Christmas is coming and the spruce is getting fat. It's time to find the perfect tree and whack it with an ax.

A good place to do this is a Christmas tree farm. Each year millions of Americans, armed with rusty saws and hatchets, descend on these farms with true holiday spirit, to wit: Grab the best-looking tree before the next guy does.

I usually wind up with a mediocre tree and a tetanus shot. But the family enjoys the outing, so over a river and through some woods to chop down a tree we go. It's truly an uplifting experience, particularly for Dad, who gets to carry the tree one-half mile to the car.

This Christmas, however, my back gets a reprieve. My wife said so.

"This year will be different," Meg said.

"You're going to carry the tree?" I said.

Nope, she said. "We're going to cut down one of our own."

Yeah, right.

Meg was serious. The tree in question, a 10-year-old Colorado blue spruce, is being harassed by a towering white pine beside it. The bigger tree hogs all the sunlight and slurps up most of the water, while the smaller one struggles to survive.

The yard isn't big enough for the two trees, and both are too large to move. Only the spruce would fit in our house, says Meg, so why not cut and trim it for the holidays?

I'll tell you why. Because I'd feel like an ax murderer.

I planted that spruce tree. I fed, watered and nurtured it. Like most trees in our yard, I gave it a name. I call the blue spruce Bruce.

I've seen Bruce through tough times. I've picked ugly bagworms off his branches, and freed his limbs of heavy snow. And now I'm supposed to chop him down?

I could never destroy Bruce the Spruce, drag him inside and cover him with ornaments. Just as I could never cook a Christmas goose I'd raised myself. I'd always be haunted by that trusting face. (The goose, not the spruce).

Still, my wife persists. Why visit a tree farm, she says, when everything we need is in our own front yard? There are many benefits to cutting your own Christmas tree, she says.

"Who wants to park in a muddy field with hundreds of people and then walk 5 miles in search of the perfect tree?" she says. "This one is only 100 feet from our front door. We could make it a real family outing. We could bring both dogs with us, also the cats. You can't do that at a tree farm.

"If we cut our own, we wouldn't have to stand in the pouring rain arguing about what type of tree we want, pine or spruce or cedar. We wouldn't have to stumble in the field over all those other tree stumps. We wouldn't have to tie the spruce to the top of the car for the ride home.

"We'd know the tree was fresh because we could cut iChristmas Eve. Some people get so caught up in getting the right tree that they cut it on Thanksgiving, and it's a firetrap by Christmas.

"If we stay home, there's a bathroom on the spot. How many times have we been at a tree farm, miles from nowhere, and had to go? And which do you prefer, our bathroom or an outhouse?

"Besides, how many people can say that their tree was free?"

Good arguments, all. But on behalf of Bruce the Spruce, I scored with several key points myself:

* The tree farm offers free cider.

* Chopping your own tree means getting rid of your own stump, no easy task.

* How do you sing "O Tannenbaum" to and from the tree farm if the car never leaves the driveway?

Besides, I said, chopping your own tree makes it difficult to invite friends who'd like to join the expedition. What kind of a tree could we offer them from our yard for Christmas? A 40-foot silver maple or a 4-foot mimosa.

Then I played my trump card. I told Meg that Bruce the Spruce is the favorite tree of the neighborhood dogs.

Well, that did it. Bruce earned a stay of execution, for one year anyway. Moreover, Meg says he can never enter the house without a bath.

Now where did I put that garden hose?

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