There’s a little alleyway behind our house that runs between two streets, one sleepy and residential, the other a busy throughway. Sometimes, just for a change, I walk the dogs back there. They don’t mind that the view is comprised of mostly garage doors and trash bins or that, depending on the season, the alley has weeds growing out of broken slabs of asphalt or is littered with brown leaves or ice chunks. The sniffs are still good.
This time of year, the sniffs even delight me because, on the busy end, a Christmas tree vendor sets up in the small parking lot next to a print shop. Each day, regardless of weather, he pulls fresh trees from the back of his pick-up truck and places them carefully in stands – little coffee can-shaped things attached to long metal rails, so that the arboreal display becomes ordered and linear. A charming hand-painted sign beckons drivers from the street. Strings of white lights are strung above the trees making a glittering ceiling for his open-air Christmas market.
Before the dogs and I can even see the trees, we smell them. Or at least I do. The scent of those boughs makes me dreamily nostalgic for a kind of Christmas that hasn’t existed since I was eight – the time before my parents angrily split, my mom stopped talking to my grandparents, my brothers moved out of the house. The sweetness of the fir trees sends me back to a happy place that now lives only in my imagination, where during holiday gatherings, my family let me “play Santa” by doling out packages from under a towering fragrant tree, pressing them into the hands of smiling loved ones.
It’s an odd and old tradition, bringing a bit of the outside indoors during this time of year. Historically, the evergreen nature of these trees apparently brought some sense that life would go on during the darkening days of December. I get that.
But in addition to the dogs, we have cats. Cats that can’t be trusted with a tree. And we don’t have kids wanting traditional decoration, so there’s no pressure. But every year I pine for one (pun intended). I feel lucky to have this perfumed place to walk, at least. For a month each year, it turns a dirty lane into an enchanted pathway, reminding me what it felt like to be safe and happy and earnestly excited.
Besides, the tree guy is super nice. He also bakes his own dog treats, which is probably what Hank and Trixie are actually smelling. We create our own little family holiday ritual in the alleyway among the urban forest, the dogs crunching away happily as I breathe in the idea of Christmas.