Even within our commercialized holiday traditions, some bells and a shaking harness can bring us back to what matters.
Worlds’ End: Varner’s Christmas Tree Farm
After paying the entrance fee, we follow the lines
through the Holiday Shop, then out
to where the wagons wait, decked in festive
greens and filled with hay. We take our seats
behind the driver, who stares ahead, absently
fingering the horses’ reins of cracked leather.
Families in neon-colored jackets crowd together
on prickly bales, the children plugged into
ipods and nanos as their parents, unheard,
exclaim on the joys of country life—the quaint
barn about to fall, the “homemade” apple cider,
the small flock of listless sheep pressed against
the far side of their pen to avoid the groping
hands of the children. Beyond the driver’s slumped
shoulders, the landscape rolls away, past
snow-dusted fields to a dark barricade
of trees, and beyond that to a scar
of rooftops that climbs an invisible slope
to a team of traffic lights blinking robotically
red and green. Miles away, but visible still
in the frigid air, the smoky plumes of the nuclear
plant rise like pillars to hold the cloudy lintel
of sky. In every direction, the land that once
was fields and woods now lies beneath
a crazy quilt of developments, each named
to honor the natural features that they destroyed.
The wagon gives a jerk and our bumpy ride
begins along the quarter mile of road to the sparse
rows of Christmas trees we’ve come to cut down.
The muddy path, already slick from use, exudes
a muted stink, as if to add bucolic authenticity.
And for a moment it all works—the snow,
the clip clop of horses’ hooves and quiet jangling
of harnesses quell the wagon’s chatter
as we soak up the soothing, unfamiliar sounds
like dry gullies long deprived of water.