Friday, December 21, 2007

"Too Many Christmas Trees": An Allegory for Our Times

We have all now heard of the Dad in California who took his 3 kids to find the perfect Christmas tree, got turned around and discovered they were lost. Seriously lost. In peril for their lives lost.

This story is one for the books in so many ways:

“They had left the Paradise Pentecostal Church of God about 2 p.m. Sunday and drove up to the forest with a saw, light clothing and soft sneakers. After searching for an ideal tree and cutting it down, Dominguez said, they headed the wrong way and reached an unfamiliar road. They turned back, but before long Alexis was exhausted, he said. That night, they huddled close under the branch awning." (

So—-they leave church, near the town of Paradise, no less, and on their way home, they almost meet their maker.

“CHP pilot Steve Ward and flight officer David White found the family after spotting the word "help" stomped in the snow, Hagerty said.“

No one believes this when it’s in a movie.

They were in that culvert for THREE NIGHTS. (No Christian symbolism there.) The rescue effort was first hindered by one snowstorm, and the California Highway Patrol was on their last pass of the evening, because of another storm, when they saw the HELP in the snow.

It is a testament to the instinct for survival that they came through this ordeal to enjoy hot chocolate at the hospital.

One side of me likes this comment left by someone on the site, after a string of mawkish platitudes:

"This stupid futz of a father hauls his innocent children out into the mountains to kill a tree for Baby Jesus. He exposed them to mortal danger for this stupid custom ----- which derives from Germanic paganism.

Good luck, dad, in the ensuing custody battle with your ex.

As far as axing trees ----- how about we DON’T kill something for Jesus?

And, don’t even get me started on Santa."

But there is a point to this tale that haunts me.

The kids had on light sweaters and sneakers because they were just going to make this little pit stop after church, chop down a tree, and be on their way.

They didn’t realize that their reality was changing, imperceptibly, at first. If we were making a movie for Lifetime, this scene would be so easy to shoot: the kids run from one tree to the next: “Oooh, this one,” “No, no, this one” zigzagging to yet a more beautiful pine “Ahh, this” one—-until they turned around, and it was as though the trees, for a sinister purpose all their own, had moved and cut off the path the family had taken. (Hmm, not being able to find the path in the wood. Dante, anyone?)

What changed by tiny degrees was now an almost incomprehensible situation. They went from cutting down a tree to facing the hour of their death. We make assessments all the time about how complex or difficult what we want to do is—-hence the kids stopping by the woods on a snowy evening in sneakers.

Their tale vividly depicts how fragile that fabric of our lives is. Every day our reality can change instantaneously. In our own blog family we were reminded of this when Dennis Perrin’s sister-in-law was murdered in a random act of violence, and Blue Girl’s beloved cousin died. The fact that most days we don’t experience seismic shifts can lull us into complacency.

But seismic shifts don’t only occur around death—-they happen in the office and personal relationships, where one day the imperceptible changes take horrible shape in the form of a divorce or a project that crashes and burns.

We can try to be as alert and self aware and guarded a possible, but sometimes we’re just looking at that next scotch pine, and thinking about where we need to be later, not appreciating that our “later” may be in a very different place than we planned.

Well, Steed and I are planning on watching The Avengers, "Too Many Christmas Trees," one of our very favorite episodes. Right after I just hop down to Gristedes to buy some popcorn. I don’t need a coat, or my purse, I’m just running across the street . . . . .