This year we bought a Christmas tree – we managed to find one, having learned that you have to look for private ads, and look at least a month before Christmas. Last year we’d had to go out looking for dead branches to put up in place of a whole tree, and although the ‘tree’ was unimpressive, the experience of collecting the branches has stayed with me. So we thought we would do the same this year. But we made a number of mistakes.
You get into a bit of a double bluff here, not being a local. We know you aren’t allowed to go into the forest and cut down a tree – we were only looking for dead bits. But if someone sees you saunter into the forest with a saw and a large bag they’re going to think, ‘cutting up body parts and burying them’, or ‘tree stealers’. So how do we make ourselves look as innocent as we really are? For some reason we decided it would be easier to go unnoticed if we went branch hunting, with a torch, in the dark. Only we failed to work out that not only would we be less visible, so would the tree branches. Mistake number one.
The next day we set out again, in the twilight (because we have no daylight), having decided to go somewhere different to last year, for the adventure. We had lots of ideas of places we could go, and drove off down some minor roads on the forested side of town. There had been so much snow that the trees are heavily weighted, hanging deeply by the sides of the road, every twig and branch covered in white. When we reached our first spot there was a huge pile of snow blocking the path, and although I have long boots on this wasn’t sufficient – I’d have gone in up to my waist. Mistake number two.
So we tried another spot. We managed to get onto the path and staggered into the forest, looking hopefully from side to side for dead branches. No chance. The snow was so deep it was impossible to tell whether branches were rooted or not, alive or dead. All the branches lying horizontal would have been covered in snow. There was no way we would find dead branches. Mistake number three.
Later that evening, reflecting on our failed mission, we realised that completely abiding by the law was no longer an option. We’d have to find a small sick-looking tree, deep into the forest, and just remove some small branches or twigs so no-one would notice. We didn’t need them to be tree size – just a bit of greenery to decorate the verandah. Only enough to fill a small plastic bag. Nothing anyone could object to, we thought. And we’d have to go where we’d gone the first year, because then we would know where to look under the snow.
It’s surprising how easy it is to see in twilight. Your eyes adjust easily to the light at this time of year. There never is any daylight, so your eyes don’t expect it. It’s like learning to see in the dark – it just takes time to acclimatise. So setting off deep into the forest in the twilight is no problem. You see the gap between the trees ahead of you, you see the trees, you see the snow under your feet, you see the gaps between the trees behind you, you see the footprints in the snow from the hares, or the foxes, you see the gaps between the trees beside you. Or was it ahead of you? It’s easy to lose your sense of direction in a snowy forest in the twilight.
Rolf told me where he comes from, a village in western Sweden, his neighbours – mother and daughter – went out one year to cut down a tree for Christmas. Their bodies weren’t found for five years. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction in a snowy forest in the twilight. Mistake number four.
We pulled a few twigs from a tree, pushed them deep into a carrier bag and hurried back to the car in the fading light.