People do have Christmas trees here in our neighborhood. Not everyone does, but even here in our Colonia you can peek in some of the windows and see brightly decorated trees.And lots and lots of people have strings of lights. The streets looks lovely. Not extravagant like San Antonio, but that is a good thing: the lights s sparkle: they don't make the houses look like they're about to catch on fire. They pick up the colors of the walls and surround La Virgén with joy and reverence. They tumble over bumpy walls and woodpiles. It doesn’t seem like our neighbors have taken on US culture, rather that they’ve made Christmas lights their own.
Our tree, fast fading now at the close of the old year, is stuck in a paint bucket filled with dirt which is how people seem to anchor their fresh trees. Jero, our housekeeper/friend has a big branch from a tree on the hillside near us strung with lights. Under it, her large array of shepherds and their animals, collected over many years.
We went to a tree farm to cut our tree down. The tree farm is part of the reforestation efforts of the state ov Veracru: to develop harvestable products without destroying the forest. I don't have pictures to show you of our trip because it was just too dark by the time we got there to get any, so you can just use your imaginations.
There are a number of slick looking banners hanging over the road betwen Xico and Coátepec advertising the farm as being eleven kilometers from Xico. Eleven relative kilometers. People minimize distances on signs pretty regularly and we knew it, so we weren't going into this blind. But the signs were so very professional, so big, we couldn’t envision that this place was not only off in the remote mountains but was itself hardly distinct from the surrounding woods. We didn't recognize the names of the bridge and road until we got to them: this was the way to Guillermo's and Jero's family places.
In fact, past Jero’s and Guillermo's family places, so it was a couple of hours getting there.
Already the light was failing when we came upon the tree farm tucked into a fold in the hillside. Mist was swirling in. A pretty, simple chalet and a couple of small outbuildings, empty-seeming, sat near the road.There were no lights: there was no electricity. We neither saw nor heard a soul. A metal gate with a handmade sign announcing we'd arrived stood open, so we walked through it and along a little path and found a picnic table under a palapa with a portable radio sitting on it playing classical music. Haunted. Whisps of all the people over the hundreds of years who’ve made their way through that silent, fog-filled forest seem to drift by.
We called out a few times, and soon a lean, flannel-shirted man emerged from the woods, machete at his side. At home, friendly, perfectly ordinary. He went into the larger building to retrieve a saw. He would take us to see the trees: Two kinds, short-needled for 300 pesos, long.needled for 200 pesos, no matter what size. Densely planted, they climbed up the sides of a bowl rimmed with giant firs and oaks, part of the original forest. Rita (who had come with us) ran free while we went through the ritual, the same here as ever, of finding the tree that called out to us: a shortish, fat, round, long needled one. We saw it right away but wandered further just to make sure. So we brought the tree home down all the curves and bumps and jolts, along with a free gift of a bottle of home-made mora, blackberry liqueur, and a garish pink and black flyer explaining how our purchase helped reforestation efforts.
Jero was eager to decorate it, so she did a lot of it. I was melancholy because I couldn't find the stars that our daughters had made a million years ago: I was sure I'd brought them. Finally, we found them in a box stuck on the top shelf of a bathroom cabinet. More about Christmas soon. It has really been quite a different experience.