While winter and the holiday season holds many allures for each of us, my favorite seasonal rituals center around trees. When I was a wee girl, we lived on a 50-acre farm in central Missouri. Much of the property was woodland comprised of oak and hickory interspersed with cedar. From a very young age, my brother, 6 years my elder, and I owned the task of providing our family farmhouse Christmas tree. We were responsible for choosing, felling, and retrieving the tree that would adorn the house for the holiday season. Suffice it to say that we youngsters shared quite the adventure each year!
In addition to those memorable annual escapades, another tree provided a centerpiece of magic in my youth. One of our neighbors came up with the idea of decorating an evergreen selected somewhere in the snow-covered woods and making it into a sort of treasure hunt. The kids in the neighborhood (that is, several neighboring farms) would wander the forest with parents following along, chiming in with, “you’re getting warmer” or “you’re getting colder” as we darted here and there in search of what was deemed The Sugarplum Tree.
In Search of the Sugarplum Tree
Somewhere around the winter solstice, a few of the adults would select and decorate an evergreen growing naturally in the woods. It was laced with garland and adorned with shiny and handmade ornaments, woven decorations, and hung with candies and sweet treats for our delight.
Our entourage would set out into the woods with thermoses and flasks in hand, all with our best boots and heavy coats. Sometimes it would be snowing. Other years it was crystal bright blue sky overhead. It was such a wonderful adventure to see the forest for the trees, most decorated by Mother Nature herself, shining with ice crystals or fluffed with snow piled atop branches. I vividly recall the sound of all of our boots tromping through the snow. Sometimes it was dry, powdery snow that almost squeaked when you walked on it. Other times it was heavy, wet snow which sloshed as you traipsed and trudged through it forging your path.
There was always lots of laughter floating through the air, merriment shared by the adults and the handful of children. Aside from a rare rabbit, fox or deer that we’d encounter, the forest was pristine and silent. In my estimation, it was extraordinarily beautiful, a veritable winter wonderland.
After wandering around in what was probably circles, up and down the hills talking about sled rides to happen later in the day, how expert our ice skating skills were getting, and the pure joy of warming up by the fire after the chill of outdoor excursions, we would at last spot the coveted tree. First, we would freeze in our tracks as smiles of awe and delight spread across all of our faces beholding the marvel of this decorated tree amidst its pristine surroundings.
We were overcome with absolute childish enchantment, sheer wonder, boundless joy. Then with unbridled glee, we would rush to the tree and pluck the sweets from the branches: cookies and candies tied with ribbons and even some ornaments which had our names on them. We would proclaim that it was the best tree ever and dance around it hand in hand. Such a splendid and fairytale ritual marked me forevermore and instilled an essence of magic into the season of waning light. It animated the rhythm of the seasonal hibernation and offered a collective celebration of winter’s austere offerings. Trees are glorious, even, and especially in winter.
Photos by Sarah Joplin
Sarah Joplin is a mid-Missouri farmer at Redbud Farm. Though she enjoys travel, speaks French and is involved in an art business in California, Sarah is equally happy homemaking and getting her hands in the dirt. Read all of her The Yellow Barn blog on GRIT.