A Nest in the Hand…

Every year we go to this Christmas tree farm and cut down a Frasier fir. We make a day out of it. We listen to Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra singing old Christmas tunes in the car on the way there. We laugh. The adults act like children and the children act like smaller children. We bring hot cider in a thermos and peppermint bark candy and sometimes a little whiskey for my husband and me.  We are easy on each other.

It took us a while to get our tradition right. One year, the year our first child was born, we were frazzled enough to go to a Christmas tree yard in town. We spent $90.00 on the most gorgeous Frasier fir. That sounded about right. We’d recently moved to Montana from the city. That’s about what a Frasier fir ran. I asked the cashier where the tree was from, assuming that it was at least from some little corner of Montana. “Wisconsin,” she said, smiling. Probably cut down in September, sprayed with green preservative, and shipped out here in a truck. We agreed would would NOT tell anyone where our tree was from that year.

Then for a few years, we used to go out in the woods and cut down a tree, but we didn’t like how we went from environmentalists to opportunists, stalking the perfect tree, looking suddenly at the forest like a decorator’s showroom, considering taking the full tops off 30 foot trees just for our living room pleasure. The Charlie Brown trees that needed to be thinned were not enough for our years of inherited and collected ornaments. No that had to stop. A farmed tree was always meant for one purpose, and it usually had been loved and nurtured by someone who needed the extra cash come Christmas time.

So every year we go to this farm, and every year I feel a wash of newness and simplicity. We are kind to each other on this day. We know to take it slowly, marching around in the snow, shaking hands with trees to make sure we don’t end up with a dread prickly spruce. We have fake arguments about who picked the keeper last year, who will find the prize this year. We pretend we hear its call. We let our kids carry saws when they were too young, the punchy snow so forgiving. We take turns with the cut. We giggle and clap our hands when it finally falls over in a little timber that couldn’t really hurt anyone if it tried. We love watching my husband drag it through the snow like he’s just bagged a buck that will feed our family for the winter. Like it’s a hundred years ago. And it is like it’s a hundred years ago. No one pushes any buttons. No one has anything pressed to their ear except for maybe a wet mitten. I love this day.  We all love this day.

And maybe for this reason, the last two years, something really beautiful has occured. As we erect the tree getting ready to proudly mount it atop the truck, my husband, with his dirty XL manly work gloves deep in its branches, stops and sighs and says, “A nest!” And we all peer in and sure enough, there’s a nest. “That’s pro,” my ten year old son said this year. “Of course it’s pro,” said my fourteen year old daughter. “It’s a bird nest. All birds are pros.” And that big work glove carefully extracts a tight, dried mud nest, woven with horse hair, and full of flaxen larch needles. I have last year’s nest on my windowsill in my office, and will put this year’s next to it as a reminder of what it is to receive life’s little gifts, especially at Christmas time. I like to think that nature showers those who are open to its gifts.

Icelandic lore says that a bird nest in a Christmas tree means a year of health and fortune for the whole family. I wish health and fortune to the family that meets at THESE HERE HILLS. Happy 2011 to you all from Montana.


Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Motherhood, My Posts

13 Responses to A Nest in the Hand…

  1. Laura,I love this post! I love your Christmas tradition with your family. You are so warm and loving. I’ve been wanting to write to tell you how much I loved your book. I kept waiting for the right moment to write to you the perfect letter. I realize that there is no such thing as perfect, so I will say this- I loved it and I love your courage and your spirit. This post today made me not want to wait. Nature does shower those that are open to its gifts. You observe and you appreciate and the universe is withness to that!

  2. Kathy O'Neill

    So very heartwarming Laura, many thanks!! I wonder, we don’t cut down our Christmas tree so there is no chance of a birds nest, but what does a birds nest in the rafters of a deck mean? We have had visitors plant their roots here for the past three years?
    I may be overstepping my bounds, but continue to cherish these moments with your family. Today, for the second year in a row we decorated the tree and the house without one member. My daughter is away at college. The feeling and dynamics are not the same. There is a huge void in the celebration and in my heart. Even though my daughter and son are so very close and they are each others rooting section, Thomas could not resist the urge to decorate Erin’s “side of the tree” with all of her non favorite Christmas ornaments. The sad thing is…..as much as I got such a laugh out of this, I know. that this too will pass…….
    Enjoy your holiday and thank you so very much for sharing these family moments with all of us.

    All the best, Kathy

  3. Lovely, Laura. When I was a kid, my sister and I used to do the same thing with our parents. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything, especially as those family relationships have changed and become more complicated. It’s not a tradition we do now as it doesn’t work so well with our blended family, but we have new traditions that fit us well and we treasure. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?

    I grew up with the notion that a bird’s nest in a Christmas tree was a very lucky thing, and I’m pretty sure that was passed down from the German side of my family. I have an old handmade (by a person) nest that goes on the tree, way in toward the trunk, in the years when the tree doesn’t come into the house with its own nest.

    Happy, happy holidays!

  4. What a beautiful nest.

    Last year was our first year here. Before last year we bought our tree from the shivering Canadians on 97th and Columbus. Now we go to the tree farm, which is about 4 miles up the road and cut our own.

    If it would only stop raining, we could make it happen…


    • lauramunson

      I know! The rain has me a bit scared to drive down the driveway this morning after all the snow! Thank goodness for my husband’s snow plow! The perils of Rocky Mountain living… yrs. Laura

  5. Most years we go to Apple Hill and find the perfect tree and haul it down 50 back to Folsom. This year we did so again knowing that my husband most likely would be moving to Virginia to start a new job( and he has) we would follow after the kids finish school. So this year was all appley and fun like normal with my daughter’s boyfriend along for the ride. LIfe is just full of change so those special traditions make for a little quiet spot in our hearts-and this year I needed that.

    • lauramunson

      I love that this tradition was a touchstone in what sounds like it might well be a challenging number of months ahead. I love that it was “appley.” Thanks for sharing, Laurie. yrs. Laura

  6. You’re trying SO hard to get me to move to Montana aren’t you, Laura? I love this post. I ALWAYS love your photos and your poetic descriptions of life. Such a delight to come to your site! Merry Christmas. :)

    • lauramunson

      Thanks, Jennifer. Montana would at least love to meet you, I’m sure. Google Glacier National Park. If you haven’t been there, it’s a must see. Merry Christmas to you! yrs. Laura

  7. Kelly

    SO nice Laura your kids will cherish these memories forever! It is so nice when you all can take a day and enjoy the magic of Christmas if you just stop. look and listen.
    I am at the moment caught in the last minute rush …thanksgiving to christmas came way too quickly this year! XO K

    • lauramunson

      I’m with you, Kelly. Usually I am on top of the Christmas gift lift, but this year, I am scrambling. I think I’m resisting the hemmoraging of money, and wanting to focus on what matters, but the kids need SOMETHING from their list under that tree… Good luck. Hugs to the fam. ox Laura

  8. Hey Laura, My family has a had a couple of family members passed. My motherinlaw the latest. She loved the holidays. Most of all Christmas with the grandchildren. Family was very important to her. I have 7 grandchildren, with two visiting for a tree triming tradition, recently.
    I had just put them to sleep, with a story of finding a nest in a tree. Someday maybe they would tell the same story to their children.
    Went, back downstairs to finish the ornaments. After adjusting the lights, to my astonishment, to which I couldn’t beleive my eyes a perfect round wet, musty and steaming nest, in the branches. I know that its lucky to find one. Now I know my motherinlaw is still watching out for my family, to which I’m truelly blessed. For it was she who told me when I was a newlywed that it was lucky to find one in your Christmas tree. Good things do still exist to surround people in need of hope and goodwill. Atop the tree, the nest is in place of honor, next to crystal star , and a landing angel of hope. Thanks

    • lauramunson

      How beautiful, Sara. Thank you for sharing life’s simple gifts. And for knowing to receive them when they come. I’m sure that was your mother-in-law shining her love on your family, especially at Christmastime. May you have a blessed holiday. yrs. Laura

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