// Merry Christmas from Hope State Style, and: On Why Photographers Should Never Be Entrusted with Simple Tasks in Scenic Places //
At the start of advent this year, I had a clear image of a small, poky, and endearingly sparse Charlie Brown Christmas tree for my apartment. I managed to string together 3 days to flee to New Hampshire, and went with every intention of procuring such a specimen from the woods around my family’s house.
My days in the North Country were primarily spent bouncing from one free wi-fi zone to another, a difficult task in a town possessing a solitary café that has a habit of declaring “mental health days” at will, and a public library that opens for 4 hours at a time sporadically throughout the week. Generally, the work of a blogger is never done, as the omnipresent Internet prevents us from leaving work at work, but in Franconia, I was forced to ensure that my workday ended at the reasonable hour of 6. After my last oasis of connectivity closed for the day, the evening stretched before me, pure, sanctified and full of possibility.
A combination of mountain air, freezing cold and long walks inspired an astonishing appetite by the end of the day that I spent most of my night tending. The rest of the evening hours were left to read by the fire in the utter silence of our little hill. It’s no wonder Robert Frost kept a cabin retreat nearby: with no sound but the occasional whistling of the Bungey Jar, a cheeky local wind known to whip down chimneys and kick the contents of the hearth all over the room, it is possible to feel truly alone in those woods. I brought along a favorite read – Murakami’s Norwegian Wood – and felt like I was following his confused hero and heroine, blundering with them towards their tragic end in the lonely, snowy setting of the mountains beyond Tokyo. Perpetually lagging at that dreamlike just-out-of-reach distance, the words of warning I wanted to shout at them would be muffled, and fall short.
On my last day, I breakfasted on toast with olive oil, bleu cheese and fresh figs and then set out into the woods. With the house’s worn carpenter saw in hand, and me suited up in my mother’s sky-blue down parka – the one she wore in so many of my baby photos, holding me as it snowed – I was fueled by the idea that I had picked up and rekindled a neglected family torch. In my grandparents’ lifetimes, when the entire Goddard clan spent Christmas together in the house, we would process into the woods en masse to select our tree and then carry it out with great ceremony, one long line of lanky relatives extending behind it down the road. But after my grandfather died, and my grandmother’s health declined, our family Christmases ceased to pan out, and the house has stood empty at the holidays for quite some time now.
Unlike the previous two days of overcast, gentle snowfall, on this morning the sun cut through the trees and glinted off what snow had stuck, making it hard to see into the forest’s depths. I hiked up the hill, further and further into the woods, searching for the prefect tree, yet each time I came across a reasonable contender, I couldn’t bring myself to cut it down, so anthropomorphic was its crooked and tiny stature. And even more distracting than the childlike innocence of these saplings were the woods themselves, which revealed to me the curious interplay of plants that had not yet succumbed to the forces of winter, and the creeping presence of snow. Ferns and mosses blanketed the forest floor, but in the clearings, scraggly grasses flopped in pleasing patterns under a fresh white dusting. The saw became cumbersome the more I favored my camera, so I dropped it somewhere memorable, abandoned my original mission and set about wholeheartedly capturing the scene.
In the end, I settled on making wreaths for my apartment in lieu of a tree, and in scouring the tree line at our meadow’s edge for material, my eyes were opened to an astonishing biodiversity amongst the conifers that are so frequently lumped together and mis-labeled “pine trees.” Firs, spruces and pines lent their contrasting textures to my basket of clippings, while the branches of downed trees covered in grey-green lichens provided a pleasing counterpoint to the expected Christmas green. In the meadows, a variety of dried wildflowers and seedpods still stood tall, caught between their verdant past lives and the inevitable, crushing weight of the snow drifts to come. Upon returning to the house, I promptly scattered all of these findings across the dining room table in the messy fashion characteristic of any project I undertake, and became engrossed in making my wreaths.
I am continually overwhelmed by the power of memory and family tradition. Without them, would I have had the ridiculous idea to drive 200 miles out of my way for the sake of one measly little tree that I never ended up finding? Weeks after this adventure, my favorite sweater still smells like the woods, the house, and the faulty chimney flue that smokes the upstairs. A spot of sap on my gloves sticks to my steering wheel, and my wreath is placed right where I can see it as I enjoy my morning coffee.
It’s not the first time these woods have inspired a post.
My introduction to wreath making came at a monastery high up in the hills of Greece.