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OPINION

Fraser, the Christmas tree that lives on

George Gunn Guest columnist

(Editor’s note: The author of this Christmas short story is a writer and retired Presbyterian minister who formerly lived near the Christmas tree fields in Avery County.)

Fraser lived on the side of a beautiful mountain. He lived there in the summer and in the winter and in each lovely season in between. You see, Fraser was a tree. Not just any ordinary tree, but a very special tree. He belonged to the Fir family, for his full name was Fraser Fir.

Fraser had lived on this North Carolina mountain all of his life. Many years ago his ancestor trees came here, frozen as little seeds in a great river of ice that moved south from the Great Lakes. When this ice melted the seeds grew into trees. They looked just like Fraser.

The Firs liked the cool, wet mountainsides, and soon they grew near the tops of the highest mountains. As the old trees died their seeds became seedlings, and these little trees grew to be big ones. When the families who had come to live in these mountains wanted the most perfect tree for their Christmas tree, they went out in the woods and found a Fir like Fraser.

Other families began to come up to Avery County to find a Christmas tree. One tree even went to the White House to be the President’s Christmas tree. Mr. Neiman Marcus put a picture of Fraser’s granddaddy in his catalog and sold these beautiful trees to people all over the country.

Soon the folks in Avery County were planting seedlings in long rows, up one side of the mountains and down the other side. That’s where Fraser was planted, on a steep hill where he looked down on a bend in the Toe River. For eight years Fraser had watched the snow fall and the sun shine on his hill and on the distant mountains. He often wondered what he had been put on earth to be.

Fraser had lots of brothers and sisters. Each spring Mr. Johnson, who lived in the middle of acres and acres of trees, would cut the tough grass between the rows and put plant food around the tree roots. Each summer he would chop off the wild boughs of each tree to make them healthy and to make them grow thick and green and tall.

Fraser’s best friend was named Stump. Stump, who was much older than Fraser, told him all about becoming a Christmas tree. He told Fraser that growing up on the hill and being pruned and cared for meant that Fraser would one day leave the hill and go to be a family’s most perfect Christmas tree.

Stump had been on the hill facing Grandfather Mountain for many years. He watched as Fir family members got planted, grew up, and left, one generation after another. Stump was not a Fir. Stump was, in fact, a stump! He was what was left of an old Maple tree. Mr. Johnson had left him there because Stump had strong roots to help hold up the steep hill while Fraser and his brothers and sisters put down their roots.

Each year Fraser learned new things from wise old Stump. Once Stump told Fraser that a long time ago the native hunters who came to hunt in these mountains talked to these trees and gave each tree and mountain a name. They called the oldest and tallest mountain “Grandfather.” They believed each tree had a soul and hat the spirit of each tree lived forever.

Fraser learned about waiting patiently for his turn. He learned the importance of being a tree and of taking his place one day in the center of a great celebration. Fraser tried to imagine what it would be like. As the soft snow fell on December nights, he looked across the valley to the homes with bright lights in their windows and he thought, “Maybe next year.”

Then one sunny October day, as Maple leaves were turning orange, Fraser saw Mr. Johnson walking between the rows of Firs. He carried colored ribbons and when he came to Fraser he tied a bright blue band to his very tip top. Fraser knew from what Stump had told him that this year he had been chosen for the harvest!

Then in November the sound of power saws filled the air and Mr. Johnson came with his saw and stood by Fraser. “Is this the one you want?” he shouted to the family at the foot of the hill. “Yes, yes,” cried Genie, an excited little girl. The sawdust flew, and Fraser fell to the ground. The great adventure meant leaving his hillside home, but it was what Fraser had been waiting for all these years.

Fraser was lifted first to a wide wagon pulled by a tractor and then into a strange noisy machine called a baler. The baler folded Fraser’s bouncy boughs against his trunk. A cord, wrapped ‘round and ‘round, turned him into a tight green bundle. Fraser didn’t feel very beautiful as he was tied to the top of a station wagon, but he had a great view from up there!

What Fraser saw as they sped down the highway were many other Firs. Some were alone like Fraser, but others were riding side by side, standing up in great, long trucks. Some were laid flat in pickup trucks or piled high on trailers. As Fraser left Cow Camp Road he looked back to see Stump for the last time. Stump was standing, still near Fraser’s three little sister Firs who had another year to dream of taking this wonderful journey.

Christmas was better than Fraser ever dreamed it would be. He found himself at the center of a beautiful room and the object of everyone’s attention. Every green bough was hung with lovely, cherished ornaments and tiny lights. At his top Fraser held an angel, which made him feel that he reached from earth to heaven. The children danced around him, and the gifts they scattered beneath him made Fraser feel that he was, indeed, the happiest and the most perfect tree God ever made.

Stump had told Fraser that the celebration always ends, and that even the tallest and the greenest and the fairest of Christmas trees comes down and are carried away. The lights and ornaments are packed up for another year. Fraser felt sad. He looked sad too, lying there naked beside the discarded garlands and wreaths. He thought about his life as a tree. It did make him happy to think about his growing up years and the happiness he had given by being more than just a tree - a Christmas tree!

Giving his life for others, that’s what he had done! A family that had celebrated with him would never be the same. Together they had given and received joy and added to their memories. As Fraser lay there thinking about life on that gloomy day in January, Genie stood by him again. “Daddy,” she said, “why don’t we put our tree up by the bird feeder? The birds can find a home in its branches. It’s still so green. It can’t be dead!”

For the rest of the winter Fraser stretched out his arms and the birds flocked to his branches. Red cardinals, a titmouse and a nuthatch made themselves at home and came every day to find the suet ball that hung from the lowest bough. When the last snowfall had melted Fraser was still green, but he knew he would not be a Christmas tree again. He wondered what was next for him in his life.

Summer came and one day Fraser felt himself being lifted back on top of the station wagon. Genie sat by her daddy, and they drove to Lake Norman. They carried Fraser out on their dock and tied a big rock to his trunk. The daddy dropped the heavy rock into the lake. “This is a good place for our tree, Daddy,” the little girl was saying, “The little fish will have a safe place to hide in the branches!”

Fraser felt himself sinking. His whole life flashed before him. He was a seed, a seedling, a growing tree, a Christmas tree, a haven for the birds and now a habitat for the fish. Fraser felt very much alive and still the most perfect tree God ever made.

Part of Fraser had never left the mountains. When he had been chosen and taken home that first December day, he was too tall for the house where Genie lived. Her daddy had cut off the bottom of Fraser’s trunk, and before they put Fraser on a tree stand, they had pulled that short stump and its stubby boughs down in the woods behind their house.

Genie remembered that day when she walked in the woods the next year and found brown needles and what was left of Fraser. She felt Fraser’s spirit was still there and decided to ask her daddy to do one more thing. In his shop, she watched him cut and carve, and soon he handed girl a piece of wood on a leather cord. In the wood was carved a face - it was the face of a wise wood spirit - it was Fraser Fir!

Fraser’s spirit lives on to remind Genie that where there is love, life never ends!