O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

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At first glance my tree is not much different than all of those artificial ones I grew up with during Christmas in Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast.

My perfect-enough tree came from the Elliott Christmas Tree Farm in Iroquois Falls. I actually remember when my friend Mike and I helped Everett Elliott plant some of the trees on his farm a decade ago. On that hot dusty day we worked with the earth in planting spruce seedlings in rows on a beautiful stretch of land off of Hopkins Crossing.

This is my first experience in having a real white spruce set up as the Christmas tree. It took a little bit of work to transport the tree in the back of the truck without damaging it. I had to carefully slip it through the front door and into the living room. It was tricky to place the tree in its stand and I had to align it just right so it wouldn’t topple over. Then, of course, there was a bit of a mess I had to clean up from the pools of water thanks to melting snow and ice on the tree branches. A bunch of needles also decided to leave the tree and that prompted a good sweeping.

I finally had time to sit back and admire this beautiful green spruce in the corner of the living room. The entire room had been changed. As a matter of fact I quickly realized that a wonderful aroma of pine scent spread through the entire house.

Sitting there on the couch in a cozy warm place with the scent of pine brought back many memories for me. So many of my memories of sitting inside freezing tents and huddling around a fire are surrounded by the scent of pine. I recalled that back home on the land in Attawapiskat during the cold season when we set up prospector tents we layered pine boughs on the ground to create a thick mat for our mattresses and sleeping bags. This was done to insulate us from the snow

When we travelled along the coast in the winter time, pine boughs were always used to create flooring for our tents. When we set up camp, we first packed down the snow, then we raised the tent and everyone in the group was directed to start collecting as many pine boughs as possible. If we had time, only the best boughs from a certain species of short-stunted pine were selected. We always had a hard time finding these special trees. They had short thick full branches with tightly packed needles that were soft to the touch and gave a strong aroma of pine.

As they were brought into the tent people began to place them. They had to be arranged needles pointing up and the branches were layered on top of one another to create a thick mat. Once the floor was set, snow was piled high around the walls of the tent, a tin stove put in and then lit with a fire with freshly cut pine logs. In about an hour, this cozy space filled with the aroma of pine boughs and the fire gave us warmth. Where an hour before there had been only the hostile frozen land and fierce wind and cold, now we had an inviting and comfortable space to rest after a long day’s journey.

The mat of pine was very durable for our uses and it had many benefits. The branches lasted for about two weeks and they constantly filled the space with a sweet scent. If the smell faded, just walking, kneeling or sitting on the boughs broke off more needles or cracked them and this brought about a new fresh scent. It was like having a natural air freshener at our constant disposal.

In the spring time, we set up wigwams for the specific purpose of smoking geese. Inside the wigwam, we filled the floor with pine boughs. I recall spending days with mom and my grandmother plucking geese around the open-pit fire of the wigwam, the smell of smouldering smoky embers and fresh pine filling the space. If I just close my eyes and sense the aroma of fresh pine, so many images, moments, people and places come to mind.

I remember waking in the morning under a sleeping bag and layers of blankets. My frosty breathe rose above me and disappeared into the low ceiling of the canvas tent. Dad broke the quiet period of first light by quickly gathering a prearranged pile of kindling and lighting a new fire.

Then he quickly leapt back into the warm confines of his sleeping bag and we listened to the fire crackle to life. In the dead of winter, the air was fresh, crisp and clean and in our frozen tent, the aroma of fresh pine filled our nostrils as we slowly stirred from sleep.

As you can understand my little Christmas tree has a lot of meaning for me. It is not at all ornamental. It has more to do with remembering where I come from and who I am.

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