O Christmas Tree

Gilly, Kara, me and James in front of the national tree. Vaan missed the picture because somehow he identified his daughter’s legs on the other side of the truck and went to say hi.

Lynn made a mistake once. Yes, just once, a long time ago — and no, I’d like to think it wasn’t taking up with the likes of me.

We had just finished a Sunday breakfast with our peeps. That’s how long ago it was — remember back to when people could gather freely, without concern, to share a meal together? In public, even?

So we had finished breakfast and were standing on the sidewalk near our bikes (back in the day when we rode bikes and didn’t just decorate our overfull garage with them). The shop next to the restaurant had just completed a remodel of its storefront, and here was Lynn’s mistake:

She caught the eye of the shop owner in front of his newly refurbished storefront and said, “Your remodel looks really nice.”

That doesn’t sound like much of a mistake, if any at all, does it? And I suppose it wouldn’t have been, but for the response of the storekeeper. Instead of “thank you” or “we worked really hard on this” or even “it was expensive, but we hope it’s worth it,” he opted for, “It only works if you come in and buy something” as he gestured to his open front door.

We did not go in. I don’t go in that store for reasons that are two-fold: they don’t sell anything I feel I need, and the couple who owns it are the most dour people I have ever met in retail. In addition to Lynn’s encounter, I’ve heard from others about how they got accosted by this man, complaining to people he didn’t know at all about how little money he makes.

By now you may be wondering what sort of store this is. Well, it’s a Christmas store.

Yes, they sell seasonal joy all year long, these gloomy Gusses who stare rather than smile as you enter and give you the gimlet eye if you have the audacity to walk out without a purchase of their very expensive merchandise. It seems so wrong.

You know who ought to own a Christmas-all-year store? Kara. She loves Christmas. She loves the lights, the music — oh, the music — the presents, the trees, the food and the atmosphere. Plus, she smiles and greets people as they come in and thanks them for shopping even when they leave empty-handed.

Starting along about Halloween, Kara thinks it’s time to break out the Christmas tunes. Since there are only something like 10 songs with a billion covers each, this is excessive. She is forbidden to listen to Christmas music at work until after Thanksgiving — a ban that gets tested even in July.

She already knows where she’s going and what she’s doing every weekend in December, bearing in mind that her husband is in the snow business and that weather can change their plans at any time. Topped this year, of course, by viral concerns.

She has a Christmas each week. There’s our annual festive Pat’s party; there’s the weekend with the in-laws in Estes Park; there’s the weekend her friends from Denver come to celebrate; there’s the weekend with her family. Sometimes she also fits in a party she hosts for local friends.

So, when the word came out that the national Christmas tree was being cut somewhere in the GMUG forests and that it would be traveling through Gunnison on its way to the District of Columbia, Kara was all about it.

GMUG (Gee-mug) is shorthand for Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison national forests, covering a large swath of land from Grand Junction south to Ouray (Your-ay) east to Gunnison. Every year a different forest provides the national Christmas tree, and while one might argue that this is really three national forests, we’re all getting credit.

Somewhere up on the Uncompahgre (it’s phonetic: un-come-pah-grey) Plateau, at 9,000 feet in elevation, a sawyer with 50 years of experience felled this tree, which was decorated and then slid on its side into a glass or plexiglass box to be hauled clear across the country over a 15-day stretch.

On the day all communications left Gunnison, the tree came to town. Fortunately Kara was well-prepared ahead of time, aware of the scheduled stop and then that the viewing time was being pared down, so we closed up shop and went to the elementary school parking lot.

I have to say, the chances of me going to this without Kara’s prompting were probably non-existent, but it was actually something to see. Eighty-five feet of truck, plus the cab. Plus about a dozen U.S. Forest Service law enforcement trucks with light bars (and, I’m told, although I didn’t get to hear them, sirens).

There’s a little canyon between us and Montrose. To get this tree through, they had to close the road so that the truck could use the full road to navigate the twisty turns.

In addition to the tree itself, the truck is hauling a vat of water that’s keeping the tree moist. Wouldn’t that all have been something to see? The felling, the decorating (on its side, presumably, but who knows?), the vat, the loading, the maneuvering through tight mountain roads?

By the time we got to the tree, lying in state, it was a fairly static thing — except it wasn’t. The truck itself, with its fully wrapped cab showing bright pictures of mountains and the Capitol, where the tree will rise once more to its full majestic height, was a sight to behold. Eighty-five feet is a darn long ways, if it’s being pulled by a truck (cab over pete with a reefer on, if I recall my C.W. McCall, who once upon a time was mayor of Ouray).

Gilly seemed to care less about the tree than seeing all the elementary students running around. She is more excited than anyone I know that school is in-person here in Gunnison. Vann somehow spotted his daughter on the far side of the truck, identifying her by no more than her leggings and sneakers. I looked and looked, but every girl was wearing leggings, and they all looked alike to me.

I found my sister in the melee; Kara found hers. The middle school band cranked out Christmas tune after Christmas tune — the band director must be on a timeline that exceeds Kara’s. My friend Linda handed over a Sharpie so we could all sign our names on the banner draped on the side of the truck. I took lots of pictures, including of the map showing the route the tree will take.

Once it leaves Colorado, as it may already have done, all the stops for viewing are over, except for one super-special place in North Carolina. I don’t know what place that is, or why it rates a stop when no one else outside Colorado does.

I also don’t know why the tree viewing was on a limited time frame, so limited that some of the elementary students may not have gotten their chance to circle the truck, because the chamber director said the tree was spending the night in Gunnison.

It may have been the elementary principal trying to move things along, to get his charges onto their buses and into their parents’ cars without snarling traffic too badly. At any rate, we were there to see the tree depart — probably no farther than a hotel on Tomichi Avenue — and watch that huge long truck, under the supervision of the U.S. Forest Service, make a couple of giant sweeping turns to get underway.

And like that, the Christmas moment was over, except for the lingering warm fuzzy feeling and the notion — that I won’t be allowed to forget, now that I’m airing it in public — that maybe sometimes there is something to Kara’s love for Christmas.

Once again I had video troubles, despite my status as master of technology, so the best I can do for you is this still.

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