The birches stood like candles flung out a car window between two muddy fallow fields. I pulled off the road, watching the fog spool around the trunks while they stood cool and wet and quiet. They glowed, almost like snow.
I stepped out of the car; my feet crunched on the crushed gravel, and I inhaled, feeling that gills would have been useful. Beads of mist clung to black branches of low scrub and droplets elongated like the tick of the clock at midnight on Christmas Eve.
The ground was matted with dead milkweed, bracken, thistles, and flattened grass, and littered with garbage. Exploded grocery bags, roadside garbage bombs of tin cans, plastic pop bottles, Styrofoam meat trays, shells of expensive coffee store cups, emptied ashtrays, condoms, beer cans, and liquor bottles. A trashy roadside party watched over by votive birches.
On December’s darkest day I stood among the litter and trees remembering snow. I wanted its whitewash to clean the woods. I wanted it’s light. I wanted wet replaced with sub-zero temperatures and squeaky clean snow. It’s what I expect after thirty-six white Ontario Christmases. Unexpectedly, they have felted my memories of green, dank west coast Christmases past. Christmases where dripping rubber boots and raincoats made puddles in the hallway; where socks were always wet; where we watched the news about those poor snowed-in easterners digging snow tunnels from their front doors to their cars; where Christmas lights were always haloed in mist; where snow melted before it hit the ground; where we left a note for Santa on the hearth asking him to please wipe his muddy boots before coming inside; where Rudolph’s nose was always needed.
Standing among the birches I shivered without the white blanket I’ve come to expect – the one that makes Christmas glisten. Still, the trees drew my eyes in. Those black nicks in their bark, what are they? Growth marks like the lines penciled on our kitchen wall? Regardless, they made the white trunks brighter – made me think this green Christmas a just a different kind of white Christmas. And that’s okay.
*From Birches, by Robert Frost