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When a humbug’s hike turns into a hunt
That spot of Christmas in an otherwise dreary woods paused my inner Grinch.
It was a dreary December day. I had a lit but undecorated tree in my living room and zero motivation to finish. It was my first holiday far from family. My adult kids wanted to come here for Christmas, but that might not happen, and if that doesn’t happen, I don’t give a who if the tree is decorated.
I decided to walk the trail by my house, a converted railway lined with trees. It passes by the park, through the woods, and over the river. Thanks to a lingering case of COVID, I haven’t walked there in weeks.
The leaves were gone, revealing the interstate, traffic, and buildings. Irritated, I decided to cut through the park and go home.
Right before the park, I saw a red bulb hanging from a bare branch. That spot of Christmas in an otherwise dreary woods paused my inner Grinch.
By the park entrance, there was another bulb – this one blue on a hibernating oak limb. I looked around. Spotting no other rogue decorating, I continued my shortcut home.
The park has an “arboretum”, but it’s a new project. Most of the trees are shorter than me. Several baby trees in, I saw a silver bulb, comically large on the twig of some future birch. Raising my gaze, I saw another tree with one bulb. Then, another.
It was a whole line of Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
I wondered if they were leading to some grand holiday display, but this Christmas curiosity ended when the park did.
The road back to the trailhead was dull. I fell back into my malaise, looking at the decorated houses, convinced they all contained happy families with untouchable Christmas plans.
When the trailhead reappeared, I saw another bulb. Giddiness overtook grumpiness. I re-entered the trail hunting bulbs, humming, to my great astonishment, the Carol of the Bells.
Ahead of me were two women, walking slow, one dragging a cart behind her. The one with gray hair handed something to the one with dark hair, who struggled through the brush, hanging up a green bulb.
I quickened my pace, determined to know what do-gooder group they belonged to. When I asked, the gray-haired one just laughed.
She explained three of them put up bulbs before Christmas and took them down after the new year. She said the bulbs look best further back from the trail, but she couldn’t jump the ditch anymore. She motioned to the dark-haired one, who opened her arms so I could see the brambles stuck to her work clothes and gloves. She was the ditch-jumper.
Can I hang one?
The gray-haired one hesitated, then offered the box she carried. I chose a red angel and a green bulb. The dark-haired one offered a hook for the angel in case I “couldn’t handle the string”.
This was serious business.
I braved the brush, jumped over the ditch, and chose a naked tree limb, nearly white. I hung the red angel there. Weaving through the brambles, I suspended the green bulb from a slumbering elm even further back.
The gray-haired one assessed my work.
“That looks nice.”
She offered me another, but I had to get home.
I had a tree to decorate.
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