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Long live the truck-tree: the tale of a checkout aisle impulse buy

| 03 Apr 2023 | 11:19

“We don’t have to ever throw away our truck-tree, right?” asked Dion, my four-year-old.

“Uh, right,” I hollered back over the roar of the immersion blender. Dion, who makes it his business to be involved in everything, had dragged a chair over to enable full participation in the morning smoothie routine.

The comment – the one about the truck-tree – was as uplifting as the smell of my second cup of coffee percolating. The tree in question is a spunky, six-inch pine planted in the bed of a toy-sized bright red pickup truck, which I grabbed for $14.96 while awaiting self-checkout at Walmart at some point during the feverish lead-up to the holidays. It’s nothing to write home about, on the one hand. On the other, it’s a veritable unicorn: a checkout-aisle impulse buy that I not only don’t regret, but which is living up to even my rosiest, exhaustion-addled visions.

I knew the look I’d get from husband Joe upon returning with holiday décor from a big box store – it wasn’t the first time. But could I help it that it happened to be at Walmart that I crossed paths with this fellow traveler? It was a living tree, and a living human (in Miami, per the sticker) had nurtured it; while the truck had made its way across the globe from China to pick up its payload. Someone, somewhere had put thought into the arrangement, and it had come off just right.

The truck-tree took to its spot on the mantle, accumulating an ornamental bell, oxygenating the air in the great room where we all cluster around the fire until “the weather breaks,” as an uncle likes to say. The position is one of honor, reserved for treasures like the monumental basketball trophy that capped the one-year career of my oldest; a set of Tibetan prayer bells given to me as a child by my intrepidly eccentric great-aunt; a plastic candy cane half-full of M&Ms leftover from Christmas (Dion can’t see up there); a growing collection of polished rocks fresh out of kids’ new rock tumbler.

It’s not typically a good spot for photosynthesizers, however, what with the lack of direct sunlight. But surprisingly, six weeks after its arrival, the Florida transplant was doing just fine. Its branches remained flexible, needles intact. A world away from sunny Miami, it was showing no signs of wanting to be anywhere other than exactly where it was.

Eventually, though, it would want to be outside, I realized, running with Dion’s line of thinking. “When it gets too big for the truck,” I said, getting into the idea, “we can plant ­­it somewhere special and let it grow into a big tree.”

Dion’s head snapped up. Was I serious? Or feeding him some of that saccharine baby stuff?

Yes! I’d read recently about renting Christmas trees, potted or burlap-wrapped, and planting or returning them after the big day so they could grace a streambed or another living room next year. We feed Christmas trees to our goats – as many of them as we can get our hands on – so they are definitely not wasted. Still, the idea of simply cohabitating with a tree, as opposed to the chainsaw-and-chuck model, struck me as lovely, of a piece with the slower, kinder sensibility of the coming generations. Here we were, doing just that. We would live with this tree a while, and then – if it didn’t die of lack of light, upending-by-ball, or the thousand natural shocks that houseplants are heir to – we would plant it outside.

And what better day than Tu BiShvat? I’d never heard of it either until recently, when the Jewish “birthday of the trees” was suddenly everywhere: in kids’ books, on social media, in the Seasonal Family Almanac (see p. 34). The date falls around the time the sap starts to run in the Northeast – one of the earliest, thrilling-est harbingers of life’s return after the long winter’s nap.

I rushed home from work, grabbed the kids (homework can wait ‘til after!), Joe and a shovel. And, come to think of it, a crowbar. We found a spot that could use an evergreen accent, and while the kids goofed around, Joe and I chipped and dug, dug and chipped, until we had a deep enough hole in the half-frozen earth to hold our newest addition, patting it in along with a little prayer. A couple weeks later, the unfussy pine looked a bit surprised at its first taste of winter weather, but plenty alive. A couple weeks after that, it was completely buried under a lovely blanket of snow, whether to reemerge victorious with the melt, time will tell.

Maybe, one day, when the pine tree has grown taller than Papa(!) – if it doesn’t die of freezing, deer munching, or the thousand natural shocks that saplings are heir to – we will dig it back up, bring it inside and festoon it with lights. Or maybe we’ll leave it right where it is and decorate it with garlands of popcorn for the birds. And inshallah, like our little truck-tree, none of us will want to be anywhere other than exactly where we are.