In Australia, or at least in that part of it where most of us live, radiata pines (Pinus radiata) are what we think of as Christmas trees. Anything from a grocer’s, a petrol station or random roadside stalls have them racked up for sale from early December – this one species and this one species only. The important thing, from the market’s point of view, is that it is a pine. Just like in the pictures. Some people even spray fake snow on it. It is a part of our culture and we have one too.
There is a debate out there surrounding whether, on environmental grounds, one should have a plastic Christmas tree (imitating a fir) used many times as opposed to a real tree (a pine) cut down for every year. Each side comes with arguments for and against and many permutations, like how big a real one is or how many times a plastic one might be re-used. Our Christmas tree right now, like the other few times we have had one (basically since there was a child in the house) solves the fact that the aforementioned argument is one of lesser evils so marginally separated as to be a bit of a waste of time. Ours is a foraged wilding pine (and it is small enough to easily compost in the chook run). To be honest, the decision is not actually driven by the potential access to environmental moral high ground. I just get a personal kick out of foraging stuff, Christmas tree (and decorations) included.
Out on the edge of pine forests, which around here is where introduced radiata pines are plantation grown, there are inevitably some adventurous wildings that strike out on their own. Wildings – offspring of domesticates that have gone feral – plucky as they are, can be the progenitors of weeds. Whether they get mowed down in ongoing forest management or hung with baubles in my living room makes very little difference to their fate. I typically go for a small one, nothing that needs anything more than some garden secateurs to cut down.
The foraging thing doesn’t end there. Foraged Christmas tree decorations are, in our house, undoubtedly more important than the tree itself. Years ago on a trip that landed me on a remote Nullarbor beach with cast up sea urchin shells that looked more than anything else like Christmas tree baubles, I began a collection. Other shells, bones, fossils and artefacts have been added along the way. Put them on a string and they are Christmas tree decorations. Then, when we were settled and ‘grown up’ the box arrived from the Squeeze’s mum – a few old personally home-made and dearly gifted decorations that are as much biographical as ornamental.
It’s a kind of shoddy looking thing, our Christmas tree. Wedged in a garden pot in the neck of a lobster trap to keep it upright, Where a 35 year old crayon drawing on a circle of half-rotten paper sits alongside a 180 million year old belemnite fossil, a disk of whale bone, a sea urchin shell and trinket gifts from people’s travels around the world.