Stealing Christmas Trees

stealing xmas trees
for the birds

Once you start stealing Christmas trees, you may not want to stop. I’ve got three right now. The best was the dried cedar by the curb a block over. Izzy hauled it home for me, dragging it behind like a giant peacock tail.

Discarded evergreens make great temporary brush piles for winter birds: they give cover to species loathe to fly up to a birdfeeder. Ground-feeders feed on the ground. Two examples: the visiting White-throated Sparrows and the year-round Mourning Doves. Asking a White-throated Sparrow to spend all day on a tube feeder four feet off the ground is like asking me to go sit at the bar at Applebee’s. It’s not going to happen.

cedar tree peacock tail
Eastern red cedar, re-purposed

I pile the trees near the feeders by the kitchen window so we can watch the action. So many more species show up and stay now that we offer good cover. And in spring, when the needles drop and birds find more food sources, Christmas trees can burn like mad. I did say “temporary” brush pile. You could let the city chipper service collect them at the curb, or you could have a ton o’ fun watching a resinous tree go up in flames. Moved to safe place first, of course, and with the regulation bucket of water adjacent. (My dad was a Scoutmaster.)

I always wish I could bring a dried Christmas tree to Hebrew School when the first graders learn how the Burning Bush burned “but was not consumed.” What better lesson for how fire usually consumes a bush than to drop one match on a desiccated cedar? SSSSSSCRAKKLE! Gone in 60 seconds. As opposed to the Prince of Egypt version which not only retains its foliage, but talks, and in Val Kilmer’s voice.

I won’t do it though, and not just because I don’t want to model pyromania to young children. I actually did haul a Christmas tree to synagogue one year. It was when the Jewish holiday of the trees—Tu B’Shevat—fell in early January. A Metro tree collection site is on my route to the building, so it was beshert: meant to be, right? I could steal a tight spruce, put a giant birthday hat on it, and ask the Kindergarteners to festoon it with objects that come from trees: toilet paper rolls, pinecones, sweetgum balls, fruit, wooden toys, etc. We could sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew at the official “Birthday of the Trees.” Adorable!

So, I hoisted it into the car, drove with open hatchback to the synagogue, dragged it to the classroom praying no one would see me, steadied it in the corner, cut and decorated a huge cone hat out of posterboard, and sat back to admire the spectacle. And then had a mild panic attack. I cannot bring a Christmas tree into a synagogue less than two weeks after Christmas. What was I thinking? It’s a Christmas tree, no matter how loud we sing at it in Hebrew. And oh my lord I’d left a Hansel and Gretel trail of needles that led right to it. I tossed the hat into a closet and hauled the tree back to the drop-off, praying again that no one saw this Hebrew School teacher unloading what now looked like her family Christmas tree.

Yesterday, when I stole another one, lots of Christmas trees were still loitering at the same drop-off point. Metro chips them into mulch. I was sorely tempted by the wreaths. They’re held together with loops of thick gauge wire that might look really cool once I burn all the spruce out.

Radnor Lake accepts trees, too, which are chipped for free and spread on the trails. Weeks after, there’s always that little bit of tinsel aflicker every few yards, despite requests that donors pluck it first.

Folks who bother to donate trees to these worthy causes have much to teach our neighbors at Party Dude House down the street. To rid themselves of an unwanted tree, Party Dudes simply tossed it over the deck rail and assumed the universe will make it go away. Their 9 foot Fraser fir has been on the curb since January 2nd, still wound with fairy lights, still thumb-screwed into a tree stand. They’ve unplugged it and tipped it off the balcony. Done. It’s been there for 17 days already. Neither the trash truck nor the chipper service is going to touch that. What justifies this level of entitlement? Who do they think they are? Who do they think is going to take this tree?

Okay, if it’s still there on Friday: me.
Because I love White-throated Sparrows.



Burning Bush sequence in Prince of Egypt on YouTube.
White-throated Sparrow at (They’re the ones that sing “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.”)