Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How Sustainable Are Thy Branches...?"

A Christmas tree with gifts carefully wrapped beneath says abundance, it says peace, it says yes indeed we killed this tree for all the right reasons this season.

Maybe you aren't Christian, maybe you are aren't religious at all, which is why a tree is a good way to celebrate the season. The ancient Europeans in Celtic and other pre-Christian traditions used pine bows to celebrate their connection with the Earth, and the folks at suggest the tree may be a hold-over from that. Regardless, its a good place to assemble your Kwanza/Channuka/Christmas gifts and stop them from being trodden upon or carted off by carolers, thieves and other drunks.

But what is a healthy happy planet-friendly way of sorting out a tree for Christmas?

You could get a plastic tree, with all its packaging and petroleum-based PVCs and fuel-hungry transport that brings that tree from China to wherever you are. Though it is used every year for five or ten years or so and that helps mitigate some of it's carbon and manufacturing footprint. It doesn't smell like a tree, it lacks that Christmas ambiance, but if you are allergic to pitch and don't like pine needles all over your presents, it can work - but other than the color it is certainly not green.

You could also buy one of those farmed Christmas trees. Transported and shipped halfway across the continent, then wrapped in plastic netting or shrink wrap, this option is hardly much better that the plastic tree, and you have to buy one every year. The folks at North Carolina University have been doing health studies on farms. It does smell like a tree, look like a tree, and lets face it, if you are in a big city there may not be a lot of other options available. Or are there?

A quick search of the net brought many helpful hints on how to make your tree more sustainable. You could have a living tree. The folks at Earth Easy explain to how to pot, keep and maintain a rooted tree all year 'round. This is a great way to hold onto the brainwave of the season: you can be nice to people, give them gifts and be thankful for what you have ALL YEAR.

My folks here in Colorado decorate their living Christmas tree from a few years ago that they planted in the garden. Since our presents would get wet under that tree, and it gets a little cold in Colorado this time of year, it isn't practical to use that particular tree as our main Christmas centerpiece, but its still nice to see it thriving under its heavy blanket of snow and twinkly coalpower-driven lights.

If a planted pine tree is too tough to take care of in a small New York apartment, requiring at least as much attention as an old sofa or chair, then maybe a Christmas cactus could work for you. Another suggestion is to get an old slide projector and keep a projection of a tree up on your wall with the fireplace channel burning next to it on the TV or computer. Anything to get the old Christmas spirit to take possession of you.

Here in Colorado the white Christmases grow on trees, children are below average and around every corner there is a National Forest just waiting to be chopped down so that the gas industry can inject fracturing compounds into our water supply. To assist this very important economic process the folks at the Forest Service have issued us Christmas tree cutting permits.

All facetious remarks about gas drilling aside, usually the National Forest Service does have the forest's health somewhere near the bottom end of their top twenty priorities, and selective cutting done at a sustainable level can keep a forest healthy, wealthy and standing. So I trooped up into the White River National Forest the other day with a little yellow tag and chose an overshadowed little pine tree in a tight stand that needed thinning.

Yes, for the first time in my adult life, I chopped down a living wild tree in a wild forest, wrapped it up in a blue tarp that looked appropriately like a body bag, and skied that tree down into the valley to my parents living room here in Glenwood Springs.

So now it stands down there, a symbol of sustainable forestry that may or may not be a permanent blotch on my green Karma. At least the presents are protected from the sloppy boots of marauding carolers, and the house is filled with the fine smell of pine.

Merry Christmas everybody. I just shouldn't have counted the rings.

Sustainable harvesting of timber is one way to keep forests healthy and communities employed as guardians of this important resource.

Skiing-out with the body... I mean the tree.

A sustainably harvested Christmas tree is a great place to keep presents and the planet safe. Jeff and Jade Barbee.

White River National Forest in Colorado, much of which is being exploited by private companies for Gas Well Drilling.

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