One Little Christmas Tree

Forest Interior, c. 1898-1899
(Oil on canvas, 61 x 81.3 cm)
Paul Cézanne
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Trees don’t talk. You know that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

However, did you also know that certain trees whisper? Really. They do. Surely, you’ve heard of places like “Whispering Pines.” These are places developed by great men with large bank accounts and equally large bellies. If such men haven’t got a large bank account or a large belly, they instead have something called “leverage” — what great men have when they borrow a bit of money and put it in the bank long enough to call it their own — or until it begins to smell like their own, at any rate.

That rate, by the way, is usually fixed and favorable, which is why their bellies become large.

Such men also have rather peculiar notions concerning trees. They cut them down and exchange them for packets of seedlings and a few million dollars, euros or yuan. The few million are not really what’s important to them; the seedlings are. At the end of the day, these men leave a few token trees standing, then call their creation “Whispering Pines.” To provide company for the trees, they build houses and shopping centers, install plumbing, electricity, telephone and cable, then surround the whole bit with a wall, a security gate and minimum-wage guards to keep out the riff-raff. No one likes the riff-raff — least of all, the trees. And so, everyone is happy —

— except the guards.

I’d like to tell you about two trees in particular, both pines. One was big; the other, small. Although they looked very much alike — except in size, of course — you really couldn’t say they were related. But they were.

Both pines grew up in Connecticut. Let me explain. The big pine was already quite grown up, over sixty feet tall. The small pine, barely twenty-four inches, had barely even begun to sprout needles. The grove in which they’d grown up knew nothing of development, of leverage, of anything at all belonging to great men with large bank accounts. It knew only of pine trees, big and small — and knew, too, that certain trees whispered.

Christmas tree farmers are something else you should know about. They’re the nice men who grow trees for a living. Or, if they work for a conglomerate that grows trees by the billion and ten, they’re called Agri-tycoons. “Tycoon” sounds a lot like “monsoon” or “typhoon.” A tycoon may be just as windy, but is less wet.

The sixty-footer was proud, well-trimmed, happy to spread itself out like a big dog in the sun — or keep still like a kitten in the shade. From its tippy top, the tall tree could see Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, even a smidgen of Canada. It didn’t much care for Canada, as Canada was competition — nice trees, but always looking south for opportunities. (Well, until recently, that is.)

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