Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

An interesting thing about cutting down a Christmas tree this year is that you can directly observe the punishing effects of the drought. We cut ours down about 10 days ago, and it’s still recovering. Poor thing. The tips of every branch, where there is supposed to be light-green, robust, new growth annually, are sickly needle-less bark for a couple of inches. This is a symptom.

The illness is dehydration. I don’t know how the tree was standing out there in the wild, where it relied solely on nature to quench its thirst. Each day since we brought it home, the tree has absorbed nearly a half gallon of water. I don’t know where it’s all going! When I first got it balanced and straight in the living room and gave it its first drink in months, you could literally watch the water level in its stand drop.

It broke my heart. Had I known that the tree was that thirsty, I would have cut it down weeks earlier. I can’t imagine the suffering it endured going practically all summer without relief. Witnessing a pine tree soaking up water by the gallons and still wanting more makes you understand how much rain and snowfall we need to break this drought. A few July thunderstorms aren’t going to cut it, so the responsibility falls on us.

We take for granted water from a tap, cool and fresh, available with the turn of a wrist. Recognizing this made me see wild trees in a new light from a scorching sun. Wild trees are not free. They are prisoners of fate, anchored unwittingly by their roots. What must it do to their self-esteem to see animals of the forest roaming freely beneath their boughs? How frustrating it must be to be unable to swat away birds that fearlessly clutch their branches. They are paralyzed and defenseless against tiny beetles that burrow into their bark and slowly consume their lifeblood, or sap, to be more precise.

There is a conundrum, however, for caring people who want to help. We can take the time to carry an ax into the woods and expend the energy necessary to chop a wild tree down and drag it out of the woods so that it can eventually enjoy the warmth and comfort of our homes, maybe even drinking sugared water as a special welcoming treat, but to what end? Life is short for a tree in a house.

It is a comparably good life, though. To see this we must put our own feet into the roots of a native fir. In the forest, it is life without hope; the constant fear of lightning and forest fire. Wind and hail can do great damage to a defenseless tree. And for what, to end up a patch of loamy soil for mushrooms?

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Lest we forget, there are no milestones for trees, no birthdays, no weddings, no holidays, no possibility for achievement save for an annual ring around one’s girth and a few extra inches of height. Sure, I’d like to be taller, but I don’t need the extra mass around the midsection. A tree can’t do yoga to stay fit. Has anyone ever considered giving a tree a massage?

Since trees can’t talk, it’s our duty to listen. After standing still on the side of a mountain for more than a decade, staring at the same old tiring view, our Christmas tree was singing from the top of our car as we drove past such welcoming sights as Woody Creek Tavern that we all but take for granted and sometimes even zoom past despite the speed bumps out front.

I think a couple of weeks as a domestic tree, living a life in a comfortable home in the presence of people and a flat-screen television, beats the heck out of a hundred years planted in one spot in an old forest, exposed to the elements. We might want to change our traditions to help more. Why not make space for a tree in our homes every month of the year? How about a baby tree in every bedroom? Saw the saplings! After all, they are the ones with the longest period of misery in the woods ahead of them.

Look, I don’t want to spend too much sentimentality only on trees. It might not be a bad idea to have an elk or two fenced safely in the yard, too.