on the road last December driving from Galway down the southwest of Ireland, stopping in Cork to meet my mom at the airport, then deep into the country to a farmhouse for a long weekend. Dawn contacted the owner in advance, explained we’re American tourists with two kids and our mom, and would it be possible to put up a fake tree? The tree was out in a sun room off the side of the farmhouse that had baseboard heating and sofas around the edge, a magazine rack and portable heater as it was drafty, but heated up fast.
When you go into Costco this time of year they’ve leapfrogged two holidays ahead to the climax, Christmas. It’s like the holiday’s been removed from its natural habitat and put on exhibition, as natural looking as a polar bear at the zoo. I try not to look, and hurry past to the produce, the fish, the chicken, the sausages: they also feature rare cheeses this time of year, and I scan the pieces for ones with the nearest best buy date so I can age them longer, a trick I learned from my mom.
I bought a load of firewood from a guy who’s been selling it for years as a hobby, since he left Boeing and started building spec homes, bought land and with it the trees, hauled the lumber back to his property to cut, dry and sell.
Brad met me Sunday to go up Cougar Mountain and pointed out the cuts in some of the trees, where they’d set a two-man crosscut saw called the misery whip (not for the misery it exacts on trees but for the guys cutting it down) — and then how they’d dig a hole (the misery pit) and one guy would go down in it and get covered in dust while the others above cut the logs into dimensional lumber.
We walked past the tree I thought had a face in it and Brad pointed out how it looks twisted, like they corkscrew themselves into the ground, they make an anchor. There’s a blackened mark at the base from a past lightning strike the tree recoiled from, like a piece of candle wax it looks like it went one way unexpected and then froze that way forever.
And our bodies are like that too, I think: they hold the memory of our pains and the trauma our minds help us forget, but the body never does. We grow around it, sometimes stronger, sometimes dead looking just like the trees turned gray and sagging, it’s hard to believe they’re still alive.
I take the same braided trails along Cougar Mountain I have since I left work almost two years ago, a place of meditation, of escape and reckoning. The trails splinter off into loops, and I’ll often go there a few hours, for several miles, reminded of stretches that look the same, how the light is different now that the leaves have dropped, the alders and broad leafed maples, the scale of greens from moss to fern, the way the Devil’s Club turns to gold.
And afterwards at the neighborhood brewhouse, the bartender remembers which beer I ordered last time, and I get a bowl of chili and think about my grand-dad, how he did the same thing with his saltines, he’d crumble them in the packet and sprinkle it over his soup, stirring it with the back of his spoon, I remember that too: and I think when I get home I’ll finish stacking the firewood, there’s a Typhoon coming in from Japan this weekend and I should cover the patio table with a tarp, take down the hammock, start making plans for Christmas.